Clockwise from left: Wayne Gretzky amassed a record 2,857 points during… (Bruce Bennett Studios /…)
The assignment — rank the top 10 sports records that will never be broken — seemed straightforward enough until you dig into the research and realize you could easily fill the list with records from Major League Baseball alone.
To diversify the field, filters were added to eliminate marks set long ago in sports that have undergone such drastic change that those records will never be approached, let alone broken.
For instance, who could touch Cy Young's 511 career wins and 749 complete games from 1890 to 1911, and Old Hoss Radbourn's 59 wins in 1894?
Those were set when teams used three- and four-man rotations and rarely went to the bullpen; today's pitchers make 36 starts or so in injury-free seasons and are backed by a small army of relief specialists.
We also limited the field to records set from 1940 on. That eliminates Georgia Tech's 222-0 victory over Cumberland University — or was that Cumberland Farms? — in 1916, the most lopsided college football game ever. Would any coach risk losing his job by running up the score on a hapless opponent like that today?
Candidates were chosen from professional sports, the Olympics and major college sports, eliminating obscure marks such as Division III Linfield College's NCAA football record of 58 consecutive winning seasons and the myriad high school records set across the nation.
With that in mind, the envelope please:
Iron Man II
On May 29, 1982, Cal Ripken, then a 21-year-old Baltimore shortstop, sat out the second game of a doubleheader against Toronto. He would not miss another game until Sept. 20, 1998, when he voluntarily sat out the final home game of the season against the New York Yankees.
Ripken's streak of 2,632 consecutive games played spanned more than 16 years and included that historic night of Sept. 6, 1995, when, with the Angels, President Clinton and Joe DiMaggio on hand, Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 straight games and took a 22-minute victory lap around Camden Yards.
Injuries, illness and the desire of managers to pace players with days off through 162-game seasons prevent most streaks from gaining much steam.
The longest active streak of 505 games — 2,127 short of Ripken — is held by new Texas first baseman Prince Fielder. To break Ripken's record, all Fielder, 29, has to do is play in every game … for 13 more years.
Lew Alcindor passed the torch to Sidney Wicks, who passed it to Bill Walton. Those three stars and legendary Coach John Wooden were the keys to UCLA's incredible run to a record seven straight national championships and 38 consecutive NCAA tournament victories from 1967 to 1973.
No other Division I college basketball program — not Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina or Michigan State — has won more than two straight national titles. With today's stars bolting for the NBA after one or two years in college, forcing coaches to reshuffle rosters every year or two, it's impossible to build a UCLA-like dynasty.
Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wicks and Walton remained at UCLA through their senior seasons. UCLA also needed four victories to win most of those titles. Today's teams must navigate a more grueling 64-team field and win six games for a championship.
Luck of the Irish
After securing the second pick of the 1956 NBA draft in a trade, Boston Celtics Coach Red Auerbach persuaded the Rochester Royals, in a negotiation that included a promise that the Celtics would send the highly popular Ice Capades to Rochester, to bypass a certain 6-foot-9 All-American center with the first pick.
Rochester took Duquesne swingman Sihugo Green, and the cigar-chomping Auerbach nabbed Bill Russell, the centerpiece of a Celtics team that won a record eight straight NBA titles from 1959 to 1966, five of them against the Lakers, starting a bitter rivalry that has spanned decades.
The NBA's collective-bargaining agreement makes it much more difficult to keep great teams together today. First-round picks who become impact NBA players can become free agents after only four years, and teams can sign their own free agents for a maximum of five years.
And penalties for teams passing the $71.7-million luxury-tax threshold are severe. A club with a $100-million payroll would owe an additional $78 million in taxes.
The Great One
Wayne Gretzky was not the biggest, strongest or fastest skater in NHL history, but his combination of skill, instincts, intelligence and ability to read the game was unrivaled. In 21 seasons, the Brantford, Canada, native amassed a record 2,857 points, almost 1,000 more than second-ranked Mark Messier (1,887).
Gretzky, who led the Edmonton Oilers to five Stanley Cup championships from 1984 to 1990, holds nine of the top 11 single-season points records, including four of 205 or more. In fact, he has more assists (1,963) than any other player has points.