(Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

Best Sports Performances After Tragedy

Rob Joyce
July 17, 2019 - 4:28 pm
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On occasion, non-sports fans ask us obsessive types “Why?” Why get all worked up day after day, year after year, when in reality wins and losses really have no bearing on our day-to-day life? A good answer to that is because sports, like nothing else, has the ability to bring people together, especially during the darkest days.

That happened over the weekend, when the Angels took the field for the first time at home since the death of Tyler Skaggs. An obviously emotional night, with each player wearing a red “Skaggs 45” on their backs, L.A. tossed a combined no-hitter one day before what would have been Skaggs’ 28th birthday. In what will undoubtedly be the most powerful moment of the season, everyone celebrated by placing their jerseys on the mound immediately afterwards.

It’s not the first time extraordinary things have happened on the field in the wake of tragedy. Here are other examples where sports can bring a smile and a happy tear during even the most sorrowful of times.

Los Angeles Angels:

The numbers were eerie. Aside from it being the day before Skaggs’ birthday (7/13), there were a lot of coincidences in that big win over the Mariners. The Halos scored seven runs in the first and 13 for the game… 7/13. Mike Trout hit a first inning homer of 454 feet – either way you look at it, it’s Skaggs’ number 45 both ways. And the last combined no-hitter to take place in California? July 13, 1991, the day Skaggs was born.

Dee Gordon:

One of the best base stealers of this decade, Gordon is far from a power threat, having hit 18 home runs in 923 Major League games. Alas, the day after Jose Fernandez died in 2016, he and the Marlins took the field at home against the Mets. Leading off the bottom of the first, Gordon sent one to the seats in right for his only home run of the season, fighting tears as he rounded the bases.

Mike Piazza:

Ten days after the Sept. 11 attacks professional baseball resumed in New York, with the Mets hosting the Braves. Down 2-1 in the eighth inning, the slugger Piazza sent a 0-1 Steve Karsay offering to centerfield, giving New York the 3-2 lead and, ultimately, the win. Shea Stadium erupted in celebration, and for the first time in over a week, the city had a reason to cheer. It’s one of the most iconic home runs in baseball history.

Brett Favre:

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In 2003 the future Hall of Famer’s dad die on December 21. The next day, Favre opted to play in Green Bay’s Monday night game in Oakland against the Raiders, and he turned in one of the best performances of his career. He tossed four touchdowns in the first half, finished with 399 yards and a 154.9 passer rating and helped the Packers cruise 41-7. The next day he was back in Mississippi for the funeral, and wound up winning an ESPY for his performance in the wake of grief.

Marshall Thundering Herd:

You likely know the story, if by no other reason than the Matthew McConnaughey movie. In 1970 all 75 people aboard a flight back from a Marshall football game died in a plane crash, including 37 players. In 1971, thanks to a waiver by the NCAA allowing freshmen to play the Herd was able to field a team. Though they’d finish just 2-8 on the year, one of those wins came in the first home game since the crash, a 15-13 victory over Xavier.

Isaiah Thomas:

Thomas’ magical 2016-17 with the Celtics was derailed by the death of his sister in a car accident one day before the first-round series with the Bulls was set to begin. He played in Game 1 and, clearly exhausted and grieving, scored 33 points on 10-of-17 shooting, grabbed six rebounds and had six assists. After the series he flew to Washington for the funeral, came back for Game 1 of the East semifinals against the Wizards and had 33 points again. Then in Game 2 he notched 53, the second-highest playoff total in Boston history.

Martin St. Louis:

The Hall of Famer’s status was in doubt late in the Rangers’ first-round series against the Penguins in 2014 after his mother died of a heart attack. With his father’s blessing he chose to play in Game 5 with his team down 3-1 in the series, a New York victory. Game 6 took place on Mother’s Day, where St. Louis opened the scoring in a 3-1 win, an emotional scene that helped the Rangers force a Game 7, where they would win and wind up going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.