Friday, June 27

The games I'd most like to attend

I've seen a few articles recently where writers have selected the best games ever, the best they've personally viewed, or the historical games they would most like to attend if time travel was possible other than via relativistic speeds. The first I saw was Bill Simmons picking his top three a while back - I can't find the link, but I remember one of them was a boxing match so, thanks for the good idea at least, I guess. Sports Illustrated's writers have been recapping the best game each of them ever saw (more on this in a future article), and The Hornless Rhino of the Cleveland Fan recently brought it home, picking his top three Cleveland sports moments. Am I going to do the same? You bet. I'd like to extend an offer to my co-writers to add theirs as well, and readers can include their picks via comments. I'm actually going to make two lists: 1) three general, historical games, and 2) one game each from the four major Ohio teams we cover here on the site.

As an aside, since the Pittsburgh Penguins are an important team to me, I'd put their instant-classic triple-overtime win over Detroit in the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals on my personal teams' list if it were appropriate for this blog, just a shade ahead of the Darius Kasparaitis game-winner to topple Buffalo in OT in 2001.

Neither list is in any particular order, and both focus on more recent years because I'm a more recent person. here we go!

The Ohio sports games I'd most like to attend

Indians: 1995 ALDS, Game 1, vs Boston
I'm going to go with the Tony Pena game in '95, a 5-4 victory over Boston where the Tribe catcher won the Indians' first playoff game in 41 years with a 13th-inning home run. The Tribe had some other great playoff moments in the '90s (Sandy Alomar's HR, Kenny Lofton scoring from 2nd on a passed ball) as well as some regular-season magic (most notably, The Impossible Return) but this one announced that this was a franchise reborn that had fully realized their return to prominence. It had everything - Roger Clemens vs Dennis "El Presidente" Martinez on the mound, a three-run Tribe rally to take the lead in the 6th, Boston battling back in the 8th, and the Socks taking the lead in the 11th but Albert Belle tying it right back up with a solo shot. And of course, extra-inning walk-off HR's are always a beautiful thing, even from a team that made them routine like the '95 Tribe did. As a younger fellow with high school to attend the next day, I did not see the end of this game - given the chance to be at the game in person, I most certainly would.

Cavs: 2007 East Finals, Game 5, at Detroit
Without question the greatest moment in Cavs franchise history took place just over a year ago, as the Cavs rode LeBron James' 48 points to a 109-107 double-OT win in Detroit. This is the best individual performance I've ever seen in any sport, as LeBron scored the Cavaliers' final 25 points and 29 of their last 30 on an array of dazzling and often flatly ridiculous shots. What's more, it put the Cavs on top in the East Finals for good, as they clinched their first and only trip to the NBA Finals at home in the next game, courtesy of Detroit's total meltdown. Game 5 was a thrilling win and a superlative performance by the King - I would love to have been there slack-jawed with the rest of the crowd watching LeBron take the vaunted Pistons D 1-on-5 time and time again.

Ohio State: 2002 Fiesta Bowl, vs Miami
I guess I have a thing for double-overtime games. I know this game took place in 2003, but it was the 2002 season, so I'm marking it as such. The undefeated, #2-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes went down to Arizona and knocked off the heavily-favored, undefeated, #1-ranked Miami Hurricanes to claim the national title in one of the best college football games ever played, a 31-24, double-OT decision in favor of the Buckeyes. So much to like in this one - Maurice Clarett's strip of Sean Taylor, Miami's last-second game-tying FG, QB Craig Krenzel's sneak into the end zone, the correctly officiated pass interference call, Kellen Winslow's unstoppability, the see-saw battle, and Cie Grant (a New Philadelphian like JHH and I, though his stupid Wikipedia entry says Dover because that's where our hospital is. Extended digression: I would edit my own Wiki if I was famous to remove any mention of Dover. OK, done.) harassing Ken Dorsey into throwing the ball away on the game's final play.

On a personal note, I watched this at JHH's place where we had a musical salsa-dispensing container (it's the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, remember?) and enough beer to last four quarters, thus necessitating an overtime raid of his dad's fridge for Beast Light. Tremendous.

Browns: 1993, vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
The only regular-season game on the list is at least partially a reflection of the Browns' lack of playoff success over the past 40 years. I could have gone with the playoff win over Buffalo, as the Hornless Rhino did, or one of the Tim Couch miracles I wrote about before, but I chose Eric Metcalf's two punt returns to beat the Steelers in Cleveland, 28-23, back in '93.

