With under 20 seconds to go in Game 6 of the 1989 Championship, the Bulls trailed the Jazz 86-85. Michael Jordan took the ball from Karl Malone under the net and brought it down court. Seven seconds, or one basket, would make the difference between a Game 7 or a sixth championship for the Chicago Bulls. His Airness put a move on Bryon Russell, stepped back and let fly. . . swish. It turned out to be the winning shot and what would have been MJ’s final shot of his career. (But he came back from retirement.)
In baseball, there are many records available to break. Arguably one of the hardest is for a pitcher to throw a perfect game in which no batter reaches first base. One can only tie the record. That’s what Don Larsen said after he reached the nearly impossible peak. But Larsen’s achievement is even more impressive: He hurled it in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. That’s like pitching on a gallon of adrenaline and 10 shots of espresso. Yet he repeatedly shut down premier Brooklyn Dodgers’ batters, famous for their own outstanding abilities, and playing at their best. 27 up. 27 down. For perspective, just 23 perfect games have been thrown in Major League Baseball’s history since 1904. Only Larsen’s was tossed in postseason play. Showing characteristic humility, the 27 year-old hurler jogged off the field after the final strike, slowed only by catcher, Yogi Berra, jumping into his arms to celebrate.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
The NFC Championship determines which team will go to the Super Bowl, the biggest football game of each season. The year: 1982. The players: The Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49rs. With 58 tics left on the clock, the 9rs were on the Dallas six yard line…knocking on the endzone door. Crossing that threshold would tie the game at 27. The extra point would put Joe Montana and his crew ahead of the Cowboys by one. Two chances were all they had. The snap. Montana rolled right chased by Cowboys’ defenders Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Larry Bethe and D.D. Lewis. It was 3-on-1. Montana searched for his receiver in the end zone and faked a toss to get “Too Tall” to jump and lose his rhythm. As soon as Ed’s feet returned to earth, Joe let the pigskin fly. And fly it did, seven, eight, nine feet high to the back of the endzone. Too high for anybody to catch. But wait! 6’3” Dwight Clark stretched his arms upward, jumped and brought down the ball. His feet pounding the grass brought a thunderous roar from the 60+ thousand San Fran fans in attendance.
On Dec. 23, 1972, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Franco Harris taught us all a lesson. It ain’t over til it’s over. Trailing the Oakland Raiders by a mere point, the Steelers, led by QB Terry Bradshaw, lined up on their own 40 yard line. With 22 seconds and no timeouts remaining, 60 yards is a lot of ground to cover to reach pay dirt. Bradshaw just needed to get closer for their kicker to score three points. While everybody ran their routes, the quarterback avoided getting sacked by multiple Raiders. He was lucky to get rid of the ball, sending it sailing 35 yards. Instead of its intended target, the hands of running back John “Frenchy” Fuqua, it ricocheted six yards backwards and down. That’s when Franco Harris saved the pigskin just before it touched the sod and barreled 35 yards for the endzone. Dubbed “The Immaculate Reception,” the catch and run rescued the squad from certain defeat and is still talked about today.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
On June 9, 1973, only five horses stepped into the gates for the Belmont Stakes. Secretariat was the favorite by far. But nobody could ever imagine just how far the chestnut colt would pull ahead to win this race: an astounding 31 lengths. His victory captured not only the coveted Triple Crown but shattered the world record by 2 ⅗ seconds. (No other horse has yet to come within two seconds of that record.) So dominant was Secretariat, jockey Ron Turcotte just talked to the stallion as he “took over and controlled” the race, galloping around the track to history. 5,617 winning parimutuel tickets on Secretariat were never redeemed that day. Bettors most likely wanted them as souvenirs, proof that they witnessed the tremendous performance. (Or to be sold on eBay decades later for more than the actual winnings…which were $2.20 on a $2.00 bet.)
