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December 07, 2009

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EXCERPT | Dec. 18, 1995

Everyday Hero

No one loved to go to work more than Cal Ripken Jr.

Before Derek Jeter, only one shortstop had been named SI's Sportsman of the Year. Richard Hoffer paid tribute to an indefatigable Oriole.

There's a man, close-cropped gray hair, looks older than 35, standing in the partial glow of stadium lights, standing along the railing of an empty field, signing autographs hours after a game. He doesn't really have any place to go, his family is asleep, so it's no big deal. He signs away, not to rekindle a country's love affair with its national pastime (that kind of calculation is beyond him) but because somebody wants something and it's easy to give. A teammate offers him a big leaguer's diagnosis: "You're sick."

The man shrugs. He has played in more games consecutively than anyone, dead or alive. Punched in, punched out. It's not so much a record, not a reward for greatness, as it is a by-product of sustained adolescence and, of course, unusual good health. A milestone is all it is. He knows it, too. The man shrugs, signing beneath the stadium lights. "If you could play baseball every day," he says, "wouldn't you?"

Cal Ripken Jr.'s "assault" on Lou Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games played was the least dramatic record run of all time. Assuming the fan could read a schedule, he knew exactly when (Sept. 6) and where (Camden Yards) the record-breaking would happen. All Ripken had to do was be there. Yet it turned out to be one of the great feel-good events in sports—ever—and if there wasn't a lump in your throat when Ripken circled the field in a reluctant kind of victory lap, you weren't paying attention.

Ripken wound up playing in 2,632 straight games, all for Baltimore, before taking himself out of the lineup on Sept. 20, 1998. He retired after the 2001 season and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.

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High-Stakes Game

SI.com's Stewart Mandel examines this weekend's SEC championship matchup between Mark Ingram's Crimson Tide and Tim Tebow's Gators. The winner plays for the BCS Title

The Gators and the Tide have looked vulnerable at times. Some might argue that Florida, which has averaged a modest 27.6 points in SEC play, isn't as dominant as it was a year ago when the eventual national champs routinely put up 40- or 50-plus points against conference opponents. Some might also argue that Alabama's come-from-behind 26--21 win at 7--5 Auburn last weekend exposed the Tide as overrated. Still, the Gators and the Tide so thoroughly dominated the nation's purportedly toughest conference that they each nailed down their spot in Saturday's title game by Nov. 7. Florida won its division by a staggering four games; Alabama by three. "College football wants this game," said Gators coach Urban Meyer. "I've been hearing it for a long time, trying to ignore it, push it back, but now it's here."

SI writers also take an in-depth look at fourth-ranked TCU (with Jerry Hughes, No. 98), fifth-ranked Cincinnati (with Mardy Gilyard, No. 1) and other elite teams who may be left out of a BCS title shot atSI.com/cfbPlus ...

Snap Judgments, Power Rankings and coverage of Oregon and Oregon State's Civil War by Andy Staples

Gene Menez's Heisman Watch: Why Stanford's Toby Gerhart is now the favorite

PHOTOPhotograph by WALTER IOOSS JR.TOUCHING 'EM ALL Gehrig's ironman record stood for 56 years until Ripken passed him and shared the moment with a sellout crowd of 46,272 at Camden Yards. The current major leaguer with the most consecutive games played is the Brewers' Prince Fielder, with just 185. PHOTORICHARD MEEK (PODRES) PHOTOTONY TRIOLO (ORR) PHOTOMICHAEL O'NEILL (ASHE) PHOTOAL TIELEMANS (INGRAM) PHOTOBILL FRAKES (TEBOW) PHOTODARREN CARROLL (HUGHES) PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (GILYARD) PHOTOROBERT BECK (RAMIREZ) PHOTOMARIO SURIANI/AP (JACKSON) PHOTOWALTER IOOSS JR. (FRAZIER)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)