7 Memorable STL Sports Moments

20, June 2017

St. Louis is a sports town, no doubt. Local teams and hometown heroes have provided countless action-packed, exhilarating, frustrating, and heartrending moments for fans near and far over the years, but some of those moments stand out even more than others. Here's just a handful of 'em, in no particular order.

1. “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”

Black-and-white photo of two St. Louis Steamers playersSlobo Ilijevski (left) and Don Ebert (right) were two well-known St. Louis Steamers players. Images from The 100 Greatest Moments in St. Louis Sports.

Remember the black-and-orange game balls, the Steam Heat dancers, and the players running onto the field through a cloud of steam to the tune of “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”? The St. Louis Steamers often drew sellout crowds to the old Checkerdome/Arena on Oakland Avenue as members of the Major Indoor Soccer League.

Founded in 1979, the team was loaded with local players, including Ty Keough, Steve Pecher, Don Ebert, and Jeff Cacciatore. And who can forget Yugoslavian goalkeeper Slobo Ilijevski, who loved to display his dribbling skills as he roamed well beyond the safety of his goal box, simultaneously thrilling Steamers fans and fraying their nerves? The fun lasted for nine seasons until the club folded in 1988.

2. Leon!

Black-and-white photo of Leon Spinks holding title beltA victorious Leon Spinks after briefly claiming the heavyweight championship from Muhammad Ali. Image from The 100 Greatest Moments in St. Louis Sports.

In 1976, St. Louis brothers Michael and Leon Spinks won gold medals in boxing at the Montreal Olympics. A year and a half later, Leon earned a title fight against legendary heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali.

Few gave Spinks a chance when he stepped into the ring to face Ali on February 15, 1978, in Las Vegas. But after 15 grueling rounds, Spinks won a split decision and became the new heavyweight champion in one of the greatest upsets in boxing history. Twelve days later, Leon’s famous gap-toothed smile graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. His time as champ was short lived, though: Seven months later, Ali defeated Spinks in a rematch at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.

3. Remembering the St. Louis Maroons

Photo of Henry V. LucasPortrait of Henry Lucas from A Run down the Cycle Path. Missouri History Museum.

When the NBA’s Golden State Warriors began their record-setting 2015–2016 season with 24 straight wins, they surpassed the previous professional sports mark of 20 wins held by the St. Louis Maroons. This long-forgotten baseball team was part of the Union Association, a professional league that lasted just for the 1884 season.

Twenty-six-year-old St. Louisan Henry V. Lucas founded the Maroons that same year. The wealthy Lucas filled the team’s roster with the best players money could buy, and the Maroons easily won the championship with a 94–19 record. Lucas squandered much of his fortune on his baseball team, though, and at the time of his death in 1910 he was working for the street department at a salary of $75 a month.

4. An Upset for the Ages

Sepia-toned photo from the 1950 World Cup match between England and USAHarry Keough (left) and Frank Borghi (right) helped lead the 1950 U.S. soccer team to a landmark World Cup victory. Image courtesy of Ty Keough and Joe Erker.

In 1950 the U.S. national soccer team traveled to Brazil for the World Cup with a roster of amateur players, including six men from the soccer hotbed of St. Louis. In their second match, the U.S. team faced England, one of the best teams in the world and a favorite to win the tournament. Thirty-seven minutes into the match, the Americans scored to take a surprising 1–0 lead, which they managed to keep. Goalkeeper Frank Borghi recalled the anxious final moments: “I kept looking at that referee . . . and saying to myself, ‘Damn it, blow that whistle.’” When the whistle finally blew, the Brazilian fans stormed the field to congratulate the Americans on their shocking victory—one some regard as the greatest upset in World Cup history.

Borghi’s teammate and fellow St. Louisan Harry Keough, who later coached Saint Louis University to five NCAA soccer championships, recalled the grace of the defeated Englishmen: “The English were such gentlemen about it. Such sportsmen. We told them they deserved to win because they were so much better, but they just shook our hands and said, ‘No, lads, you played well.’” The 2005 film The Game of Their Lives was based on the 1950 victory (and was shot in St. Louis!).

5. “Mike Jones Made the Tackle”

Color scan of enevelope celebrating the Rams 2000 Super Bowl winThis commemorative envelope for Super Bowl XXXIV makes it impossible to forget the game's final score. Missouri History Museum.

Following a dismal 4–12 season in 1998, not much was expected of the St. Louis Rams in 1999. When starting quarterback Trent Green suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason, the outlook appeared even bleaker. Then in stepped unheralded backup Kurt Warner, who led an explosive offense that became known as the Greatest Show on Turf.

The Rams finished the regular season with a 13–3 record, and after playoff victories over the Vikings and the Buccaneers, the team faced off against the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. Clinging to a 23–16 lead in the game’s waning moments, Rams linebacker Mike Jones tackled Titans receiver Kevin Dyson a yard short of the end zone on the final play to clinch St. Louis's victory.

6. The Streetcar Series

Color scan of program cover from the 1944 World SeriesAll eyes were on St. Louis for the 1944 World Series featuring two hometown teams. Missouri History Museum.

St. Louisans once described their city with the phrase “first in shoes, first in booze, and last in the American League,” noting the city’s preeminence in shoe manufacturing and brewing and the futility of its American League baseball franchise, the St. Louis Browns. But the Browns turned the tables in 1944, winning the pennant and setting up a World Series showdown with their crosstown rivals, the Cardinals.

The Browns took a 2–1 lead in the Streetcar Series, but the Cardinals swept the next three games to win their fifth World Series championship. The Browns never won the pennant again, and after the 1953 season the team moved to Maryland to become the Baltimore Orioles.

7. Four Straight Titles for the Browns

Black-and-white photo of the 1885 St. Louis BrownsOwner Chris Von der Ahe (upper left), player-manager Charlie Comiskey (upper right), and the 1885 St. Louis Browns. Missouri History Museum.

In modern baseball circles, the name Comiskey is associated with Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox. But the stadium’s namesake, Hall of Famer Charlie Comiskey, rose to prominence in the game as the player-manager of the first St. Louis Browns team, which won four consecutive American Association pennants from 1885 to 1888.

The Browns’ owner was a flamboyant German immigrant and saloon owner named Chris Von der Ahe, who recognized that thirsty baseball fans would be good for business. Der Boss President, as he referred to himself, was very much a hands-on owner, as Comiskey recalled years later: “He was, when I played for him, a money-getter, and as every victory meant an increase in the receipts, he raved over a defeat as if he had lost $1,000. . . . Many a time did he tear into the dressing room after the game and swear at those players who may have made an unfortunate error. ”

—Dennis Northcott, Associate Archivist, Reference

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