These were the 10 games that I-as a SPORTS fan-just couldn’t help but get caught up in emotionally for one reason or another this year. I tried to separate my individual ties as much as possible; and will try to put together a “Local” version of this list in the next day or so. But this is all sports; everywhere, for the entire year……
10-NCAA Lacrosse Final Four: Johns Hopkins vs. Duke (May 24 Foxborough, MA)
When Duke’s All-World star Matt Danowski fired a shot with with less than 4 seconds to play; you couldn’t help but get the feeling that the ball was destined to find the back of the net.
You see; everything was set up for Duke to FINALLY win their first NCAA Lacrosse Championship this season. Players who were part of the 2006 team affected by the terrible rape scandal were inexplicably granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA. This created so much dissension within the ranks of lacrosse fans that even some voters actually placed asterisks next to Duke when voting for them in rankings.
The Blue Devils mowed through the regular season; losing just once. They claimed the ACC Championship, and marched into the Final Four with their 18 wins coming by an average of almost 10 goals per game. They absolutely appeared unstoppable as a second contest against the Blue Jays loomed. The Blue Devils had dominated the Jays 17-6 when the teams battled 6 weeks earlier.
But Hopkins hung tight with the Blue Devils; taking a 2 goal advantage in the 4th quarter. With just 28 seconds left; Brad Ross brought the Devils within one. But after calling a timeout with 3.9 seconds to play; Danowski’s shot was stopped by Hopkins goalie Matt Gvozden; and the Jays clinched one of the more stunning upsets in recent memory.
9-College Football: Texas vs. Texas Tech (November 1 Lubbock, TX)
This season wasn’t quite like last season in college football; as many of the year’s best games (Florida-Georgia, Oklahoma-Texas Tech, Ohio State-USC; etc) ended up being fairly lopsided blowouts. There was no Appalachian State over Michigan; and even last second Hail Mary’s were few and far between. But there was one game that was pretty fun for all of us…..
Even when Texas Tech jumped out to a 19-0 lead in the 2nd quarter; it still felt like the type of game that would come down to the last possession. When Vondrell McGee scored from 4 yards out and Hunter Lawrence added the extra point to give the Longhorns a 33-32 advantage; it seemed like the 1:29 still on the clock might have been too much time to give the Red Raiders.
Those assumptions turned out to be true; as Graham Harrell marched his team down the field before finding Michael Crabtree on a 28 yard TD pass with 1 second left to give Texas Tech a 39-33 win. The Red Raiders and Longhorns each were left out of the Big 12 title picture due to BCS standings; but both were certainly part of the best game college football had to offer this season.
8-American League Championship Series Game 5: Rays vs. Red Sox (October 16 Boston, MA)
Even I have to admit that I should have known better. With the Rays taking a 7-0 lead in the 7th inning of Game 5; I couldn’t help but think that things were different this time; and there was no chance the Sox could climb out of a whole THAT great in THAT desperate a situation. Having to wake up early the next morning; I decided to go to bed.
About 30 minutes later; I couldn’t sleep. I decided to wake up and take a peek; hoping to catch the shots of disgusted Red Sox fans watching the Rays celebrate on their field. Surely the joy of miserable Bostonians would give me enough peace to sleep again. But when I turned the TV on; peace wasn’t the feeling that came over me. Instead, I got the feeling of something; well, completely vile.
David Ortiz hit a three run homer to make things 7-4. Then, JD Drew hit a 2 run homer to make things 7-6. A Coco Crisp RBI single would tie things up headed to the 9th. That tie wouldn’t last long, as Drew would drive in Youkilis for the winner in the 9th; and the Red Sox would come all the way back for an 8-7 victory.
How does this team keep doing these things? If they had gone on to win the series; this might be higher on the list. Luckily; the Rays finally shook things off behind Matt Garza in Game 7 before losing the World Series in 5 to the Phillies.
7-NBA Finals Game 4: Celtics vs. Lakers (June 12 Los Angeles, CA)
It was one of the most impressive quarters of basketball I have ever seen. When the Lakers jumped out to a 35-14 lead after the first 12 minutes of the game; you couldn’t help but wonder if momentum for the series had permanently shifted to the Lakers; and they might be capable of responding from a 2-0 hole to win their 15th NBA title.
Even as the 3rd quarter opened, the Lakers had extended their lead to 24; seemingly too much for the Celtics to overcome. But as if they had learned from their baseball counterparts in Beantown; the C’s hung in and eventually made their move. They finished the 3rd quarter on a 21-3 run; and finally took the lead in the 4th on an Eddie House jumper. The Celtics went on to win 97-91; and would win the series in 6 games for their 17th title.
6-NHL Winter Classic: Penguins vs. Sabres (January 1 Orchard Park, NY)
The NHL had tried the outdoor hockey thing a few years before; but the “Heritage Classic” between the Oilers and Canadiens just really didn’t register south of the border. Needing DESPERATELY to gain some steam in America; the NHL decided to go back to the outdoor hockey concept; but this time they dressed it up a bit.
First-they played the game in Buffalo; an American market where hockey was already popular. Second-they pitted the Sabres against the Pittsburgh Penguins; another popular American team who featured superstar Sidney Crosby. Third-they played the game on New Year’s Day; a day traditionally spent watching sports on TV in America. Fourth-they showed the game on NBC; allowing the entire American population the chance to see the event.
