Monday, July 7, 2008

The King Is Dead!

John McEnroe called Sunday's Wimbledon Gentlemen's Championship match the greatest match he'd ever seen, and I suppose I would have to agree considering McEnroe has probably seen a few more matches than me. This got me thinking about the remarkably high number of spectacular championship games and stories we have seen in 2008. How often is the NCAA Tourney Final or the Super Bowl or the NBA Finals a sleeper? This year we have experienced riveting moment after riveting moment and while I think it is just a perfect storm of sport, I'd like to think it was a trend. Consider:

Super Bowl XLII: Giants 17-Patriots 14
The highest rated sporting event in American television history featured one of the greatest upsets in pro sports history, as the Giants muffled the best offense in NFL history throughout the game and drove the length of the field to score in the final seconds after the Patriots had just completed their own would-be game-winning drive. The Giants vanquished the widely perceived bad guys and stopped their run at a perfect 19-0 season as Eli Manning matched his older brother as Super Bowl MVP.

Men's NCAA Tournament Championship Game: Kansas 75-Memphis 68
A rare match-up of two #1 seeds and two preseason favorites wound up being a rare dream Final for the fans. Memphis used the second half's first minute-and-a-half to erase Kansas' 5-point halftime lead (the largest lead of the game to that point). The powerhouses then traded blows for the next 10 minutes before Memphis began to pull away. The lead stretched to 9 with 2:12 to go. Kansas immediately began fouling Memphis, a much maligned free-throw shooting team, and put on a furious charge to close the gap. Memphis missed four of its last five free throws and Mario Chalmers nailed a three-pointer with 2.1 second to go to send it to overtime. Kansas jumped out to a six-point lead in the overtime and Memphis was unable to make it up.

Stanley Cup Finals: Red Wings 4-Penguins 2
In the first ever postseason meeting between two of the most storied franchises in sports, let alone hockey, the Detroit Red Wings looked like they might cruise to an easy Stanley Cup win after blowout wins in the first two games. In Game 3, back in Pittsburgh, the Penguins were again out-shot by more than 10, but superstar Sidney Crosby made the best of two of his shots to keep the Pens in the series. In Game 4, The Red Wings killed off a 5-3 advantage for a minute-and-a-half midway through the third period to preserve a 1-1 tie and then scored the game winner with 2:26 to go to take a 3-1 series lead. Facing elimination on the road in Game 5, Pittsburgh pulled their goalie and Maxime Talbot scored an overtime forcing goal with 34 seconds left in regulation. The fifth-longest game in Stanley Cup Finals history was won by Penguin Petr Sykora in the third overtime after he had predicted to a sideline reporter earlier in the overtime that he would win it. Detroit won the Cup in Game 6 on a shot that was stopped by Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury knew he did not have clean possession of the puck so he fell to the ice, hoping to trap it underneath him. In doing so, he knocked it into the goal. The Penguins had a last second shot stopped spectacularly by Chris Osgood and the Wings took the Cup.

NBA Finals: Celtics 4-Lakers 2
The NBA Finals pitted the league's greatest historical rivals, and each Conference's best regular season team against one another. Game 1 was a good, but unmemorable game until Boston star Paul Pierce fell awkwardly and was carted off of the court in a wheelchair. Pierce later returned to the game and sparked a Celtic win only moments after it appeared their series was doomed. In a game of streaks, the Lakers led Game 2 early on, but the Celtics put together a run to lead at halftime by 10. The lead stretched to 24 with under eight minutes to go before a furious charge by the Lakers to cut the lead to 2 with 28 seconds remaining and the Lakers had the ball. The Celtics denied the ball from Kobe Bryant, blocked Sasha Vujacic's shot and held on to win and take a 2-0 lead. The Lakers held serve in game three, winning on the backs of Bryant and Vujacic (56 points combined) as Pierce and Kevin Garnett struggled mightily for Boston. In Game 4, the Lakers surged out to a 35-14 first quarter lead and led by as many as 24 before Boston threw together a 21-3 third quarter run and eventually took the lead for good with just over four minutes remaining. It was the largest comeback victory in the NBA Finals in 37 years and the Celtics now led 3-1. Game 5 saw the same pattern repeats itself as the Lakers jumped out to a 43-24 lead, but then the Celtics reversed course and took the lead with a 38-17 run. The Lakers again jumped out to a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter before Boston put together a 16-2 run to tie it again. The Lakers held on to win at home and send the series back to Boston for Game 6 (3-2 Celtics). The Celtics led Game 6 24-20 at the end of the first quarter, but their coronation began in the second quarter as they outscored the Lakers 107-72 in the last three quarters. This was the largest Finals-clinching win in NBA history (131-92).

U.S. Open: Woods -1, Mediate E
Tiger Woods won his fourth U.S. Open and 14th major despite playing on a bad knee that would eventually be revealed as a torn ACL, forcing him to miss the rest of the 2008 season. Rocco Mediate outplayed Woods on Sunday and made up a two-shot deficit to tie the champ at -1 through 72 holes. In the 18-hole playoff, Woods played his typical steady game, opening up a three-shot lead through 10 holes, largely due to the seventh hole, which Woods birdied and Mediate bogeyed. Mediate scored three consecutive birdies on the back nine, and Woods slipped before birdying 18 to force a sudden-death playoff that would begin on the fateful seventh hole. Mediate bogeyed again and Woods' par earned him the Championship.

College World Series: Fresno State 2-Georgia 1
The Fresno State Bulldogs became the lowest ranked champion in NCAA all-sports history when they won the final two games the College World Series over Georgia to win the title. In the tournament, the Bulldogs won 9 games against teams ranked in the top 10, with six of those wins coming when they faced elimination.

Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest: Chestnut 59-Kobayashi 59
Longtime rivals Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi met at the Super Bowl of competitive eating on Coney Island and the titans of this "sport" took their battle down to the wire with Chestnut finishing a dog in the final seconds to tie it up. They went to the first "Dog Off" in 28 years, in which the first to finish five hot dogs wins and the American did his nation proud with an epic win on Independence Day.

Wimbledon: Nadal def. Federer 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7
With a win, Roger Federer would tie the all-time record of six consecutive Wimbledon Championships, and 65 consecutive grass court victories. Nadal would become the first man since Bjorn Borg 28 years earlier to win the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back. The pair had met in the last two Wimbledon Finals as well. Nadal won the first set and came back from a 1-4 deficit to win the second. Neither player faced a break point in the third set, as Federer won it 7-6 (7-5) in a tie-breaker. The fourth set also saw no breaks of serve and went to a tie breaker. Nadal jumped out to a lead and was serving for the Championship at 5-2. Federer won both points on Nadal's serve and later held off two Championship points to win the fourth 7-6 (10-8). Neither of these two top-seeded men had been able to earn a service break in over three sets before the match went to the tennis equivalent of overtime. With no fifth set tiebreakers at Wimbledon, the match was level at 6-6, then 7-7 and Nadal finally won a service break at 7-7 in the fifth set and then held serve at 8-7 to win his first Wimbledon Championship in the longest match in Wimbledon history in both time elapsed and games played.

No comments: