Y.A. Tittle (1926-2017)

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What a crazy and tumultuous year it was! Many arenas of public life were rocked, by storms political and literal, by recriminations and distrust, by escalating wars and ethnic conflicts, tarnished by sexual assault revealations, buffeted by the rising nationalist, racist, and toxic rhetoric. I thought we should end the year with a fitting image of exhaustion, resilience, and hope.

Y.A. Tittle, the quarterback for the New York Giants, who died earlier this year showed all those qualities in his last game as a pro footballer. 1964. It was Sept. 20, 1964, and ‘Big John’ Baker – 6-foot-7, 279-pound Pittsburgh Steelers lineman – had ploughed through him. Tittle, suffering from a concussion and bruised ribs, knelt in the end zone, his helmet gone and bleeding from two cuts on his forehead. He looked double his 37 years, many newspapers commented, and he soon retired.

The moment produced one of the most enduring images in sports, a photo which earned a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Adding to the humanity was the background: a handful of fans sitting on the lawn chairs at field level, and mostly empty end-zone bleachers. It encapsulated the agony of defeat so well that it was for the longest time one of only three pictures in the lobby of the National Press Photographers Association headquarters, alongside with the Iwo Jima and the Hindenburg photos.

The photo was above taken by Dozier Mobley covering the Steelers-Giants game for The Associated Press. Another photographer, Morris Berman, took an almost identical image for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but his editor refused to publish it ‘because of its lack of action’. Berman instead entered his photo in a contest later, and it won the 1964 National Headliner award for best sports photograph. Two versions of the photo are frequently mistaken for one another, not least by Tittle, who used the Berman photo and credited it to Mobley in his autobiography, Nothing Comes Easy: My Life in Football.

Mobley remembered that day inside the Pitt Stadium: “But I missed the best shot, we all did. After that picture, we put our cameras down. Then, there he was, looking up at the sky with a terrible grimace. And there was no time to get it.”

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Hand of God

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There was much bad blood between England and Argentina — two powerhouses of world soccer — well before a ball was kicked in anger at the quarterfinals of 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Four years earlier, the two nations had gone to war over the Falkland Islands.

Diego Armando Maradona, Argentina’s greatest-ever player, scored both his side’s goals in the 2-1 victory. For the first, despite appearing to head the ball, the player actually used his fist to loop it over the English goalkeeper. England complained vociferously to the referee, but the goal stood, and it was followed a few minutes later by a second in which Maradona dribbled the ball from the halfway line, passing most of England’s defenders in the process, and slotted it into the net as casually as if he were playing a practice match.

After the match, cocky Maradona said the goal had been scored “un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios” (a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God). Then the political undercurrents bubbled up, with Maradona claiming that the goal and Argentina’s victory were retribution for his country’s defeat to the English in the Falklands war. “We blamed the English players for everything that happened, for all the suffering of the Argentine people … This was revenge.”

Video and photographic evidence demonstrated that he had struck the ball with his hand, which was shown on television networks and in newspapers all over the world. The goal helped intensify the footballing rivalry between the two nations: Argentina went on to win the World Cup and the English now felt that they had been cheated out of a possible World Cup victory, while the Argentinians enjoyed the manner in which they had taken the lead.

Of all the photos, the above one by Bob Thomas gave a clear view of the incident that the referee had missed.