A couple recent posts from an online Philly sports nostalgia group provided the inspiration I needed to return with another sports list. I was going to make it a Top Ten; but there is a four-part entry and another one that isn’t really a memory, but which I threw in for personal reasons. So there are more than ten, and they are in random order.
I could have easily included all of the championship wins by my favorite local teams that I’ve seen over the years – although there aren’t many – but that’s too easy. I didn’t include any of those, although I am starting out with a big playoff win that got my beloved Dr. J-era Sixers into the finals.
Sixers Win Game 7 at the Garden
Watching the Sixers’ game 7 win over the Celtics in the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals was probably my most emotionally satisfying experience as a sports fan. I was devastated the previous year when the Sixers blew a 3-1 lead to the Celtics in the Conference Finals. They jumped out to another 3-1 lead in ’82 and proceeded to again lose games 5 and 6. It appeared that they were destined to break their fans’ hearts with another postseason swoon. Game 7 was at Boston and they were extremely tough to beat up there. But the team I felt closer to than any other managed to stand tall in that final game and decisively beat the Celts, sending me into a state of both extreme joy and relief.
1980 Wimbledon Men’s Finals: Borg vs. McEnroe
I was a pretty big tennis fan during my teens and early twenties, and Bjorn Borg was my favorite player. He was attempting to win his fifth consecutive Wimbledon men’s singles title in 1980. His finals opponent was John McEnroe, whose on-court behavior and persona couldn’t have been more different than the quiet and business-like Borg. The match was a see-saw affair, with McEnroe getting out to a fast start, then Borg coming on and looking like he had the win in hand. But McEnroe’s 18-16 win in an epic fourth-set tie-breaker, which included multiple match points for Borg, gave him the momentum heading into the final set. Somehow, Borg managed to put what would be a crushing loss for most people behind him and won the fifth set 8-6.
2009 NLCS Game 4: Rollins wins it in the 9th
I was very into the Phillies during their run of success between 2007 and 2011. My wife and I watched most of the games on TV, and I went to a lot as well. In 2009, they were attempting to repeat as World Series champions and again had to get past the Dodgers in the NLCS. They were up 2-1 in the series, but down by a run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of game 4. That’s when Jimmy Rollins stepped to the plate with a pair of teammates on base. I wish I had a video of my reaction. It was as epic as the win.
Ali Knocks Out Foreman in Zaire
I was nine when Muhammad Ali regained the Heavyweight Championship by defeating George Foreman in Zaire. I am pretty sure the fight was only shown live in the U.S. on screens at theaters and arenas. You had to pay to see it. But I didn’t realize that and thought I was watching the fight live on TV, when in fact it had to have been later that week. I had no idea who won the fight and recall being extremely worried about the amount of time Ali – my lead athletic hero at the time – was spending with his back to the ropes. Turned out I was a dope; and a thrilled one at that when Foreman didn’t get up in time to beat the 10-count after being sent to the canvas by an Ali right hand in the eighth round.
Willie Mays’ Homer Beats Phils
There was nothing particularly important about the Phillies-Mets game of May 21, 1972, aside from the fact that I was there with my parents at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. The starting pitchers were future Hall-of-Famers Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver. But an even greater future Hall-of-Famer, none other than the Say Hey Kid (a.k.a. the GOAT of baseball), stole the show by hitting a two-run homer in the eighth inning to put the Mets on top to stay.
1986 Masters: The Bear Roars One Last Time
Jack Nicklaus – The Golden Bear – is one of my all-time favorite athletes. But by 1986, he hadn’t won for a while, and it was starting to look doubtful that he would do so again. He proved us all wrong with a spectacular charge on the Back Nine in the final round of the Masters that year. The video below of Jack taking the solo lead for the first time on 17 is a particular favorite of mine. I’ve always loved Verne Lundquist’s simple call.