Each March, 68 college basketball teams battle for the number one spot in the country. The single-elimination NCAA tournament is characterized by Cinderella Stories, upsets, and unbelievable finishes. It has come to be known as March Madness. 1992 was no different. The East Regional Final (Elite Eight) game included #1 Duke vs. #2 Kentucky. The two top teams did not disappoint, keeping spectators and viewers on edge even past the end of regulation. With score tied at 93, the game went into overtime…and overdrive. With 2.1 remaining on the clock in OT, and the Blue Devils trailing by one, Duke’s Grant Hill inbounded, tossing the basketball like a football all the way down court to a double-covered, Christian Laettner. The power forward jumped, turned right and dribbled once, returned, spun toward the net and jumped, letting lose a fadeaway shot as the horn sounded. An eternity later, the ball swished and pandemonium erupted among Duke fans. Laettner went 10 for 10 on the day, and Duke went on to win the tournie.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
When Jackie Robinson took the field in a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform April 15, 1947, he broke the color barrier. When he stole home nearly eight years later, he broke the false sense of security on which opposing pitchers relied. It was the first game of the 1955 World Series. The Dodgers were playing the Yankees and the Yanks were ahead, 6-4, in the eighth. Jackie gained third base and danced up and down the baseline, tempting Whitey Ford on the mound and causing catcher, Yogi Berra, to keep one eye on him. The wind up, (Jackie takes off) the pitch, (Berra moves up to the plate), the slide, (batter, Frank Kellert, stands still), the tag (not in time….or was it?). Umpire Bill Summers called him safe, but Yogi will forever say he tug Jackie out. Decades later, when he would walk in front of a photo of the play, Yogi would mumble, “You were out.” And when Yogi and Jackie’s wife, Rachel would meet, they would greet each other the same way: She would say, “Safe.” Yogi would say, “Out.” On the record, and on the list of greatest plays, he was safe.
Kirk Gibson watched Game 1 of the 1988 World Series on the TV in the team’s training room. With two bad legs, Gibson craved just one at-bat, but each time Tommy Lasorda checked, the manager received a thumbs down. Until the 9th inning. With the Dodgers trailing 4-3, and future Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersely on the mound, Gibson could stand, ahem, sit no more. Gibson began practice swinging in secret while Lasorda put a decoy in the batter’s box. The ploy tricked the pitcher into letting the current slugger at the plate gain first base on balls, thinking he’d have an easier time against the next batter—the decoy. But after the batter, Mike Davis, took first base, Gibson charged (hobbled) out of the dugout to the utter surprise of Eckersely, the A’s…and every sportscaster, vendor and fan in the stadium whose standing ovation carried Gibson to the batter’s box. Eight pitches later, Gibson sent the sphere deep into right field and over the fence and into highlight reels forever. It was his only at-bat of the series.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
Nobody would ever regret dropping $200 for a ticket to witness what could arguably be the greatest moment in American sports history. The U.S.hockey team entered the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid seeded seven out of 12. The team of amateurs and collegiate athletes made it through a handful of games to reach the semi-finals against an imposing Russian juggernaut. The Soviets boasted an all-star cast that shut out the NHL All-Stars the year before, 6-0. Their resume also included gold medals the prior four years as well as in 1964, 1968, and 1972. The match against the Red, White & Blue seemed lopsided at best, especially considering just three days prior to the Olympics, the Russians crushed the U.S. 10-3 in an exhibition played at Madison Square Garden. But Lake Placid was a different story. A fairy tale. A miracle. With goal #4 in the third period, Team USA climbed on top and held on to win 4-3 in a game that became more famous than the gold medal match that followed. (USA would defeat Finland.)
On the spectacular September night that Cal Ripkin, Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s unbelievable streak of consecutive games played, there were several greatest moments. Let’s go in chronological order. Cal stepped into Camden Yards, his home stadium, after more than 13 years of not missing a day of work. The place was electric with anticipation. President Clinton paid Cal a visit to show his appreciation for the career he had and the standard he set. Then, in the fourth inning and Cal’s second at-bat, he did the unexpected on a night that was designed for him: he sent the leather into the stands. It was picture-perfect. And then came the fifth inning, the time when the game became official. Music began, the bullpen emptied, the huge bannered numbers changed from 2130 to 2131…and Cal took a lap around the field, slapping hands with fans. The moment was completely magical at a time when baseball needed magic moments. Cal would continue his streak and finally take a seat three years later after playing a mind-boggling 2,632 straight games.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
Mike Tyson had a habit of ending fights quickly. James “Buster” Douglas, the 42-1 underdog, had no intention of going down, well, without a fight. He was light on his feet and furious with his jabs. But in Round 8, Douglas went down. After an eight count, he got up and the round ended. In the ninth, Tyson wanted to finish off his opponent right away, but by the round’s close, Tyson was on the ropes and saved by the bell. Round 10, unfamiliar territory for the Champ who, by the this point in other fights, would already have the win under his belt and the TV remote in his hand. Tonight was different. Tonight he was still in the ring, still battling to keep his titles. And in the 10th, Tyson would taste the canvas for the first time…and be counted out. KO. Incidentally, days before the bout, Philadelphia sports writer Bill Lyons said that James Douglas had what it takes to defeat the undefeated champ. For everybody else in the world, including Tyson, it was the biggest upset in boxing history.
