On January 30, 2000, the Tennessee Titans looked 10 yards ahead of them, envisioning Tiffany silver in the end zone sea of St. Louis Ram yellow and blue. What happened next is the stuff of tragic, lucky and euphoric legend. A play was executed to perfection as the Titans’ Frank Wycheck made his route to draw Rams linebacker Mike Jones (who?) away from the middle and give room to a slanting Kevin Dyson. The late Steve McNair made about as good of a throw in the scenario as possible to Dyson, but somehow by the grace of the Missouri gods, Jones turned around to meet Dyson and wrap-tackle the wideout just one yard short of glory.
That Super Bowl changed the league in immeasurable ways, providing a sports and pop culture zeitgeist in a way most NFL fans take for granted today. For the incredible final drive moments the NFL’s showcase has given us in the “parity” era, including February’s blackout-delayed classic, One Yard Short may be the league’s greatest single moment since The Catch.
On October 27, 2011, Neftali Feliz stepped to the mound in the bottom of the ninth, staring down the St. Louis Cardinals while his Texas Rangers tensely awaiting their first ever World Series championship. Three outs until the greatest plane ride back to Dallas-Fort Worth since the Cowboys’ heyday. A strikeout of Ryan Theriot was followed by an Albert Pujols single and a walk to Lance Berkman. David Freese was in the mood to keep playing baseball and sent a game-tying triple over Nelson Cruz.
Josh Hamilton wrestled the crown back to the Rangers with a two-run bomb in the top of the 10th, but Pujols and Berkman responded for the Cardinals to tie the game again.
Then the bottom of the 11th inning happened.
There was one more game to be played, however, and the following night, the Cardinals would eventually capture title #11 over a dispirited Rangers club. Not since the Boston Red Sox smacked 86 years of history in the face did baseball capture such national attention for something other than scandal, stupidity and more scandal. What made it sweeter was that the country, at least for two nights, didn’t whine about East Coast bias or West Coast nonchalance. The power shift in baseball had moved away from the coasts (save for San Francisco) for a few years, but for seven nights, viewers were happy to see two Midwestern teams play in the most incredible World Series in far too long.
Tension defined these moments, these championship fights, these second-by-second mental exercises played out in physical form. They transfixed a whole lot more than the cities whose teams represented them. They captured the attention of the envious fans whose squads fell to the Finals combatants. They made those who claim to stop caring when their teams were bumped turn on their television sets. They made non-sports fans, for a fleeting moment, become sports fans.
And that’s what Game 7 of the NBA Finals brought us last night.
It’s very easy to expect, assume and demand that our games provide us these moments where players leave it all on the floor, give 110% and all those other Hoosiers-like clichés. And when it comes to the best of the best, they normally do. In doing so, sometimes, one or both teams might try too hard.
You can have moments like Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals where the Boston Celtics annihilated the Los Angeles Lakers by 38 points for their last championship.
You can have moments like Game 7 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final where Boston’s Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand lit up Roberto Luongo for two goals apiece and sent some Vancouver Canucks fans into a riotous rage.
Walk through history and you’ll see that we’ve had more of those types of games to end a series of tenacious play than we want to admit. Often, you found yourself underwhelmed by what you just saw. You thought aloud if one of those teams could have saved a little bit in the tank for the last chance at glory. You thought you might have been cheated by the lackluster finish, devoting more energy and time than expected on a Thursday night.
You wondered if it was worth it.
But last night happens, and you say to yourself, “THIS is why I watch sports!”
What the Miami Heat – now back-to-back NBA champions – and San Antonio Spurs gave us in this series was more than NBA basketball at its finest. And what we’ve seen and will continue to see from the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins – two of the last three champions– throughout this fantastic Stanley Cup Final is more than NHL hockey at its apex.
It’s sports at how we dream of it.