When the going gets tough, just give up

February 29, 1996|By Bill Conlin | Bill Conlin,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

PHILADELPHIA -- Every man has his breaking point. The burning slivers of straw under the fingernails of Rutgers-Camden provost Walter K. Gordon were his basketball team. When the losing streak reached 108 to coincide with the end of the Pioneers' fifth straight winless season -- an 0-24 tour de farce -- Walt shrieked, "Enough, no more."

Gordon didn't fire the coach. He fired the whole nonscholarship program.

P. T. Barnum said, "There's a sucker born every minute."

Henry Ford said, "History is bunk."

Michael Douglas said, "Greed is good."

Walt Gordon said, "There are times in life situations when you should give up."

The provost of Rutgers-Camden, the Sorbonne of South Jersey, said, "The broader base of society doesn't give high grades to people who lose on an ongoing basis."

Old history buff that I am, it was impossible not to wonder how some of history's great moments and lines would have played had they been framed in a context where the better part of valor was to come out with hands raised.

Inside a beleaguered mission in Old Mexico, for example, Sam Houston might have looked out at all those Mexican troops and said, "I might not remember the Alamo, but I sure as hell won't forget the idiot who built this place without a back door."

And with the Redcoats storming up Bunker Hill, the cry might have been, "If they get so close you can see the whites of their eyes, run"

A palpable hush hangs over Yankee Stadium as "The Iron Horse" leans into the microphone to complete his farewell speech. His ++ teammates already are weeping when Lou Gehrig says, "Today, I consider myself the unluckiest man on the face of the earth."

This just in from fiery patriot Nathan Hale, due to be hung for violating the sedition laws: "I have just one life and anybody who thinks I'm going to give it for my country is full of mutton."

Jim Valvano at the ESPYs: "Give up!"

And how would the civil rights movement have turned out had the Rev. Martin Luther King walked into the lunch counter at Woolworth's and said, "The next redneck who lays a hand on me, I'm gonna kick his butt all the way to Selma."

What if Rosa Parks had said, "Sorry, mam, I'll move to the back of the bus where I belong."

With the benefit of hindsight, Hamlet could have started his most famous soliloquy, "If I decide that not to be is the way to be can we just skip ahead to the dueling scene?"

Patrick Henry: "Liberty is overrated. Besides, I don't even drink tea."

Here comes General Douglas MacArthur. The island fortress of Corregidor is a flaming rock. The PT boat skippers look at their watches nervously. America's most famous general draws on his ubiquitous corncob pipe and says, "Return to this hellhole? You've got to be kidding."

I've always wondered why naval heroes seem to get so many of history's great exit lines. Well, not if Walt Gordon had his way.

Lord Nelson at Trafalgar: "Kiss me, Hardy, but only if the men aren't looking."

Admiral Farragut at Lake Erie: "If you spot any of those damn torpedoes, full speed ahead -- right back to port."

John Paul Jones after engaging the "Bonhomme Richard": "We have met the enemy, and for a Frenchman, he's not a bad guy."

Coach, Lombardi, how do you feel about winning? "Again, winning isn't everything."

Just in, the revised inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty: "Keep your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free. Send me rich bankers who speak English."

We must have misunderstood Joe Louis before his fight with slick-moving light-heavyweight champion Billy Conn. What he really meant to say was, "He can run, and if he can also hit, I'm in big trouble."

Imagine how the words of a quote machine named Sir Winston Churchill would show up in Bartlett's after a bit of Walt Gordon revisionism.

"In the best tradition of British boxers, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat."

"We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. Then we shall put the soccer balls away and beat the Nazis."

And what about all those great movie lines?

"If you play it again, Sam, I'm going to throw up."

"I love the smell of napalm in the morning; it smells like the ride from the airport to Center City."

"I can't even spell contendah."

"Kindness of strangers? Nah, I just like to turn an occasional trick."

"Are you talkin' to me? Sorry, I was humming Senator Palantine's campaign song."

"Frankly, Scarlett, I think we should go upstairs until this fog lifts."

"No thanks, chocolates make me break out, especially the ones in a fancy box."

Cal Ripken Jr., comes to mind on the list of how giving in once in DTC a while might have been the better game plan. "Excuse me, Earl, got a minute? Now that I'm pushing 30, I think I can be more value to the club if I sit out a day game after a night game once in a while."

And shouldn't Custer have been last-standing under a flag of surrender? "Men, we blew the movie, but I hear the Sioux treat their prisoners really well."

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