Top 100 Irish America's Finest In Sport
"What we talk about is great effort, outstanding preparation, and being the very best that you can be. If you are as good as you can possibly be, the rest of that stuff will take care of itself."
Tom Coughlin, New York Giants coach.
In the following pages we salute all those sporting heroes who are "the best they can be."
Though the 2007 Patriots will be remembered for the perfect team that wasn't, their quarterback still had an incredible season. Not only did Tom Brady win NFL MVP, but the three-time Super Bowl champion threw 50 touchdown passes in an unbeaten 16-0 regular season. In fact his numbers were so ridiculously high all season that it seemed a glorious coronation was inevitable. However, Tom Coughlin, the man on the opposite side of this page, and his team of Giants did not read the script and put an end to such perfect ambitions.
Brady, though, put a brave face on the loss immediately after the Super Bowl, saying, "We had a great year. It's just unfortunate that tonight turned out the way it did."
Though this defeat will take some time to recover from, Brady (whose family traces its Irish roots to counties Cork and Cavan) is only 30, so it is surely only a matter of when, rather than if, he gets his fourth ring.
In the meantime, Brady's popularity has transcended his sport and now he is beginning to rival the likes of David Beckham and Tiger Woods as global sporting icons. The New England Patriots quarterback is now as popular for his actions off the field as he is on the gridiron.
At the end of the 2006 season, Tom Coughlin was being run out of New York by media and fans alike. Twelve months later and the man can almost walk on water. That's what a Super Bowl win will do for a coach, but it was his own transformation as well as how he changed the mindset of his team that was most impressive.
Defensive linchpin Michael Strahan said it best when he remarked, "From more rules and less suggestions to more suggestions and less rules." Once Coughlin relented a little on the rigid discipline that is his trademark, the Giants responded by warming to the man and buying into his plan. Team that up with a quarterback who discovered himself, add a mean defense, and the man born in Waterloo, New York, was the rock upon which the Patriots floundered.
To the victor come the spoils, they say, and going from a one-year last-chance-saloon contract signed at the start of the season, Coughlin can expect a multi-year contract with a serious pay hike when the celebrations die down.
"Every team is beatable, you never know," said Coughlin after his team's improbable win. "The right moment, the right time, every team is beatable." What he failed to mention was that to accomplish that, you need the the right mentality and the right coach. Way to go, Tom.
For fifty years Jack Curran has coached basketball and baseball at Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens, New York. In that time he has coached and mentored thousands of kids in the local community. And not without success either.
Curran and Archbishop Molloy have won the double - the New York City basketball and baseball title in the same year - four times. No other school has even done it once. In fact, with five basketball titles and 17 baseball titles, the Molloy trophy cabinet is pretty full. In terms of wins, in basketball Curran is around the 900 mark and in baseball he is hovering around 1,600.
But coaching was not his first calling. Curran was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers as a pitcher and ended up in the Philadelphia Phillies farm system in the early 50s before a back injury put an end to his playing career. After working as a recreations director, Spalding rep and building material salesman, Curran came across a newspaper ad for a coaching position at Archbishop Molloy. The rest, as they say. . .
During his time, six former Stanners (as the basketball players are named) have gone on to the NBA, but as Curran told The New York Times in an interview recently, "I've been told that the true measure of a coach is the quality of the people he has turned out long after they have left him. In that regard, I think I measure up pretty good."
Carolina Hurricanes center Matt Cullen comes from a family with ice hockey in its blood. Cullen's father was the hockey coach at Moorhead Senior High School (the Minnesota town where Matt grew up and the school he graduated from in 1995). One of his younger brothers, Mark, plays for the Detroit Red Wings and another, Joe, played for the Toronto RoadRunners.
After two years at St. Cloud State University, Cullen was drafted in 1996 to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. After five and a half years with the Ducks, it was on to Florida and then to the Carolina Hurricanes, where he won the Stanley Cup in 2005. He was then traded to the New York Rangers but returned to Carolina after one season. As we go to press on Feb. 23, Cullen scored twice to help the Hurricanes beat the Washington Capitals, helping Carolina maintain its hold on the Southeast Division lead.
Outside the rink, Cullen is very active in the community. He and his wife set up the Cullen's Children Foundation in 2004, to help fund children's healthcare, especially those affected by cancer. The couple have a son, Brooks.
There's no avoiding the obvious. Baseball pitching great Tom Glavine did not leave the New York Mets on the best of terms. He pitched poorly in the last game of the 2007 season, a game which happened to decide whether or not the Mets were going to make the playoffs.
