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.)
I) Alabama’s goal line stand — Barry Krauss on the final tackle — to beat Penn State for the national title in the 1979 Sugar Bowl. The Bear over Paterno. Number 2 vs. Number 1. Amazing game.
J) Christian Laettner’s “perfect game” in the 1992 NCAA Regional Finals over Kentucky: 10 for 10 from the field, 10 for 10 from the line, inclusive of “the shot” at the buzzer to win 104-103 en route to a second straight national title.
K) Cal Ripken’s homer to cap his record-breaking 2,131 consecutive game (en route to 2,632), after homering in game 2,130 as well when he tied Lou Gehrig.
L) “Johnny Havlicek stole the ball!!!” No NBA dynasty could or will ever match the Celtics’ nine titles in ten seasons; this game-saving steal to salvage a one-point win in game seven in 1965, for the seventh title in a row, was the single most magical moment of the string.
M) Franz Klammer’s downhill gold medal in the 1976 Olympics. It was the most breathtaking ski run, EVER. Nothing else comes close. How he stayed on his skis despite about five near wipe-outs remains a magical mystery.
N) Kerri Strug’s vault on a seriously injured ankle to secure the team gold for the Americans in the 1996 Olympic gymnastics.
O) Even though Michael Phelps broke the record, the seven swimming golds by R. Emmett Tyrrell’s fellow Indiana U. swimmer Mark Spitz in the 1972 Olympics should never be forgotten.
P) The 122 consecutive hurdling victories over ten years by Edwin Moses.
Q) Bob Beamon shattering the long jump record in the 1968 Olympics.
R) Tom Dempsey shattering the field goal record with a 63-yarder for the woeful Saints in 1970, with half a foot.
S) The 1984 Orange Bowl, with Miami winning the national title in a 31-30 game when Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne went for two to try to win the game, but fell short.
T) Against my better judgment because there was no one defining moment in it… consider the seven-game NBA finals won by the Celtics over the Lakers (AGAIN!) in 1984, because of the players and coaches involved: Bird, Magic, Kareem, McAdoo, McHale, Parish, Worthy, Johnson, Riley, Jones. Though the rivalry was great during the whole decade, this was the only seven-gamer.
U) Rafer Johnson’s legendary Olympic decathlon gold medal over C.K. Yang in 1960, by the narrowest of margins, barely hanging on in the final event, the 1,500 meter run.
V) Back to Joe Montana: His pass for “The Catch” of Dwight Clark over the Cowboys; and
W) Montana’s “John Candy” 92-yard drive to beat the Bengals in the 1989 Super Bowl.
X) Okay, it didn’t have much larger significance and somehow doesn’t stick in the memory like other events, but anytime a walk-off homer wins the World Series, it’s a big deal, even in game 6 rather than game seven. So: the Joe Carter homer for Toronto to beat Philly in 1993.
Y) I said in the last column that I would only include man-muscled sports just because it seemed a fair way to compare apples — but then went ahead and at least mentioned Secretariat and the Affirmed-Alydar battles. For drama, then, I’ll break my rule again and say that Real Quiet’s loss by a nose in the 1998 Belmont to Victory Gallop, just missing the Triple Crown just a year after Silver Charm also fell just short in the Belmont, was for sheer drama one of the greatest events (although not a celebration) ever. (To reader Jay Swiatek: These mentions are for you, my friend.)
Z) I don’t follow the NHL. Hockey fans (other than the 1980 Oympic team, which was about more than hockey) thus have a right to be aggrieved with me. I therefore leave this as a hockey fill-in-the-blank, although I like reader potkas7’s comment on my last piece: “Bobby Orr, airborne, parallel to the ice, arms outstretched, after scoring the winning goal in the 1970 Stanley Cup Finals.” Good image.
So there you go. If I didn’t feel the need to include the NHL thing, I would have added the lateraled-kickoff touchdown at game’s end by the Tennessee Titans to earn a spot in the Super Bowl against the Rams. And there probably should be an Evert vs. Navratilova thing in there; but no one particular match stands out in my memory. Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf deserve notice too. Women are underrepresented throughout: Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam surely had memorable moments, right? The marathon duels involving Alberto Salazar got short shrift. So too the mile-run duels with Steve Scott, Sebastian Coe and Steve Cram (I had to look up Cram’s name). I’m sure there are others. All sorts of arguments can be made for other NCAA basketball games not included above. But enough’s enough. This debate about the greatest moments in sports ain’t over ’til it’s over, but I saw the fork in the road and I took it, and it led to the end of this column. If you want any other references, well…. you could look it up!