Commentary

The 10 best sporting events to see live

I've got my own must-see list. Anyone up for the Iditarod?

Updated: July 16, 2009, 7:26 PM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN The Magazine

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

This column appears in the July 27 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

Gas jockey, book-packer, flower boy, bank teller, lawn-mower, 7-Eleven clerk -- I've been all of these. So it's never lost on me that I won career lotto with sportswriter. Especially when I'm on a five-week stretch like this one: U.S. Open, Wimbledon, Tour de France and British Open.

But a new book, The 100 Sporting Events You Must See Live, by Robert Tuchman, plus SportsCenter's current series Fan Feast, got me thinking. Being so old my ears still hurt from the Big Bang and having seen nearly every sporting event twice, what would be my list of must-see live events? Glad I asked.

10. Home Run Derby -- Better than the All-Star Game because it's never ended in a tie. Besides, it's everything real baseball is not. Guys swing at every pitch. Every third ball is a souvenir. And you don't have to wait 45 seconds while Nomar Garciaparra re-Velcros his entire uniform between pitches.

9. Iditarod -- Whenever somebody tells me the Iditarod is cruel to dogs, I answer, "I agree, the dogs left at home." You should hear them howl when they're not picked for the team. This is the hardest event to watch. I once had to bribe an ex-Vietnam pilot to fly me to a rest stop in the middle of nowhere, where we landed in a half-plowed field and were picked up by an Inuit on a snowmobile pulling a sled. Try to be in Nome at the end. One bar almost always has a ladies' arm wrestling contest. Trust me, you'd lose.

8. Ryder Cup -- Where else can you witness multimillionaires nearly hurling over three-foot gimmes with nothing more at stake than pride and some very ugly shirts? Unlike other golf tournaments, every shot matters every day, for better or worse.

7. Yankees vs. Red Sox at Fenway -- There's no better place in baseball than Fenway, which is like playing in your grandmother's attic. The Green Monster isn't an architect's precious quirk; it was the only way to shoehorn the place onto the available land. And Fenway is filled with people who don't need giant clapping hands on the scoreboard to know when to cheer.

6. America's Cup -- You need a good Chris-Craft to see it, but if you can't bum a seat on one, who cares? The pub scene alone is priceless. Endlessly thirsty crew members, billionaires in dorky captain's hats, diamond-dripping cougars, all elbowing each other out at the bar. Bring an extra liver.

5. Tour de France -- Like trying to get to 20 Super Bowls in 23 days, but worth it. Pick a climbing stage, bring friends and a bike, ride the course in the morning before the race (you're allowed), have lunch in a hamlet atop some exquisite Alp, watch the heart-skipping finish, have a bottle of Bordeaux, spend the night, bike down in the morning. Rinse and repeat.

4. North Carolina vs. Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium -- Fans pulling the hair of Tar Heels players as they inbound the ball; students camping out for months in K-Ville for tix; the hilarious chants from the Crazies, who once yelled at Grant Hill's parents, "One more kid!"; public school vs. private; an electricity that makes the Final Four and its corporate crowd seem like a three-day seminar on bunions.

3. Wimbledon -- There's nothing in America within a par-5 of it. It's a Windsor Castle garden party with grunting. It's queens and cobblers, cheek to cheek, over grounds so huge it would take you and your Toro a month to mow. It's a phantasmagoria of color -- greens and purples and yellows -- and that's just Bud Collins' pants.

2. Kentucky Derby -- My life's aspiration was to be Damon Runyon, and the Derby is as close as I'll get. With its wooden stands, elegant barns, men in seersucker suits and women in hats you could land an F-14 on, it's 1927 everywhere you look. Don't miss the fillies the day before in the Kentucky Oaks or the Barnstable Brown Gala or the awful race-day breakfast at Wagner's Pharmacy, across from Gate 3. If you hear a tip there, book it, because everyone around you is a trainer, an owner or a groom.

1. Masters -- Sneak into the clubhouse for the peach cobbler and steal into the Eisenhower Cabin, where some paintings are actually by Eisenhower. Do the par-3 tourney Wednesday and Arnie's first tee shot Thursday; see the droop-shouldered cut players driving out Magnolia Lane Friday, Amen Corner Saturday and golf history Sunday. Because Augusta already has most of the money printed in America, it has not sold out an inch. There are no ads, just flowers. No luxury boxes, just $1.50 egg salad sandwiches. Timeless.


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