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From Pheidippides to Muhammad Ali: The Globe sports staff on which athletes they wish they saw live

Muhammad Ali watches defending world champion George Foreman go down to the canvas in the "Rumble in the Jungle" on Oct. 30, 1974. This iconic sports moment is at the top of the list for two of our staffers.RED/Associated Press

Who is the one athlete you wish you had seen live? The historic sports moment you dream you had witnessed in person?

Kevin Paul Dupont posed that question to the rest of the Globe sports staff. Here’s what they said, in chronological order:

READ THE STORY » Wish you were there: Pondering the athletes whose best moments we wish we witnessed

TELL US » Which athlete or historic sports moment do you wish you could have seen live?

Bob Hohler

“The world has this Greek courier soldier to thank for every marathon ever run. Imagine witnessing his heroic 26-mile dash from the Marathon battlefield to Athens in 490 B.C. to announce the Athenian army had defeated the invading Persians. Pheidippides promptly died, but his inspiration survives all time.”


Babe Didrikson Zaharias won 10 LPGA titles.Hulton Archive

Tara Sullivan

“Sports loves its lists, and whenever anyone compiles a list of the all-time greatest athletes, Babe Didrikson Zaharias is on it. She won two Olympic gold medals in track in 1932 and then turned to golf, winning 10 major LPGA titles. She was a standout at basketball, baseball, softball, diving, roller skating, and bowling. I would have loved to see her compete at any of them.”

John Powers

“Jesse Owens winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. With Hitler watching, the son of a Black sharecropper beat the rest of the world by leaps and bounds and dashed the Nazis’ master race fantasy.”

Stan Grossfeld

“I would have loved to see Jesse Owens winning four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics at the Olympiastadion in Berlin. I’d drink a bellyful of German beer with the American contingent, give the Fuhrer the one-finger salute, and tell him what he could do with his master race.”

Jesse Owens salutes during the presentation of his gold medal for the long jump on Aug. 11, 1936. To the right is Nazi Germany's Lutz Long, giving the Nazi salute.Associated Press

Jim Hoban

“Fire up the DeLorean and take me to Yankee Stadium on June 22, 1938, when the great Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling in the first round. It was more than a fight. It was America vs. Germany preceding World War II. Good against evil. Right vs. wrong. Schmeling was considered a powerful symbol of Hitler’s Nazi Germany, and the Brown Bomber, fighting for democracy, social justice discrimination in his own country, and the heavyweight title, destroyed him when America needed it most.”


Bob Ryan

“I have always been fascinated with the sheer reverence so many had for the way the Yankee Clipper played the game. He was placed above the garden-variety Hall of Famers. Put me in the middle of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak in 1941.”

Dan Shaughnessy

“Please fire up the flux capacitor and send me to Shibe Park in Philadelphia on Sept. 28, 1941, as 23-year-old Ted Williams goes 6 for 8 in a doubleheader against Connie Mack’s A’s. Williams was at .39955 when the day started and finished the season at .406. No one has done it since.”

Chad Finn

“Imagine others will make the same splendid choice, but the answer is Ted Williams. I want to be able to brag to my kids, like my dad does to me, that I got to see the greatest hitter who ever lived. I’ll even give you a specific day and locale: June 9, 1946, at Fenway. Then I could brag that I saw him hit the red seat.”

April 15, 1947: Jackie Robinson joins teammates John Jorgensen (left), Pee Wee Reese, and Ed Stanky on the dugout steps before making his debut and breaking MLB's color barrier.Harry Harris/Associated Press

Alex Speier

“Jackie Robinson at Ebbets Field on April 15, 1947. No need to overthink it; what could be more meaningful than seeing the most significant athlete and sporting event in American history in one of the most beloved sports venues ever?”


Craig Larson

“Bill Russell. His first Game 7, April 13, 1957, vs. the St. Louis Hawks, Boston Garden. The 6-foot-9-inch rookie’s length-of-the-court, long-loping sprint to swat away Jack Coleman’s layup in the final minute of regulation punctuated a 19-point, 32-rebound performance and was the trigger for a 125-123 double-OT victory, the Celtics’ first title, and a dynasty. No better teammate, no better winner.”

Andrew Mahoney

“There’s no shortage of legendary college hockey figures in these parts, but there’s one that stands above them all, so I’m heading west to Squaw Valley in 1960 to watch Bill Cleary score six goals and six assists in five games to lead the US to Olympic gold. This, after he turned down NHL offers four years earlier while at Harvard and skated on the 1956 silver medal squad.”

Katie McInerney

“If you forgot about the movie ‘The Express,’ I’d understand. It wasn’t very popular. But its debut in October 2008 coincided with my first semester at Syracuse University, and it was my introduction to Ernie Davis, the first Black player to win the Heisman Trophy. I want to go back to 1961 and watch Davis and the Orangemen in person at the historic Archbold Stadium, which was built to resemble the Coliseum. I want to know what it was like to witness his performance. Tragically, Davis was diagnosed with leukemia months after being drafted into the NFL in 1962. He died in 1963, at age 23, before he could play a single snap. Imagine the life he might have lived.”


