by Danny Boyce
One of my favorite discussions we like to have at the bar is “If you had Mr. Peabody’s ‘Way Back’ machine what sporting event would you love to go back and see?” The most popular response has been The Miracle on Ice, but today I wanted to list 40 other sporting events that I would love to go back and witness. Here you go, in chronological order . . .
40: Game 1 of the 1903 World Series
The World Series coming to fruition actually happened during the 1903 season. The heads of both the American and National Leagues came to an agreement as it was clear that both the Boston Americans and Pittsburgh Pirates were going to win their respective pennants, but not all was smooth sailing. While the Pirates’ player contracts ran through mid October (and after the Series was scheduled to be finished) the Boston club’s contracts expired at the end of the American League season. The solution was simple: negotiate. As a part of the deal the players got a share of the gate receipts. This was also an era when players were more than willing to throw games for a few extra bucks. The series went eight games (it was a best-of-nine format) and many believed that the series was fixed from the very first inning. I want to see for myself.
39: 1904 St. Louis Games
The games were one big “Bad Idea Jeans” ad. For starters, the games were held in connection with the World’s Fair, which gave us the amazingly awful Anthropology Days. What was Anthropology Days? Well, it was a group of living exhibits; members of “primitive cultures” (yes, that was the term) competed in various events. I’m leaving it at that. In the games themselves a gymnast with a wooden leg won three gold medals (you read that correctly). But the marathon takes the cake. One runner was nearly mauled by a pack of wild dogs (not in an abandoned pool). Several runners almost died because they were sucking up the dust automobiles were kicking up because for some strange reason the committee didn’t see a reason to block off the road. But my favorite part that I would want to see is Fred Lorz, grabbing a ride from one of those cars and going the last 11 miles via auto. The best part of this? He was nearly awarded the gold medal!!! Oh, and there is the eventual winner basically being poisoned by his trainers and having to be carried over the finish line. For those who have read my past writing from our previous sites, just imagine the field day I would have had with this absurdity.
38: Merkle’s Boner
You’ll notice that I’m attracted to controversy and what my take would be. This game cost the Giants the pennant, but it was because they decided to enforce a rule they basically quit enforcing. Then the fans got involved. I’m against fans being on the playing surface and even worse, getting involved. But this one could be fun, so I’ll make an exception and just might play hot potato with the fans and the game ball.
37: Cleveland Naps at St. Louis Browns, last day of the season
The Browns hosted a double header that day and boy for those of you who get upset about the integrity of the game, this would get you going to no end. The Naps finished the year at 71-81, the Browns at 47-107, so we’re not looking at any pennant aspirations, but the Cleveland namesake was in the hunt for the batting title and a new car from Chalmers. What happened changed the course of baseball history and showed the country a hint of what was to come a few years later (see the next one). Lajoie goes 8 for 8 (or 8 for 9; a sac bunt was originally scored an error) with a double and seven bunt singles down the third base line as the kid at third was in shallow left.
36: The 1919 World Series
Like the 1903 World Series, this one has various accounts of what happened, and it took over a year for everything to ultimately come out. One lesser known fact is that there was another trial going on as the grand jury was listening to testimony about the 1919 World Series. The other trial led to Baseball’s anti-trust exemption, and timing had a lot to do with it. I just think it would be an educational experience to be there during that time.
35: The Galloping Ghost Gallops All Over Michigan
Red Grange – I love that the guy had two nicknames – took the opening kickoff and ran it back 95 yards for a touchdown. He had three more TD runs – 67, 56, and 44 yards – in the first quarter alone. He added another TD run and a TD pass, amassed 402 yards of total offense and single-handedly defeated previously undefeated Michigan, 39-14. That would be an impressive game to see.
34: Game 3 of the 1932 World Series
This game is the stuff of legends, mostly because even the accounts of the day couldn’t agree as to whether Ruth called his shot or not. The various newspaper columns all had different accounts of what exactly happened. I want go back to this game so that I could have my own take on what happened.
