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The 15: Local Sports Stories That Would Make Good '30 For 30' Films

August 15, 2017
Earlier this month, the documentary film "Baltimore Boys" debuted on ESPN and told the story of the legendary basketball teams at Baltimore's Dunbar High School in the early 1980s. The film was the latest in ESPN's award-winning "30 For 30" series to tackle a local sports topic. Previously, "The Band That Wouldn't Die" told the story of the Baltimore Colts Marching Band; "Without Bias" remembered the 1986 death of Maryland basketball legend Len Bias; and "Elway To Marino" looked at how the 1983 NFL Draft shook out with the Colts drafting Stanford quarterback John Elway, who they later traded to the Denver Broncos. 

With that in mind, The 15 this month looks at other local sports stories that might make a good "30 For 30" film. My suggestions largely feature more modern subjects, as a documentary film needs living storytellers who are able to give quality perspective. And while the stories are local, I tried to consider that in order to make a good "30 For 30," they would have to also be interesting to a national audience. 

So here are some ideas, complete with title suggestions. And like all "30 For 30" films, I even offer a potential "What if I told you ..." tagline that could be in the trailer. 

1. "30 For 30: Aquaman"

"What if I told you ... being the world's most dominant athlete isn't always all it's cracked up to be?"

Subject: Baltimore native Michael Phelps' remarkable journey from a kid growing up with ADHD to the greatest Olympic champion of all time, despite missteps outside of the pool, including multiple DUI arrests.

2. "30 For 30: Barbaro"

"What if I told you ... not all superheroes get their happy endings?"

Subject: Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro's shocking injury early in the 2006 Preakness Stakes that ultimately led to his death.

3. "30 For 30: Categorically Denied"

"What if I told you ... when you point your finger, sometimes your finger points back?"

Subject: Former Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro testing positive for steroids just days after becoming only the fourth player in MLB history to reach 500 career home runs and 3,000 career hits (and mere months after vehemently denying steroid use while testifying before Congress).

4. "30 For 30: The Champ Is Rocked"

"What if I told you ... in the middle of the night on the other side of the world, the impossible occurred?"

Subject: Then-largely unknown Baltimore native Hasim Rahman's stunning knockout win against boxing heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis in South Africa in 2001.

5. "30 For 30: Draft Nerd"

"What if I told you ... sometimes a silly idea can lay the foundation for an empire?"

Subject: The career of ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. (Calvert Hall), who went from making draft evaluations for fun in the 1970s to becoming an iconic figure in sports broadcasting.

6. "30 For 30: Flanny" 

"What if I told you ... things aren't always the way they appear?"

Subject: The devastating 2011 suicide of former Orioles pitcher, front office executive and broadcaster Mike Flanagan.

7. "30 For 30: Jeffrey Freaking Maier"

"What if I told you ... the actions of a child could alter the course for two franchises and their fan bases?"

Subject: The story of Derek Jeter's 1996 American League Championship Series Game 1 home run thanks to the interference of then-12-year-old Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier. The story would be told from the perspective of New York fans (where he is revered after playing a role in what would be the beginning of the Yankees’ dynasty) and Baltimore fans (where he is reviled for having hurt the Orioles' chances of winning a World Series before a futile stretch of losing baseball began). 

8. "30 For 30: The Jewish Jordan"

"What if I told you ... the biggest basketball phenom of the late 1990s could be found under a yarmulke?"

Subject: Former Towson University and Talmudical Academy basketball player Tamir Goodman's ascent to national prominence, including his commitment to play for the University of Maryland at one point.

9. "30 For 30: The Man Who Changed The Game"

"What if I told you ... not even death could end the impact of one of football's giants?"

Subject: After his Hall of Fame career ended, former Baltimore Colts tight end John Mackey -- who led the fight for free agency during his time as NFL Players Association president  -- brought the league's head injury debate to prominence during his very public battle with dementia.

10. "30 For 30: No Spectators" 

"What if I told you ... if a baseball game is played in a park and no one is there to see it, it definitely still makes a sound?"

Subject: The 2015 game between the Orioles and Chicago White Sox played in front of no fans at Camden Yards amidst the backdrop of the civil unrest in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.

11. "30 For 30: Peter The Greek"

"What if I told you ... half of a city can think you're No. 1 and the other half can see you as public enemy No. 1?" 

Subject: Peter Angelos' tumultuous era as Orioles owner while also having the reputation of being one of the most philanthropic people in the city.

12. "30 For 30: Prelude to Immortality"

"What if I told you ... a 1993 brawl nearly ended it all?"

Subject: The many close calls and issues former Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. faced before breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive games record in 1995, including ankle injuries, struggles at the plate, his father getting fired as Orioles manager, twisting his knee during the Orioles' brawl with the Seattle Mariners and more.

13. "30 For 30: Ray-demption"

"What if I told you ... a man could go from a jumpsuit to a gold suit?"

Subject: Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis' rise from a 2000 murder accusation to a Hall of Fame career as an inspirational football icon.

14. "30 For 30: Sabelhaus"

"What if I told you ... one of the most significant prospects of all time never played a snap of college football?"

Subject: The failed hype of former McDonogh quarterback and prized Florida recruit Bobby Sabelhaus, which led to the term "Sabelhaus" becoming synonymous with recruiting busts. (This hypothetical "30 For 30" would be particularly interesting because Sabelhaus is actually the producer of "Baltimore Boys." He told Glenn Clark Radio July 21 he didn't think his story was interesting enough to warrant its own documentary but said he'd participate if someone else wanted to make it.)

15. "30 For 30: Unwanted" 

"What if I told you ... sometimes reality is much more difficult to believe than fiction?"

Subject: Baltimore native/Maryland basketball legend and Coppin State coach Juan Dixon's incredible path from being a scrawny orphan who lost his parents to heroin addiction, to receiving few scholarship offers before landing at Maryland and then leading the Terps to their only national championship (while also becoming the school's all-time leading scorer). Oh, and then he played nearly a decade in the NBA, had a role in a reality TV show, returned to his alma mater and then later his hometown to coach before discovering a biological father he never knew existed.

Issue 236: August 2017