You Had To Be There: My Top Ten Sporting Events of the Decade
(Originally posted at 4SportBoston.com )
As the decade comes to a close, everyone seems to be coming up with Top 10 lists about the best—and worst—of the 2000s (I refuse to call these past 10 years the “Aughts.”).
This seems like a good time for me to put one together, and I chose to focus on the experience that every one of us gets to participate in—the pure joy of being a fan at something special.
I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite parts of being a fan and attending a game is that moment of anticipation as you enter the arena where you start to wonder what is going to happen. Sure, you are wishing for your team to win or at the least put forth a good effort, but there is always that unknown of what is actually about to play out.
I was lucky enough to attend countless games and events over the past 10 years, and for every ho-hum Red Sox defeat of Tampa Bay in the early 2000s, there was Hideo Nomo tossing a no-hitter the first week of the season in an otherwise meaningless game in Baltimore.
For every 8-1 Bruins loss the day after Thanksgiving, there was the opportunity to see BU storm back from two goals down in the final minute to win the National Championship in ice hockey.
Now, this is not a bragging list of all the cool things I have been able to witness this past decade.
Okay, maybe it is a little.
Hopefully, you look at this group of amazing events and remember what is important and special about being a sports fan in Boston—anything can happen on any given night, usually on a big stage.
Having had the opportunity to live in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia—two championship-starved cities until the Phillies won the World Series in 2008—I began to appreciate the amazing run we have been on as Bostonians a bit more.
There are very few fan bases as lucky as we are.
This list is a personal one, filled with events I was lucky enough to attend in person.
So, Super Bowls and World Series clinchers are not on here.
But, a great win by BC at Notre Dame and an amazing run by a public high school in the Super 8 are.
If you have any amazing in-person experiences to share, please do so in the comments section.
Let’s all celebrate the fan experience together as this ridiculous 10-year run comes to an end.
10. Red Sox 500th Consecutive Sellout: Red Sox vs. Marlins – June 17th , 2009
This was an otherwise non-descript 6-1 win for the Sox over the Marlins on a Wednesday night in the dog days of summer, but it marked a special occasion as the Red Sox celebrated their 500th consecutive sellout.
A streak that began on May 15, 2003 reached 500 on this night, and my brother and I were there to see it.
Brad Penny picked up his 100th career win and upped his record with the Sox to 6-2 before he fell out of favor.
Jacoby Ellsbury hit a home run, but also made his first career error.
Dustin Pedroia was very Pedroia-like with three hits, three RBI, and a pair of steals.
The bullpen tossed four shutout innings to preserve the win and everyone went home happy.
After the game, the Sox handed out commemorative baseballs marking the occasion which still stands on my desk at work. It was a big accomplishment that reminded me how lucky we are as Red Sox fans.
Fenway is full every night and the Sox are so much a part of our lives.
In this age where people can get spoiled with success—i.e. Patriots fans at Gillette—the people who fill Fenway on a nightly basis for the most part bring the same level of intensity and passion every game.
The players who play for the Sox know this and appreciate it.
There is no place in baseball like Fenway, we are so fortunate to be a part of it.
9. 111th Boston Marathon – April 16, 2007
This makes the list purely because of personal reasons.
I couldn’t tell you who won the thing and I wasn’t one of the boisterous college students lining the route while imbibing a bit.
But, I can tell you two people who did finish the race—my father and brother.
My younger brother, Chris, running the marathon was not really a big deal. This was his third time doing it and he was 22 at the time so it was no big shakes.
However, my dad was 54 years old and had never run more than 13 miles in his life. The fact that my father, at that age could complete this arduous task made me proud, jealous, and envious.
Still, rushing around Boston that day with my mom to see the two of them at various points along the route was exciting.
My brother finished in 4:28.01, not a bad time for someone who was doing more 12 oz. curls than 12 mile runs leading up to the race.
My dad was a different story.
We had been getting text messages with their pace throughout the day and we stopped receiving his.
My mom and I started to get worried that he had gotten injured along the route and we kept glancing at that final corner to see his red jacket come whipping around.
Finally, we spotted him jogging around the bend, heading for home.
I must admit, it got a little dusty on Boylston Street that moment as the pride overcame the jealousy watching my hero finish something he so desperately wanted to do.
The final time? 5:59.04.
A mark that beat the cutoff for officially finishing the race by 56 seconds.
He now has the official medal and certificate to prove he completed the hardest marathon in the United States.
