Kerry Wood retired from baseball last week. Wood accomplished things many pitchers would cherish. Rookie of the Year. Tied the major league record with 20 strikeouts in one game. Pitched in five postseasons in 14 seasons. Made two All-Star teams.
Not a bad career at all. Yet, the footnote on Wood's career always will be "what if?"
What if Wood hadn't suffered an arm injury at age 26, just as he was reaching his prime. My friend Bryan Brasher -- yeah, the hunting and fishing dude -- posed this question on Facebook, along with some other "what ifs?" Such as what if Joe Namath had two good knees?
It's thought provoking. So much that has happened in sports nearly didn't happen at all. And what if just one thing had happened differently?
The possibilities, of course, are endless. Here are a few:
What if Vince Dooley had not exercised his right of rescission clause in the contract he signed with Auburn? It's well documented that following the 1980 season, when Georgia won the national championship, Auburn offered Dooley the opportunity to return to his alma mater. What's not as well known is that Dooley accepted the offer -- in writing. So says someone who was with Vince and Barbara Dooley on the private plane after Dooley had signed the deal.
But the agreement -- not sure if it was a contract or simply a letter of intent -- contained an "out" clause for Dooley. Had Dooley not invoked that right, Auburn never would have hired Pat Dye. Which means the Iron Bowl still might be held in Birmingham, and Bo Jackson might have signed with Alabama instead of Auburn.
No, Auburn wouldn't have hired Dye. But Georgia might have -- to replace Dooley. After all, Dye did play at Georgia. Or maybe Georgia would have hired Erk Russell, which means Georgia Southern's Division I-AA dynasty might never have happened.
What if Eric Ramsey had not thought to stuff a tape recorder inside his sweat pants? A quick refresher: Ramsey was a defensive back for Auburn, who pleaded for Auburn coaches to give him money to help with his child. Ramsey certainly wasn't the first college athlete to accept improper benefits. But he was the only one who recorded the transactions on a tape recorder stuffed inside his pants.
Dye might have coached another 10 years. Which means Terry Bowden never would have been hired by Auburn, nor Tommy Tuberville, for that matter. Rodney Garner might never have left Auburn.
Alabama's coaching chain of events is loaded with "what ifs?"
What if Alabama had hired Bobby Bowden instead of a) Ray Perkins or b) Bill Curry? Bowden coveted the Bama job. Considering the dynasty he built at Florida State, it's not unrealistic to think he might have won a national championship or two at Alabama.
Choosing Perkins, an NFL coach who had
played at Alabama, at least made some sense. But hiring Curry over Bowden was perplexing. There were some within Bama's power circles who felt that Bowden was too old. Bowden won both of his national championships AFTER that point.
Hiring Curry changed the course of two of our schools. Curry would have lasted at least two more seasons at Georgia Tech, maybe longer. That means Bobby Ross never would have been hired, so the Yellow Jackets' 1990 national championship probably never would have happened.
What if Steve Spurrier didn't feel compelled to validate his ego in the NFL? Urban Meyer never would have gone to Florida. Tim Tebow would have gone elsewhere, maybe Alabama, or would have become a tight end. Can you see Tebow playing quarterback in Spurrier's system? Or can you see Spurrier adjusting his offense to fit Tebow?
What if baseball players had not struck in 1981? Dale Murphy easily would have surpassed 400 home runs, the Braves might have made their run a year early, which means Bobby Cox never would have been fired. But if Cox hadn't been fired as manager, he never would have become general manager. So they might not have drafted Tom Glavine and Chipper Jones or traded for John Smoltz.
What if the Braves had spent their free-agent budget in 1993 on Barry Bonds instead of Greg Maddux? Or what if they got both, as they tried to do?
Yeah, I know. If Spurrier didn't have an ego, he wouldn't be Steve Spurrier. But it's interesting to think about.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org