But another fact is just as obvious. There was plenty of blame to go around when it came to the Mets' 2007 collapse. And in terms of Glavine's entire stellar career, the final Mets game, while unfortunate, does not change the fact that he will one day be inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame.
Glavine, an Irish-American who was born in Massachusetts, won his 300th baseball game last August. When he reached this milestone, he joined an exclusive club whose first three members were Irish-Americans: Pud Galvin, Tim Keefe and Mickey Welch were the first three major league pitchers to win 300 games.
Glavine attributes his success to the work ethic instilled by his family. "My parents were all about hard work and doing things right," Glavine was quoted as saying after winning his 300th game. "If you are going to do something, do it right. Put all of your effort into it, not to where you are just satisfied to get it done. Never do something half-ass."
Glavine's dad, Fred (a construction worker), added: "Tommy probably gets a lot of that [toughness] from me. I'm very determined and, like me, he isn't a rah-rah guy. It's all business. His trademark is to be tough, no matter what. He might have trouble in the first inning, but he makes adjustments, and finds a way."
For all of his success on the baseball diamond, a very different sport was nearly Glavine's professional calling. He was such a standout hockey player that the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League drafted him after high school. Following his 300th win this year, admirers could not help but note the dignified manner in which he plays the game.
"To watch Tom Glavine pitch a game is to watch a professional athlete who has mastered the art of pitching. No doubt in my mind you'll be a first-round inductee into the Hall of Fame," fellow 300-game- winner Tom Seaver told a roaring crowd at Shea Stadium.
For better or worse, Glavine has moved away from New York and returned to the city where he made a name for himself, Atlanta. He may be 42, but the Braves will still be expecting big things from Thomas Michael Glavine in 2008.
Hurley and O'Brien Guide Young Athletes
An extraordinary meeting of Irish-American minds took place in Springfield, Massachusetts this past January, on Martin Luther King Day.
True, this is not a day people associate with the Irish. But Jack O'Brien and Bob Hurley have spent so much time trying to guide young African-Americans in the right direction that it was only fitting they add their voices to the chorus of Americans discussing race and class - not to mention sports - at Martin Luther King Day events.
O'Brien and Hurley are two of the most dedicated and successful high school basketball coaches in the U.S. Hurley's achievements at St. Anthony's in Jersey City are, by now, well known. He has won over 90 percent of his games over three decades of coaching, and has nabbed over 20 state titles. Hurley, who grew up in Jersey City, is sometimes said to be responsible for "the Miracle of St. Anthony's."
Serving largely poor and working class students, the school has fewer than 250 students, and only about 130 are boys. And yet, from that humble pool, Hurley has created a dynasty.
As a profile in the New York Daily News put it: "The training and discipline of [Hurley's] team carry over into academics. The coach can be proud not only of the five NBA players and first-round draft picks whose careers he nurtured, but also of the 200 who played college hoops. . In Hurley's 33 years at St. Anthony's, all but one of his players went on to higher education."
Meanwhile, former Salem High School coach Jack O'Brien has left an indelible mark on the lives of many basketball players both in Salem in the mid-1980s and more recently at Charlestown High,when he led his all-black basketball team to many state championships.
Off the court, O'Brien, a Medford, Massachusetts native, who has also been involved with the Plummer Home, a residential home in Salem for boys from troubled homes, inspires his players to work hard not just in sports but in the classroom.
"He has an incredible record of getting guys into college," says Neil Swidey, author of The Assist: Hoops, Hope and the Game of their Lives (Public Affairs).
The Assist is the result of a three-part series Swidey did on Coach O'Brien and the Charlestown High team for the Globe Magazine in 2004. He went on to spend three years documenting the lives of O'Brien and his players.
Swidey's roots are Irish as well. His maternal grandfather, Patrick Ridge, was born in Galway, while Patrick's wife Nora O'Brien was born in Clare.
Justin McBride rides bulls for a living. On the Professional Bull Riders Build Ford Tough Series since 1999, McBride has had his ribs broken, his lung punctured and his ankle shattered in a sport where making mistakes means a lot more than being told off by your coach.
But such an unforgiving sport produces hardy men, and McBride is one of the hardiest. The two-time world champion (2005 and 2007) had an amazing season last year when he not only clinched his second world title, but also recorded the most tour victories in one season (eight) and the most career wins (30) to date.
The 28-year-old also broke the one-season earnings record with his 2007 haul of $835,321. McBride had surgery to reconstruct his left shoulder (he rode while injured in the 2007 World Championships) last November and is currently working hard on his rehabilitation.
