10 Live Sporting Events That Shaped My Fanhood

By Jared Cooper

Upon coming across a number of “10 Books that Influenced Me The Most” lists in the past months, I have been inspired to list the 10 Live Sporting Events That Shaped My Fanhood. I invite you to send me your 10 Live Sporting Events list (at info@SPWtravel.com) and I will share excerpts from your lists in an upcoming post.

Without further ado, the 10 Live Sporting Events That Shaped My Fanhood:

1. New York Jets 23, Miami Dolphins 20 (OT). December 22, 1991 (Week 17), Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida

This game serves as my inaugural Sports Power Weekend, as I attended this game with my late grandfather as a seven year old at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami Gardens. As a newly minted Jets fan, I witnessed Raul Allegre’s game-tying field goal with no time left in regulation and game-winning field goal in overtime to send the Jets to the playoffs. At that point my love of football and sports travel was cemented. I have since made a point to go to as many stadiums (in all sports) and witness as many games in different environments as possible.

2. Michigan Wolverines 31, Washington Huskies 29. August 31, 2002, Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Photo courtesy of The Michigan Daily

I had been to a Michigan game at the Big House in each of the previous two seasons while visiting my brother who was a student at the time. The game vs. Washington was my first as a student at Michigan, and it was a pivotal game right off the bat as Michigan was ranked #10 and Washington #9. From Chris Perry’s 57-yard touchdown run on Michigan’s second offensive play forward, this was a seesaw game with a ton of excitement and suspense. After Michigan kickers had missed three previous field goal attempts in this game, senior kicker Phil Brabbs had a chance for atonement with a game-winning 44-yard field goal lined up on the final play. Brabbs nailed the kick and the stadium erupted. In addition to the 100K+ fans already committed to Michigan in the stadium, 7,000+ freshmen became die-hards that day.

Note: Phil Brabbs has been battling multiple myeloma since being diagnosed in 2008. You can read his story at his blog here.

3. New York Mets 4, Arizona Diamondbacks 3. October 9, 1999 (NLDS Game 4), Shea Stadium in Flushing, NY

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

For the first time in my Mets fanhood, the team was in the playoffs and had some hope for a World Series run in 1999. As the Wild Card team in the NL, the Mets had built a 2-1 series lead over the NL West Champion Diamondbacks and did not want to return to Arizona for a decisive Game 5. A Mike Piazza injury earlier in the series forced him to sit in Game 4 and thrust backup catcher Todd Pratt into the spotlight. In the bottom of the 10th inning of a tie game, Pratt smacked a fly ball to the centerfield fence moving Steve Finley on to the warning track. Finley seemed to have timed the jump perfectly and landed without indicating what had happened with the ball. Two seconds felt like an eternity before Finley looked in his glove and dropped his head when he realized the ball wasn’t in there. Shea Stadium went wild on Pratt’s walk-off homer, literally and figuratively rocking at that time (anyone who has been to a game like this at Shea has felt the concrete under them moving in an exhilarating and scary way).

4. USC Trojans 32, Michigan Wolverines 18. January 1, 2007, Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California

Even though Michigan was essentially playing a road game against USC in the Rose Bowl, I still expected a Michigan victory and was pretty upset with the outcome. Nonetheless, the pageantry of the Rose Bowl, especially between two Rose Bowl rivals like Michigan and USC, makes it a special game. The 2 PM local start on a beautiful southern California day, the San Gabriel mountain backdrop and second-half sunset make the Rose Bowl the best setting for a football game in America. Even on a day when your team disappoints you it is hard to come away anything less than impressed and awed.

5. Italy 1, France 1 (Italy wins 5-3 on penalties). 2006 World Cup Final, July 9, 2006, Olympic Stadium, Berlin, Germany

The World Cup Final is an incredibly special event as essentially the eyes of the entire world are on this game. The festivities throughout the entire city of Berlin, from parades and parties to public viewings on huge screens in public squares, make the pregame atmosphere electric. The stadium itself was a marvel, especially considering its history and having hosted significant events during the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. While many games of this magnitude have a corporate crowd, the World Cup Final was filled with fans that lived and died on every shot and set piece. More memorable than possibly even the outcome for many people was the infamous Zinedine Zidane headbutt of Marco Matterazzi late in the second half. Witnessing a game of this magnitude, with the intensity and drama of a shootout for the World Cup trophy, further illustrated to me the power of sports and how it can affect so many people’s lives.

