Max-imum chance to
honor Schmeling

Feb 8, 2005 12:23 PM

There’s a break in the action. Obviously, it’s okay to have big fights on Super Bowl weekend, so the Pro Bowl must be bigger than we thought.

The only action, if you go off-shore, is probably the 7-2 odds favoring Oscar Larios over the popular Wayne McCullough in a 122-pound title bout Feb. 10 on Fox Sports Network.

While, Larios has not exactly won any fans in this precinct, the last time we saw McCullough he was getting pounded by Scott Harrison of Scotland.

In other words, save your money to buy a movie ticket for "Million Dollar Baby" and give a little of your heart to Max Schmeling.

Schmeling died in his home in the woods at 99, a German hero who should rank with the greats. He was a greater sportsman than he was a fighter.

"Max Schmeling was a man of great class," said Muhammad Ali, when his longtime friend and aide, Gene Kilroy, called him with the news that the first man to beat Joe Louis was dead.

Schmeling was the so-called "bad guy" in the most socially significant sports event in history, when somehow he represented Nazi Germany and its ludicrous racial theories in a 1938 rematch with Louis, the new heavyweight champion.

Schmeling, a former world heavyweight champion, was already on the downside when he came over to oppose the then undefeated Louis, was a heavy underdog in 1936, but announced "I think I see something." He was correct.

When Louis jabbed, he would slowly and lowly bring back his left hand to a defensive position. All night, Schmeling would batter Louis with overhand rights and it was remarkable that the future great managed to hang in there until the 12th round.

Schmeling was fested by the Nazis when he returned to Germany, but he rejected Hitler’s request to dump his Jewish manager and Czech wife (the Fuhrer regarded Slavs with as much disdain as he did Jews). Schmeling refused.

He also risked his life by hiding a couple of Jews, one of whom worked for him, during the Kristalnacht — the Night of the Crystal when Nazi thugs went around Germany burning synagogues and breaking storewindows of Jewish shops.

He did not have a Schindler’s List of saves, but in Nazi Germany, they put you in death camps for a lot less than what Schmeling did. When he returned to the States, where earlier he had been a popular visitor,

Schmeling was associated in the public mind with the Nazis. Louis, who had won the world title in the interim would not regard himself as true champion until he took care of business with Schmeling. He was called in by Franklin Delano Roosevelt for a fireside chat. Hitler worked the other corner.

No Muhammad Ali fight, or Jim Jeffries trying to play Great White Hope to rid the world of Jack Johnson, had more significance than the battle at Yankee Stadium.

"Schmeling is down, Schmeling is down."

It was one of the great radio calls in sports history, bigger than "The Giants win the pennant, the Giants wins the pennant," made by the great Clem McCarthy.

Four times he went down before it was stopped after just two minutes.

Schmeling, when he recovered, went back to Germany not as a hero but as a pariah. When World War II started, Hitler gave him a parachute and told him to jump into Cyprus.

Schmeling was wounded and when the war ended, he was broke enough to have to fight a couple of times.

But the man who once had to represent Hitler became a multi-millionaire by representing Coca-Cola. He would later come to Louis’s aid financially and was a regular and welcome visitor to celebrations on this side of the pond. He was a credit to the human race, as Jimmy Cannon wrote.

Schmeling was a credit to his people. After the most shameful chapter perhaps in human history, Germany could at least look to Schmeling and see the light of decency.

Even at 99, and a recluse in later years, Schmeling remained one of his country’s greatest heroes and not because he once knocked out Joe Louis.

Kilroy reminded Ali of a 1976 meeting at the Aladdin Hotel in Vegas of sports heroes. Ali went up to Schmeling, hugged him and kissed him on the cheek, Kilroy said. "Schmeling grinned from ear to ear."

Upon learning of Schmeling’s death, Ali reminded Kilroy how "when German people weren’t liking Jews, Max Schmeling was managed by a Jew."

"He respected Joe Louis and Joe Louis respected Max Schmeling," said Ali. "I’m sure he’s up in heaven with Joe Louis now and they’re discussing their fights."

Yes, Schmeling is up, Schmeling is up.