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Who knew? Some sports facts that may surprise you

Jeff Birchfield • Dec 23, 2019 at 10:08 PM

Certain sports figures are given almost mythical status, which often makes it hard to distinguish fact from fiction.

When we hear certain names, we remember the greatness and believe they have to rank No. 1 or at least in the top two or three in some major category. Surely, this legend dominated, this one was champion for a long time or another was named MVP during a historic season.

With college sports, we often see the name brands and assume they must have accomplished this or, in the case of a mid-major program, think how rare it is to pull off the upset. We believe this coach won a national championship or another one, considered a genius in the pros, could win a Super Bowl no matter who his quarterback is.

Following is a list of sports facts that might surprise you.

AUTO RACING

The late Dale Earnhardt led the NASCAR Cup Series in wins only two times during his career.

You know the legend. “The Intimidator.” The “Man in Black.” The driver who would do anything to win a race, often associated with the quote: “Second place is the first loser.”

Earnhardt’s greatest quality was actually his consistency, which led to seven NASCAR championships. His 76 wins rank eighth on the all-time list, and 1987 and 1990 were his only seasons of leading the tour in victories.

Richard Petty holds the record for most years leading the series in wins. It happened seven times during a 13-year stretch (1963-75). Petty, who holds the record with 200 career wins, led the series by himself in 1963, 1967, 1970, 1971 and 1975. He tied David Pearson for the most wins in 1968 and Cale Yarborough in 1974.

Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon led the series in wins in six seasons each. Waltrip’s dominance came over a decade (1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1989), and the 84-time Cup Series winner tied Bobby Allison in 1983 and Rusty Wallace in 1989.

Gordon, a 93-time NASCAR winner, led the series in wins six times during a seven-year stretch from 1995-2001. No driver tied him for the top spot any of those seasons. Tony Stewart broke up Gordon’s monopoly with a series-leading six victories in 2000.

BOXING

Wladimir Klitschko has the longest reign of any heavyweight boxing champion — not Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey, Muhammad Ali or any of the other great names associated with the heavyweight title.

The Ukrainian heavyweight held the title for 4,383 days over 12 years over two different title reigns. Neither Mike Tyson nor Rocky Marciano ranks in the top 10 of longest reigns. Klitschko also holds the record for most opponents beaten, 23, one more than 22 for Louis.

Louis, the “Brown Bomber,” holds the record for title fight wins, 27-25 over Klitschko. Ali is third with 22 championship wins. Klitschko’s brother, Vitali, is tied with Lennox Lewis for fifth on the list with 15 title fight wins.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

East Tennessee State has beaten over half the men’s programs currently in the Southeastern Conference.

Last week’s victory at LSU gave ETSU a win over a seventh SEC school. The Bucs have beaten Mississippi four times and South Carolina and Mississippi State three times each. The Bucs have won twice against Tennessee and Georgia and once over LSU and Arkansas.

ETSU has a 17-56 record against SEC teams. Its last victory against a SEC team prior to the LSU game came against Mississippi State, 67-65, three seasons ago.

The SEC team the Bucs have the worst record against is Vanderbilt (0-8), and they are 0-5 against both Florida and Kentucky. They’re 0-3 against Alabama and lost their only matchup with Auburn. They’ve never played newer SEC members Missouri and Texas A&M.

The Bucs also have wins over Atlantic Coast Conference schools Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. Highlights include Skeeter Swift scoring 20 points in a 71-63 win at No. 9 Duke in December 1968, nine months after the Bucs beat Dave Cowens- led Florida State in the NCAA tournament.

The first marquee win of the Steve Forbes era came in November 2015 when ETSU beat Georgia Tech 69-68 in Atlanta on Ge’Lawn Guyn’s 3-pointer with one second left.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Michigan has never won a coaches’ poll national championship.

One of the marquee brands in college football, the program that dates to 1879 owns the record for all-time wins with 962.

The Wolverines claim 11 national championships and officially have two Associated Press titles (1948, 1997). The coaches’ poll dates to 1950. The Wolverines were named AP national champions in 1997 after beating Washington State 21-16 in the Rose Bowl. However, the coaches picked Nebraska — which beat Peyton Manning-quarterbacked Tennessee 42-17 in the Orange Bowl — as champs.

The Vols, who claim six national titles, were coaches’ poll champions in 1951 and 1998, the same years they were recognized by AP.

Legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler never won the AP or coaches’ national title despite winning 194 games and 13 Big 10 championships. The closest he came was the 1985 season when the Wolverines beat Nebraska 27-23 in the Fiesta Bowl and finished No. 2 to Oklahoma in both polls.

The Sooners, No. 3 entering New Year’s Day, beat No. 1 Penn State in the Orange Bowl and later were crowned national champions. Miami, No. 2 heading into the final day, lost 35-7 to Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl.

MLB

Ted Williams, the last man to hit .400 over a major league season in 1941, didn’t win his league MVP that year.

The Boston slugger led the majors with 37 home runs, 135 runs scored, 147 walks and a .553 on-base percentage. His 1.287 on-base plus slugging percentage was the best since Babe Ruth’s in 1923 and not surpassed until Barry Bonds’ 2002 season.

The man who beat Williams for the American League MVP award was the New York Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio, who captured the nation’s attention with his 56-game hit streak. DiMaggio finished behind Williams with 30 home runs and a .357 batting average. DiMaggio held the edge over Williams in doubles (43-33), triples (11-3) and total bases (348-338). Team success played a big part of the award: The Yankees won their ninth World Series, while the Red Sox won 84 games that season.

The following season, Williams finished runner-up for MVP to another Yankee, Joe Gordon, before winning his first of his two MVP awards in 1946 after he returned from military service. DiMaggio won three MVP awards, including in 1947, a year in which Williams bested him in every major statistical category.

NBA

Neither Larry Bird nor Magic Johnson ranks in the top 30 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

The players dominated the 1980s with five championships for Johnson’s Lakers and three for Bird’s Celtics. Their compelling rivalry is often credited for making the NBA the nation’s second most popular sports league, yet neither is among the leading scorers. Bird ranks 34th on the list, behind other Celtics legends Paul Pierce, John Havlicek, Kevin Garnett and, most surprisingly, Robert Parish — a former Bird teammate.

Johnson is 81st on the all-time list. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, his former teammate, is first, and a Lakers star from a later era, Kobe Bryant, ranks third. For those curious, Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz, who played one season with the Lakers, is second on the list.

Bill Russell, considered the greatest champion in NBA history, is only 152nd on the scoring list. Of course, the Celtics legendary big man was more known as a defensive specialist.

NFL

Bill Belichick has a losing coaching record (51-65) without Tom Brady at quarterback.

Often debated is who deserves more credit for the Patriots’ six Super Bowl victories and nine AFC championships since 2001. Brady detractors call him a system quarterback and point to Matt Cassell going 11-5 in 2009 as New England’s starter.

Also consider that the first part of Belichick’s career was spent at Cleveland, where few coaches in the modern era have found success. The Browns made just one playoff appearance and went 36-44 in Belichick’s five seasons. This despite having Nick Saban as defensive coordinator for four of those seasons.

Belichick, ranked as the greatest NFL coach of all-time by Athlon Sports earlier his year, won two Super Bowls as defensive coordinator on Bill Parcells’ New York Giants teams prior to becoming a head coach.

Still, the numbers would seem to indicate Brady and Belichick are, at a minimum, equal partners behind the Patriots’ success.

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