8. 2005 Beanpot Championship: BU vs. Northeastern – Feb. 15, 2005
I have been a BU hockey fan since I was a little kid who played on a hockey team coached by the father of Mike Sullivan—former Bruins player and coach and then—BU captain.
I have been to many Beanpots over the years, but this was a special one.
Chris Bourque, son of Bruins legend Ray Bourque, scored at the 14:10 mark of overtime to lift BU past Northeastern, 3-2.
In front of the usual packed house for the Beanpot, the freshman hopped on a loose rebound to give BU its 26th championship at the annual tournament featuring Boston’s four Division I college hockey programs.
7. Weymouth Makes Improbable Run to Super 8 Finals – 2007
As a native of Weymouth and a graduate of B.C. High, the final of the 2007 Super 8 high school hockey tournament was a tough one for me to watch.
The Weymouth Wildcats put together a tremendous run, defeating four powerhouse Catholic schools on their way to the final against B.C. High, the defending champions.
There hadn’t been this good a run by a public school since Medford, led by Shawn Bates, advanced to the title game in 1995.
Weymouth, who earned the nickname "Public Nuisance," was led by goalie Chris Daugherty—who was in net only because the starting goalie was suspended early in the tournament.
Daugherty stepped in and defeated perennial powerhouse Catholic Memorial and backstopped the Wildcats all the way to the title game.
In the final, Weymouth took an early lead but couldn’t stave off the Eagles who scored six in a row for the 6-1 win.
It seemed like the entire town of Weymouth was at the Garden that day and it felt like everyone on that team was a winner just for advancing that far.
6. Hideo Nomo Throws No-Hitter in First Red Sox Start: Red Sox vs. Orioles – April 4, 2001
With the Red Sox opening the 2001 season in Baltimore and me living in DC, it made a lot of sense to head up to Camden Yards for a game. So, my girlfriend and I headed up on the train to Baltimore to see the Sox play the Orioles.
It was Hideo Nomo’s first start in a Red Sox uniform, and a cold night at the park.
Brian Daubach gave the Sox a 2-0 lead in the third inning with a home run, driving in Shea Hillenbrand.
Somewhere around the sixth inning, I turned to my ladyfriend and mentioned that Nomo hadn’t allowed a hit to that point. I didn’t make too much of it because it was so early in the season and pitchers don’t seem conditioned to go the distance in April, let alone toss a no-hitter.
However, Nomo progressed along, not allowing a hit.
In the eighth, Dauber went yard again with a solo shot to add some insurance for the Sox.
Nomo took the mound in the ninth inning and needed a superb play from second baseman Mike Lansing to save the no-hitter. Lansing ranged out to shallow center and flashed the backhand to rob Mike Bordick.
Two pitches later, Troy O’Leary reeled in a flyball to left.
It was one of those nights where the improbable happened with no warning.
The game was delayed 43 minutes at the start because of a power outage.
New Sox slugger Manny Ramirez was 0-for-3 with two K’s in his second game with the Red Sox and Cal Ripken was 0-fer as well.
Still, the over 35,000 at Camden Yards—including the multitude of Sox fans always at those games—began to cheer for Nomo as the game wore on.
It was a special moment, one that snuck up on me.
5. BC Downs No. 4 Notre Dame in South Bend - Nov. 2, 2002
In 2002, I travelled to South Bend, Ind. to watch Boston College play No. 4 Notre Dame at one of college football’s meccas.
It was always a dream to see Notre Dame play at Notre Dame Stadium, and being able to watch BC play there was even better.
The Holy War seemed to be a mismatch on paper as the Fighting Irish were undefeated and ranked fourth while BC was 5-2.
The Irish came out of the tunnel dressed in their famed green uniforms and appeared primed to ride the emotion of the crowd to another win.
Josh Ott returned an interception 71 yards for the Eagles and Derrick Knight scored on a three-yard run.
Beyond the game, just being able to walk around this campus with three of my college friends was a great experience.
We picked up a few cases of beer and went on a nice walking tour of campus, visiting the famed Grotto and Touchdown Jesus among other stops.
The campus is acceptable to open drinking, so the freedom to have a beer while walking around was a neat addition to the experience. So was sleeping in a church on campus because the only people we knew there were girls, and Notre Dame frowns on men and women sharing living quarters.
So, my roommate and I were able to catch a few winks on pews in the church before Sunday mass started at Notre Dame.
Of course, mass at Notre Dame starts very early on Sunday so we were up and out before we could even sleep off the hangover.
