Friday, July 31st, 2009...12:27 am
The Best Sports Events I’ve Ever Attended
A few recent conversations had me thinking about the best sports events that I’ve ever attended. Considering the influence of sports in my life, and considering I’m not married and have no little litty’s, these events may also very well double as the overall best experiences of my life. I figured the topic was worthy of a blog post and tweeted as much the other day. A positive response from P, Dope and my sister was more than enough motivation for me to put this down on digital paper.
Let me set the guidelines. My rankings are based on the live sports experiences that were most enjoyable and memorable. It boils down to how many times I said or thought or mumbled to myself “this is awesome. This is the best moment of my life” while I was at the event. Pregame festivities can enhance an event but can’t make one (otherwise Michigan home football games would the list). The historical significance of the game is only a factor if it contributed to the excitement and experience. I’m sure there are a bunch of other technicalities that I’ll leave to my litigious homies to figure out.
To fully enjoy this post my advice is to click to the blog post web page so that you can watch some of the videos that are embedded within the post. They dont appear on the email.
1991 US Open First Round – Jimmy Connors defeats Patrick McEnroe
I was mad young at the time. I was there with my whole family so we went home in the middle of the third set (girls can’t hang past 11pm) with Conner about to be finished off. A few hours later I’m watching in disbelief from home as the 5th set unfolds and Connors is running around the court with winning point celebrations that rival Evanter’s slickest dance moves and thinking to myself – damn, I should still be there! My guess though is this match isn’t as remembered if Connors doesn’t go on to two more thrilling five setters against Krickstein and Paul Harhuis.
2002 – South Bend – Notre Damd 25, Michigan 23
Best tailgate/pregame scene of my life. Pre-game peakage for 2.5 solid hours. Walk to the stadium was nuts. The Great Weino was cursing out a priest and Da Bwetty was vandalizing the pristine campus. Unfortunately, the game was super lame. The whole time I had the feeling that we would lose and we did.
1999 – The Big House (My first game) — Michigan 26, Notre Dame 22
My first game as a freshman was a thrilling victory by Michigan over Notre Dame. I was celebrating in awe on the walk back home and ran into Anand (who already had a season under his belt). I kept on asking him if all the games were this good. I was in total amazement that this was the first of 20-25 Michigan games I was going to be at in the next four years. College just rocks. Here’s a Youtube highlight clip of the game that is fun to watch if it was also your first UM game.
2004 Accenture Match Play – La Costa/San Diego – Tiger Wood Match Play
A surreal and sensory scene as my SD roomy Jon and I followed Tiger for about five holes with less than 100 other people in the gallery as he destroyed some poor European chap in match play. I’ve never been in the presence and so close to a man with such intensity. He was in a ZONE. I must have yelled “Tiger, YOU DA MAN” a few hundred times from about 5-10 feet away and Tiger was so locked in with his Darth Vader style deep breathing that I’m not sure if anything could phase him.
Events I Should Have Been At And Jealous that I wasn’t…
2005 NCAA Tournament First Round – Vermont 60, Syracuse 57
I had to work that day and was heading up to Worchester the next morning. I had been following Vermont all season and adopted the Catamounts as my team. I was sitting on the couch next to Hillman when first Mopa-Njila and then T.J. Sorrentine heaved a three in overtime to ice the game. Lisa and Howie Hoops still talk about that shot. Apparently Lisa was going at it with a Syracuse fan the entire game and taunted him after the Catamounts pulled off the upset.
2003 ALCS Game 7 – Yankees 6, Boston 5
I had just moved to San Diego and was freaking out watching the Yankees come back off of Pedro on a 16″ inch TV that barely worked. Not sure I’ve ever been as excited watching a sports event as when Posada tied the game. This was when the Yankees were still on top and you felt like they could do anything if you rooted hard enough. I think Brett, Matt, Hillman and P were all at the game. Damn. This video does Aaron Boone’s Home Run proper.
1998 – David Wells Perfect Game
I had been planning to go to that game with my cousin Stacey. That week we decided not to go. Wells threw a perfecto – something I’m dying to see in my lifetime. Only mitigating factor is that my cousin and I plan to go to a bunch of games each season and always seem to flake (sorry Stace!)
1998 Jericho vs. Wheatley High School – Troy Slade vs. Jason Horowitz Doubles Match
Man, just to be there to see Troy straight up cheat on line calls as Witz gets angrier and angrier. Finally, Witz calls him out on it and Troy invokes Machiavelli by responding “An Eye for an Eye, HOROWITZ”. It amazes me that Troy lived to tell the story. My buddy P was there and verifies that the blatant cheating was as startling as I imagine it to be.
The Real List
#5 – 2005 US Open Quarterfinals – Andre Agassi defeats James Blake
During a change over in the middle of the 5th set, I was yelling like a maniac from the upper deck as the entire stadium was on its feat applauding the battle between the aging Agassi and the resurgent Blake. The place was still packed well after midnight and the atmosphere was more akin to a football game than a tennis match. I remember thinking to myself “Damn son, if every tennis match was like this it would be the greatest sport in the world”.