Dave Wottle’s Stunning Win at the 1972 Olympics
The 1972 Munich Olympics are the first Games from which I have any memories. One of those that is still seared into my brain is the men’s 800 meter final. American Dave Wottle was way back of the pack for most of the race, but saved his best for the race’s final couple-hundred meters. The scene of the Soviet runner – who thought he had the Gold locked up – diving for the finish line when he realizes his error too late is another iconic sports moment.
1988: Temple vs. Villanova at McGonigle Hall
This is a very well-known game among fans of Philadelphia’s Big Five, an unofficial college basketball league that includes Temple and Villanova. In 1988, Villanova was three years removed from winning a stunning National Championship against Georgetown and were still a good program. They were ranked number 20 at the time of this game. But Temple was on a major roll and had worked their way up to the Number One ranking. Both teams normally played at a slow pace, but coaches John Chaney and Rollie Massimino must have figured doing so on this night would play into their opponent’s hands. So both teams played at a break-neck tempo and at a remarkably high level. It was a tight game throughout until Temple pulled away a bit in the final couple minutes. I was at the game and will never forget the excitement of that night. Temple students were in a state of delirium.
1980 NLCS: Phils and Astros’ Epic Drama
The 1980 National League Championship Series was one for the ages. The Phillies had lost the NLCS three straight years from ’76-’78, then had a disappointing 1979 season. They made it back to the postseason in 1980 and faced the Houston Astros in a Best-of-Five series. After winning a close, low-scoring first game, the Phils lost games 2 and 3 in extra innings. The third game was particularly heart-breaking, as it was scoreless after nine and there were missed opportunities. But any heartache the Phillies suffered in that game was more than paid back to the Astros the next two days. Both games 4 and 5 were thrilling back-and-forth affairs that also went into extra innings. The Phillies fell down three runs late in game 5, but loaded the bases in the eighth for Manny Trillo. Harry Kalas and Rich Ashburn with the call.
The Astros weren’t finished. They came back to tie the game and send it into extra innings. Garry Maddox’s RBI single in the 10th put the Phils on top to stay. The win gave the team their first National League pennant in 30 years.
Miracle at the Meadowlands: Parts 1-4
The Eagles have beaten the Giants up at the Meadowlands in crazy fashion on multiple occasions over the years.
A lot of people remember or have heard about the Miracle of the Meadowlands from 1978. It was a game the Eagles needed to win to make the playoffs for the first time in years. The Giants had the game in hand with less than a half-minute left. They had the lead and the ball and the Eagles were out of timeouts. All the Giants needed to do to win was have their quarterback take the snap and kneel down. As they say, the rest is history.
The 2010 game, in which the Eagles, led by Michael Vick, scored three late touchdowns to tie the game and forced the Giants into a punt situation with 12 seconds left that didn’t go as planned, is also legendary.
But there were two other games during the Buddy Ryan era – the late 80s – that were won in extremely dramatic style.
In 1988, first the Eagles tied the game up in the fourth when receiver Chris Carter recovered a fumble in the end zone. Then, in overtime, their attempted game-winning field goal was blocked, but the kicker picked up the ball and lateralled it back to defensive lineman Clyde Simmons, who made it into the end zone for the winning touchdown.
Just one year later, in 1989, the Giants came back to tie the Eagles in the fourth quarter and had Philly backed up inside their own five yard-line in a punting situation following a sack. The regular punter must have been injured, because the quarterback – Randall Cunningham – stayed on the field to punt. It looked like the Giants would get the ball in great field position with a shot to score what could have been game-winning points. But Cunningham was a great athlete and unleashed a tremendous punt. The Giants’ punt-returner didn’t try to catch it and the ball took a big bounce forward and kept rolling. The Giants wound up with lousy field position after the 91-yard punt, still the fourth longest in league history. Their quarterback – Phil Simms – was sacked and fumbled the ball, with the Eagles recovering. The offense then took it in for a game-winning touchdown.
1966: Trinidad & Tobago Sets Mile Relay World Record
This is the one I didn’t see and have no memory of. But it includes my stepfather – Edwin Roberts – who ran the third leg for Trinidad and Tobago.
Thanks for reliving these memories with me.
I expect to post again tomorrow with this week’s cheesesteak review.