This game evoked shades of the Browns' absurd first win in Pittsburgh during the '99 expansion year, with the Browns seriously outgained and outplayed but pulling out the win nonetheless. (It also evokes the 2007 Browns-Steelers game in Pittsburgh, replacing Metcalf with Cribbs and the win with another fucking loss.) Metcalf had already taken a punt back 90 yards earlier, so the Steelers wisely kicked to him again in Billickesque fashion. Metcalf streaked up the sidelines 75 yards and with two minutes remaining the Browns had a lead they wouldn't relinquish. I remember watching this as a little kid and perhaps not realizing how amazing the feat was - today's version surely would appreciate its glory.

General sports
I think for inclusion on any fan's list, a game should have some historical importance (sometime later I'll quibble with some of the weaker SI writer picks on this basis), and we all know the only way to measure that is by whether or not it has a Wikipedia entry. In my case, the first two both do, under their popular nickname. The third sort-of does, but it also has a YouTube video where a guy reconstructed it using RBI Baseball as well as a Seinfeld where it figures in the plot, both of which I would argue are of greater significance. On to the list.

1980 Olympic Hockey Semifinals, US vs USSR
You might know this one better as the Miracle on Ice, perhaps? Everyone knows the name of the game and the teams who played - fewer know that the final was 4-3 in favor of the good guys and that it was not, in fact, the gold medal game (the US claimed gold in their next game, a win over Sweden). What you do know is that the US was a gigantic underdog against the semi-pro Russian Hockey Machine, that coach Kurt Russell pulled together a bunch of scrappy amateurs to fill out his rosters, and that Al Michaels's famous end-of-game call will show up in every Great-Moments-in-Sports montage until the end of time. USA! USA! USA!

1993 AFC Wild-Card game, Buffalo vs Houston
Some call this "The Comeback" - I like to call it "The Frank Reich Game" - whatever you want to call it, this is one of the most intriguing and unusual games in NFL history. I picked in in part simply because it's a great game and Reich's career-defining relief appearance makes for a great story, but also because I like to imagine actually being there, which is part of my selection criteria. I saw this recently on TV, and the game and the crowd's reaction to it gave me goosebumps.

You watch the first half, and you notice that the Bills look totaly outclassed by the Oilers, falling behind 35-3 early in the 3rd quarter. The fans are almost totally silent, stunned, yet none of them leave.

Finally, Buffalo finally gets a third-quarter TD, and the fans take some solace in that. ("Hey, at least we're not getting totally embarrassed.")

Reich throws a TD pass - a little warmth spreads through the crowd. ("We're making things respectable at lease")

Reich throws another TD pass. ("Hey, are you guys watching this? We're only down 11!")

Reich throws another TD pass - fans are crazy at this point. I've never seen such electricity in a crowd. ("We're fucking winning this game, I'm telling you man.")

Reich throws his 4th and final score with 3:08 left, and the fans go berserk. ("I TOLD YOU, I TOLD YOU!!!") The greatest comeback in history is completed...

Except it's not, as Warren Moon emerges from his coma to lead the Oilers to a game-tying FG to send it to OT. A Buffalo interception in the extra stanza and a short drive led to Steve Christie's field goal and secured the 41-38 win for the Bills and etched their name in football history. Listen to me talk about this game like I'm some fan - I don't even like the Buffaloes!

1986 World Series, Game 6, New York Mets vs Boston Red Sox
The previous two entries featured great crowds almost unable to believe what they were seeing, and this thrilling 6-5 come-from-behind victory (I like comebacks as much as I like extra innings/overtime) is no exception - listen how the fans get increasingly excited behind Vin Scully's call on the RBI Baseball video (linked above). It's amazing how many things had to go right for the Mets to pull this out - sure, everyone remembers Bill Buckner's error on Mookie Wilson's weak ground ball, but it shouldn't have even come to that.

Consider: the socks (who, oddly, appear in this post twice) led by two runs in the 10th inning and the first two Met batters were quickly retired. How often would any team win such a scenario? 1 in 250, maybe? Yet the Mets strung together three straight singles, tied the game on a wild pitch (listen to that crowd!), and won improbably on the famous Buckner play. What a game. That they would go on to take Game 7 seems now like a foregone conclusion, as asking the red socks to recover from such a devastating loss was just too much, though they did manage a 3-0 lead in Game 7 before losing.

So, there you have the games I would most like to attend, given a time machine and absolutely no sense of priority or responsibility on how to best use it other than attend sporting events. Your thoughts?

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