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My Top 10 Sports Events of the Aughties

December 27th, 2009 · 3 Comments · Abu Dhabi, Angels, Baseball, Basketball, Beijing Olympics, College football, Dodgers, Kobe, Lakers, Lists, NBA, NFL, Olympics, soccer, USC

It was a more eventful decade than my initial thoughts indicated. “Wow. I have to come up with 10 good sports events from the 0-somethings? I’m not sure I can do that.”

Turns out, a few minutes of cross-referencing years and sports, and it’s no problem finding 10. The trick is limiting it to that many.

And these are all events I covered, in person. That’s the big qualifier here.

So, from 10 to 1 … my “10 most memorable” sports events I was there for, from the past decade, plus some links to text/video:

10. Opening Ceremonies, Salt Lake City Olympics, Feb. 8, 2002. This is one of those true-confessions things. What I remember most about the 2002 Winter Games, not quite eight years later? How cold I was at Opening Ceremonies. My long-time friend and co-worker Steve Dilbeck and I were in an upper row on the right edge of the west side of Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah, and a freezing wind blew into our faces off the Wasatch Mountains. It was rough. We stayed for the parade of nations, and we saw the World Trade Center flag brought in … but we left before it was over because 1) we had a deadline to meet and 2) we were turning into popsicles. Here’s a bit of video from it. Note George W. Bush in the final 30 seconds of this clip. Back when he was still popular.

9. U.S. 4, Cuba 0, gold-medal baseball game, Sydney Olympics, Sept.27, 2000. Sydney was a great Olympics. Tremendous fans, a hellacious swim meet (the Thorpedo, et al), Marion Jones running around (drugged up, but yeah), a fascinating city, great venues, wonderfully organized … but the first thing I think of is the U.S.minor-leaguers defeating Cuba 4-0 in the gold-medal game. It was late in the night, and I had been over at the stadium covering track, but I stopped by the baseball stadium on the way to the press center just in time to see the Yanks win and manager Tommy Lasorda “bawl like a baby,” as he later put it. Looking back, that U.S. team had some serious players on it, but at the time they were unknown Double-A guys, mostly. Of all the things to remember … Tommy!

8. U.S. 3, Portugal 2, World Cup, Suwon, South Korea, June 5, 2002. This was a stunner. Portugal was a darkhorse candidate to win … the whole tournament. Luis Figo, Joao Pinto, the whole Portuguese Golden Generation, and the Yanks got three goals in the first 36 minutes and hung on for a 3-2 victory in their first match of the 2002 World Cup. Here are those three goals, the first by John O’Brien in the fourth minute, the own goal off Jorge Costa (on a cross by Landon Donovan) and a header by Brian McBride. I remember sitting behind the goal that the U.S. kept scoring in, and being flabbergasted by what I saw. Three-nil USA in the 36th minute? No way. It was the victory that allowed the U.S. to get to the second round, and a victory over Mexico (also memorable, but I expected that result), and eventually to the infamous quarterfinal match with the Germans and the uncalled handball, etc. But 3-2 over Portugal. Still not sure I believe it, and I was there.

7. Lakers 100, Sacramento 99, Game 4, Western Conference finals, 2002. Probably the biggest of all the big shots taken by Big Shot Bob (Robert) Horry. The three-pointer from the top of the key as time expired, tying the series at two games each — instead of letting the Kings take a 3-1 lead on the way back to Sacramento. I was at the other end of the floor, and saw Vlade Divac swat the ball out to Horry and watched him line it up and swish it. Just an unforgettable individual moment. The Lakers’ Game 7 conference finals fourth-quarter rally against Portland was big, too, and I was there (colleague Chris Wiley and I were talking about all the “Lakers lose” angles we would pursue) … but for a single moment of history, this beats the Portland Game 7. Some video for your viewing pleasure.

6. Opening Ceremonies, Beijing Olympics, Aug. 8, 2008.  I was jet-lagged and it was brutally hot inside the Bird’s Nest, and I fell asleep at my desk in the media tribune during the Parade of Nations … but when those 2,008 guys began banging the big drums, well, the show was on. Just amazing, ridiculous stuff that had the whole world talking for days. (Though I must concede, I was less than impressed with the event, while sitting in the audience, in part because things tend to look better on TV than in person.)

5. Texas 41, USC 38, BCS championship game, Rose Bowl, Jan. 4, 2006. Seems more than four years ago, doesn’t it? USC was going for an unprecedented national-title three-peat, but Vince Young and Texas kept them from accomplishing it. A huge, enormously intense game between unbeaten teams that had been ranked 1-2 all season. I was massively nervous, especially when Texas mounted the winning drive after the failed fourth-and-2 by USC at midfield that could have clinched it. I can still see Young (200 yards rushing, 267 passing) breaking out of the pocket to score the winning TD with 19 seconds left, and you can see it too at this video site. Twice.