33: 1936 Berlin Games
Two big things here: First, obviously what Jesse Owens accomplished even while trying to give his Jewish teammates their opportunity says a lot about the character of Jesse Owens the person. And second, this was the first year carrying of the torch from the previous host city to the current one. Yes, a tradition that carries on as time honored as any was a product of Nazi Germany. Life is peculiar sometimes.
32: Yankees at Indians, July 17, 1941
Yes, the game where DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak was snapped. I want to see the plays Ken Keltner made to snap the streak. For all I know they were a couple of plays that Nolan Arenado does in his sleep, but who knows? I want to find out for myself.
31: The Shot Heard ‘Round the World
30: Roger Bannister’s Race For History
Athletic feats improve with every generation. When Babe Ruth was dominating baseball, the record for the 100 meters was a time that Usain Bolt does backwards today. Men’s swimming records of that same time frame wouldn’t qualify a high school girl for a state meet. That doesn’t make those accomplishments any less special, though; someone had to do it first. On May 6, 1954 at Oxford University. Since then over 1,400 men have crossed the four minute barrier, but to see it happen for the first time would be awesome.
29: The 1958 NFL Championship Game
Amazing how many moments would have been ruined in the age of replay. Late in the fourth quarter of the game with the Giants leading by three, a controversial spot led to the Giants punting the ball away to the Colts. Colts tied it, famously won in OT, changed the course of NFL history. I want to see that final quarter, particularly that spot. I want to see it in real time. I want to see just to see how bad it was. And leave it at that.
28: The Phantom Punch
In the small town of Lewiston, Maine Muhammad Ali took on Sonny Liston in a rematch for the heavyweight championship. What we have is a former champion who was believed to have had ties to organized crime, a fight that was moved to this small town because the original promoter was also believed to be tied to organized crime. We have a punch that may or may not have landed or even been thrown. Then there was never a count but there was a count. I want front row seats for this one.
27: Super Bowl I
It amazes me how things sometimes just get slapped together. After six seasons the AFL and NFL finally decided to find some common ground. As Al Michaels pointed out in his book “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up”, because the details about the game took a while to plan – where the game should be played, how long after the league championships are played, etc. – that instead of negotiating they just told the networks that covered the two leagues – NBC with the AFL, CBS with the NFL – to both cover the game. It was probably the truest neutral site Super Bowl the league ever had. The game was not sold out – Jerry Kramer actually walked out of his hotel the morning of the game, saw a group of kids, and gave them tickets to the game – and those who did show up were more curious than anything. I want to be a part of that curiosity. And to be honest I really want to know how this game caught on; none of these early games were any good.
26: Ali-Frazier I
The Fight of the Century that lived up to the advanced billing. Two great champions in what was the strongest era of the heavyweight division. And talk about contrasts. Ali was vocal, borderline obnoxious; Frazier was quiet and cool. Ali was fast and flashy; Frazier was a puncher and a truth machine, someone who would bring out your weaknesses. All this in the most famous arena in the world, all the hype, the celebrities, the backdrop of Vietnam, and you have the makings of an all-time classic.
25: Bobby Orr’s Cup Winner
One of the most common stories you get from people in the late 60’s and early 70’s watching hockey for the first time is that they will watch a Bruins game for about three or four minutes and inevitably they will ask “Who’s that number four? He’s so much faster than everyone else but he’s moving at the same pace!” His game winner is commemorated outside of the arena today and to see another all-time great do what they do best would be awesome.
24: The 1973 Belmont Stakes
The race itself was a joke. There were only a handful of horses in the race and Secretariat was such a big favorite that betting on the race seems meaningless. Everyone was there to witness history. I want to go back and sit with the horse racing aficionados because to a person they were all upset with Ron Turcotte for running the horse all out. Turns out Turcotte had nothing to do with what the horse was doing. What Secretariat did that day was similar to winning the World Series, NBA Finals, or Stanley Cup Finals in three games. Dominance like that would be awesome to experience in person.
