Five For Friday: Moments that mattered from sports (we think) don’t

(In honor of this week’s listless U.S. Open, FR highlights personal memories of sports neither followed nor loved.)

Nathan: Beach Volleyball
2008 Beijing Summer Games
Somehow I got addicted to beach volleyball during the 2008 Olympics, and ended up with the chance to root for both the mens’ and womens’ U.S. teams. Will I ever watch another beach volleyball game again? Maybe when London 2012 comes around.
Travis: Skateboarding
Tony Hawk’s 900 in 1999
I’m not personally a big skateboarding guy, but when I was younger a lot of my friends were, so I ended up watching a lot of skate videos. Other than the violent falls, none of it was really that entertaining to me, except when Tony Hawk was on screen (or when NOFX was playing, but that’s a whole other thing). He was so obviously better than everyone else, both in street and in vert, just a natural athlete who, no matter what sport he’d chosen, he probably could have excelled. His 900 on the vert ramp at the 1999 X Games was the first time someone had pulled one off in competition, and the amount of excitement his peers had for him as he landed it was almost as exciting as the landing itself. Tony Hawk legitimized extreme sports (for better or worse), created a (great) video game brand, and seems like an all-around good dude. This was the highlight of his sporting career.
Tyler: Hockey
The Blackhawks’ drive for the Cup

I’ve tried for years to get into hockey but it never takes.  There’s a guilt to this, as I was born in Toronto–it feels like it should be in my blood or something.  I admire the hell out of hockey players, I think they’re the toughest and most talented in any team sport.  I like the quicksilver consistency of the game.  Almost every time I try to watch, my eyes glaze over.

This condition was remedied as the Blackhawks drove to the Stanley Cup, clinching that holy grail for the first time in 49 years.  It was a damn fun time to live in Chicago and have a championship team, even if you were a bandwagon-jumper.  The victory parade ended half a block from my temp gig at the time.  I wasn’t having that–I watched on television–but walking through the mat of confetti, past the empty-stuffed trash cans, hearing from a co-temp that he had to crawl into the building through a lobby restaurant…man, it felt good.  No team I worship has won a championship since my first-love Blue Jays in 1993.  My top-priority Reds and adopted mistress Bulls both look great for the future, but that day I envied the true obsessive Blackhawk fans who got to have the time of their lives.  One day.

Nathan: Figure Skating
Kerrigan v. Harding – Breaking the Kneecap
Figure skating has always seemed like an arbitrary sport to me. I can’t tell the difference between most of the performances unless someone falls on their butt. But the Tanya Harding v. Nancy Kerrigan fiasco went beyond the ice. It was a sports scandal in the best/worst way. You had to feel for Kerrigan, who deserved better than that. And though Harding wasn’t directly involved, you just wanted to see her banned from the sport for life. If ever there was a true villain/hero dynamic in sports, this was it. The whole thing turned figure skating into hockey for just a little while. And it happened in Detroit!
Travis: Soccer
Landon Donovan’s Extra Time Goal
Not a big soccer guy. In fact, I think most Americans who watch it either watch it because they played when they were younger (Catholic school?) or because they love scarves and talking about how the rest of the world is superior to America, yet won’t nut-up and move. But everytime the World Cup comes around, I give it another shot, usually when Team USA is playing, so I can bring some jingoistic fervor to the proceedings in order to keep myself interested. This was a hell of a goal and an exciting moment, especially for early in the morning. Not exciting: anything else that happened.

Tyler: High school football
Linebacker saves the day
My high school, St. Xavier, was taking on their rival Moeller in the biggest game of the Greater Catholic League (GCL) season.  I spent the game on “the hill,” a grassy knoll that was the lurking ground of freshmen seeking female companionship.  A couple of the guys in my rolling crew had acquired “girlfriends” by this point, and the lot of us decided to make an early beeline for the subsequent gym mixer across the parking lot once St. X went down seven with seconds to go.

Somehow word came through to us as we stood around on a listless dance floor.  This was pre-texting, and none of us had cell phones anyway.  Our Bombers had knotted the game on a trick pass to side-swapping linebacker Rocky Boiman, who would later enjoy a hell of an NFL career, including a ring.  We lost in overtime, but the play would be the talk of the school for the rest of the year and for some time beyond.

The disappointment at missing such an outstanding play might have been lessened had I engaged in some makeout action later in the evening.  No man can say.

Nathan: Tennis
Nadal v. Federer – Wimbledon 2008
I was on vacation in Wisconsin. Woke up, turned on the TV and found this, one of the most legendary tennis matches ever. It was so intense that I couldn’t stop watching, much to my wife’s chagrin. I’d only seen a few tennis matches before, but my interest had never been piqued. My impression of tennis to that point had mainly involved Andre Agassi and Canon cameras. This match gave me a newfound appreciation for a sport that I’d never really followed…and still don’t.
Travis: Gymnastics
Kerri Strug Sticks the Landing
More unabashed US pride, this time at the Olympics. Everyone remembers this one—a tiny, squeaky-voiced gymnast (at that point, not the star of the bunch) landing her vault on a busted ankle, then being carried off by her creepy coach.
Tyler: Swimming
Phelps ties Spitz’s record

Another marvelous achievement (see #1) I watched while waiting tables and forgetting orders taken while stealing glances at the television.  Everybody wanted Phelps to do it.  This happened.