Away from the rodeo, Justin is married to Jill. The couple have one daughter, Addison Claire and live in Oklahoma. Just before he won the 2007 title he released his first country album, Don't Let Go. No guessing as to where he got his inspiration for that title!
2008 has already proved that there's no rest for the weary, at least not for Davis Cup winners. U.S. team captain Patrick McEnroe is already preparing his team for the Summer Olympics as well as the defense of their Davis Cup crown. McEnroe, luckily, is familiar with pressure. A world-class tennis player, he had his greatest success as a doubles player, winning 17 professional titles in his career, including the 1989 French Open with Jim Grabb. His career-high doubles ranking was # 3. As a singles player McEnroe won one title, in 1995 in Sydney.
McEnroe took over as Davis Cup team captain in 2000 after his brother, tennis legend John McEnroe, retired. It was the Davis Cup that brought the McEnroe men back to Ireland in 1983, where the McEnroe patriarch, JP, traces his ancestry to Belfast.
When not training for the Davis Cup, McEnroe works as a sports analyst and commentator for ESPN. He is married to actress Melissa Errico, who is from his hometown of Manhasset, New York.
Without protection from the offensive linemen, often the forgotten men of football, the quarterback is a sitting duck. Shaun O'Hara, New York Giants' 303-pound 6-foot-3-inch center, is a Giant in every sense of the word. It was a typical gracious gesture when O'Hara turned the spotlight on quarterback Eli Manning as the Super Bowl hero.
"He's always being compared to somebody, whether it's his dad or his brother or Phil Simms. Tonight, I think Eli built himself a platform for others to be compared to him," O'Hara told The New York Times.
The Chicago-born 30-year-old has always been a team man. Able to play at both guard and center, O'Hara has been an important cog in the Giants' offensive line since he joined the team in March 2003 from Cleveland.
Not only does he give of himself on the field, in 2005 he was named the Giants' Man of the Year in recognition for his contribution to the community. That same year he was honored by the United Way as its Hometown Hero.
For the past 58 years, Vin Scully has been known as the "Voice of the Dodgers." Following the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, Scully has witnessed and broadcast the triumphs of the greats, from Jackie Robinson to Sandy Koufax. His recent sign-on to his 58th season with the Dodgers makes this the longest time any sportscaster has spent with one team.
Inducted into the American Sportscasters Association's Hall of Fame in 1992, Scully was also elected to the Radio Hall of Fame in 1995. The 2005 book Voices of Summer by Curt Smith names Scully "Baseball's All Time Best Broadcaster." That year Scully was also named the California Sportscaster of the Year.
In addition to 25 World Series and 12 All-Star game broadcasts. Scully has worked for the NFL and PGA. A graduate of Fordham University, Vin Scully was born in the Bronx to Irish immigrant parents. Today he lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Sandra.
In her 31st season at the helm of The University of Virginia's (UVA) women's basketball team, Coach Debbie Ryan's stellar career will see her inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame with the class of 2008. A Naismith Coach of the Year in 1991 and a seven-time Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year, Ryan had her 600th victory in 2004.
In 2000 Ryan was diagnosed withpancreatic cancer and is now in remission. Ryan told UVA about her brush with the disease and how it affected her. "I've learned to reach out to other people in this same position, and to families who have loved ones in this position. It's been a friend to me because I think that as much as an enemy it is, it's made me a better person, a better coach and a better mentor."
As well as continuing her quest for her first NCAA title, in 2004 Ryan coached the women's basketball team at the Pan-American Games, where they won the silver medal.
At only 25, Alan Webb holds the American record for the mile at three minutes and 46.91 seconds, and ended the 2007 season as the fastest miler in the world. In September he won the Fifth Avenue Mile in New York over the defending champion, Kevin Sullivan.
Webb is one of several American runners represented by former Irish mile great Ray Flynn (89 sub-4:00 miles) who now owns and operates Flynn Sports Management.
Webb's mile record makes him the eighth fastest man in history. In addition to his mile triumph, he is also the world record holder for the 1500-meter run, at three minutes and thirty seconds. Coached by Scott Raczko, Webb gained valuable experience competing at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Ever improving, if he stays injury free and maintains this form, he will be a big threat at the Olympics in Beijing later this summer. Alan was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, today he resides in Reston, Virginia. He is continuing his college education at George Mason University. His Irish roots are from Co. Antrim where his ancestors lived in the early 1800s. His relative Joseph Antrim Webb immigrated to Philadelphia in the 19th century.
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