The ESPN Take


ESPN.com's Page 2 writers provide their memories of the 100 moments ...

1The Miracle on Ice
The Miracle on Ice is the game that gave birth to a generation of sports fans. It's the game that changed -- for Americans, for Russians, for most anyone in the world with a radio or a television and a competitive bone in their bodies -- the very definition of what was possible. It's a classic, hold-your-breath thriller and an epic cultural event all rolled into one. It's the bridge sports fans and people who despise sports walk across to meet one another and shake hands.

You put this game on a shelf, high above all the other games. You keep it in your heart, locked away from the ravages of time and the cruel passing of innocence. You feel its molecules dancing in the air around you. You spy its vapor trails jetting across the sky at sundown. You trust that it resides in the collective memory. You tap back into it for inspiration and you lean on it for resolve.

And once a year, on February 22, you observe its anniversary like a holy day.

Remember Mark Johnson busting for the stray puck, with a 2-2 tie on his stick. Reflect on Eruzione's wrister. Think of Jim Craig batting away shots in those furious last 10 minutes. Hear Al Michaels' inimitable call.

These are your passages, the pages in your prayerbook, the testimonials that make you love sports, the evidence that your faith in life is justified.

Do I speak hyperbolically?

Yes I do.

Is my tongue twisted with melodrama?

Indeed it is.

Am I an ecstatic fool yipping and dancing in the town square, regaling the youngsters and rousing the elders?

You bet your ass I am.

And do you know why?

Because I'm talking about the Miracle on Ice, that's why.
--Eric Neel

2Bill Buckner's misplay gives Mets World Series win

Things you may not know about Billy Buck:

  • Played 22 seasons in the majors (1969-90), and in four different decades.

  • Began his career with the Dodgers in 1969, debuting on Sept. 21 as the youngest player in the majors (19 years old).

  • Played his last game on May 30, 1990, as the oldest player in the majors (40 years old).

  • Was a fleet outfielder before ankle injuries slowed him down.

  • Twice finished in the top 10 in stolen bases (1974, 1976).

  • Twice led the NL in doubles (1981, 1983).

  • Led the NL in batting average in 1980 (.324).

  • Played in eight seasons with the Dodgers (1969-76) and another eight with the Cubs (1977-84).

  • Was traded by the Cubs to the Red Sox for Dennis Eckersley. (Quick quiz: Which two dark-haired, mustachioed men wore a Cubs uniform and a Red Sox uniform as well as the goat horns after the two most famous World Series plays of the past 25 years?)

  • In 1985, played 162 games at first base and broke his own major league record for the position with 184 assists.

  • Made $785,000 in 1986 with the Red Sox.

  • After leaving the Red Sox in 1987, played with the Angels and Royals.

  • Returned to the Red Sox in 1990.

  • Finished his career with 2,707 hits.

  • Finished his career with 146 errors.
    --Royce Webb

    3Gibson homer beats A's
    I was in Flint's Ribs on Shattuck in Oakland the moment he hit it. Flint's was the best. People wrote poems about their ribs. You ate their ribs and you felt transported, enobled, kissed by the gods.

    It was my 21st birthday and I was picking up an order of ribs for friends and family who'd come up from southern Cal to celebrate with me.

    At Flint's you called in early, then you stood in line in front of a formica countertop and waited for the ladies behind the counter to pull some ribs out of the chimney oven, slather them with sauce, and put them in a lunch sack for you and send you on your way. There was always a line, often out the door, and the ladies were always wacking with their cleavers and chatting up the customers.

    When Gibson stepped in, I was eight or ten spots back in line, just barely in the door, eyeing the pork and beef ribs coming out of the oven, dreaming of the order I'd called in.

    I was listening to the buzz of talk in the room, but like everyone else, my eyes were trained on a small black and white 12" TV up on a shelf in the corner of the room.

    When he hit it, I lost it. Arms in the air. Feet doing a little Ali shuffle. And shouting "Yes!" like Meg Ryan in "When Harry Met Sally."

    I'd completely forgotten who and where I was: a Dodger man in the suddenly wounded heart of A's country.

    Within a few seconds I realized I was alone in my joy. Within another half beat, as the cleaver ladies started bringing their blades down hard on the chop block, and as guys in front of and behind me in line started to crowd me, I realized I was alone, period. Very alone.