Blake dominated the first two sets and was up a break in the third. He had his own personal and super white and super annoying luxury suite chanting section that would repeatedly scream his name in between each points for two straight hours like he was in the midst of a keg stand. Everyone in the crowd wanted to see Agassi make it a match. It seemed hopeless. But Agassi somehow turned back the clock and started hitting stunning winners all over the court. I could sense it might be Agassi’s last hurrah on a grand stage. I wasn’t just rooting for him to win the match but was cherishing the experience to watch one of the best and most likable athletes of my youth. The match was finally decided in a tense, and extremely well played fifth set tie breaker that at one point was knotted at 6-6 with both guys one point away from facing match point. It was truly a match that nobody deserved to lose. I remember the buzz on the train ride home as everyone was gitty and thankful that they were in the stadium.
#4 – 2002 College Football – Michigan 32, Washington 29
Nothing could make a Michigan Man’s senior year of college more exciting than a national championship run. The Wolverines were a top ten team but faced a stiff test in their season opener against another top 10 teams in the Huskies (the team that had ruined their season the year before). Get by Washington during welcome week and Ann Arbor was going to be A LOT of fun.
The weather in Ann Arbor was perfect (which happens maybe 3x times a solar year) and our seats (25 or so of us sitting together) were 10 rows up in the student section. On the second play of the season, Chris Perry broke through the line for a 50 yard touchdown and a mosh pit broke out in our section that at the time I thought was going to last my entire life. If I ever thought I have received a omen from g-d, it was that play signaling a championship.
But then the game went back and forth and nerves starting to creep into the pit of my stomach. Kind of the same feeling you get after you would eat at Maize and Blue. Evidently, Michigan couldn’t make a kick! They had flubbed three field goals (by two different kickers) including the potential go ahead kick with less than 4 minutes in the game. Somehow Michigan got the ball back and went on one of those nerve-wrenching unwatchable final drives that have so often ended in heartbreak. This time the breaks fell Michigan’s way as a Braylon drop on 4th down was ruled a fumble recovery. After a lucky Penalty, Phillip Brabbs lined up for a 44 yard FG to win the game. At that point I would have bet all the rupees in Southeast Asia that Brabbs shank the kick. But the little powder looking fella nailed it flush through the uprights. Pandemonium lasted for a good week. I spent my night gloriously drinking Jaeger bombs in Brabbs honor all night at Rick’s and screaming his name on top of my lungs on the entire stumble home!
#3 – 1999 College Basketball – Duke 92, St. John’s 88
The Johnnies of 98-99 are, and will always be, my favorite basketball team of all-time. They had a budding, and still somewhat sane, star in Ron Artest. They had a pure NYC point guard in Erick Barkley who ran the show and a wonderful supporting cast in sharpshooter Bootsy Thornton, bruiser Tyrone Grant and glue guy Lavor Postell. They were NYC basketball, complete with the chip on the shoulder underdog attitude. (If you think this is L-Hoops hyperbole ask Hillman what the Johnnies did to the Terps in the Sweet 16 that year).
In the middle of the season, #2 ranked Duke sporting an 18-1 record and All-Americans in Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon and William Avery visited the Garden to take on the 8th ranked Johnnies. It was the first sellout for a St. John’s game in three years (a feat that seems unfathomable these days). For some inexplicable reason, we had given up our season tickets that season so Howie Hoops and I found ourselves up in the nose bleeds much closer to the rafters than the court.
It looked as though Duke was going to blow out the Johnnies early and the ghosts of Blue Devil past were starting to haunt me once again. But Bootsy Thornton, on his way to a forever endearing 40 point afternoon, heated up to keep the Johnnies close. The Johnnies hung around throughout the second half despite foul trouble. Artest checked back into the game and immediately scored a few buckets to set up an exhilarating final few minutes. It seemed doomed when Artest missed a three with less than 15 seconds left but he then stole the inbounds pass and was fouled hoisting up a wild three. I went nuts. The Johnnies were back in it! I did my patented “hold my breath and try to suffocate myself” as Artest went to the line. He was only able to convert on two of the foul shots (damn – I needed less oxygen!) After Duke hit two free throw to go back up by three, Barkley found Arest on the wing. Ron Ron nailed an off balance three to tie the game with one second left. I’ve never rooted harder for a shot to go into the basket in my entire life. Little Littyhoops screamed and screamed and screamed. We had shoved it to the man. Elton Brand had fouled out and the Johnnies were going to the Final Four!
Unfortunately, the magic was short-lived as Duke escaped in overtime. I remember leaving the Garden disappointed that they had lost but 100% confident in the team.
