After 31 years of entertaining late night audiences, the legendary David Letterman is hosting his final show Wednesday night on CBS.
Letterman introduced America to a different approach to late night television, gaining a rabid following among fans who were looking for an alternative to the more established Tonight Show, hosted by Johnny Carson.
The gap-toothed host created thousands of memorable TV moments and although it’s not how most will remember him, Letterman had plenty of classic sports bits.
Here’s a small sampling of some of the best sports moments in his history.
In 1985, Letterman referred to rotund Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Terry Forster as a “fat tub of goo” on his show. Forster appeared soon after to clear the air and actually cook on the show.
Letterman was always trying stuff that hadn’t been done before on television. Like this early episode, when he left during the taping of his show to intercept former Mets catcher Gary Carter, who had turned down an invitation to come on his show, but was appearing on another one across the hall.
Letterman also visited with a young Michael Jordan, right at about the time the first Air Jordan shoes were released by Nike. This interview included a classic Letterman line about the racial makeup of the NBA.
Most sports fans weren’t familiar with former Baltimore Colts defensive lineman Art Donovan, who played from 1950 to 1961. But the affable Donovan was a frequent guest and always delivered big laughs during his late night visits.
Letterman always had a knack of making larger-than-life sports celebrities seem totally human. Here was an example of that, with New York Yankees Hall-of-Famer Mickey Mantle, in 1987.
Famed sportscaster Marv Albert was one of Letterman’s most frequent guests over the years and the broadcasting legend would always come equipped with his “Albert Achievement Awards,” celebrating the wacky side of sports. Here was Albert’s last edition, which aired earlier this year.
Dave also got future Hall-of-Famers on his show before they were household names. Here’s a visit with then-University of Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning.
…and the first-ever visit from Yankees shortstop and 14-time All-Star Derek Jeter.
Speaking of the Yankees, there was that time Letterman got his chance of a lifetime — to take an at-bat at Yankee Stadium. Well, sort of…
Dave was also known for dispatching his staff members to go cover big sporting events. Here, his stage manager, Biff Henderson, covers Super Bowl XLII in Glendale.
And here’s Dave’s own mother covering the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
Letterman was a master of getting big-name sports stars to let the guard down and just be goofy. Here is women’s tennis superstar Serena Williams hitting tennis balls hard enough to shatter the front windows of Rupert Jee’s Hello Deli, which is next door to the Ed Sullivan Theatre.
Here’s New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady critiquing the wardrobe of his head coach Bill Belichick.
And of course, sports permeated the legendary Top Ten List quite often. Here’s the “Top Ten Pete Carroll Excuses” stemming from the Seattle head coach’s curious play calling at the end of Super Bowl XLIX that ended in an improbable Patriots’ victory.
It’s hard to believe that a television fixture for the last three decades is riding off into the sunset.
Thanks for all the laughs, Dave. You will be missed.