Friday, July 13, 2007

Anticipation and Memory

In passing from the past to the future, we pass from memory and reflection to observation and current practice and thence to anticipation and prediction--Lewis Mumford

Why do we watch sports? We watch sports because they consist of unscripted drama. Prior to a sporting event, we anticipate seeing something wonderful, something that has never been seen before and may never be seen again; we hope that the event will create a memory that lasts a lifetime. When I think of all the games, matches, series and competitions that I have watched, attended or covered, I remember most vividly both that feeling of anticipation--what might happen?--and then that feeling of finality--history has been made. Why do we watch sports? Here are a just few reasons that I have watched over the years, a partial list of one person's memories anticipated and delivered:

*Reggie Jackson blasting three World Series home runs on three swings off of three different pitchers.

*Seeing Walter Payton play in person at the first NFL game I ever attended, a 27-3 Cincinnati preseason win over Chicago on August 19, 1978.

*Lynn Swann's ballet dancer-like moves in the Super Bowl, particularly Super Bowl XIII; he had seven catches for 124 yards as Pittsburgh beat Dallas 35-31 in the first Super Bowl that I remember watching. I hated--and still hate--the Steelers, but Swann was an amazing, aptly named athlete.

*Brian Sipe and the Kardiac Kids providing great thrills--and then devastating disappointment.

*Alcoa's Fantastic Finishes; this clip contains a finish that I found to be less than fantastic, though, as the Steelers bamboozled my beloved Browns. As I recall, this game was blacked out since I lived in Bengals country, so I first heard this finish on the radio before later seeing it replayed about a million times on TV. The Alcoa Fantastic Finishes ads always aired around the two minute warning of NFL games and showcased some of the most amazing endings to NFL games; these commercials were not only exciting but they provided a great history lesson to young fans just learning about the sport.

*Bjorn Borg winning both Wimbledon and the French Open for three straight years (1978-80) en route to capturing 11 Grand Slams by the age of 25.

*Julius Erving's reverse layup against the Lakers in the 1980 Finals.

*Erving and Andrew Toney leading the 76ers to a game seven win over the Boston Celtics in the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals.

*Erving putting the coup de grace on the 76ers' glorious 1983 NBA Championship run by scoring seven points in the last two minutes of the decisive Game Four, closing the books on "We Owe You One."

*Michael Jordan scoring a playoff-record 63 points as his Chicago Bulls lost 135-131 in double overtime to the eventual champion Boston Celtics.

*Bernie Kosar throwing for a playoff-record 489 yards as the Browns beat the Jets 23-20 in a double overtime thriller. Alas, "The Drive" prevented the Browns from making their first ever Super Bowl appearance.

*Erving's "Farewell Tour."

*Bo Jackson showing in his all too brief career that he "knew" how to make breathtaking plays on both the football field and the baseball diamond. His Monday Night Football showdown versus Brian Bosworth and his 1989 All-Star game home run were "must see TV" for any late-80s sports fan. I couldn't wait to watch either game and on both occasions Jackson lived up to the hype. Even his mistakes were exciting. Remember when he used to snap his bat in two over his knee after striking out?

*Michael versus Magic in the 1991 NBA Finals.

*Scottie Pippen's all-purpose excellence lifting the 1994 Chicago Bulls to within one horrible Hue Hollins call of the Eastern Conference Finals.

*Michael Jordan's implacable will driving the Chicago Bulls to a 72-10 record in 1996. Perhaps no team has ever treated even "meaningless" games with such fiery determination--and the Bulls followed that up by going 69-13 in 1997!

*Shaq and Kobe break through to the Finals for the first time, beating Portland in game seven of the 2000 Western Conference Finals.

*New England upsetting St. Louis in the Super Bowl as Bill Belichick devises yet another tremendous game plan.

*NBA All-Star Weekend 2005 in Denver; after a lifetime of watching it on TV, I covered NBA All-Star Weekend in person and had the opportunity to not only interview some of the game's biggest current stars but also to interact with many of my childhood favorites, including the incomparable Julius Erving, who I met for the first time.

*Observing in person the way that LeBron James infused his Cleveland Cavaliers' teammates with the confidence to extend their 2006 playoff series with Detroit to seven games, a prelude to...

*The Cleveland Cavaliers' marvelous run to the 2007 NBA Finals; I covered Games Three and Four in Cleveland, the first NBA Finals games that I saw in person.

*The Cleveland Browns winning the Super Bowl--this is purely in the anticipation realm at this point but, hey, a guy can dream, can't he?


rcole said...

I'm a lifelong Sixers fan. Game 7 vs. Boston in 1982 was easily the most thrilling moment for me. I had my fingers crossed the whole game and didn't believe we were really gonna win until Billy C started taking out the starters. Based on what happened in 1981, that game was a storybook type redemption. There was a real sense that history had been made.

The 1983 season just wasn't the same to me. It didn't mean as much with a new guy, Moses Malone, doing most of the work, many of the mainstays like CJ and Double-D gone, and Dr. J playing like a role player and struggling through most of the playoffs.

The perfect ending to "We Owe You One" woulda been a title in 1982. It still pains me to think how close we came in 81 and how the Celtics lucked out by facing the Rockets while we always drew the Lakers.

David Friedman said...

I think that all true Dr. J fans feel similarly to the way that you do. We rue how close he came to leading the Sixers to the title in '81 and wonder how his place in history might have been elevated even higher if he had capped off his '81 regular season MVP with an '81 Finals MVP. If that had happened then he and Bird would each have had two NBA titles, instead of Bird leading Doc 3-1 (Doc also has two ABA titles of course). It usually is said that Doc "needed" Moses to win an NBA title but it could just as correctly be stated that Moses "needed" Doc. Bird and Magic both certainly "needed" their Hall of Fame teammates to win titles, so it should not detract from Doc or Moses' greatness that they "needed" each other.

I think that several of the members of the '82 team have said that, in some ways, the game seven win over Boston is even more memorable than the '83 title--just the idea of that whole group banding together against the odds and beating the Celtics in Boston Garden.

I don't think it's quite fair to say that Doc "struggled" in the '83 playoffs but it is true that he accepted a lesser offensive role to give Moses and Andrew Toney an opportunity to shine. Doc still came through at the end of game four of the Finals, and his scoring, passing and defense were important to the title run.