On Wednesday longtime Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell gave a stirring farewell speech in front of a packed house at Comerica Park. That got me thinking about what the greatest sports speeches off all time were. I don’t mean interviews or tirades, so no MEN WHO ARE FORTY and no “Playoffs?….Playoffs?” There will also be no Brett Favre retirements in here, though I’d have a few to choose from. You also won’t find any whiny Tim Tebow speech; what a crock that was.
I’m talking about those speeches that came off the cuff and immediately became a part of for one reason or another. Let’s get started.
5. Bob Knight – Kiss My Ass
I know this may not be the most inspirational speech of all time, but I had to include Bobby Knight in here somewhere. The “Kiss My Ass” soundbite is quick , but it’s my favorite part of any of his speeches. Basically, the man has a way with words. He is very blunt and I love it. The #5 spot on this list is pretty much a career achievement award. I’d imagine it is also the most controversial.
4. Jack Buck – 9/11
This one was an easy addition to me. Baseball resumed play the day before my 16th birthday. I remember watching this game and watching Mr. Buck’s poem from my basement, getting goosebumps. To lots of people around the country, it took normal activities to regain some sort of normality and Jack Buck’s speech started that. He was sick from Parkinson’s Disease as well as lung cancer but he found the strength to show up in front of a sold out crowd and deliver his speech. He was the perfect symbol for all of us.
Sappy enough? We’re just getting started.
3. Knute Rockne – Win One For the Gipper
We all know the story by now. Rockne’s injury plagued Notre Dame team traveled to New York to take on Army. Before the game he quietly told his team about George Gipp and the words he spoke to Rockne 8 years prior before he died at the age of 25.
‘I’ve got to go, Rock. It’s all right. I’m not afraid. Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys — tell them to go in there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock. But I’ll know about it, and I’ll be happy.’
Rockne’s team upset Army 12-6 on two second half touchdowns and the rest is history. In 1940, future president Ronald Reagan would portray Gipp in the biographical movie Knute Rockne, All-American.
2. Jim Valvano – 1993 ESPYs Speech
First thing: If you saw that this clip was 10 minutes long and skipped it, go back and watch it. It will be the most well-spent ten minutes of your day. It you are truly that pressed for time (most of you are at work on a Friday, so I know you’re not) start it at the 5:57 mark and watch from there.
The back story here is that Jim Valvano was a college basketball coach. He won the 1983 Men’s Basketball Tournament with NC State in one of the most dramatic games in history. In 1992, Valvano was diagnosed with incurable bone cancer. During the 1993 ESPY Awards, he was given the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award. The speech above was his acceptance speech. Valvano died a little less than two months later.
I don’t need to say anything else about this one. It kind of speaks for itself. Click here if you’d like to donate to the V Foundation.
1. Lou Gehrig
Well, you knew this was coming. Lou Gehrig, stricken with ALS, stood up in front of Yankee Stadium and delivered this speech. It’s short and to the point, yet it lives on as one of the greatest speeches in American history. Gehrig’s life and the speech were immortalized in the 1942 Best Picture nominee The Pride of the Yankees which is perhaps the best sports movie of all time.
On two side notes, today is my 24th birthday. Happy birthday to me. Second, Weller has taken another sabbatical from WaB, this time to cheer on the Vols are they go into that rat infested outhouse in Gainesville. He’ll take a chemical shower before returning home. I believe he also has plans to head to Miami to see this Colts take on the Dolphins on Monday night. Looks like you’re stuck with me for the weekend.