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Sports brawlin': Athletes going too far

By John Marshall

Associated Press

It always seems to catch us by surprise, those rare occasions when benches clear and fists fly.

Thing is, it probably shouldn’t.

Think about it: you’ve got large, athletic men (most brawls don’t involve women) who have spent their lives being competitive and pushing their limits. Get that close to the edge and sometimes you fall off.

That’s what happened to the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.

Denver was coasting to a comfortable win at Madison Square Garden when Mardy Collins took a hard foul on Denver’s J.R. Smith on a breakaway with 1:15 left. Knicks players and coach Isiah Thomas later said the problems were caused by Denver leaving several starters in despite a 19-point lead.

Smith and Collins faced off as players from both sides swarmed. Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony dropped Collins with a punch, Smith and Nate Robinson tumbled into the crowd as they scrapped and the fight carried all the way across the floor.

That got us thinking about some other memorable melees and how they got started. Take a look:

MIAMI VS. FLORIDA

INTERNATIONAL

When: Oct. 14, 2006.

Where: Miami’s Orange Bowl.

How it started: A little pushing and shoving between linemen during an extra point in the third quarter led to two FIU players going after Miami’s holder. Maybe Matt Perrelli was popping off and had it coming, but going after a holder? Clearly, there already was some animosity built up between these teams.

The fallout: After Perrelli was hit in the chin, both sidelines cleared and a free-for-all started up, players stomping each other and swinging helmets like a big carnival mallet. But the brawl didn’t dissuade the teams from agreeing to play again next year. Good thinking.

CLEMSON VS.

SOUTH CAROLINA

When: Nov. 20, 2004

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Clemson, S.C.

How it started: The seeds were planted when players from both teams had to be separated before the game. Several skirmishes broke out once it started and the tension between these two rivals spiraled out of control in the fourth quarter, when a Clemson lineman took down South Carolina’s quarterback and — from the Gamecocks’ point of view — hovered over him too long.

The fallout: Three South Carolina players went after the Clemson defensive lineman, then both benches cleared. Players rumbled up and down the field for about 10 minutes before security and police officers broke things up. South Carolina coach Lou Holtz retired after the game, though it had nothing to do with the fight. What a way to go out.

INDIANA PACERS VS. DETROIT PISTONS

When: Nov. 19, 2004.

Where: The Palace at Auburn Hills, Michigan.

How it started: It was a matter of Ron Artest being Ron Artest. Known as an agitator, Artest took a hard foul on Detroit’s Ben Wallace with 45 seconds left in the game, then walked away from the fray and sprawled out on the scorer’s table — infuriating the Pistons and their fans even more.

The fallout: Considered one of the worst brawls in American sports history, the Malice at the Palace really got rolling when a fan decided to throw a cup of water on Artest. Artest charged into the stands, teammate Stephen Jackson followed and punches flew from every direction. Artest was suspended for the rest of the season, Jackson got 30 games, Jermaine O’Neal 15 and six others got at least one game. The genius with the water cup got banned from the Palace.

PEDRO VS.

ZIMMER’S HEAD

When: Oct. 11, 2003.

Where: Boston’s Fenway Park.

How it started: The Red Sox and Yankees have never liked each other, and Roger Clemens’ hitting three Boston batters in one game earlier that season didn’t help matters. It all blew up in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series when Boston’s Pedro Martinez threw at Karim Garcia’s head in the fourth inning. Garcia followed with a hard slide into second base and got into a shoving match with Red Sox second baseman Todd Walker.

The fallout: The tension boiled over in the bottom half of the inning when Clemens threw inside to Manny Ramirez. Both dugouts emptied and Don Zimmer, the Yankees’ bench coach, charged across the diamond to confront Martinez, who grabbed the 72-year-old by the head and tossed him aside like a cantaloupe. And it didn’t end there — Garcia and reliever Jeff Nelson got into it with a member of the grounds crew who was cheering for the Red Sox.

VAN GUNDY VS. MOURNING’S LEG

When: April 30, 1998.

Where: New York’s Madison Square Garden.

How it started: The animosity between New York’s Larry Johnson and Miami’s Alonzo Mourning dated back to their days together in Charlotte, and the two teams had brawled in a playoff series the year before. It all boiled over in final seconds in the fourth game of the 1998 series, when Johnson and Mourning started throwing punches.

The fallout: This one is only worth noting because of Van Gundy. No one from either team really got into the fray besides Johnson and Mourning, but Van Gundy latched onto Mourning’s leg like a horny schnauzer. The 7-foot center tried to continue his battle with Grand-Mama, but had a hard time getting around with the pint-sized Knicks coach hanging from his ankle like one those hop-it toys.

KERMIT VS. RUDY T

When: Dec. 9, 1977

Where: The Los Angeles Forum.

How it started: After a fight broke out between the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets, Kermit Washington saw Houston’s Rudy Tomjanovich running toward the scrum. Washington caught Tomjanovich offguard and leveled him with one of the most devastating punches in NBA history.

The fallout: The crowd fell to a stunned silence as Tomjanovich lay unconscious in a pool of blood on the arena floor, his face fractured away from the skull and spinal fluid leaking into his mouth. Tomjanovich fully recovered after nearly dying, but was never the same player. Washington was suspended for two months and resumed what was a productive career.

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