The Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings square off tonight in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Why should sports fans outside of the blossoming metropoli of Pittsburgh and Detroit care? Because the matchup sets up the pro sports landscape for the potential of one of the rarest of sports moments… a sudden-death championship win.
Are Red Wings faithful be mere hours away from the most untoppable moment of sports fan euphoria? Or are we better off hoping the Magic win two straight and the “if nec.” asterisk comes off June 18th at Staples?
Until then, I give you an ordered countdown of the top potential fan euphoria moments in each of the five major pro sports.
5. NFL Super Bowl - Touchdown
I don’t care about Adam Viniateri and your field goals. Too much emphasis on a jockey in shoulder pads with a specialty skill. Plus, modern NFL field goals are robotic and about as exciting as making applesauce sculptures. It would have to be a non-Hail Mary pass from around 15 yards out.
A 50- to 60-yard pick six in OT of the Super Bowl. Tell me that’s not a momentum swing the 4,000 partisan fans in attendance could get behind. Jump around, non-sponsors. Jump around.
4. FIFA World Cup - Game-Winning Goal
This can’t really happen because “futbol” OT isn’t sudden-death. Eventually, there’s penalty kicks (like in World Cup ‘94 and ‘06) which is like electing a president via a rock skipping contest. It’s too bad, because there’s potential.
While Americans would rather watch D.B. Sweeney’s greatest hits on DVR, the rest of the world is losing their mind over the World Cup to the tune of billions of people. Plus, only Copa Mundial can fetch you a matchup that might legitimately re-start a war.
3. MLB World Series - Walk-Off Home Run
A World Series ending home run has only happened twice (well, 2.17 times if you factor in the Canadian exchange rate for Joe Carter). Both were close to being baseball’s “ultimate” postseason outcome. Both came in the bottom of the 9th.
All that aside, the main issue is that a home run—the quickest way to change a lead in baseball—takes too long to play out. The moment is spread over 3-4 seconds, and there’s actually two moments… the ball leaving the bat and the ball leaving the yard.
The physics of the game prohibit it from consideration for number one.
2. NBA Finals - Buzzer Beater
This has the potential to jump to number one if the circumstances are right, but sits here at No. 2 because of its dependence on the clock. The perfect senario would have to be Game 7 with the home team having possession, trailing in the final seconds coming out of a timeout.
The game-winner would need to be deeper than 15 feet and hopefully be preceded by some kind of ridiculous scramble or smack of desperation. It’s all a hypothetical right now, because this hasn’t happened in the modern era. In fact, no Finals Game 7 has ever gone to OT or ended on a buzzer-beater.
1. NHL Stanley Cup Final - OT Goal
Hockey is unique in that it’s sudden-death AND the possession alternates quickly and without any sort of cadence or boundaries (downs, innings, shot clocks). Once a hockey Game 7 goes to overtime, the whole thing (game, series, playoff run, season!) is seconds away from crashing down around you at any moment. It’s a gut-wrenching existence.
Panic. Cathartic relief. Desperation. And that’s BEFORE the game actually ends. And that’s what it does… it ends. No injury time, kneel downs or spread-killing free throws to bleed it out.
It’s one situation that brings “sudden death” momentarily out of its cliche shell. Over the last half-century, there have been nine Game 7’s in the Stanley Cup Finals, including four this decade. None have gone to overtime.
The last Cup Final Game 7 overtime goal came in 1954 and was only televised in “Canadia” on CBC. That series was also the last time, prior to this season, the Stanley Cup started with games on back-to-back nights.
But there’s more… That 1954 game winner that touched off an instant celebration for the home crowd was scored by Tony Leswick of… the Detroit Red Wings.