In sports, strings of games have a common thread


Now that Cal Ripken has broken one of baseball's biggest records, try to imagine what it took to play 2,131 consecutive games.

To sustain a streak, a lot of variables must come together -- determination, dedication, health, an understanding manager or coach.

Jim Marshall, Randy Smith, Doug Jarvis and Johnny Kerr can attest to that.

They are all athletes who, like Ripken, set consecutive-games records in their respective sports.

Marshall, who holds the NFL's record at 282 games with the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings, said the streak really never crossed his mind.

"It wasn't really something I thought very much about until I believe about 200 games that somebody mentioned to me that I was close to breaking a record," Marshall said. "After I broke the record, each time I went out the record grew, and it became a constant reminder. It wasn't something I felt in my mind was an important thing in my career. What was important was to play the best possible football I could play."

The defensive end, who played from 1960 to 1979, not only had to endure the punishment of professional football, but he had to persevere in the sometimes-below-zero conditions of Minnesota's Metropolitan Stadium. Marshall credits longtime Vikings trainer Frank Zamberetti with keeping him healthy until his retirement -- which ended the streak.

"I missed no preseason games and postseason games," Marshall said. "I did get sick and I did get injured, but I had an absolutely great trainer. He was the one who paid great attention to the health of the players."

Kerr, a center for the Syracuse Nationals, Philadelphia 76ers and Baltimore Bullets, said that during his playing days, players never stretched before games and didn't have access to the medical science that today's athletes do. His 844-game streak from 1954 to 1965 was unusual for how it lasted and how it ended. Kerr said his work ethic after practice and games was poor and that he didn't have the healthiest of habits.

"I guess when I was younger, you just went out and played every day and looked forward to it," Kerr said. "Then it got to a point when I had nagging injuries, and I didn't want to let that slow me down. Broken nose and broken fingers . . . stress fracture in my foot.

"Unlike Cal and others who held streaks, I enjoyed my lack of training, and I didn't like to work out. I also had a fondness of drinking after games. I had a good work ethic when we practiced and played games, but outside of that, I didn't like to do anything else."

Kerr's streak was ended by his Bullets coach and former Syracuse teammate, Paul Seymour, who decided to sit Kerr down one night against the Boston Celtics. Kerr went on to start the rest of the season.

"He said he knew I wanted to play and he just decided not to put me in," Kerr said. "That was heartbreaking to have it end that way. I was absolutely [bitter]. I always felt like I went out there when I was hurting. It was not like I was hurt."

Smith broke Kerr's record. The "wiry, lean guy who could run like wind," as former coach Jack Ramsay said, played 906 consecutive games from 1972 to 1983. Playing point guard for the Buffalo Braves and San Diego Clippers for most of his career, Smith averaged 16 points.

Like Kerr's streak, Smith's ended because of a circumstance he couldn't control.

In his last season, Smith was traded from San Diego to the Atlanta Hawks after the trading deadline had passed. Because of that, Smith had to clear waivers for 48 hours before joining the Hawks. The Clippers played a game while Smith was clearing waivers, ending the streak.

Smith, who had dedicated himself to his streak after his third season, often played with injuries throughout his 11-year career -- including one game with pneumonia and 26 games with a muscle pull in his right leg.

"Someone had brought to my attention that I had well over 300 consecutive games," Smith said. "Prior to that, I was only concerned about playing and proving myself and doing my best. After a while, I realized how important of an accomplishment this was, and I became very dedicated to breaking the record."

Though Smith was thinking about a possible record streak in the early stages of his career, sports psychologist James McGee of Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore said athletes usually never think about streaks.

"For an athlete to achieve as much as Cal has achieved, the person has to be a calm, collected pro," McGee said. "They remain on an even keel all the time. I seriously do not think Cal lies awake at night thinking about the record.

"If you are the kind of person who gets involved in the lather of the streak, you get yourself so overworked that you can't sustain the streak. Being indifferent to the streak is one of the requirements to hold the streak."

Another record streak belongs to Jarvis, who played 964 in a row in the NHL for the Montreal Canadiens, Hartford Whalers and Washington Capitals. His streak ran from his first game in the league in 1975 to his last in 1987. Like many other streak record holders, he never gave it a thought.

"To tell you the truth, it wasn't something consciously on my mind," Jarvis said. "The only time it came across my mind was when it drew attention. It would gather attention each time I passed somebody. You play with the usual bumps and bruises that go along with the game. I never really had an injury that was going to keep me out. The closest I came was a concussion I got one night, but I continued."

As for Ripken's streak, the closest current major-league run belonged to the Florida Marlins' Jeff Conine, but the outfielder's streak was halted at 307 earlier this season because of a strained hamstring.

Now, the opportunity rests with Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, who is at 235 games.

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