What they couldn’t control however, was what fans would see when they tuned into the game at home. No NHL official could have ever imagined a better scenario; where the two teams would play in a sometimes driving snowstorm; with each teams scoring goals before heading to overtime and eventually they ALWAYS exciting shootout. As if that wasn’t enough; NHL officials had to be jumping for joy when they saw that the game could rest on the stick of Crosby; who put home the winner in the shootout for the Penguins to clinch the 2-1 victory. There were over 70,000 in attendance at the game itself; but the impact certain reverberated amongst millions of sports fans across the country.
5-NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship: Kansas vs. Memphis (April 7 San Antonio, TX)
Some men will be remembered forever for one moment; if only because that moment happened during the month of March on a College Basketball floor. Tate George, Christian Laettner, Drew Nicholas, Keith Smart, James Forrest, and Bryce Drew are all examples of players who are remembered forever for hitting just one shot during the NCAA Tournament.
Mario Chalmers added his name to that list this year; but it wasn’t for anything that happened in March. Instead; with his team trailing 63-60 in the NCAA Championship Game; Chalmers calmly drilled a 3 that tied things up and sent the game to overtime. Getting to that moment wasn’t necessarily easy; as that shot finished a 12-3 run by the Jayhawks over the final 2:12 of the game. Memphis missed 3 free throws in the last 90 seconds to help; and the Jayhawks had new life going to the extra frame.
Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur, and Darnell Jackson all hit buckets to open the overtime period; and the Jayhawks were well on their way to a 75-68 victory; sealing Bill Self’s first national title in Lawrence.
4-Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Final: Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal (July 6 London, ENG)
Even if you don’t like tennis; this one had to grab you in. It had everything. The undisputed Number 1 player in all of tennis (Roger Federer) seeking to re-establish his reign atop the world after again falling at the French Open to the young punk #2 (Rafael Nadal). Nadal was seeking to FINALLY win a Grand Slam title outside of Paris; where he had won 4 French Open titles. Federer was hoping to become the first player in almost 150 years to win a 6th consecutive Wimbledon title.
Nadal won the first two sets 6-4, 6-4 and appeared to be well on his way to finally stopping Federer in the sport’s premiere grass event. But something funny happened when rain came from the sky; as Federer returned from a break in play to bounce back and win the 3rd set in a tiebreak. The 4th set also went to a tiebreak; where Nadal took a 5-2 lead. But the pressure of the moment appeared to get to the spaniard; as he blew two championship points and eventually lost another set.
Set #5 was again marred by rain; and when the players returned it appeared as though darkness would come into play as well. There could be no tiebreak in the deciding set; and Nadal would FINALLY clinch his first title at the All-England club at 9-7. It was a match with a little bit of everything; and gave tennis a spotlight the sport hadn’t seen since the days of Sampras/Agassi.
3-2008 U.S. Open Championship (June 12-16 San Diego, CA)
Everyone knew Tiger Woods was hurt. Watching him wince; watching him use his club as a cane; it was clear to see there was something not right with Tiger.
But no one knew Tiger Woods was playing with a double stress fracture that would require ACL surgery. And by the time we found out; this weekend was ALREADY a classic.
Tiger’s chip on Saturday put him in the position to win his 14th major title when having at least a tie of the lead after the 3rd round. Rocco Mediate almost ended that streak; as Tiger Woods trailed by one going to the 72nd hole of the tournament. Tiger made a clutch 12 foot putt that ALMOST lipped out, forcing an 18 hole playoff on Monday. Monday’s playoff was just as riveting, with Tiger again being forced to birdie the 18th to stay alive. Mediate bogeyed the 91st hole of the weekend; giving Tiger his 14th major championship in his last event of 2008.
2-Super Bowl XLII: Patriots vs. Giants (February 3, 2008-Glendale, AZ)
Which storyline do you want to use to explain the greatness of this game? The Patriots’ pursuit of the first ever 19-0 season? The Manning Brothers winning back to back Super Bowl titles? David Tyree’s “catch”? Michael Strahan winning a Super Bowl in his final game before retiring?
The game had an incredible finish-all too rare for a Super Bowl; which included two touchdown catches in the final 3 minutes (Randy Moss looked like he might have grabbed the winner before Plaxico Burress brought down the one that would give the Giants the title). The Giants were 17-14 winners, and the ’72 Dolphins remained the only team to ever finish the season with a perfect record.
1-Olympic Men’s Swimming: 4×100 meter relay (Sunday, August 10-Beijing)
If you didn’t absolutely jump out of your chair; I have no choice but to question your patriotism, sir or ma’am. If you weren’t screaming to the point where your lungs could literally no longer find air; I have to wonder if you care at all about America. This was everything you could have ever wanted in one short span. It was an American hero; swimming out of Baltimore, in Beijing on a mission to eclipse one of sports’ all-time greatest records. It was an American team defiantly forced to protect their turf when challenged by a group of mouthy frenchmen. This was no longer merely about sport; this was about a celebration of freedom!
Maybe I’m getting a bit carried away; but this August night had the entire country rocking. For a day or so; Jason Lezak’s rally to defeat Alain Beard made him just as much a household name as Phelps. And when he touched the wall .08 seconds ahead of his French counterpart to clinch Phelps’ 2nd gold medal of the games, an entire country screamed, exhaled, and smiled.