Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Greatest Game Ever Played

2008 was an amazing year for sports. From the Super Bowl upset to Michael Phelps; from Federer-Nadal to the Rays amazing run to the World Series. Just an incredible year in sports filled with amazing games.

Did it, however, have the best game ever played? Did it have a transcendent game for the ages. In fact, what are the best games ever played? Glad you asked. What follows are a short list of the best games ever played. And as always, write back with your favorite game/match of all time and argue your point.

April 3, 1983: N.C. State Wolfpack—Houston Cougars
The original March Madness Cinderella story. Jim Valvano's Wolfpack were a team that wasn't even suppossed to be there. The 6th seeded Wolfpack needed to win the ACC—defeating Michael Jordan's Tar Heels and Ralph Samson's Cavaliers to even get into the Tournament. Houston, a unanimous no 1 seed featuring two future NBA Hall of Famers—Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler—had cruised to a 31-2 during the regular season including a 25-game winning streak, while the Wolfpack, who had 10 losses during the regular season, were forced to win 7 of their last 9 games after trailing with a minute left in the game. The game would be a blowout—everyone knew that.

Not so fast. Jim Valvano's Wolfpack, given no shot to even compete with Houston and their talented roster, miraculously had the game tied up at 52 and with the ball as time winded down. Houston, smothering the ball forced a last-second, desperation shot, an air-ball which was caught by Lorenzo Charles who dunked it in as time expired. Valvano, an incredibly emotional and inspiring man, who immediately ran through everybody swarming the court, looking for someone to hug, became the embodiment of words he would later say. "Don't give up. Don't ever give up."

February 3rd, 2008: New York Giants—New England Patriots
The Patriots were destined for the record books. They broke NFL records, seemingly weekly. Brady, Moss, Welker, shredded opponents every week—including the Giants—during the regular season. The playoffs were no different. They came into the game undefeated; 18-0 and rested. The Giants on the other hand, had to claw and squeeze their way through the playoffs, on the road the entire time. The point spread for the game was Patriots by almost two touchdowns.

None of that mattered come gametime as the Giants harassed Brady all day and kept the Patriots in relative check. However with time winding down in the 4th quarter, Brady and the Patriots got down to business. With their customary precision, they executed an 80-yard drive and went up 14-10. It seemed business at usual for the Pats, and they everything would end up in the Super Bowl as predicted.

However, Eli Manning, seeming newly reborn late in the season, and supremely confident, executed an amazing drive—pulled out of the book of Joe Montana—including possibly the best postseason play ever. On their own 44, Eli Manning having dropped back to pass, and seemingly sacked by a swarming Pats defense, uncorked a wild pass downfield to David Tyree, himself completely draped by Rodney Harrison, who caught the ball by bracing it against the side of his helmet. A few plays later, Manning hit Plaxico Burress in the back of the end zone, pulling off not only the best drive in Super Bowl history, but also possibly, the biggest upset since Joe Willie beat the Colts almost 30 years earlier.

October 3rd, 1951: Brooklyn Dodgers—New York Giants
"The Giants win the pennant!" "The Giants win the pennant!" "The Giants win the pennant!"

Anyone who has ever been to a baseball game, watched one on T.V., or breathed air as an American, has heard this call. The most famous walk-of home run in baseball history was preceded, in fact, by one of the most dramatic pennant runs in MLB history.

Trailing the Brooklyn Dodgers by 13 1/2 games on Aug. 12, (causing Dodger manager, Charlie Dressen to declare, "The Giants is dead!") the New York Giants won 16 straight, 39 of 47 and their final seven, (forcing the Dodgers to win a 14-inning victory over the Phillies on the last day of the season) leading up to a three-game, winner-take-all series.

The Giants won the first game at Ebbets Field 3-1 bringing the next two games to their home at the Polo Grounds. Game 2 was a blowout, with the Boys from Brooklyn demolishing the Giants 10-0. Game 3 was going to be a winner-take-all showdown at the Polo Ground.

Down 4-1 in the bottom of the 9th, the Giants began to get to Brooklyn ace Don Newcombe and scored a run to make it 4-2, with runners on 1st and 3rd. Finally, Dressen called in reliever Ralph Branca for the spent Newcombe, to face slugger Bobby Thompson. However, Branca had blown game one of the series by giving up a two-run home run to Thompson. Dressen took the chance that history would not repeat itself in game 3.

