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The ESPN Take

8/29/2004

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

11O.J. Simpson found not guilty
I didn't expect, and still find it astounding, that you could gather 12 people in a room and have them all agree that Simpson was "not guilty." That was it, a spectacular end to a circus. How did O.J. escape?

That is, how did the jurors get from point A (extraordinary evidence pointing to Simpson) to point B ("not guilty")?

Ten years later, whenever the subject of the O.J. trial and the verdict come up, I fume. Simpson plays golf, and, I believe, finds the "real" murderer every day when he looks in the mirror.

What really smokes my ears are all the theoretically smart people who played a role in helping the murderer walk free. Judge Ito, barely competent. The L.A. police and prosecutors -- well, you could have handed them a videotape of Simpson killing Nicole and Ron and somehow they would have figured out a way to flub it. And the defense team. Wow. Talk about blood money. Alan Dershowitz should not be allowed to use the word "justice" in public, much less in his book titles.
--Jeff Merron

12Pete Rose becomes all-time hits leader
As Pete Rose himself often liked to proclaim, he played in more winning games than any player in history. No doubt about it: he loved to win and he loved to tell you he was a winner (not including gambling losses, apparently).

But Rose's pursuit of Ty Cobb's hits record proved he was one selfish son of a bitch. In 1985, the year he broke the record, Pete was Cincinnati's regular first baseman (and manager, mind you) and had 500 plate appearances. He hit two home runs and had 16 extra-base hits. The Reds finished in second place, 5.5 games behind the Dodgers. What if the Reds had played a first baseman who hit more than two home runs? Would they have won the division?

In 1986, the 45-year-old Rose was still hanging on. He hit .219 with zero home runs in 272 plate appearances. The Reds again finished in second place, 10 games behind the Astros. Maybe things would have been different if Cincinnati had played a real first baseman.

Yes, Pete Rose loved to win. But he loved himself even more. His last seven years in the big leagues, playing a position where power is premium, he hit six home runs. That's not winning a ballplayer in anyone's book.

But he did get his record.
--David Schoenfield

13Ripken's lap around Camden Yards
Full disclosure: Cal Ripken was my favorite player
growing up. He got to the Orioles just as I started to
really understand sports. The Rookie of the Year award
came so easily; so did that MVP in the 1983 World
Series season. But it was 13 years later -- the climax
of the Ironman streak, with that celebratory lap
around Camden Yards -- that I ultimately appreciated
the player and his accomplishment.

The Streak is a controversial thing: Is it enough to
simply show up? Baseball is a game of regression to
the mean; not every game of the Streak was going to be
amazing. He managed to make most of them superior in
one way or another, usually making up for an average
hitting day with some stellar fielding. Of course,
there were slumps and close calls (notably, the best
baseball urban myth of the last 25 years, about the
night the lights went out at Camden).

I think Cal's streak is in the argument for most
"unbreakable" in baseball, if not the most impressive
of the modern era. Let's discount any of the
ridiculous pitching records from early in the century;
the permanently changed logistics of baseball make
them impossible.

But showing up for work every day? It's been the same
since Gehrig did it in the 1920s and 30s. It displayed
ultimate respect for the game -- and ultimate respect
to its fans, many of whom also grab a lunchpail and
show up to work every day. That's why his lap around
Camden Yards following the record-setting moment was
so memorable -- it was as much a tribute of Cal to the
fans as the fans to Cal.

Personally, over more than 19 months, I haven't yet
missed a single day of writing my five-day-a-week
Daily Quickie column for ESPN.com. But I sure enjoy my
weekends. I think about Ripken's streak as some sort
of ideal, even without getting his weekends off.
--Dan Shanoff

14The Catch: Montana to Clark
Certain plays stay with us because they seem impossible. Laettner's shot
against Kentucky, Mike Powell's long jump, Reggie's third straight homer in
'77, and, of course, the immaculate reception.

Even as The Catch was happening, it seemed impossible. The Niners couldn't
beat the Cowboys. That just didn't happen. Montana couldn't find someone
after such a long scramble. He was just out of room. Clark couldn't jump that
high. He never had before. His fingers couldn't hold on and his feet wouldn't
land in bounds. It was impossible. But it happened.

I know it did because I saw it on TV, and because I saw photos in Sports
Illustrated days after, and because it's on this list.

Still, I can't quite believe it.
--Eric Neel

15North Carolina State dunks Phi Slamma Jamma
I remember the game before, the semifinal. Houston and Louisville ran. And
ran. And ran. There were dunks and layups all over the place. Guy Lewis'
towel was waving in the wind as players sprinted up and down the floor.
Denny Crum's hair was mussed. The game was pure fun. It was the sort of
game that made you love basketball.

The final, by contrast, was slow and ugly, especially in the second half,
especially when N.C. State started fouling just to stay afloat.

The last shot-and-a-half (Whittenburg to Charles) makes us think it was a
great game, but it really wasn't. It was a great story, a great moment.

And it was a great moment. I loved the way the ball hung in the air. I loved
the way Charles looked like he'd cry as soon as he came down to earth. And
maybe most of all, I loved the way the shot, in all its drama, flushed the rest
of the game down the pot.
--Eric Neel

17Laettner's buzzer-beater shocks Kentucky
From his name to his game, Christian Laettner represented everything fans hated (or loved) about Duke basketball. Or so we thought.

When he came to the school of Coach K and Danny Ferry, he was a young, handsome, smiling kid with a perfect WASP name. Ferry had the pedigree, and now he had the protégé -- a tall kid who could shoot, rebound and play the team game, just like him.

The kid was perfect. We will all always remember The Moment, the single perfect shot that beat Kentucky, 104-103, on March 28, 1992. But that shot was only five percent of his perfect 20-20 game (10-for-10 FG, 10-for-10 FT).

Funny thing is, Laettner wasn't who we thought he was. He wasn't the snotty rich kid -- OK, he was snotty. Or was he just nasty? He stomped on a guy in the tournament (without real punishment -- such is the power of the Duke uniform). He scowled. He condescended to his teammates, and bickered with them. He struggled indifferently through that year's championship game with Michigan. In the NBA, he argued with his coaches, generally made a nuisance of himself and was passed around the league like a blunt. Eventually he made an All-Star team and became a solid pro. Twelve years after setting the hoops world on fire, he's still plugging along, filling a roster here and there, hitting a few spot-up shots.

He wasn't what everyone thought he was -- he was, instead, The Great Opaque Hope. Who had one day basketball fans will never forget.
--Royce Webb

18The Play
I saw The Play on TV like everyone else. But when I got to Cal as a student,
four years after it had happened, I saw it all over again. And again. And
again. You could buy a videotape of The Play in the bookstore. You could buy
T-shirts and bumper stickers commemorating The Play in local shops. You
could find people who wanted to talk about The Play in every café and bus
stop in town.

The Play resonated. The Play was in the air. It still is. When
you have a football tradition like the one Cal has. Which is to say, when
you have little or no football tradition at all (apologies to Joe Kapp),
you tend to hang on to things like The Play. And when The Play comes against
your chief rival, the hated Stanford, you tend to etch things like The Play
into your memory, and, if you're serious about it, into your skin ... I'll
show you my The Play tattoo, if you'll show me yours.
--Eric Neel

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