February 17

Today is the birthday

… of Jim Brown, 79. Brown was listed as the 4th greatest athlete of the 20th century by ESPN. (Which makes him the second greatest athlete born on this date.)

Brown played only nine seasons for the Cleveland Browns — and led the NFL in rushing eight times. He averaged 104 yards a game, a record 5.2 yards a pop. He ran for at least 100 yards in 58 of his 118 regular-season games (he never missed a game). He ran for 237 yards in a game twice, scored five touchdowns in another game and four times scored four touchdowns. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in seven seasons, scorching opponents for 1,527 yards in one 12-game season and 1,863 in a 14-game season.

“For mercurial speed, airy nimbleness, and explosive violence in one package of undistilled evil, there is no other like Mr. Brown,” wrote Pulitzer Prize winning sports columnist Red Smith.

Read the entire ESPN essay on Jim Brown: Brown was hard to bring down.

… of Michael Jordan, 52 today.

Jordan was the ranked the top athlete of the 20th century by ESPN. Here’s what they had to say: Michael Jordan transcends hoops.

“What has made Michael Jordan the First Celebrity of the World is not merely his athletic talent,” Sports Illustrated wrote, “but also a unique confluence of artistry, dignity and history.”

… of Oscar-nominee Hal Holbrook, 90. Here he is as Mark Twain in 1967.

… of Rene Russo, 61, still young enough to be chased by 34-year-old Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler.

… of Lou Diamond Phillips, 53.

… of Paris Hilton, 34 today, a walking argument for the inheritance tax.

H.L. Hunt was born on this date in 1889. Hunt was a Texas oil tycoon who, among other things, fathered 14 children with three women, including two that he was married to simultaneously.

Lamar Hunt, one of those 14, was one of the founders of the American Football League and owner of the Dallas Texans (who became the Kansas City Chiefs).

[Lamar] Hunt may not have looked it, but he had a lot of money. His father, the legendary H.L. Hunt, had a fortune estimated at $600 million, which may not seem all that impressive in today’s era of billionaires but made him one of the nation’s richest men at the time.

It was the elder Hunt who came up with the best-remembered quote from the AFL era. After his son reportedly lost $1 million in his first season, H.L. was asked how long Lamar could keep doing that. According to various reports, he said Lamar would go broke in about 150 years if he kept it up.

And it was on February 17, 1801, that Thomas Jefferson was elected president and not Aaron Burr.

Republican Jefferson defeated Federalist John Adams by a margin of 73 to 65 electoral votes. When presidential electors cast their votes, however, they failed to distinguish between the office of president and vice president on their ballots. Jefferson and his running mate Aaron Burr each received 73 votes. With the votes tied, the election was thrown to the House of Representatives. There, each state voted as a unit to decide the election.

Still dominated by Federalists, the sitting Congress loathed to vote for Jefferson—their partisan nemesis. For six days, Jefferson and Burr essentially ran against each other in the House. Votes were tallied over thirty times, yet neither man captured the necessary majority of nine states. Eventually, a small group of Federalists, led by James A. Bayard of Delaware, reasoned that a peaceful transfer of power required the majority choose the President, and a deal was struck in Jefferson’s favor.

Library of Congress: Today in History

Pulitizer-winner Edward J. Larson has a book on this subject — A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America’s First Presidential Campaign.