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Pick a sport and there's a streak

With apologies to Indianapolis on Memorial Day, gentlemen (and ladies), start your arguments.

Here's the interrogative that has existed in sports since Hank Aaron went whipping by Babe Ruth in career home runs two decades ago, and, lately, as Cal Ripken is 99 and 44/100ths percent sure of slipping by Lou Gehrig in consecutive games played:

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With these once seemingly unattainable goals having been eclipsed (and thus eliminated), what now presides as the greatest individual streak or accomplishment in sports?

The nominees are endless, of course, and there are always a dozen that will be overlooked. Regardless, let's start with Joe DiMaggio's hitting safely in 56 straight games.

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Bjorn Borg's five straight Wimbledon tennis titles between 1976 and 1980 weren't bad, particularly for a backcourter playing on his least-favorite surface (grass).

Speaking of five straight, Miguel Indurain just accomplished that in the Tour de France, moving out of a tie with Belgian Eddy Merckx (1969-72) and the Frenchman Jacques Anquetil (1961-65).

It's a big deal and gets rave notices these days when an NBA player knocks off a triple-double -- double figures in points, rebounds, assists or steals. How about Oscar Robertson averaging a triple-double for an entire season? The Big O scored 30.8 points and had 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists per outing in 1961-62.

Her name is all but forgotten now if indeed it was ever known, but Larissa Lastynina of the Soviet Union once ran off 12 straight World Championships in the all-around event in gymnastics.

It has been 35 years since John Unitas' streak of tossing touchdown passes in 47 straight NFL games went into the books and no one has come close since.

Remember Vassily Alexeyev, the rather large gentleman from Russia who used to maintain a 12,000-calorie-a-day diet when he was in top form? He won eight straight World Championships in the super-heavyweight division.

Even unborn children are probably aware that Wayne Gretzky has been one fantastic hockey player from the time he got out of diapers to the present, but eight straight MVP awards (1980-87) as the NHL's best?

John L. Sullivan is judged to be the first great heavyweight boxing champ or the first to gain any sort of recognition, and his record upholds that claim. The "Great John L" never lost during 13 years of the bare-knuckle era, but it's not likely the fight game will revert to bare fists unless pay-per-view insists.

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Joe Louis held his heavyweight title for 11 years, 252 days and was unbeaten from 1937 to 1949. And there was only one title then, remember, not a half-dozen.

For you Brits in the audience, Brian Lara recorded the most consecutive runs in cricket (375) in a match between the West Indies and England last year, and he wasn't out. They say that's a jolly good show.

Doris Brown won five straight world cross country championships (1967-71), Walter Hagen captured four consecutive PGA titles (1924-27), a pacer named Carty Nagle won 41 straight sulky races in the late '30s and Olympians Al Oerter and Ray Ewry won gold medals in four consecutive Olympics in the discus and standing high jump and standing long jump, respectively.

Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden won 14 consecutive giant slaloms (1978-80); Annemarie Moser-Proell took 11 straight downhills among the women (1972-74); and they just finished counting the Grand Slam doubles titles Pam Shriver and Martina Navratilova won in a row in 1983-85, eight.

If you want the granddaddy of all streaks, though, it probably occurred on the golf course. In 1945, Byron Nelson won 11 tournaments in a row. Starting in Miami in March, Byron ran the gantlet through Charlotte, Greensboro, Durham, Atlanta, Montreal, Philadelphia, Chicago (U.S. Open), Dayton (PGA), Chicago again and Toronto.

The run finally concluded after No. 11 at the Canadian Open, the 50th anniversary of such will be marked Friday. Nelson, now 83, repeats what he said in a "Little Black Book" diary he kept religiously from 1935 to 1947: "I don't know why, but in 1945 we were just so tuned in. It didn't matter where we were playing, we were tearing it apart. We were on a little different level than the rest of them."

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Amen. Nelson went on to win 18 of 30 tournaments, plus a two-ball event entered that year, finished second seven times and had a stroke average of 68.3, the tour record to this day. His average score in the fourth round of tourneys that year was even better, 67.45. His worst round was a 74.

And the money? He won $52,511.32, about what a fifth-place finish on a tour stop these days yields.

OK, only one vote to a customer.


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