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More sports transcendence, from A to Z.
Insomnia grabbed me Wednesday night and I couldn’t stop thinking about my own list of greatest sports moments that was being published the next day. Other great events flooded my mind. Then, once it was published, plenty of readers sent in their own suggestions. Amendments and additions are therefore in order. (NOTE: I just can’t put the Jets Super Bowl win in here: The game wasn’t close or particularly well played, not in my mind at least. I also refuse to include Franco Harris’s not-so-Immaculate Reception, because I still say it was illegal: Jack Tatum never touched the ball!)
In those wee hours, I already had decided that my main list — my top 15 — desperately needed one amazing feat that I had left out. Then, lo and behold, the next day I received an e-mail from Jerry Dale, one of the umpires actually on the field for that feat, saying I really should add what my own insomniac mind already had decided should be added. The good Mr. Dale is right. Here’s how he described Reggie Jackson, hitting three home runs on three pitches in the 1977 World Series:
Since I had worked the plate in game four at Dodger Stadium, for game six in NY I was working the left-field line. I was almost a spectator during the game and when Reggie hit the third home run, (whew!! what a blast!!) I got ‘goose-pimples’ all over the body. I had never seen anything during a game that was so exciting and meant so much, not only to the Yankees, but to me as one of the Umpires. Needless to say, game six will live forever in my baseball memories, even though I was stationed on the left-field line. Think about it: three different type pitchers and three home runs all on the first pitch. I don’t think this feat will ever be repeated in major league baseball, let alone the WS. Babe Ruth is the only other player in World Series history to hit three home runs in one game.
Also an item to think about: Game four Reggie hit a home run off Rick Rhoden; game five he hit one off of Don Sutton (8th inning). Five HR’s during his last three games.
Jackson’s feat hereby enters my list at number 9, pushing everything else back and giving me a clearly ordered top 16. But who needs a top 16? A top 20 makes more sense. So I hereby promote Jack Nicklaus’s 1986 Masters triumph, with son Jackie on the bag, to 17th. For 18th, I add a new entry I never should have left off: Bob Gibson’s absolutely unbelievable performance for the Cardinals over the Red Sox in the 1967 World Series, with three complete-game victories while giving up only three total earned runs, plus hitting a crucial home run himself in game 7.
At 19th comes another new entry, the Texas-Southern Cal Rose Bowl won 41-38 by the Longhorns in 2006. For pulse-pounding excitement, from two storied programs, with such a bevy of stars, few college games could ever top it. And at 20th, I’ll add one of the most mind-boggling basketball achievements ever: Bill Walton hitting 21 out of 22 shots from the floor to score 44 points in the NCAA hoops national title game for UCLA in 1973 to end a second-consecutive undefeated season.
Other events that belong on my list of “next bests,” both from my insomnia (most of them) and from readers, in no particular order, include:
A) The run to the NCAA title by the David Thompson-led NC State Wolfpack, beating Maryland in OT in the ACC tourney just to get into the NCAAs and beating the Walton-led UCLA team in double overtime in the NCAA semi-finals to stop Coach John Wooden’s streak of seven straight titles.
B) Rod Laver’s amazing two calendar-year Grand Slams in tennis, separated by a six-year hiatus in which he was banned from those technically amateur events because he had turned pro. Twice in those tourneys he won matches after being two sets down.
C) Two events right in the first year of my arbitrary cut-off for “modern” sports, 1960: Arnold Palmer’s charge at Cherry Hills and then holding off of Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus to win the 1960 U.S. Open and grab the national imagination the way few other athletes ever have; and
D) the 1960 World Series won by the Pirates on Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run.
E) Kirk Gibson’s hobbling homer in the 1988 World Series.
F) The phenomenal upset of the Baltimore Orioles by the 1969 Miracle Mets. I don’t think anybody has ever seen as many great defensive plays — Brooks Robinson, Ron Swoboda, Cleon Jones — in one series, nor such an improbable outcome.
G) The Chrissie-Jimmy lovefest at Wimbledon in 1974. Others may have won more majors (barely), but no two tennis players defined the entire next decade and a half, for each gender, like Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors. For both to win their first Wimbledon title while engaged to be married was, well, a fairytale.
H) Joe Montana gets three entries. The first is for his 1979 “chicken soup” Cotton Bowl win for Notre Dame on the last play of the game, 35-34 over Houston. (Others come later: drum roll, please.)
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