I am a very lucky sports fan. I am 37 years old and I have seen 13 professional championships from my teams in the four major sports. I have seen the Islanders dynasty of the early 80s, remembering the goal of Bobby Nystrom through the loss to Edmonton during the “Drive for Five”. I am a huge Yankees fan. I can remember Reggie’s three home runs, beating Kansas City in 1978 and the recent push of the late 90s. I am a Knicks fan, and I can remember…well, I have nothing for the Knicks. I remember the victory over Denver and wide right against Buffalo for the Giants. Sunday night, I was blessed with number 13. This was one of the most satisfying wins that I can remember as a fan. I did not go to a big Division 1 school and experience football or basketball. I never had that. So, I have my four teams (and the teams I work for) to look back on as a sports fan.
In games that I had an interest in as a fan, Super Bowl ranks number two of all time. Now, there are greater games that have been played and greater upsets but I am referring to the games where one of my teams was playing.
The number one game in my memory is Game Seven of the American League Championship Series 2003, Yankees versus Red Sox. Not only was I watching the game, I was there. This game had everything you can imagine. Roger Clemens was pitching his last game as a member of the Yankees (supposedly). There was Pedro Martinez and the “Who’s Your Daddy” chants ringing from 56,000 people. There were home runs, pitching changes, Mussina from the bullpen and there was Grady Little leaving Pedro in to pitch a couple more batters. We all know what happened as Aaron Boone took that first pitch from Wakefield to the lower seats in left. But, being there and watching that game unfold against your biggest rival was amazing. I have been at Yankee Stadium hundreds of times and I only hugged people in the stadium only one time before (see below). That night, every Yankee fan was looking to share that feeling with everyone else and hugs were everywhere.
The game that is now number three was May 25, 2005 in Bakersfield, California. San Jose, the affiliate for the Giants were visiting the Single A affiliate for the Rangers, the Bakersfield Blaze. I was working for the Blaze in 2005 and I will remember this game for a number of reasons, including the camaraderie of our staff and how this game was won. The game was tied at 4 at the end of the 9th inning. San Jose put up three runs in the 10th on a home run to go up 7-4. Considering I was “working” at the time, I do not remember many details except that the bases were loaded and I actually said into my radio, “Grand Slam” before the swing. As the ball cleared the right field wall, I started running. I could not celebrate. I had to make sure that every fan leaving got the Denny’s Grand Slam coupon as we had a promotion with Denny’s restaurant that year. So, as the ball landed over the fence, I was on my way to do my job. You cannot make this up. This game is number three because a few hundred people stayed to see a great walk off grand slam and I had to pass out coupons because they were there to see it.
The next two are Yankees games also. I was there in 2001, as our city was recovering on an emotional night as Tino Martinez hit a home run off to tie Game Five of the World Series. Derek Jeter’s home run ended the game and started a celebration. I was out in the bleachers and I think we were celebrating not only as Yankees fans but celebrating as New Yorkers that night. Some people called that the greatest ending they ever saw and at that point it may have been. However a few years later, a late inning replacement moved the game down a notch or two. The other game to round out my Top Five was the 2004 game between the Yankees and Red Sox that featured “The Dive”. That game will be remembered for Jeter’s dive into the seats and for Nomar Garciaparra being the only player to sit on the bench, arms folded and not participating in the game. I was not at that game. That was truly fun to watch and a fantastic game to cheer for.
The Giants win in Super Bowl 42 ranks for me as number two. This was team that was written off for dead. This was a team that after week number two was considered a joke. This was a team that no one believed in. If you listened to New York sports radio, even the fans had jumped off the sinking ship. Eli Manning could not lead this team. Michael Strahan was not a team player by holding out. Running backs had injuries, the secondary looked lost and no one believed. After a few wins, there was still disbelief. Somehow they had locked up the number five seed by beating Buffalo and faced the ultimate dilemma. Rest or play New England hard was a choice Coughlin made. We all know that this game was the catalyst for the Giants running the table. This playoff run that the Giants had was improbable. The 10-6 Giants beat a combined regular season record of 36-13. The Giants were not supposed to win. The Giants were not supposed to be in the Super Bowl. But the road warrior Giants were there.
I watched the game at my parent’s house. My heart was beating about 120 beats per minute from opening kickoff and throughout the game. I jumped and reacted to every play. I was proud of the 10 minute drive to start the game and upset that Antonio Pierce had no help from a safety for the pass interference in the end zone. I yelled at the interception and cheered at every time Tom Brady got hit. As the game went on, the fear of the Patriots grew and just like every other Giants fan, I was waiting for the disaster to occur. As halftime approached, the Brady fumble made me breathe a little easy after holding the Patriots to seven points, but they had the ball to start the second half.
In the fourth quarter, the Giants had the ball inside the 20 and they showed the Giants huddle. I actually said out loud, “Why is David Tyree in the game?” He was there to score the first touchdown. I looked at the clock and knew the Pats weren’t done. I did my first pace of the room. As the Patriots drove down the field and scored with 2:42 left, I yelled. Corey Webster fell down and I had to watch Randy Moss celebrate. How many of you hate him? Okay, put your hands down.
Whatever Eli Manning learned from first time the Giants played the Patriots until that exact moment, it was time for him to show it. No words can describe “The Play”. The world thought that Eli was sacked. We all thought David Tyree would not catch the football. We watched the celebration as we knew the Giants were close. Peyton, along with 97.5 million people watched his little brother finish a 12 play, 83 yard drive that ended with Plaxico Burress scoring with 38 seconds left. Eli Manning showed emotion, the Giants celebrated, Giants fans started to party and after I jumped and screamed for the touchdown, I sat back down as Brady still had time.
The end of the game was historic. The Giants had won Super Bowl 42. This game, watching it in my parent’s house and cheering as if I was at the stadium made this game memorable. It also made it memorable that sitting behind me was my father, cheering just as loud. I looked over my shoulder and while I was at least trying to stay seated, my father was making tracks in the carpet. I guess what made the game memorable was not just that my team won a game it was not supposed to. It was that my I got to share it with millions of fans, and my father.
By the way, sitting three seats away from me in Yankee Stadium for Game 7 in 2003 was my dad.