Convinced that you might not have what it takes to make a sport’s Hall of Fame? That doesn’t mean your name can’t live on forever in the game’s lore. Here are the stories behind a few sports rules and terms that bear a player or innovator’s name.
Figure skating is rife with maneuvers named after their innovators. The spinning Axel jump is named after Norwegian skater Axel Paulsen, who first pulled off the trick in 1882, while the salchow takes its name from Swedish skater Ulrich Salchow, who perfected it in 1909. Those lutzes we hear so much about during the winter Olympics are the invention of Alois Lutz, who broke out the first jump of its kind in a 1913 competition.
For a baseball player, hitting below the Mendoza Line is one of the game’s most ignominious blunders. The feat takes its name from Mario Mendoza, a slick-fielding shortstop who enjoyed a nine-season career with the Pirates, Mariners, and Rangers from 1974 to 1982. Although Mendoza was an ace with the leather, he couldn’t hit a lick, and someone, possibly George Brett, started referring to having a batting average below .200 as being “below the Mendoza line.”
In fairness to Mendoza, he ended his career over his own line with a still-pretty-terrible .215 career average. The Mendoza line wasn’t a total misnomer, though; he had sub-.200 averages in five separate seasons. Mendoza wasn’t pulling an Adam Dunn and buttressing a low batting average with lots of walks, either; his career on-base percentage was a mind-bogglingly bad .245.
Boxing’s Marquess of Queensberry Rules are named after John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry. The rules, which modernized boxing when they were published in 1867, include both reasonable concerns (no wrestling or hugging, rounds should be three minutes long) and ones that seem a bit farfetched today – Rule 11 states that “No shoes or boots with springs allowed.”
Although the Queensberry name is associated with the rules, John Douglas didn’t formulate them. The rules were actually codified by John Graham Chambers, an English athletic legend, but when the Amateur Athletic Club published the rules, they put the marquess’ name and endorsement on the code to add a noble touch.
Queensberry also has a literary claim to fame. Oscar Wilde once sued him for libel after Queensberry publicly accused the author of “posing as a sodomite.” Queensberry was allegedly not pleased that Wilde had taken his son, the poet Lord Alfred Douglas, as a lover.
If you want to make a soccer defender look incredibly silly, hit them with a Cruyff turn. Dutch midfielder Johan Cruyff broke out this little pit of jock-shaking trickery during a match against Sweden during the 1974 World Cup, and it still bears his name. The move is too tricky for words, so have a look for yourself:
Ever need for your favorite NBA team to hit a last-second desperation heave to win a basketball game? Pray the Trent Tucker Rule doesn’t come into effect. According to the rule, catching an inbounds pass and attempting a field goal takes at least 0.3 seconds off of the game clock, and if less than 0.3 seconds remain on the clock, it’s impossible to attempt a shot, although a team can score on a tip-in or deflection. The rule is named after a 1990 Bulls-Knicks game in which Knicks point guard Mark Jackson inbounded the ball with 0.1 second left in a tie game, at which point sharpshooter Tucker caught it and nailed a wild turnaround three to win the game.
The Bulls ended up losing a protest over the outcome of the game, but after the season the NBA added the “Trent Tucker Rule” to the books.
Deion Sanders craved attention for being unique, so it’s only fitting he has two separate rules named after him. When Neon Deion was a college star at Florida State, he came up with a big interception to seal FSU’s win over Auburn in the 1989 Sugar Bowl, but he also opened up a firestorm. It later came to light that Sanders, who was obviously bound for NFL greatness, simply hadn’t attended classes or taken finals the fall semester before the game. When state education officials learned about Sanders’ slacking off, they made a Deion Sanders Rule that required football players at Florida schools to successfully complete their fall classes if they wanted to play in bowl games.
The professional version of Primetime became the center of another controversy when he signed with the Dallas Cowboys in 1995. The Cowboys signed Sanders to a contract with tiny yearly base salaries and a nearly $13 million signing bonus in an attempt to circumvent the NFL’s salary cap. The league didn’t think the maneuver was so great, though, and quickly instituted its own Deion Sanders Rule so that a prorated portion of a player’s signing bonus counted against the salary cap as well.
The Gordie Howe hat trick is a true testament to the hockey legend’s versatility. Instead of a standard hat trick where a player scores three goals, he gets credit for a Gordie Howe hat trick by recording a goal and an assist in a game in which he also gets into a fight, a tribute to Howe’s deft passing, prodigious scoring, and zest for fisticuffs.
Oddly, although Mr. Hockey’s career stretched across five different decades, he only racked up the hat trick that now bears his name twice, both times in the 1953-54 season. Howe wasn’t the first to pull off the trick. That honor apparently goes to Harry Cameron, who scored, assisted, and fought in a 1917 game. Modern players have taken the hat trick to a new level. Brendan Shanahan alone has at least nine of them to his credit.
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