    One of the cleaver ladies pointed at the door with her knife, silently, like the ghost of Christmas future pointing at Scrooge's headstone. I looked at her, I looked at the guys in front of and behind me, who were very close now, I looked at the replays rolling on the TV, and I looked, one last time, at the ribs I wasn't going to get that night.

    And here's how sweet that Gibson homer is to me: I didn't even miss the meat as I walked out the door and I don't miss it now.
    --Eric Neel

    5Pete Rose banned from baseball
    Two Pete Rose stories. When I was a kid, I collected baseball cards. I was rather fanatical about it, although that's another tale. Anyway, my younger sister, I guess looking up to her big brother, also would buy some cards (or Mom made sure I gave her some of my packs). I wasn't really a Pete Rose fan, but my sister was -- even though I'm sure she had never seen Pete Rose play a baseball game in her life. But she knew who Pete Rose was. Everybody who knew Pete Rose was. He was baseball to a lot of people -- or certainly represented an ideal of baseball that we wanted to exist, the underachiever scrapping his way all the way to the all-time hits record, hustling all the while.

    Second story. I covered the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies one year, when Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount were inducted. The streets of Cooperstown were packed with fans and long lines of autograph seekers -- there are always Hall of Famers and other baseball greats in town signing autographs during induction weekend.

    The longest lines were for Pete, who had set up his own tent with his own hefty prices, depending on if you had a bat or ball or photo. I stood off to the side for a few minutes, seeing how the process worked. Fans would bring their item, tell Pete they loved that headfirst slide into third base, and Pete would sign.

    He would rarely look up. Sign, next, sign, next. His people moved the line quickly. One guy in his 20s came up, got something signed, told Pete how great he was, and then handed a camera to his girlfriend. He asked Pete to take a picture with him. Pete stood up and the girlfriend snapped the shot. The fan left, his day made.

    Pete turned to his guy and told him quietly, "Don't let that f------ happen again."

    Some people may not want to believe the truth.

    But my sister no longer has her Pete Rose baseball cards.
    --David Schoenfield

    6The legacy of Dale Earnhardt
    When I lived in Tennessee, from 1996 to 2000, Dale Earnhardt was everywhere -- especially his No. 3.

    Bumper stickers, license plates, cars, pickup trucks, T-shirts, baseball caps, restaurant walls, flags on porches -- anywhere you could fit an Earnhardt portrait or his number.

    The day he won the 1998 Daytona 500, I ran into a guy who had a button-down shirt with Dale Earnhardt embroidery on the front. Among Earnhardt fans, this guy was one of the really big ones, and people were congratulating him as though he had won the race himself.

    And all of this was before Dale died.

    When Earnhardt was killed at the 2001 Daytona 500, the radio airwaves -- and Napster -- were full of Earnhardt tribute songs. There were weepers, and country songs, and rock songs -- some were written for Earnhardt, and others were sad songs or celebratory songs spliced together with audio from his Daytona triumph, or from his death.

    And now his son and the other drivers he influenced and beat and lost to carry on the tradition he picked up from his dad.

    All of which goes at least part of the way to explaining one thing that remains a mystery to many Americans -- how NASCAR became a major sport. Dale made it that way on the track, and he made it that way by dying on the track.
    --Royce Webb

    7Magic Johnson announces he's HIV-positive
    I was in Iowa City, Iowa, when I heard the news. My first year, my first
    weeks, of grad school. I remember sitting on my sorry little futon couch in
    the corner of my dingy studio apartment, just staring at the TV. Not
    believing. Not wanting to believe. I remember calling friends back in
    California and talking about him for hours, as if maybe, together, by
    recalling his powers as a player, we could somehow will this sad news away.

    The moment I thought of then wasn't one in the past, though, and it wasn't
    the one unfolding in the present, with Magic in a suit and tie in front of a
    microphone. The moment I thought of then was in the future. It was the
    moment I'd hear he had died. It seemed impossible then to imagine that he'd
    still be here 13 years later. It seemed then that we'd lose him within such a short
    time, and that we'd be talking memorial, not memory. But he's worked and
    willed that moment off into the future, the far-off future it seems. A feat
    more impressive than anything he did on the court, to be sure.