23: The Rumble in the Jungle
Ali vs. Foreman. The country cheering on Ali. Ali challenging Foreman with “Is that all you got?!?!”. How awesome would this have been? I want to find out.
22: The 1980 BDO World Darts Championship
It was the start of a national television phenomenon. Yes, it had moments on British television, but this final in February of 1980 featured two true characters. There was Eric Bristow, the brash, cocky young man who was good and was not afraid to let you know that, and Bobby George, a pretty boy out of the David Bowie mold. The first two years were interesting enough, but this was where the game took off, leading to the true professional level of play. How cool would it be to be there when something takes off like that?
21: 1980 Lake Placid Games, Men’s Speed Skating, each event
Eric Heiden is relatively unknown throughout the U.S., but is a famous speed skater throughout Europe. He dominated the competition, winning every event and eventually winning more gold medals than all but two countries. That would be awesome to witness in person.
20: Borg vs. McEnroe in the Wimbledon Final
19: No Mas
Again, I love controversy. This bout was one of the iconic moments of the 1980’s and not just for boxing.
Quick side note: One of the photographers for this fight was super model Christie Brinkley and one of the photographers for Ali-Frazier I was Frank Sinatra. How did Jerry Gergich’s wife get to be a photographer?
18: Gretzky Nets Five for 50
Nobody made it look so easy. He got to 50 before anyone else was at even 30. That would be simply awesome to see in person.
17: The 1983 NCAA Basketball Championship Game
An event that in the 80’s was constantly coming down to the wire, this one had the most improbable finish of them all. Who would not want to be in Albuquerque that nigh?
16: When Pete Rose Really Passed Ty Cobb
The actual date was September 8, 1985. Going back to the Naps-Browns debacle, a part of it was the way the batting title was resolved. The resolution was realized in the 1970’s as the Society of American Baseball Research members were doing what they do best – research – and a couple of guys noticed that in Ty Cobb’s 1910 season they double counted a game in which he went 2 for 3. That game was double counted throughout baseball history, but when the “mistake” was discovered, Bowie Kuhn did nothing to correct it, so 4,191 stood. In reality Pete Rose broke the record in his first inning of a 5-5 tie at Wrigley Field. But . . .
It is important to note that if they had corrected the numbers, there’s a good chance that Rose isn’t playing that Sunday. Much like what happened with Hank Aaron 11 years earlier, Major League Baseball obviously wanted ole Charlie Hustle to break the record in Cincinnati. So would I want it to change? No. For the same reasons that I’m glad they didn’t use replay 60-70 years ago. The moment was special, so let it be.
15: The Golden Bear’s Last Run at Augusta
Sports are for the young to play. Jack Nicklaus’ run that magical weekend – especially that Sunday – is one of the biggest reasons we watch sports. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the old guy runs out of gas as the finish line gets closer. It’s that one time that makes it special.
14: Super Fight
This really shouldn’t have been a real fight. Sugar Ray Leonard’s last fight was three years earlier and was far from impressive and Marvin Hagler was at the top of his game. It ended up being a split decision. As a boxing fan who loved this division, I want to be at the judges table. I don’t need a vote, I just want to know what they were thinking. This was a pay-per-view event, so I’ve only seen highlights. I want to see the whole thing.
13: The Sleepy Floyd Game
The game is forgotten because the Warriors lost the series in five games to an all-time great Lakers team. But for about 13 minutes Sleepy Floyd was the equivalent NBA Jam when a player is on fire. In that time he scored 34 points with ZERO three pointers. All of his shots were runners, bunnies, free throws, and a couple of shots from the elbow. Add in that the crowd in Oakland was a great basketball crowd, and I could have a blast.