In hockey, as with other sports in which there is a goaltender, the job of this position is to prevent points. Stop the puck from passing the pipes. On December 8, 1987, the Philadelphia Flyers’ goalie, Ron Hextall, changed that job objective. With just over a minute left in a game against the Boston Bruins, with Boston’s goalie on the bench, Hextall took a shot. He controlled the puck after it was dumped behind his net, took a quick look 178 feet down the ice at the other net, and let go a wrist shot…high and long. Bounce. Slide. History. He was the first goalie to score by shooting. Almost a year and a half later, he would repeat the feat but in a playoff game. The bar was raised. The door was opened. Other goalies started eying empty nets at the far end of the rink when their adversaries vacated for an extra attacker. Jersey’s Martin Brodeur would tally three before the end of his career.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
11 months after Ali took the title from Foreman, the Champ flew to the Phillipines to face Joe Frazier who wanted the belt. And respect. It was their third meeting, the tie-breaker. The thrilla lived up to its name, with both gladiators pounding mercilessly on the other in a tin-roofed arena brimming with stifling heat and humidity. Ali dominated early, helped by the finesse of pre-fight negotiations: the ring was large, to his advantage, and the gloves were thin, also favoring Ali who knew Frazier usually started slow. But Frazier held on. The two fought brutally. AP Boxing correspondent, Ed Schuyler, said he’d never seen “a fight where two guys took as much punishment as those two did that day.” And award-winning sportswriter, Hugh McIlvanney, called the bout “40-odd minutes of unremitting violence.” In the end, Ali won the fight as Joe’s corner called it quits between Rounds 14 and 15. Ali responded by collapsing…and giving Frazier respect. “That man is greater than I thought,” he said of Joe after the bout.
In 1996 Summer Olympics, the Soviet team in women’s gymnastics was dominant, winning every competition in which they competed. But the Americans, known as the Magnificent Seven, appeared to be a roadblock. The Soviets could only hope the Red, White and Blue would crumble on the vault, the final apparatus, and give up their commanding hold on the gold. It looked like the Soviets would get their wish as the first gymnast fell on both runs. The gold was now up to Kerri Strug. She took off for the vault with great concentration and speed—flipped, landed…and fell backwards. Three U.S. falls in a row. To sprinkle salt in that wound, Kerri tore two ligaments. How would she perform her second attempt? A true champion, the Arizona native ignored the pain and limped back for her second shot. Watching her race toward the vault, you would never know her ankle was damaged. She flipped through the air and stuck the landing, favoring the bad leg. Turn to the judges, smile. Turn one more time and collapse in agony. She held the gold for Team USA.[/nextpage] [nextpage title=”Next Page” ]
It was arguably the most exciting ending of a college football game, compounded by its unexpected participants. On November 20, 1982, The Cal Bears traveled to Stanford to play the Cardinals. With four seconds left in the game, it seemed Stanford had won the game, ahead by one point. Fearing a victory-snatching runback, Harmon offered a confounding squib kick to end the game. What happened next was unscripted. Cal’s Kevin Moen picked up the ball and ran. Remembering a “keepaway” game the team played during training, Moen underhanded the ball to Richard Rodgers who tossed it to Dwight Garner who continued to run and pass the ball to a teammate just before being tackled. Five laterals in all! The final went back to Moen who charged past the last defender and headed for the endzone. However, the Stanford band already started celebrating on the field the victory they thought was theirs. Moen had to charge 25 yards though a befuddled and terrified brass section to reach the endzone, shocking Stanford players, fans…and band members.
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