30 Years, 30 Great Sports Memories

I turned the big 3-0 this past weekend. Other than that being a totally bizarre fact for me to wrap my brain around, I’m focusing instead on everything that has happened during that time. I’ve watched, attended and witnessed a lot of incredible sporting events since coming into the world on Nov. 4, 1982, so I thought that a recap was in order. To borrow a phrase from the self-proclaimed “worldwide leader in sports,” let’s do our own version of 30 For 30 – the 30 most memorable sports moments that have impacted me:

1989 World Series earthquake: The Loma Prieta earthquake postponed Game 3 of the Giants-A’s fall classic and halted the series for 10 days.

Super Bowl XXXIV: The Rams topped the Titans, 23-16, as Tennessee came up just one yard short of the game-tying touchdown on the final play.

2002 NBA Western Conference finals: I watched much of this epic series at the Hanalei Gourmet during my first trip to Kaua’i. The Lakers prevailed over the Kings in a memorable and controversial seven-game battle.

2009 NIT basketball championship: After being left out of the NCAA tournament, Penn State went on to capture the NIT title over Baylor, with the still-beloved Joe Paterno and busloads of students in attendance. Simpler times.

Manny Pacquiao vs. Oscar De la Hoya: I was taking any side bet I could with Pacquiao as a 2-to-1 underdog. He proved me right and has since become the champion he was destined to be.

Wrestlemania V: I was 6 and becoming one of the biggest wrestling nerds to ever walk the streets of New Jersey. This was the first of many WWF pay-per-view events my family ordered and, though technically “sports entertainment,” WWF has to be represented on this list.

1994 Stanley Cup: The Rangers exorcised the demons bemoaning New York for 54 years with their seven-game win over the Canucks.

Iowa 24, Penn State 23: I was watching from Kaua’i in 2008, when Iowa continued its tradition of derailing my dreams. A last-second Hawkeye field goal knocked off the undefeated and third-ranked Nittany Lions. I went out and hiked Okolehao to clear my head and sweat out the frustration. Didn’t work.

2001 World Series: The Yankees seemed destined to win the title just months after 9/11, as they continued to come back against the superior Diamondbacks. But in Game 7, the script flipped and Arizona beat the best closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, to clinch the World Series crown.

Bartman: What was lined up to be the Cubs’ first World Series appearance since 1945 and a chance at their first championship since 1908 was thwarted in 2003 after the infamous Bartman incident. 2000 Western Conference Finals: The Lakers overcame a 15-point deficit in Game 7 to beat the Trail Blazers, capped off by the Kobeto-Shaq alley-oop that has become a highlight staple.

Kaua’i vs. Kapa’a, 2010: This was one of the most feverish, energy-packed football games I’ve ever been to. Kapa’a was trying to win its first KIF title since 1989 and it came down to the game’s final play, but Kaua’i held on and denied the Warriors. Both sidelines were frantic and the players wore their emotions on their sleeves. Kapa’a didn’t wait long to exact revenge, breaking through in 2011.

Penn State vs. Miami, 2001: The first game Penn State played while I was a student was an 8 p.m., primetime home game against No. 1-ranked Miami. Safety Adam Taliaferro, who had been paralyzed during a game the previous season, walked, then skipped, then jogged out of the Penn State tunnel to thunderous applause and cheers. We lost the game, but, whatever.

Penn State vs. Nebraska, 2002: On the same wavelength was Penn State’s 40-7 thrashing of Nebraska in 2002 at Beaver Stadium. I’ve never heard a stadium so loud for four quarters.

Super Bowl XXV: Giants 20, Bills 19. Wide right. ‘Nuff said.

2000 World Series: The unlikely scenario came true as the Mets and Yankees faced off in the Subway Series. I still think the Mets were the better team, but those damn Yanks broke my heart in just five games.

Tyson-Holyfield II: One of the most hyped boxing rematches (1997) ever took a bizarre turn as Mike Tyson bit both of Evander Holyfield’s ears and began his rapid descent to sideshow status.

2010 NCAA Tournament, first day: Few love the NCAA Tournament as much as I do, which is why this is so high on my list. The first day in 2010 was one of the greatest days of hoops a junkie like me could ever dream of, with buzzer-beaters, upsets and 12 hours of pulsing drama.

Larry Johnson’s four-point play: With the Knicks down by three in the final seconds, Larry Johnson nailed a three-pointer, plus the foul in Game 3 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals against the Pacers. The eighth-seeded Knicks went on to reach the NBA Finals, the only eight seed to ever do so.

Super Bowl XLVI: The sequel played out the same way as the original, with the New York Giants gaining a 21-17 win over the New England Patriots. Thankfully, I have the Giants to continue to spoil me while the Mets, Knicks and Penn State do the opposite.

OJ Simpson Bronco chase: During Game 5 of the 1994 NBA Finals, my beloved Knicks were forced into a split-screen on NBC because of the OJ Simpson police chase. That night, I was one angry 11-year-old.

Pistons-Pacers melee: One of the ugliest nights in American sports history happened Nov. 19, 2004. I was watching at my friends’ house in college when Ron Artest leaped into the Detroit stands, sparking a riot.

Jim Valvano ESPY Speech: I was 10 and didn’t know much about Valvano, but his courage and inspiring words at the 1993 ESPY’s are ingrained in my head.

1999 Eastern Conference first round: Allan Houston knocked down a short jumper that hit the rim and the backboard before dropping in to propel the eight-seeded Knicks past the top-seeded Heat.

1998 NBA Finals: In what was thought to be his last game in the NBA, Michael Jordan went out in style by nailing the title-winning jumper in Game 6 over Bryon Russell to beat the Jazz. It became an iconic pose as he held the right arm up just long enough for everything to sink in.

1992 NBA All-Star Game: Shortly after announcing his HIV status and retiring from the NBA, Magic Johnson was voted into and played in the All-Star Game. He dazzled and delighted with 25 points and nine assists.

Andy Irons’ memorial service: Attending the Hanalei Bay memorial for Andy Irons and having to also cover it was a tough task. While there was an underlying sadness, it was a true celebration of life attended by thousands.

2010 World Cup, USA vs. Algeria: With the score tied at 1-1 in the final game of the group stage, the USA squad would be eliminated without a victory. In the closing minutes of extra time, goalie Tim Howard hurled a pass to Landon Donovan, who got it to Jozy Altidore, who sent a through ball to Clint Dempsey for a chance on net. It was blocked, but Donovan followed the play and scored, sending the U.S. into the knockout round.

Mets-Braves, Sept. 21, 2001: Just 10 days after 9/11, in the shadow of the New York skyline, the Mets faced the Braves in the first game since the attacks. Shea Stadium had been a staging area for the recovery efforts and no longer felt like just a baseball field until Mike Piazza blasted a two-run home run to give the Mets a 3-2 lead in the eighth.

Super Bowl XLII: The Giants topped the Patriots, 17-14. New England, ending the Pats’ hopes of an undefeated season. But the Giants, who were just 9-7 during the regular season, kept the game tight and physical, taking the lead on an Eli Manning to Plaxico Burress touchdown with 35 seconds left, following “The Catch” earlier in the drive by David Tyree.

There’s 30 for 30.