Our topic for this month is “Myths & Legends.” They’re the stories that have become a part of the Baltimore sports lexicon even though they may or may not actually be true. I can’t definitively answer that for each one, but let’s have some fun remembering all of them.
Here are “The 15 Baltimore Sports Myths & Legends.”
1. Len Bias would have been as good if not better than Michael Jordan.
This argument was revisited as “The Last Dance” drew record ratings on ESPN. Even Jordan’s former teammate John Salley says that if Bias had not tragically passed away just after he was drafted by the Boston Celtics, the former Maryland superstar “would have been considered probably the best player to ever play.” Not even the four matchups between the two during their college years (including Maryland’s upset win in 1983) can provide any clarity to the debate.
2. Brian Billick stuck with Kyle Boller because … Boller was his son-in-law.
We know the Ravens quarterback was very popular with women (the most high profile during his Baltimore tenure was his relationship with then-it girl Tara Reid). And interestingly enough, the former Ravens coach actually DOES have a professional athlete as a son-in-law. His daughter Keegan is married to former NBA forward Jon Leuer. But this one is certainly in the “myth” category.
3. Speaking of Boller, did the Ravens draft him because he threw the ball 60 yards from his knees?
Famously, the soon-to-be Ravens quarterback took a knee at midfield during his pro day workout in 2003 and chucked the football all the way through the goalposts, which were 60 yards away. In more recent years, a video has circulated that has appeared to back up a legend that Lamar Jackson once threw a football 100 yards in the air while in high school. The video is far too grainy to be considered conclusive, but Jackson has alleged the story to be true.
4. Aquille Carr became “The Crimestopper” because crime would stop in the city when he was playing basketball.
This hyperbole was not necessarily unique to the former Patterson basketball star. In fact, even the great Ray Lewis suggested something similar about himself. What is most certainly true is how much interest existed in the city whenever Carr took the floor, forcing the school to move many of its games to Morgan State’s Hill Field House. The 5-foot-6 guard was a human highlight reel and a YouTube icon.
5. Kevin Costner.
If somehow you’re the only person in Baltimore who isn’t aware of this particular myth, you’re better off not knowing. It’s always been insane and it deserves no further ink. There’s never even been any factual debate about the lights going out that night in 1997 or Cal Ripken’s presence at the ballpark. We recognize it is a popular myth but nothing more.
6. Steve Dalkowski threw the fastest pitch in baseball history. (And was also historically wild.)
The legend of Steve Dalkowski inspired this particular topic, as the former Orioles minor leaguer who helped inspire the “Nuke LaLoosh” character in “Bull Durham” sadly died of COVID-19 in April. Cal Ripken Sr. said he could throw 115 mph. Earl Weaver said he could throw harder than Nolan Ryan. He apparently threw six consecutive wild pitches. I’m willing to believe it all no matter how unlikely. It’s just more fun that way.
7. Juan Dixon would take his dates to … Cole Field House so they could rebound for him while he practiced shooting.
During Maryland’s national championship run in 2002, the former Calvert Hall star spoke about getting access to the old arena from a suitemate who was also a team manager. He’d apparently bring along his then-girlfriend Robyn (who he would go on to marry) and get shots up. And yet it still probably doesn’t even crack the top 10 of the most interesting facts about the current Coppin State coach.
8. Everyone loves Dave Johnson so much because … Pete Harnisch stepped on a nail.
It’s not the only reason, but it plays a huge role. Harnisch was scheduled to start the penultimate game of the Orioles’ 1989 “Why Not” season in Toronto, a must-win game with AL East title hopes at stake. But Harnisch apparently stepped on a nail the night before (Rene Gonzales alleged he actually SAW the nail before Harnisch stepped on it), forcing him to be scratched. The Overlea High School alum got the nod and pitched a spectacular seven innings, becoming a folk hero despite the Orioles ultimately losing the game.
9. Ray Lewis used deer antler spray. And did worse.
The deer antler spray thing is (presumably) true! But for the thousands of stories written about the supposed controversy in the buildup to Super Bowl XLVII, fewer were written about the fact that everyone was wrong about deer antler spray (including WADA) and there was nothing performance enhancing about it.
You also probably know someone who thinks Ray Lewis was accused of killing two men in Atlanta in 2000. He was absolutely not. The murder charge was based only on accomplice liability and even then was dismissed. I can only assume the misinformation of that case will continue to be spread for eternity, however.
10. Art Modell voted for Jacksonville to get the NFL’s 30th team so he could take the Baltimore deal for himself.
Since his business partner Al Lerner was involved in Baltimore’s bid for an expansion team, it was particularly stinging that Modell voted in favor of Jacksonville in 1993 instead (and then bolted the meetings without saying anything to the Charm City contingent). It is likely that the late Ravens owner took notice of Baltimore’s offer, playing a role in his ultimate deal with John Moag and then-Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening in 1995.
11. Eddie Murray left Baltimore because of … Stan “The Fan” Charles.
It is hard to explain how such an iconic player ended up in such an awkward situation in our city in the mid-to-late ’80s. PressBox’s own founder and publisher was certainly tough on Murray, and Orioles players told him that Murray stopped talking to the media in town because of his show (which aired on WFBR). Murray has said that he actually wanted out because of the direction of the team, but the link between Charles and the Orioles legend is oft-discussed to this day.
12. Michael Phelps ate 12,000 calories a day while preparing for the Beijing Olympics.
So this one is obviously true. Phelps even joked about it when hosting “Saturday Night Live” back in 2008. Dinners included a pound of pasta and an entire freaking pizza. We all remember the story. Let’s move on.
Except that it actually ISN’T true?
The Towson High School alum told Men’s Health in 2017 that a newspaper in London actually fabricated the whole thing. He says the most he ever ate was between 8,000-10,000 calories per day (which is still staggering), but that was when he was still growing during his high school years.
I’m more broken up about this than I was about Santa Claus.
13. Bill Ripken had a “cursed” baseball card because a teammate played a prank on him.
Obviously we know the younger Ripken brother absolutely DID pose with a bat that said “F*ck Face” on the knob in 1989 for a Fleer baseball card that made it into circulation. He accused a teammate of playing a prank on him in the immediate aftermath. But years later he admitted he had written it himself, trying to distinguish the batting practice bat from one he’d use in game. But he still alleged that he accidentally grabbed the wrong bat the day of the photo shoot. Now you get to decide if you believe him.
14. Super Bowl III was rigged (at least according to Bubba Smith), and Roger Goodell made the lights go out during Super Bowl XLVII.
This still lingers with people who aren’t the former Colts defensive end. The loss to the Jets was so staggering that some fans truly believed there was a desire for an AFL team to win a Super Bowl to help smooth over the coming AFL-NFL merger. Terrell Suggs seemed to think Goodell had an interest in the Superdome power outage because the game was such a blowout at the time.
15. Skip Wise was the greatest basketball player in Baltimore history.
There’s absolutely no way to prove that the early ’70s Dunbar star was the greatest player in the history of the city. But there’s no real way for us to know he wasn’t. Wise was an immediate star at Clemson but departed college basketball in favor of the historically short-lived ABA Baltimore Claws. Sadly drug addiction ended his professional career altogether, rendering his story one of the great “what ifs” in sports history.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles
Originally published May 20, 2020.