Nathan: Basketball
Pistons v. Lakers – 2004 NBA Finals
I’ve always found it difficult to be unaware of basketball. The Pistons won the NBA Championship twice, right as I was crossing into Jr. High, and Michael Jordan was a once-in-a-lifetime player who demanded attention. But my interest has always been, and remains, somewhat nominal. I’ll watch the Finals if I have nothing better to do, but not much more. But, man, was it awesome to see the Pistons beat the 3-peat Lakers – in 5 games! Though the Lakers were about to implode, people probably don’t give the Pistons enough credit. They were a team’s team. Every man counted and each person played their own role. There was no grandstanding in the group. It was a beautiful thing to see.
Travis: Snowboarding
Shaun White’s Second Run in 2010
Like Tony Hawk, Shaun White is so much better at his sport than anyone else that it’s a joy to watch, even if snowboarding isn’t of interest. His second run in 2010’s finals is his shining moment—having already won the gold with a spectacular first run, he could have just ridden down the middle of the halfpipe and collected his Gold Medal. Instead, he went through another brilliant run, hitting even bigger air than the first run, and concluding by landing a trick (like Hawk) no one had ever done in competition before, the Double McTwist 1260 (had to look that one up). This kind of stuff, athletes doing something no one’s seen before, is what the Olympics should be all about.
Tyler: NBA basketball
Darvin Ham misses an opportunity

I holed up with a slab of grease from the student cafeteria, “Bear’s Den,” on the run from a freshman roommate with whom I did not match.  The Den has since expanded, but at the time a strange dark side room existed, lit like a pub and oriented around that type of front-projection big-screen also owned by the parents of the dude who wasn’t your friend in grade school.  This faux-lounge was called “Ike’s Place” and the TV showed sports and movies most of the time.  On this occasion, the selection was a meaningless January tilt between the Knicks and Bucks.

At the time I couldn’t give a fuck about the NBA.  Cincinnatians don’t have a pro team, but they have two excellent college squads with top track records and lunatic fan bases.  (I’m a Bearcat man.)  The game went to overtime, though, so I stuck around after my sandwich to see what would happen.  There were two other people in the lounge.  I don’t know that they were fans, but I presumed they were, as they were black.

We all got into the game.  No banter between our parties, but the three of us hung on every play.  A Burger King ad featuring B.B. King, ubiquitous at the time, played during one of the commercial breaks; one of my non-friends said “Man, B.B King’s great, but this is just goofy.”  (He was right.  That ad was an IED.  “B.B. ‘n BK, gonna have it your way!”)

As double overtime wound down, the game was within two points.  A Milwaukee nobody squared up in the final seconds and bricked a shot that would have tied the game and sent it to triple overtime.

I know the details and date of this game thanks to basketball-reference.com.  The player who missed the shot is named “Darvin Ham.”  Played eight years, retired at thirty-one, not a bad run.  I will never forget neither him nor this game, and was able to pinpoint its existence, thanks to what one of those guys muttered as we all left, frustrated that there hadn’t been a triple-OT.  He said, “Man.  Ham fucked it up.”

Nathan: Football
Patriots v. Rams – Super Bowl XXXVI

I recall seeing the San Francisco v. Cincinnati Super Bowl as a kid, but had lost track of football by the time I hit my teenage years. Growing up in Michigan with the Lions as your home team makes it difficult to maintain interest. But seeing Super Bowl Thirty-Six had three great things about it.

1. U2, an Irish band, somehow managed to capture America’s zeitgeist in what will probably go down as the best halftime show ever.

2. The game itself was awesome. A tense David v. Goliath thriller that ended on a last-second field goal.

3. In the wake of September 11, it seemed highly appropriate that a team named the Patriots should win the biggest game in American sports. There wasn’t anything about the Rams to make you hate them, but a New England victory was the right thing at the right time. (Now the idea of a New England victory is just disgusting). Since that game, I’ve actually paid almost as much attention to football as I do to hockey.

Travis: Boxing
Mike Tyson Bites Evander Holyfield’s Ear Off
This was only the second heavyweight fight I’d ever seen all the way through. The first? Holyfield-Tyson I. I remember exactly where I was watching it, the same family friends’ where I later had the same “wait…what?” reaction to a wardrobe malfunction a few years later. A strange sports moment and the one that sticks with me the most.

Tyler: Golf
Tiger’s ’08 U.S. Open
I thought I was a real fan of for a long time.  After a particular set of revelations, I found out I had all the while been merely fan of Tiger.  This was his magnum opus, a tournament-length version of his heavenly 2005 Masters chip, some of the most astounding golf he ever played, carried out on the strength of one leg.  With a full-round playoff, to boot, against Rocco Mediate, a veteran finally getting his shot, impossible to dislike, always with an iced Starbucks in hand.

There are three shots that distill the spectacle.  They all came on Saturday, moving day, as Woods charged into the lead.  I was waiting tables; the restaurant was packed.  By night’s end I was high-fiving with customers and yelling like a man on a couch.  It was the most magnificent one-man sporting effort I had ever seen.  It still is.

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One thought on “Five For Friday: Moments that mattered from sports (we think) don’t

  1. Super Bowl XXXVI: One of my least favorite sports moments! Ever! It was good that Spygate could begin so humbly, and that pass interference could be viewed as scrappy determination! Exclamation points! Bitterness! The Edge trying to create a mansion complex in one of Southern California’s few undeveloped areas while claiming to be an environmentalist! Tom Brady’s family man claims with multiple baby’s mamas!

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