6. New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14. Super Bowl XLII, February 3, 2008, University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

This game has different meanings to many sports fans. Patriots fans remember this game as the unceremonious end to an until-then perfect season. Giants fans remember the glee of slaying Goliath and becoming unlikely champions. Most sports fans remember this game as further proof of the old “on any given Sunday” adage. For me, this was the first Super Bowl that I worked at as part of the NFL PR staff. It is a surreal experience for a life-long sports fan to walk along the field hours before the first fan arrives through the gates and be a part of the behind-the-scenes action that goes into putting on a game of this magnitude. What was most foreign to me was watching one of the best Super Bowls ever played, with perhaps the most memorable play in NFL history (David Tyree’s Helmet Catch), and not being able to outwardly cheer. Cheering is prohibited in the press box, and in any case as an NFL staffer I had to maintain my professionalism and level head. Super Bowls are unforgettable experiences, but not being able to wear your “fanhood on your sleeve” is an odd dynamic to say the least.

7. St. Louis Cardinals 3, New York Mets 1. October 19, 2006 (NLCS Game 7), Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York

Uggh. This one will forever sting. The Mets were the odds-on favorites to win the World Series in 2006, but found themselves in a decisive Game 7 at home against the Cardinals to advance. This game shaped my fanhood in that something was taken away from me that night. As a fan I had experienced crushing defeats (these tend to happen as a fan of the Mets, Jets, Knicks and Michigan football) but it was rare to be in a position to be so sure of a triumph only to come crashing down in such an unforgiving way. Having the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, down two, with one of the most feared hitters in the league batting creates an intensity and stomach sickness that is hard to describe. Seeing him strike out looking was absolutely the pits. 55,000 people were stunned and dejected. I was a total zombie. It took me quite some time to get even close to the level of excitement for one of my teams that I had prior to that defeat.

8. Michigan Wolverines 45, Michigan State Spartans 37 (3OT). October 30, 2004, Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

This was that proverbial rising from the dead game. Michigan was down 17 points with 6:30 to go in the game to Michigan State. One of my friends who grew up in Michigan had about five Michigan State friends visiting him and staying out our house. They were talking tons of trash in the student section and based on our lackluster play there really wasn’t much we could say back. Then Braylon Edwards took over. Braylon caught two ridiculous touchdown passes in the final six minutes of the game to force overtime and caught the game-winning touchdown in the third overtime. Being at this game will forever remind me that “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over” and that, unlike many of my friends who left before the comeback, staying until the end is the right thing to do.

9. 1997 NBA All-Star Weekend. Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

At the age of 13 I was part of a group of 10 of my buddies to go to Cleveland for the NBA All-Star weekend in 1997. A couple of dads served as chaperones as we went to the arena for All-Star Saturday night and the All-Star game on Sunday. We went to the NBA headquarter hotel to try to get autographs and see if we could catch a glimpse of our NBA idols. Needless to say we were collectively in heaven. Two of our friends even made it on TV during the dunk contest holding up “10” cards for then-rookie Kobe Bryant. We still often allude to some of the hilarious stories and situations we were in at the time. Just more proof of the power of sports to shape memories and bring people together.

10. Australia 74, Samoa 7. International Rugby friendly at Telstra Stadium in Sydney, Australia on June 11, 2005.

There are few events outside of international soccer that can really enthuse a nation like rugby can in Australia. I spent a few months studying in Australia in 2005 and went to several Rugby Union and Aussie Rules matches, but when I decided to take in an international friendly at Telstra Stadium in Sydney Olympic Park and was taken aback by the national pride Australians have in their team. This wasn’t much of a game, as Australia romped, but seeing rugby played at the highest level with the fan support the game demands was enlightening. As Dhani Jones strives to show us in “Dhani Jones Tackles the Globe,” sports around the world can really explain cultures and bring people together.

Honorable Mention

  • Michigan Wolverines 27, Penn State Nittany Lions 25. October 15, 2005, Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan

With only one second left on the clock, Chad Henne throws a game-winning touchdown Mario Manningham on the final play.

  • Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23. Super Bowl XLIII, February 1, 2009, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida

Santonio Holmes makes a toe-tap catch in the back of the endzone with under a minute remaining to complete a game-winning Super Bowl drive for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

  • 2008 Major League Baseball All-Star Game Home Run Derby. July 14, 2008. Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York.

Josh Hamilton puts on an historic hitting display, belting 28 homers in the first round of the Home Run Derby in what was one of the most magical moments in the history of the All-Star game festivities.

  • FC Barcelona 4, Real Valladolid 1.  March 23, 2008. Camp Nou in Barcelona, Spain.

My first Spanish soccer game was as good as advertised. The fan experience was top-notch and the home team came away with a convincing win.

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17, Green Bay Packers 16. September 5, 2005. Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

On the second leg of my Wisconsin Sports Power Weekend (Michigan vs. Wisconsin in Madison the day before), I made my first pilgrimage to Lambeau Field. It is a place all NFL fans should see a game.


One Response to “10 Live Sporting Events That Shaped My Fanhood”

  1. […] I have mentioned before (here), I have a strong fondness for the Rose Bowl, both as a game and as a stadium. It could be the […]

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