4. USC 55,  Oklahoma 19, BCS championship game, Orange Bowl, Jan. 4, 2005. Close to a perfect game by the Trojans and one of the most dominant performances in a huge game in college football history. Each team was 12-0. This was USC at its peak, with Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Steve Smith, and on and on. Most everyone thought it would be excruciatingly tight, but USC just destroyed the Sooners. Overpowered them and also outsmarted them. My seat was in the west endzone, and after it was over I remember Leinart directing the USC band in “Conquest.” Up till this point, there was debate in parts of the country about just how good USC was. After this, the debate was over,  and it pleased me.

3. Lakers 120, Indiana 118 (OT), Game 4, NBA Finals, June 14, 2000. The Game That Made Kobe Bryant and locked up the first of the three Shaq-Kobe titles for the Lakers. Before this, Kobe was a 21-year-old wing man to Shaquille O’Neal, talented but unproven. From here on, everyone realized the Lakers had two superstars. Playing with a sore ankle (he had rolled it badly in Game 3, a Pacers victory), Bryant picked up the Lakers after O’Neal fouled out at the end of regulation and made all the key shots in overtime, including a ridiculous catch-and-reverse-layup of a missed Brian Shaw shot in OT. Bryant finished with 28 points, five assists, four rebounds and about 10 “dagger” baskets in front of the Indianapolis crowd. Kobe just took over the game at a moment of supreme pressure. This gave the Lakers a 3-1 series lead, and a few days later they won their first title since “Showtime.” And here is some video for you.

2. New York Giants 17, New England 14, Super Bowl 42, Feb. 4, 2008. The greatest upset in Super Bowl history, the Giants knocking off the 18-0 Patriots at Glendale, Ariz. I drove over to Glendale from SoCal the day before the game and was treated to one of the great finishes in football history. The Giants scored with 39 seconds left to win, and moments before, in one of the most memorable plays in NFL annals, Eli Manning escaped what looked like a sure sack to find some room and uncork a pass to David Tyree — who caught the ball with one hand, pressing it against his helmet as Rodney Harrison mugged him. I was in the media workroom at the end, probably about halfway through a “Patriots,  greatest of all time” column when the Giants went and did their thing. Some video of the decisive drive.

1. Anaheim Angels 6, San Francisco Giants 5, World Series Game 6,  Oct. 26, 2002. The greatest comeback in an elimination game in World Series history. Just a magical moment, the end of two generations of waiting for Angels fans, the height of Rally Monkey Hysteria, The Evil Barry Bonds missing his best shot at a World Series ring. And this game! … Giants were up 3-2 in the series and led 5-0 with one out in the bottom of the seventh. Consecutive singles, and Dusty Baker went to get Giants starter Russ Ortiz, a move still being debated in San Francisco, and the Rally Monkey whipped Angels fans into a frenzy. Scott Spiezio followed with a great at-bat that turned into a three-run homer off Felix Hernandez,  and it was 5-3. In the bottom of the eighth, Darin Erstad hit a solo homer, and with two outs Troy Glaus smoked a two-run double off Giants closer Robb Nen that sailed over Bonds’ oversized head in left-center, and the Angels had the lead and Orange County went nuts. The Angels won the championship the next day. This one had it all … a massively improbable comeback, a perennial underdog rising up, video of a dancing monkey, “Thunderstix” … and villains in Bonds and the Giants. Oddly, it has very little video trail on youtube. Apparently, the “rights” folks at MLB have chased all game-action images off the ‘net. Here is a “video” that is actually a photo collage put to music (“Calling All Angels”) … and this bit of footage from a San Francisco TV station shows 1) a depressed correspondent and 2) some good scenes of the Rally Monkey. Anyway, back to another personal note, the 2002 World Series was the only World Series I covered from beginning to end (including those three frigid games in San Fran in the middle) … and how lucky was I? A great series, with a truly classic Game 6 that Angels fans will never forget. My No. 1 sports moment of the decade.


3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dennis Pope // Dec 28, 2009 at 10:02 AM

    You definitely saved the best for last/first.

  • 2 Jacob Pomrenke // Dec 28, 2009 at 3:42 PM

    MLB may have “chased” footage off YouTube, but there’s a ton of video and audio clips on’s 2002 WS page here:

  • 3 cindy robinson // Dec 29, 2009 at 6:15 AM

    I am amazed at your memory. I was at some of those events or watching on TV and can’t remember off the top of my head. I’m surprised you didn’t mention Phelps Olympics. Were you not at any of his swims? The butterfly race has to be one of the top 10 — kind of like Kirk Gibson’s homer — just unbelievable. By the way, I was there for that one as a spectator and have the ticket stub to prove it. 🙂

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