12: Super Bowl XXIII
It took 23 attempts but the Super Bowl finally lived up to its name. Super Bowls XIII and XVI were both only somewhat close – in both games the losing team scored late to make it a one score game but didn’t get the onside kick – and Super Bowl V featured 11 turnovers (seven by the winning team*). This game was tight the whole way, featured a Hall of Fame performance from one of if not the greatest player ever (Jerry Rice had a still record 215 receiving yards, the biggest play being a 27-yard reception on second and 20 while being triple covered on the game winning drive), and the eventual game winner was on a play in which everyone on both sides played it about as well as you could.
*-Again, how in the hell did the Super Bowl ever catch on? It sure wasn’t the quality of play.
11: The 1992 NCAA East Regional Final
The greatest college basketball game I’ve ever seen, but that was on TV. This game had everything – great runs, big comebacks, gutsy shots, controversy, overtime, and an unforgettable ending. As Rick Pitino told his team after the game as he held up a copy of the Sports Illustrated issue titled “Kentucky’s Shame”, “You guys went from this to THAT!”
10: Game 1 1992 NBA Finals
Watching an all-time great at their best is always special. Jordan just could not miss. I would love to be right behind the scorer’s table to watch him shrug. If it was possible to win a series in Game 1, Jordan got about as close as you could get.
9: The Dream Team Scrimmage
Probably the greatest basketball game ever played. And none of us got to see it. What sports fan wouldn’t want to watch the greatest?
8: Florida State at Notre Dame
The beginning of the College Game Day road show. A great game with two great teams. A storied location. If you’re a true college football fan, this is heaven.
7: The 1994 Lillehammer Games, Men’s 1,000 Meter Speed Skating
I remember Dan Jansen’s story from 1988 in Calgary. I walked into Scripture class (Catholic school, cut me some slack) and on the board was written “Dan Jansen won the Gold Medal and set an Olympic Record!” Twenty-five years ago we did not have the 24-hour, multiple cable networks like we do now (One of the most outdated song titles from that time was Springsteen’s “57 Channels and Nothing’s On”), so we had to wait until that evening to actually watch Jansen achieve his moment of greatness. I want to go back and witness the moment as it actually happened.
6: Tyson Takes a Bite Out of Holyfield
Bill Simmons came up with the phrase “The Tyson Zone”, meaning that if someone told you “Mike Tyson murdered a herd of bison” or “Tyson just saved five kittens from a burning building” you would absolutely believe them. This was the event that made that theory acceptable. I remember seeing that on ESPN the following morning. I would love to see this mayhem happen person.
5: 1999 Major League All-Star Game
I guess the game was cool. Pedro was Pedro, the Indians of 1999 were the Indians of 1999, and the American League won. But the pregame ceremony made the whole event. This was one of the rare moments where TV took a back seat. And it was all worth it.
4: Game 3 of the 2001 World Series
In what was the highlight of President George W. Bush’s presidency, him stepping on the mound and putting a little heat on the first pitch while wearing a bulletproof vest was not just impressive to me. Years later President Barrack Obama brought up how impressed he was with W.’s pitch. Oh, and it was a pretty damn good series.
3: Landon Donovan’s Game Winner
What makes the World Cup amazing is that you have the two most passionate things in sports: Soccer and Patriotism. How awesome would that be to have been South Africa that night? Sports give us these moments.
2: Game 7, 2016 NBA Finals
The one chance I would currently have to watch a Cleveland team win it all in my lifetime. And this time I could enjoy it because with the Way Back I can skip the day with the customers.
1: Astros Win the World Series
Curiosity here. We know the whole scandal. We know the stats and the home/road splits. But here’s something that hasn’t been mentioned yet: Game 7 of the 2017 World Series was IN LOS ANGELES. I get how they pulled it off at home, and while not impossible to do it on the road, I haven’t seen how it worked that easily. Call me skeptical, but I tend to think that the Astros were also really, really good.
Well, there are 40 events that I would go back in time to see in person not involving the 1980 U.S. Hockey team. Lots of controversy, lots of fun. Hope you enjoyed it. Hope you have your own list as well. Feel free to share. Again, it’s sports, so have fun!