He was wrong. As Russ Hodges shouted "I don't believe it! I don't believe it! I do not believe it! Bobby Thomson hit a line drive into the lower deck of the left-field stands and this place is goin' crazy!"

February 22nd, 1980: United States—Soviet Union
Seemingly scripted by a melodramatic Hollywood hack, the "Miracle on Ice" was indeed, just that.

The Soviet Union hockey team was filled with professional players, had trained together extensively and were well-equipped and well-trained. The previous year, the Soviets had met the NHL All-Stars, and destroyed them, 6-0. Just two weeks before the "Miracle" game was played, the same Soviet team beat the U.S. team 10-3.

The Americans on the other hand, were a bunch of college kids and amateurs who had a few weeks to train together. inexperienced and awestruck, Herb Brooks would later recall, "Our guys were applauding the Soviets when they were introduced."

The Americans, however, surprised everybody, and advanced through the tournament to get to the wanted face-off against the Russians. Even so, no one on the planet expected a bunch of college kids to beat the more experienced, more talented Russians.

Repeatedly down, the Americans scrapped to force them game back to a tie. Goalie Jim Craig, playing the game of his, and everyone's life, face an onslaught of shots, (the Soviets outshot the Americans 39-16) blocking most of them.

After taking a 3-2 lead, the Americans once again tied it up 8:39 into the third period. Just two minutes later, a fresh Mike Eruzione (coach Herb Brooks had been rotating his players often throughout the game) fired a wrist shot past the screened Soviet goalie to take a 4-3 lead. It was their first lead of the game. Exactly 10 minutes were left in the match.

Goalie Jim Craig faced an onslaught of desperate Soviet shots. He held. Almost as famous as Russ Hodges call of 1951 "the Shot Heard Round The World," Al Michaels call of the last few seconds of the Miracle on Ice has become ingrained in American minds.

Eleven seconds, you've got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? Yes!

October 1, 1975, Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier
With apologies to my father, a huge boxing aficionado back in his time, and an enormous Rocky Graziano fan ("49-0! Nobody ever beat him!"), The Thriller in Manila is pretty much accepted as the best fight ever.

The third fight between these two would be the rubber match. Frazier won the first on in 1971 and Ali won the second in 1974—both previous fights having been fought in Madison Square Garden. This match however, would take place in the city of Manila in the Philippines. While the venue changed, nothing else had. The fighters; the clown prince, Ali and the silent marauder, Frazier, still hated each other, and had brawled in a television studio prior to this fight. Could the fight live up to the hype?

In a word, yes. The fight was a bloodbath, a slugfest. So much so, that Sylvester Stallone based the ultimate fight for his first Rocky movie on it. The heat of the Philippines and the brutality of the fight reportedly caused both fighters "to never be the same again" after the fight. Ali started quickly, attacking Frazier, however, Frazier kept coming, taking whatever Ali was giving, walking into combinations and ignoring them, still coming.

Eventually Ali began to tire and wilt in the middle rounds. Frazier repeatedly kept Ali against the ropes and laded punch after punch. Amazingly, however, Ali rallied and began to dance, showering Frazier with quick jabs and combos, and moving, keeping the "Bull" Frazier off-balance. Frazier, however, did manage to land blows that hurt Ali, Ali not being as fast as he once was.

In round 13, with both fighters exhausted, Ali landed a punch to Frazier that sent his mouthpiece flying. By that point, Frazier eye had swelled shut and he was unable to see Ali's right coming. Frazier's corner wanted to throw in the towel; however, Frazier denied them. Frazier, using instinct and heart to keep going, was a sitting duck, and took a flurry of Ali's punches, but kept coming. Mercifully, in the 14th Frazier's corner threw the towel. After the fight, Ali, in a rare moment of humility said, "Joe Frazier, I'll tell the world right now, brings out the best in me. I'm gonna tell ya, that's one helluva man, and God bless him."

So that's it. Of course, there's the Ice bowl, Fisk's homer, Gibson's homer, Federer-Nadal, the 1958 Colts-Giants game, "the Drive" and a million others. Vote on your favorite by writing back on the message boards. I love a good sports argument, so write in!!


Travis said...

My favorite would probably be the Duke-Kentucky game in the 1992 tournament. You know the one I am talking about: the Grant Hill to Christian Laettner pass with about 2 seconds left.

P-Cat said...

Good call. That was def. one for the ages.