Column, Movie Diary

Riding the wave

By Dom Cioffi

Momentum is an amazing thing. Whether it’s sitting behind a canvas to paint a landscape, building a retaining wall in your yard, or going out for a run on the weekend, finding a groove that initiates a burst of energy makes any task seem effortless and enjoyable.

But the power of momentum is probably most obvious inside the arena of sports. Just ask any athlete – amateur or professional – how powerful momentum can be during a competition, tournament, or season. Momentum can be a game-changer by pumping up the individual or team who harnesses it while rendering the opponent devastated by its force.

But where momentum really shines is when an athlete or team is in this midst of a streak. Momentum, in fact, is directly responsible for some of the greatest streaks in history.

Consider the great Joe DiMaggio and his epic streak of hitting safely in 56 consecutive baseball games – a record so illustrious that many believe that it will never be broken. Pete Rose came the closest in 1983 with a 44-game hitting streak, while Paul Molitor hit safely in 39 games in 1987.

And how about Byron Nelson and his 11 straight victories on the PGA Tour in 1945? Nelson’s streak supercharged the game of golf, sending its popularity into a new realm with fans. Had his back not been so degraded from the pressure and strain of constant competitive play, Nelson may have gone on to win many more. Even the great Tiger Woods, at the top of his game could “only” muster 7 consecutive wins.

One of the most unimaginable streaks (given how punishing professional sports can be on the human body) is Cal’s for 2,632 consecutive games played record. Figuring that the average baseball player goes three full weeks before they get a day off, it’s almost insane to consider that Ripkin went 15 years without a break. Add in his Hall of Fame offensive production and stellar fielding and you end up with a true iron horse sportsman.

A close runner up to Ripkin’s streak is that of 400m hurdler Edwin Moses. During the decade between 1977 and 1987, Moses won an astonishing 107 consecutive finals (120 consecutive races) and two gold medals (he most likely would have won three, but the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Many hurdlers actual quit the 400m because Moses was considered impossible to defeat.

And how could we forget Jahangir Khan, the former World No. 1 professional squash player from Pakistan and widely considered the greatest player in the history of the game? Between 1981 and 1986, Jahangir was unbeaten in competitive play, winning 555 consecutive matches. This was not only the longest winning streak in squash history, but also one of the longest unbeaten runs by any athlete in top-level professional sports.

Of course, many great streaks also come at the hands of entire teams.

Consider John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins basketball team. The Bruins won 88 straight games from 1971 to 1974. And until 2010, this record stood for all college teams. But Geno Auriemma’s Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team amassed an astonishing 90-game win streak over a three-year period from 2008-2010. And let’s not forget the NBA’s Boston Celtics who notched six consecutive NBA titles between 1947 to 1956.

And then there’s the streaks that never end, like Rocky Marciano’s undefeated boxing record of 49-0. Marciano is the only heavyweight boxer in history to retire undefeated (and amazingly, he was only knocked down twice). His illustrious record career lasted from 1947-1956.

Of course, momentum is not solely contained to the arena of sports. Momentum can be found in all aspects of life – and in even in life itself. Take the example of Stuart Long, a onetime boxer who, after a devastating motorcycle crash, experienced a religious conversion that eventually led him to the priesthood and a life of inspiration to others.

Long’s inspiring story has now been adapted to the big screen in the film “Father Stu.” Starring Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson, “Father Stu” highlights the epic travails of one man who refused to let life bring him down, even when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds.

If you’re in the mood for a solid story of hardship and struggle with a bit of religion thrown in for good measure, then give this film a try.

Sure, Mark Wahlberg is once again playing Mark Wahlberg, but there’s no denying his appeal as a character even if he is one-dimensional.

A faithful “B-” for “Father Stu,” now playing in theaters.

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]

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