Still, it was an experience I will never forget.
4. Manny Hits a Walk-Off Homer to Defeat Angels: 2007 ALDS – Oct. 5, 2007
One of the more tense moments of the Red Sox’ march to the 2007 World Series was game two against the Angels in the ALDS.
The game was tied 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth when Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia walked David Ortiz to put two runners on for Manny Ramirez.
The enigmatic slugger made Scioscia pay, hammering a Francisco Rodriguez pitch over the Monster to give the Sox a 2-0 lead in the series.
It was the second walk-off homer in a playoff game I was able to witness live (more on that later) and the frenzy that Manny sent Fenway into was just as loud.
His homer was a no-doubter, rocketing over the Monster in about 1.2 seconds. This was a time where Ortiz and Ramirez were the most feared duo in baseball and they delivered on this night.
It made the quick trip to Boston from Philly all the more worthwhile to see.
3. Red Sox vs. Cardinals: Game Two 2004 World Series – Oct. 25, 2004
It was something my dad and I waited our whole lives for.
The Red Sox were in the World Series again and we were there together.
Sure, he had box seats close to the field and I was up underneath the scoreboard in center field in the last row, but we had those moments together before the game and the celebration afterwards.
Jason Varitek started things off for the Sox with a two-run triple in the first inning. Mark Bellhorn opened the game up in the fourth with a two-run double to give the Sox a 4-1 lead and Orlando Cabrera tacked on two more in the sixth with a single.
Curt Schilling, in his second start with the mythical bloody sock, pitched six solid innings for the win.
Watching the Red Sox take a 2-0 lead in the World Series was made all the more special because I shared it with my dad.
Two games later, we celebrated together at our house as the Sox won their first World Series in…well you know all that.
2. BU Roars Back Against Miami (Ohio) to Win Frozen Four - April 11, 2009
I had the opportunity to volunteer at the 2009 NCAA Frozen Four in Washington, D.C. and watched as an added bonus came about when BU advanced to the championship to play Miami (Ohio) for the national title.
That excitement began to wane as BU trailed by two goals late in the third period and it looked like the Terriers would be denied.
Zack Cohen scored with 59.5 seconds left to bring BU within one and Nick Bonino tied the game with 17.4 seconds left to force overtime.
For the extra period, I moved down to watch the game from the zamboni entrance behind the BU net. I just prayed that I didn’t have to watch the winning goal up close and that BU would pot the winner down the other end.
11:47 into overtime, Colby Cohen’s shot deflected off a Miami defender and over the goalie to set off the big celebration.
It was a celebration I was able to participate in as I went on the ice and started shooting pictures as the Terries skated the trophy around the ice.
I always pictured myself skating one of those victory laps in a BU sweater when I was a kid, but this was nice as well.
Next thing I knew, I was in BU’s locker room as Mike Eruzione congratulated the team.
It was all surreal and one of the coolest moments of my life.
1. Big Papi Keeps Red Sox Alive in 2004 ALCS: Red Sox vs. Yankees – Oct. 17-18, 2004
Without a doubt, this memory stands out in my mind as the greatest sporting event that I have ever attended.
It started out as just hoping to see the Red Sox stay alive and not allow the Yanks to celebrate at Fenway.
The Sox fans at the park that night cheered for Derek Lowe as he walked back from the bullpen towards the dugout to start the game.
The park came alive again in the fifth when David Ortiz came through with a two-run single to give the Sox a 3-2 lead. The Yankees took the lead again in the sixth and entered the ninth with a 4-3 lead.
I don’t think I have to explain to anyone what happened over the next three and a half innings, but to say it was the most nerve-wracking hour or so of my sporting life.
We all knew Dave Roberts was going to steal, and when he did, it was like Lloyd Christmas in Dumb and Dumber: “So, you’re saying there’s a chance!”
After Bill Mueller knocked him in with a single we all knew the intensity was ratcheted up.
In the 12th inning, Papi’s home run was, at the time, the most dramatic play I had ever witnessed live. You could feel Fenway shaking and we stayed there after the game just cheering and chanting, wanting to bask in that moment of unity.
The YouTube video of the home run doesn’t do what it felt like to be there justice, but is pretty close.
I am sure those in attendance the next night or when the Sox won the ALCS or World Series have similar feelings, but this was the moment that started it all – and I was there.
So, there you have it. My Top 10 sporting events I was in attendance for in the past decade. What do you have to add to this list? Which ones would you like to see in the next decade?
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