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