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DALY: If world’s ending, I’ll be taking these sports memories with me
Suppose the Mayans were right. Suppose we do interrupt this program Friday to bring you the End of the World. A grim thought, I know. But then, so is the idea of another “rebuilding” season for the Wizards.
Anyway, as the meteor speeds toward Earth or the polar icecaps start melting like popsicles in the Sahara or (insert your own Armageddon here), what sports memories flash through your mind? Which ones have you secured on your mental hard drive forever? I ask because, well, it probably tells a lot about a fan, what he/she hangs onto and what he/she leaves out on the curb. In many ways, our sports memories R us.
Having given the question great thought — I’m on my second cup of coffee — I’ve decided on a few rules. First, for a memory to make the final cut, I have to have experienced it in real time. It can’t be something I saw in a highlights package or on delayed tape. This eliminates, for me, Bob Beamon breaking the long jump record by nearly two feet, the United States hockey team shocking the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics and Dale Earnhardt going into the wall. (Besides, Channel 7’s Renee Poussaint gave away Mike Eruzione’s decisive goal during a station break by telling me, with 10 minutes left in a 3-3 game, that Our Boys had won. I still haven’t forgiven her.)
Second, when choosing between two equally significant memories, historically speaking, the following tiebreaker will be applied: Did I witness either event in person? Being There always wins out over Not Being There. Obviously, you’re free to make your own rules — and to wantonly break them if you feel like it. After all, nobody’s going to be around to give you grief if the planet explodes.
Without further ado, then, here are the sports moments — some familiar, others personal — that would flash before my eyes in such dire circumstances. Why don’t I go in reverse chronological order, since that’s how they always seem to do these things in the movies, as a kind of rewinding.
• Tiger Woods‘ first Masters win: a record 18 under par — and a 12-shot cushion — at the age of 21 (1997).
• Duke’s Christian Laettner hitting a last-second shot to break Kentucky’s heart in the East Region final (1992). College basketball doesn’t get any better. (And I watched it with Wildcats fans at a Lexington, Ky., sports bar.)
• Bumping into Michael Spinks and his handlers as they were heading to his dressing room the night he fought Mike Tyson in Atlantic City. The look on Spinks’ face, swathed in a hooded sweatshirt, told you everything you needed to know about boxing — and him. He was there, but he wasn’t there. It was a look that said: Something bad might happen to me before this evening’s over. He lasted 91 seconds against Iron Mike (1988).
• Jack Nicklaus’ last Masters win: 30 on the back, 65 on the round, and his sixth green jacket at the age of 46 (1986).
• Mary Lou Retton flying through the air (en route to a gymnastics gold medal at the 1984 Olympics).
• Julius Erving flying through the air (and making a nigh impossible reverse layup against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980 NBA Finals).
• The 18-16 tiebreaker between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe in the fourth set of the Wimbledon men’s final (1980). Johnny Mac won the set, Borg the match.
• Muhammad Ali knocking out the invincible George Foreman in Zaire (1974).
• Secretariat galloping down the stretch to win the Belmont — and the Triple Crown — by 31 lengths (1973).
• Martina Navratilova vs. Chris Evert — anytime, anywhere (1973-88).
• ABC’s Jim McKay saying, “They’re all gone,” when 11 Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympics (1972).
• Bobby Orr flying through the air (after scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Boston Bruins in 1970).
• New York Jets 16, Baltimore Colts 7 in Super Bowl III (1969). When the AFL finally took down the NFL, it was like Toto pulling back the curtain in “The Wizard of Oz.” As the final minutes ticked away, a numbness set in.
• Hurrying home from school to see Arthur Ashe beat Tom Okker in the U.S. Open men’s final (1968). (The match started at 3 p.m. on a Monday, and the chair umpire referred to Arthur as “Lieutenant Ashe” because he was still in the Army. “Game, Lieutenant Ashe.” “Set, Lieutenant Ashe.”)
• Bart Starr taking the Green Bay Packers down the field at the end of the Ice Bowl, steam coming out of everybody’s mouth, then sneaking over to give them their third straight NFL title (1967).
• Seeing the Green Monster at Fenway Park for the first time (1964). It looked like the wall, deep in the jungle, that kept King Kong from terrorizing the natives.
• Watching the Philadelphia Phillies’ Jim Bunning retire the first nine New York Mets batters and then, not realizing he was in the process of pitching the first perfect game in the National League in 84 years, going outside to play (1964).
• Roger Maris, fueled only by Budweiser (presumably), hitting his 61st homer into the right-field seats at Yankee Stadium to break Babe Ruth’s record (1961).
• That’s about as far back as I can go. Anything earlier is lost in the fog of forgetfulness — except for one fuzzy memory in what must have been the late ‘50s. It’s Thanksgiving at grandma’s house; that’s all I can figure. The smell of turkey is drifting in from the kitchen. The clatter of pots, pans and plates can be heard. In the living room, a young child stands in front of one of those cabinet TV sets that used to be popular, a cabinet that’s taller than he is. He’s mesmerized by the strange game he’s watching, by these players in helmets who keep running into each other.
Suddenly, a man (his father? his uncle?) comes up beside the kid and points to the left side of the screen. “This is Army,” he says. Then his finger moves a few inches to the right. “And this is Navy.”
That must have been where it began.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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