    Now I think, when the moment does come, I'll be on the phone with friends,
    recalling his powers as a person, as if in talking about them, together, we
    might somehow keep him alive.
    --Eric Neel

    8Ali lights the Olympic cauldron
    Sometimes you shouldn't watch the replay.

    I have vivid memories of Ali going up the steps in Atlanta, holding
    the torch with trembling hands, and then setting the huge stadium
    cauldron alight.

    I'm not much for ceremony, and usually would object to a such a moment
    being among sports' top 10 of the past quarter-century. But this one
    qualifies: to me it was utterly profound; Ali was a perfect time,
    perfect place, stroke-of-genius selection for the honor. Whoever said
    "Ali" during the brainstorming session deserves a medal of some sort.

    He didn't do much, and he was silent, but that was the point. Ali,
    once so verbose, spoke by standing there, showing the world his own
    vulnerability to age and disease. That said more about Ali's
    courage than any of his fights, maybe even more than his refusal to register for the military draft.

    When I replay the moment in my mind, it is nearly silent. There are no
    words. In my memory, there is only soft, generic crowd noise.

    But I made the mistake of watching the torch ceremony again before
    writing this. I found the clip on the NBC Olympics Web site. And then
    I heard -- an announcer was talking over the image. About Ali, the
    symbolism. He used the word "respect."

    I think I know why it's a silent movie in my mind. I must have edited
    out the commentator subconsciously, because his words -- trying to
    narrate how everyone felt, what it meant -- detracted so much from what
    was actually happening.

    Some announcers haven't learned when to be quiet. But Ali, as he
    demonstrated that night in 1996, knew exactly how to be quiet.
    --Jeff Merron

    9Doug Flutie's Hail Mary beats Miami
    Not to discount the rest of Doug Flutie's
    Heisman-winning season, but has a single play ever
    done more than his "Hail Mary?" It won him the Trophy, after all.

    Let's back up: It basically established the term "Hail
    Mary" into the sports fans' lexicon; if you speak the
    phrase, you will think of one play -- Flutie's.

    It helped that he was this shrimpy-sized underdog with
    the unlikely cannon for an arm. It helped even more
    that he beat the defending champ Miami. It helped most of all that it
    was on national TV.

    It changed the way people thought about the Heisman.
    Since Flutie's Hail Mary, it hasn't been enough to
    simply have an outstanding season; there must be a
    "signature" play, ideally in a big-deal game late in
    the season -- commentators look for it, and note when
    it happens.

    He even inspired a Saturday Night Live sketch, for
    goodness' sake. And not one of the lame ones of that era, either. It was otherwise unremarkable
    Rich Hall as Flutie and Eddie Murphy as Bishop Desmond
    Tutu, sitting together on a talk show. Tutu breaks the
    Heisman Trophy and tries, futilely, to put it back
    together. Hilarious.

    The throw made Flutie marketable enough to jump to the
    USFL -- Donald Trump's New Jersey Generals -- which
    screwed up his NFL development.

    He got a shot with the Bears, and became a poster boy
    for Mike Ditka's rage.

    He put himself in Canadian exile, where he became
    arguably the greatest quarterback in CFL history
    (which is kind of like being the best baseball player
    in France's history).

    He returned to the NFL, and has proven himself to be
    one of the most resilient, clutch and underrated
    quarterbacks of his era, even now, over 40.

    He could win a Super Bowl. He could win a league MVP
    award. He could go to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
    But he'll never be more well-known than for that Hail
    --Dan Shanoff

    10O.J. Simpson charged with two counts of murder
    You may not remember the exact date -- it was June 17, 1994. But you remember where you were when you watched O.J. driving around the eerily empty freeways of Orange County in that white Bronco.

    That afternoon, I'd gone to a matinee showing of "Speed" with my sister. You know, that ridiculous movie with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock about the bus that's been hijacked to blow up if it slows down, so it keeps driving around the freeways of Orange County.

    The premise was absurd, of course. But, hey, that's the movies. And then we came home from the movie and turned on the TV to watch the NBA Finals game. And there was O.J. and Al Cowlings and the white Bronco and all the police cruisers and the helicopters filming the entire crazy thing.

    The Bronco was going slow, but it sure was a sight more absurd than a speeding bus.
    --David Schoenfield