Another thread I started mostly out of curiosity.
It’s a general rule that sports record holders are either the all-time greats (e.g. Karl Malone, Roger Federer, Jack Nicklaus, Wayne Gretzky, Richard Petty) or phenomenally good at a certain aspect of the game (Dennis Rodman, Barry Bonds, Ricky Henderson).
And then there are journeymen, raw phenoms, roster-fillers, and plain ‘ol underachievers who happen to be in the right place at the right time, who’d be undistinguished except for that one shining mark. In some cases, a mark that will never be surpassed.
Who are the most unlikely, improbable, or flat-out unbelievable record holders of all time?
Let’s keep this discussion to positive records (no Detroit Lions). Include team records only if the team has never amounted to much, not just had a few horrible stretches (no San Francisco 49ers, either).
My starting picks:
Kaio – Most Makuuchi division wins (865 so far) If he gets at least 2 wins in July, he’ll also have the record for most total wins, currently 1045. (He either has or will have a bunch of other records, but those are the big ones.)
Credentials: His early career reads like a manga cliche. He never had much interest in sumo as a kid and was essentially forced to join Tomozuna-beya. However, he quickly developed an aptitude for the ancient and honorable sport, not to mention several powerful rivalries. It took just under four years for him to reach sekitori status, and he never looked back.
His greatest strength was his left hand, which was so strong that he could crush an apple with it, earning him the nickname “The Human Juicer”. If he got a left-hand belt grip and decent forward momentum, he was practically unbeatable.
Unfortunately, injuries and questionable focus meant that he could collapse at any time. He has almost never been able to string together three strong tournaments in a row, and he’s often had to take time off for injury. (In one incredible stretch in 2001, he went championship, dropout, championship, dropout.) This inconsistency ensured that he would never be promoted to yokozuna.
How he did it: Dependable technique, Tiger Woods-esque recovery ability, the current lackluster level of the current sanyaku, and the fact that Japan doesn’t really have anything better right now. There have been some slight grumblings that he’s hung on too long, but nothing’s come of it. Plus he didn’t get promoted to yokozuna (see below). He’ll retire when he damn well feels like it, and right now it looks like it’ll be quite a while yet.
Possible X-factor: Never underestimate rivalries as a motivating factor. He entered sumo at the same time as Akebono, Wakanohana, and Takanohana, and later had a spirited clash with Musoyama, and to a somewhat lesser extent Dejima and Musashimaru. His competitive fire was stoked to an inferno early and has never abated.
Breakable?: Right now the only one with any realistic chance is Hakuho, who has 508 Makuuchi wins and is absolutely lapping the field right now. However, he’s a yokozuna, meaning that as soon as he can’t keep up the pace, he has to retire. A yokozuna also has to retire if he brings dishonor to the rank, which can happen with shocking suddenness (as Asashoryu learned firsthand). My prediction is that when they both retire, whoever has the records keeps them.
Vinny Testaverde – Most consecutive seasons with a touchdown pass (21), most receivers throwing a touchdown pass to (70)
Credentials: An old-school pocket passer, he was the lynchpin of the 1986 University of Miami offense. Buoyed by a standout receiving corps and a somewhat less than punishing schedule, he led the Hurricanes to an 11-0 regular season record and became the first Hurricane to win the Heisman Award. Unfortunately, he’d find the NFL much tougher going; he became one of the streakiest quarterbacks in history, equally capable of passing his team out of a game as into it, and he never stayed in one place for long. Although he had some flashes of brilliance throughout his long career, he will never seriously be considered one of the greats.
How he did it: Strangely (or perhaps fittingly) enough, it’s what he didn’t do that allowed this record. He didn’t scramble a lot and risk injuries. He didn’t abandon the long ball even after another interception. He didn’t get frustrated or discouraged. Most importantly, he didn’t go to prison, go through a ruinous divorce, get involved in a gang shootout, get suspended, take a long hiatus for some ludicrous personal reason, or develop any number of stupid, shameful, destructive habits. This ensured that for a long, long time there’d always be a team somewhere willing to take a chance on him.
Possible X-factor: There were three years the touchdown streak was in jeopardy, 1999, 2005, 2006; he only had one TD pass in each. Reportedly, he was so well respected by then that each of the teams was willing to let him in long enough to keep the streak going. See, courtesy does pay!
Breakable?: Nowadays a quarterback getting playing time for 21 seasons would be an incredible accomplishment. It’ll be quite a while before anyone challenges these marks, if ever.
Antonio Cromartie – Longest play (109 yards)
Credentials: Flashy, bigmouthed feast-or-famine prospect a la Randy Moss. Classic good-but-not-as-good-as-he-thinks-he-is case. Capable of making spectacular plays and singlehandedly changing the outcome of a game, but hampered by both mental and physical breakdowns.
How he did it: A field goal return for a touchdown is extraordinarily rare for the same reason an unassisted triple play is; it requires one-in-a-million conditions and one team absolutely falling asleep on the play. The truly remarkable thing about the play was how easy it was; Cromartie only had to avoid one lazy tackle and was untouched all the way. Nothing more than being in the right place at the right time.
Possible X-factor: The victim was the Vikings. A franchise with a long history of being victimized. Four Super Bowl losses. The catastrophic Herschel Walker deal. An easy field goal by an ace kicker missed, costing them an NFC Championship. Anything can go wrong with this franchise and all too often does.
Breakable?: No, obviously…that’s the beauty of it.
Scott Skiles – Most assists in a game (30)
Credentials: Lessee here… [does search] …led Plymouth High School to Indiana State Championship…First Team All-America selection at Michigan State…1990 NBA Most Improved Player Award…aaaand that’s about it. Other than that, he’s best known as that dumpy white guy who’s partnered with Shaquille O’Neal in the original NBA Jam.
How he did it: Good question.
Possible X-factor: Ummm…he’s always been a good passer, he just needed a chance to prove it?
Breakable?: It looks secure, mainly because you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the NBA with any interest in breaking it. Not quite as dubious as most NIT championships, but certainly nothing to put on a Hall of Fame plaque either.