by Clark Groome
Sometimes the simplest question becomes the genesis of a column. Such was the case shortly after Villanova won the NCAA championship.
The question: “Wasn’t that the most exciting game you’ve ever seen?”
My answer: “It certainly was among them.”
The exchange got me thinking: Just what are the most exciting sporting events I’ve ever seen? “Seen” is the operative word because only events that I’ve witnessed live or on TV will be included.
All of the choices excited or impressed me. Yours might be different – and it would be fun to know where we agree and differ.
They’re listed in chronological order rather than by rank ‘cause each one jumps into first place when it comes to mind much like the answer to the questions “What is your favorite Beatles song?” or “What’s your favorite Beethoven symphony” is often “the last one heard.”
On Dec, 26, 1960, the underdog Philadelphia Eagles beat the visiting Green Bay Packers in Franklin Field 17-13 to win the NFL Championship.
Thirteen years later on June 9, 1973, Secretariat had what might be the most dominant performance in sports history. Big Red, after victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, won the Belmont Stakes and with it the Triple Crown by 31 lengths.
The 1980 Phillies had a season that was a mixed bag until the very end when the local boys clinched a playoff spot and were paired against the Houston Astros in the National League Championship Series, a five-game clash still considered the best baseball post-season series ever played.
From Oct. 7 to Oct. 12 all five games were nail-biters, with the final four going extra innings. After winning the first game 3-1 at Veterans Stadium, the Phillies lost the next two – the second 7-4 in Philadelphia in 10 innings and the third at the Astrodome 1-0 in 11. The Phillies had to win the final two games to make it to the World Series. They had to do it in the Astros’ barn.
In game four, tied at 3 through regulation, Pete Rose singled in the top of the 10th. Pinch hitter Greg Luzinski doubled, scoring Rose. Manny Trillo, up next, doubled, driving in the Bull. Tug McGraw pitched the bottom of the 10th, mowing the Astros down in order.
So, it all comes down to game five, which is something of a slugfest that comes to the end of the ninth locked at 7. After Mike Schmidt struck out Del Unser doubled. Two batters later Gary Maddox doubled in Unser for the game and series-winning run. Philadelphia exhaled and the Phils went on to beat the Kansas City Royals in six games to bring Philadelphia its first World Series Championship since the long-departed A’s won in 1930. It was the first in Phillies history.
Ten years later the Flyers were in Pittsburgh for game four of the Eastern Conference semi-finals. After 60 minutes, the game was tied, forcing it into overtime. It remained tied for another 92:01 minutes, well into the fifth overtime period, until Keith Primeau scored to end the longest game in modern NHL history. The game, which had started on May 4, ended about 2:30 a.m. May 5, driving reporters on deadline crazy and the rest of us exhausted from the tension. This victory helped the Flyers win the series in six games, sending them to the Eastern Conference finals that they lost to the New Jersey Devils in seven games.
Another 10 years passed until the Flyers, on their last game of a mediocre season, faced the New York Rangers. The winner would go to the playoffs; the loser would go home. It was all tied up after regulation and after the five-minute overtime period. The entire season came down to a shootout, not, to understate it, the Flyers strongest suit.
With the Rangers’ great Henrik Lundqvist facing the Flyers Brian Boucher in net, odds were in New York’s favor. To hell with the odds, Boucher was terrific. The Flyers won the shootout and the game. Their playoff run took them into the Stanley Cup Finals that they lost to the Chicago Black Hawks in six games.
The final entry in this memory exercise occurred last July 25 when Phillies ace Cole Hamels pitched his last game in Red Pinstripes. Five days later he was traded to the Texas Rangers as part of the Phillies rebuilding program.
Hamels’ last Phillies outing turned out to be a no-hitter, giving the impression he was putting a large exclamation point on his sterling Philly career.
Which of the above, or those you saw and I didn’t, was the most exciting sports event ever? Who knows? But getting back to this column’s lede, the Villanova win last week certainly belongs high up in the conversation.