#2 2005 College Football, USC 30, Notre Dame 29
The opportunity to attend this game came about somewhat haphazardly. I was pulled into a project at CSTV that involved Tim Brown and Notre Dame themed dial-up internet service (made no sense at the time and still doesn’t) and I had to somehow oversee that 100K flyers were distributed at the game without any kind of street team (the details are hazy in my head).
Anyway, I showed up in South Bend four hours before the game and after walking for miles somehow ended up in a VIP tent with all the former Notre Dame greats (Totally, blew off the flyer thing). I met Joe Montana and had lunch with Tim Brown. As the game was about to begin, I tried to sneak onto the field by hopping on the back of a golf cart that Tim Brown took into the stadium but was caught without a credential at the last moment. My back-up plan to get into the stadium was that another CSTV contact was in the press box and would be able to get me in. But phone service wasn’t working and after fruitlessly calling dozens of times I figured I would try to scalp a ticket. I walked up to a group of kids and saw one dude jumping up and down because he had just secured a ticket. I asked him how much he paid and he told me $500. This game was that big. The night before they had sold out a pep rally in the stadium that was covered live on ESPNews (I caught the last 30 minutes of it).
I finally got in touch with my friend 15 minutes before kickoff. I went up to the press box for a bit and then settled into the bleachers in the stadium. The game was magical from the start as Notre Dame suprised the crowd by coming out in their Green jersey’s and turned back the clock and played like they were still in their glory days. When that little midget boxer Zbikowski returned a punt for a touchdown it was holy.
USC had Leinart, Bush, a 27 game winning streak and perhaps the greatest college football team ever assembled but the legend of Touchdown Jesus (one of the cooler sights from a football stadium) and the Golden Dome seemed to be in Notre Dame’s corner.
USC had the ball for one final drive down by 5. The faced a early 4th and 9 and the stadium was shaking with the Irish one play away from a shocking upset of the #1 team in the country. But under pressure, Leinart somehow threaded the needle on a sideline pass for a 1st down. USC steadily marched down the field all the way to Notre Dame one yard line. Leinart rolled out of the pocket and decided to scramble into the endzone but was leveled at the goal line. Game over. The place erupted and the fans stormed the field. But then just as fast as the fans rushed the field, they rushed off it. For some it struck me as a very similar moment to the parting of the red sea (wrong religion, I know). Apparently, Leinart fumbled and the ball went out of bounds and USC had one final play from the line of scrimmage. As thousands of fans watched from the sideline, Reggie Bush pushed Leinart into the end zone and USC escaped with the victory. The place was like a midnight mass. I looked around in amazement. Jesus had just died…again. The stadium was dead silence. I was freaking out to myself. I was not believing what I had just seen and not believing how crappy it must have felt to be a Notre Dame fan at that moment. I felt a little bad – sike! It was awesome to watch those bastards cry!
Four games. Four upsets. Two overtimes. Two buzzer-beaters.
Yeah, so it might be a complete bullshit cop out that I’m picking four games as the best game I’ve ever been too. But man, it really seemed like one long ass game and definitely one radical experience. There was about an hour difference between the end of the afternoon upsets and the start of nighttime upsets. I walked out of the arena and the Tampa sun was setting and I was pretty sure that this is what happens in heaven.
When you watch 10 hours straight of basketball in one day there are just too many special moments to remember. The first game was Drake vs. Western Kentucky. When the bracket was announced I figured this one was a dud. But it turned out to be one of the most entertaining ball games that I’ve ever watched. Drake came back from 17 down by shooting a three pointer every single time down the court. They had a point guard named Emmenecker who couldn’t shoot so instead he would just dribble around in circles until he found someone behind the arc to hoist up a three (Emmenecker had 0 baskets but 14 assists). I looked over and Howie Hoops was bobbing and weaving in excitement like that one “special” St. John’s fan (yes, the kid is even more special then me). Drake came all the way back to take the lead. Then some white farmboy bench warmer named Ty Rogers on Western Kentucky peeled off a pick from 40 feet and swished the game winner.
Game #2 saw my adopted Toreros of San Diego take down UCONN on a buzzer beater. We were sitting in the San Diego section and got swept up in the upset. My dad unexpectedly went for a ride with Thabeet in the hotel elevator and was staring at him funny the entire game. Mitch was bragging how tight he was with AJ Price’s family until AJ tore his ACL in the first half.
The first game of he night was #13 seed Siena blowing out Vanderbilt. As Vanderbilt was dejectedly walking into the locker room at the half Howie Hoops got a bit swept up in the moment and was screaming at the Volunteers about how much they suck. Courtney (a relative newcomer to the madness) looked on in horror! It seemed like more good basketball was an impossibility as Clemson had a 20 point first half lead. I searched for a television in the arena to watch the India game with my sister. But then Villanova stormed back with a monstrous second half. I was almost expecting a triple overtime game after being so spoiled all day but Nova pulled away. Four upsets in one arena. It had never happened before. I’ve never peaked for so long in my life!