Michael Silverman

“Boxing’s too barbaric for my Bob Ross sensibilities these days, but I’ll never shake my fascination with the legend, poetry, and conscience of Muhammad Ali. No jungle rumbles for me, just plop me in Miami Beach on Feb. 25, 1964, to watch 22-year-old underdog Cassius Clay back up his butterfly-floating, bee-stinging boasts by pummeling Sonny Liston and launch his career into permanent orbit.”

Bill Russell out-rebounds them all during an April 1965 game.Dan Goshtigian/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

Matt Porter

“Bill Russell in the 1965 NBA playoffs, when ‘Havlicek Stole the Ball’ and, as Bob Ryan once wrote, Russell was ‘at his peak convergence of physical ability, knowledge and desire.’ ‘‘

Peter Abraham

“Take me back to Dodger Stadium on Sept. 9, 1965, to see Sandy Koufax strike out Harvey Kuenn for the final out of his perfect game. Koufax was at the height of his powers, striking out a career-best 382 that season. To see him unleash that fastball and curve would be baseball bliss.”

Scott Thurston

" ‘Secretariat is widening now. He is moving like a tremendous machine.’ I still remember Chic Anderson’s brilliant, ad-libbed call to Secretariat’s astounding 31-length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes, which solidified Big Red’s place as the greatest thoroughbred of all time. And a once-in-a-lifetime sports moment.”

Gary Washburn

“Kinshasa, Zaire, on Oct. 30, 1974. The Muhammad Ali-George Foreman fight, the ‘Rumble in the Jungle.’ Perhaps the greatest sporting event of the 20th century considering the location, how much of an underdog Ali was, and the invincibility of Foreman. I was too young to have ever considered attending an Ali fight, but if there was a moment in time that I wish I was there, this would be it. Ali’s greatest moment, accomplished in Africa.”


Muhammad Ali lands one on the head of George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, on Oct. 30, 1974.Ed Kolenovsky

Julian McWilliams

“Take me to Oct. 1, 1975, at Araneta Coliseum in Cubao, Quezon City, Philippines. The Thrilla in Manila. The third and final fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. That was probably one of the most authentic sports experiences in history. The build-up to the fight, the scene, the sweltering heat, the disdain Ali and Frazier had for each other. Ali won the fight, but they say Frazier beat him up. Would have been fascinating to be a part of that sports moment.”

Adam Himmelsbach

“Muhammad Ali called his classic October 1975 victory over Joe Frazier ‘the closest thing to dyin’ that I know of.’ Plant me ringside for the 14-round Thrilla in Manila, close enough to hear Ali’s jabs, both verbal and physical.”

Jenner competes in the decathlon on July 30, 1976, in Montreal.Associated Press

Jim McBride

Bienvenue, mesdames et messieurs. Crank up Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine and take me back to those golden days in 1976 to take in the decathlon at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, where Caitlyn Jenner, then known as Bruce Jenner, stunned the world and became the unofficial greatest athlete in the world.”

Matt Pepin

“Nadia Comaneci and the first perfect 10 at the Olympics. I distinctly remember my mother informing me one day in 1976, when I was only 7 years old, of the history that had been made in Montreal and the significance of it. I’ve since been an in-person witness to elite-level gymnastics and the excitement a brilliant performance inspires. I can only imagine the energy in the building for Comaneci’s performance.”

READ MORE » Wish you were there: Pondering the athletes whose best moments we wish we witnessed

Ben Volin

“Muhammad Ali. As a child of the 1980s, I lamentably missed his heyday. As much as I have read about his classic bouts with Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman, his transformation from Cassius Clay to Ali, his distinctive swagger and trash talk, and his brave political stances, I will never truly understand what a force of nature Ali was.”

Christopher Price

“I’d take Jim Craig against the Soviet Union, Feb. 22, 1980. His performance — and the play of the US Olympic men’s hockey team as a whole in Lake Placid — was transformative for so many people. But for me, as a budding 10-year-old sports fan, it hit me perfectly as an epic display of sports and the power of possibility. Goliath doesn’t always win. Underdogs can rise. You never know what’s going to happen. Sports can be the most fun when they surprise, and all these years later, Craig’s play against the Soviets — and the ensuing gold-medal victory — remains a testament to that sort of hope.”

Nicole Yang

“I would have loved to watch John McEnroe, ideally in a Wimbledon final against Bjorn Borg. It’s a tough choice between 1980 with the epic five-setter and 1981 with the ‘You cannot be serious!’ outburst, but I’d lean to the latter just for the McEnroe win.”

Julian Benbow

“I’ve always been more interested in hearing Muhammad Ali talk than watching him fight. His interviews with English journalist Michael Parkinson are what I thought I was going to get when I decided it would be a good idea to watch ‘Frost/Nixon.’ Parkinson is sharp, wry, and antagonistic. Ali is charming and witty but piercing and convicted in his beliefs, picking apart prejudices about race that made as little sense 45 years ago as they do now. I’ve watched the YouTube clip dozens of times, mostly amazed by someone so willing to challenge whoever was in front of him.”

Tell us your answer, and we’ll share our favorites in a future story: