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The 15: Unlikely Baltimore Sports Heroes

October 29, 2018
This month marks the 35th anniversary of the Baltimore Orioles defeating the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1983 World Series. 

The story of the 1983 Orioles was truly their unlikely heroes. Catcher Rick Dempsey was the World Series MVP. Outfielder Jim Dwyer hit a home run in the first inning of Game 1, outfielder John Lowenstein had a home run in Game 2 and "Disco" Dan Ford homered in Game 3. Pitching heroes Mike Boddicker, Storm Davis and Scott McGregor weren't All-Stars that season. 

As if that weren't enough, outfielder Tito Landrum hit the home run to clinch the American League Championship Series, and even catcher John Stefero had a critical, game-winning hit during a comeback win against the Milwaukee Brewers in September. 

So to honor the 1983 Orioles, this month we look at the 15 (other) most unlikely heroes in Baltimore sports history. Who are the athletes whose performance in certain moments was far more significant than the totality of their careers?
 
1. Maryland Linebacker  Leroy Ambush

Ambush had a decent career at Maryland, but he wrote his name in the history books thanks to a huge hit against North Carolina State running back T.A. McClendon in 2003. The hit forced a fumble that Maryland recovered with 1:50 remaining in the game, giving the Terps a miraculous opportunity to rally and win, punching their ticket to the Gator Bowl. Former Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen described it as "one of the great plays in Maryland football history."

2. Orioles Infielder  Robert Andino

"The Curse of the Andino," indeed. In September 2011, we had no idea how things would change for the Orioles as a franchise. So when Andino's base hit to end Game 162 kept the Boston Red Sox out of the playoffs, it felt like it might be one of the more significant baseball moments we'd witness for some time.

3. Orioles Third Baseman  Doug DeCinces

You know the phrase "Orioles Magic," but if you're of a younger age you may not know it was a walk-off home run from DeCinces -- who was never an All-Star during nine years with the Orioles -- to beat the Detroit Tigers in June 1979 that became "the night Orioles Magic was born." 

4. Maryland Guard/Forward  Mike Grinnon

Inexplicably, the unassuming Grinnon is the answer to the trivia question, "Who is the only player in Maryland history to win the NCAA Tournament and ACC Tournament?" He scored just 46 total points during his career, none bigger than the two free throws he made in overtime to clinch the 2004 ACC Tournament title win against Duke. 

5. Ravens Cornerback  Corey Graham And  Receiver Jacoby Jones

Both players were pretty solid contributors for the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl championship team (Jones more as a returner than a receiver). But neither will be forgotten for their game-changing plays during the Ravens' 2012 AFC divisional round win in Denver against the Broncos. Jones, of course, hauled in the "Mile High Miracle" touchdown catch at the end of the fourth quarter. Graham intercepted Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning twice during the game, the second of which set up the overtime game-winner from Ravens kicker Justin Tucker. 

6. Colts Wide Receiver  Eddie Hinton

Hinton had just one season of 500-plus receiving yards during his four years with the Baltimore Colts, but in December 1972 he provided Baltimore fans a major thrill. Johnny Unitas came off the bench to replace an injured Marty Domres in what would be Unitas' final home game at Memorial Stadium. Hinton took a pass from Unitas and turned upfield for 63 yards to give Unitas a touchdown on his final pass as a Colt. 

7. Maryland Center  Mike Mardesich

The big man averaged just 3.7 points per game during his Terrapins career, but he had a game to remember against North Carolina in January 1998. Then a freshman, Mardesich was pressed into extended duty due to foul trouble. He scored the late basket to force overtime, played the entire overtime period and finished with 12 points and nine rebounds to help Maryland take down the No. 1 team in the country.

8. Colts Quarterback  Tom Matte

Matte was a two-time Pro Bowler as a running back, but he is perhaps best remembered for a three-game stretch in 1965 when he played quarterback due to injuries to Unitas and Gary Cuozzo and famously donned a wristband that included a list of plays. Matte managed to beat the Los Angeles Rams and nearly took down the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs. The Colts lost on a very controversial made field goal. 

9. Ravens Safety  Anthony Mitchell and  Defensive End Keith Washington

The divisional round has produced the most memorable moments in Ravens history, including the previously mentioned "Mile High Miracle." In January 2001, the Ravens' divisional round win against the Tennessee Titans included Ray Lewis' legendary takeaway from Titans running back Eddie George and ensuing touchdown. But it also included Washington's block of an Al Del Greco field goal, which Mitchell returned for a score to break what was a 10-10 tie at that point.

10. Colts Kicker  Jim O'Brien

During his four-year NFL career, O'Brien made just 60 of 108 field-goal attempts (55.5 percent). He even had an extra-point attempt blocked during Super Bowl V in January 1971. But he would prove to be the game's hero, connecting on a 32-yard field goal to clinch the 16-13 win against the Dallas Cowboys.

11. Orioles Infielder  Jeff Reboulet

If you looked up "journeyman" in a baseball dictionary, you may well see a picture of the 12-year veteran. Reboulet was a career .240 hitter who had 20 home runs total during his career. But he's best remembered for a stunning home run in October 1997, as he took Hall of Fame left-hander Randy Johnson deep during the first inning of the Orioles' division series-clinching win against the Seattle Mariners. 

12. Orioles Pitcher  Joe Saunders

Saunders went 9-13 with a 4.07 ERA while pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Orioles during the 2012 regular season. But Orioles manager Buck Showalter gave him the ball to start the American League Wild Card Game in Texas against the Rangers that October. Saunders allowed just one run during 5.2 innings in lifting the Birds to their first playoff win in 15 years.

13. Maryland Guard/Forward  Cliff Tucker

When a last-second heave in February 2010 appeared to beat Georgia Tech, it made sense that the shot was taken by Maryland superstar Greivis Vasquez. But when the shot was waved off because Maryland had called a timeout, no one could have scripted what would come next. Tucker, who averaged just 6.0 points per game during four years with the Terps, hit a stunning buzzer-beater to clinch the win, one of the most memorable shots in Maryland history.

14. Navy Safety  Ram Vela

The Midshipmen had lost 43 straight games to Notre Dame coming into their November 2007 matchup in South Bend, Ind. That streak may well have continued had it not been for Vela's stunning fourth quarter "Superman" sack of Fighting Irish quarterback Evan Sharpley, for which he literally leaped entirely over a blocker to make the fourth-down stop and force overtime. Navy would ultimately win, 46-44. 

15. Orioles Designated Hitter  Delmon Young

We all remember it. It was the loudest moment in Camden Yards history. In October 2014, Young's bases-clearing double in the bottom of the eighth completed an improbable come-from-behind win against the Tigers and delivered the Orioles a win in Game 2 of the ALDS.

Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox

Issue 248: October 2018 

Originally published Oct. 15, 2018