<
>

The ESPN Take

8/13/2004

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

32Chastain's penalty kicks wins 1999 World Cup
I admit it: I was a fair-weather fan, tuned in to the broadcast
because … well, because everyone else was watching. That's the way to
build a following, I guess, by making yourself, your team, your event
so big that anyone who misses it is out of the water-cooler loop for
an entire week.

Hollywood couldn't have scripted it better (well, okay, maybe Mia Hamm
should have scored the final, winning, penalty kick). The Rose Bowl
packed with more fans than had ever seen a women's sports event,
big-time network coverage, and a scoreless tie through overtime.
That's just gold, no pun intended.

When Brandi whipped off her shirt in celebration, there was some
ridiculous hand-wringing, by the same sort of crowd that felt it
necessary to cover the breast of a statue in the Hall of Justice. And
there was plenty of talk about how the women's team had used their
sexuality (Brandi posed nude, with strategic covering; a variety of
team members showed off a bit on Letterman, etc.) to grab some
attention.

It's now five years, the women's pro league has come and gone, the
great national team of the 1990s has edged, almost simultaneously it
seems, toward retirement. And what's left? A pure, wonderful moment of
great sports drama, a winning kick at the perfect time. A perfect
moment.
--Jeff Merron

33Sammy Sosa gets caught using a corked bat
When Sammy popped his cork the first thing I thought was, well, if he is cheating, a little cork in the bat is not getting the job done now, and never will. And it reminded me of the Graig Nettles/super ball incident, because Nettles didn't need what little help he possibly could have gotten from plugging his bat that way.

The sad thing was, and still is, that I didn't believe Sosa. I didn't believe that it was a mistake, that he casually picked up the wrong bat by accident. Someone who cares a lot about hitting -- or any specialized task, for that matter -- knows the tools of the trade, inside out. The feel is enough.

You know what I'm talking about, if you use a computer keyboard regularly. If you closed your eyes and someone slipped a different keyboard under your hands, you'd know right away. Just like a carpenter would know, by feel, if someone slipped a foreign hammer into his toolbox. Just like you know when you're driving a different stick.

The racism talk was pure hogwash. If McGwire had popped a corker he would have received the same scrutiny. (Just as he did with Andro.) The X-rayed bats were a joke; everyone knew that if Sammy had other tainted bats, they would have been swept away, tout suite.

An admission by Sosa that he corked, just that once, to try to break a slump, and it was a bad mistake, he'll take his penalty -- would that have flown? I don't know, but I doubt it. In the end, I thought it was sad, but that he had no choice but to deny doing it on purpose.
--Jeff Merron

34Len Bias dies of cocaine overdose
Some friends and I were playing two-on-two in my backyard the morning Len
Bias died.

Our buddy Wayne came through the house, onto the back porch and said,
"Len Bias died," just like that. It was weird.

We didn't believe him at all -- there was a lot of "shut up," "that's not funny,"
and "f---." It had nothing to do with how his death signaled a crisis in college
sports or American culture or anything; it just sucked.

I haven't gotten a handle on the news since that morning -- it kind of lingers
back there, all strange shapes and rough edges.

But I remember bits of watching Bias play -- three months before he died, I
had seen him play two games in three days in the NCAA West Regional at the
Long Beach Arena.

His shoulders were huge. When he bent over at the waist, it looked like he
had three bald heads.

He walked and dribbled with a slight sway, an understated version of what
Magic used to do.

He stood near the players' seats, talking to an assistant coach or a booster
before the game, and palmed a ball without thinking about it, for maybe five
minutes.

During warmups, he took baseline jump shots from both sides of the basket,
landing just a bit to the right of where he took off each time. He made 14 in a
row at one point and nine at another stretch. Then he lifted a short shot over
the front rim from maybe three feet, stepped back two steps and took
another, stepped back for another, and so on. Before long, he was practically
at midcourt, draining set shots as if they were free throws.

I can't seem to remember much of the first game against Pepperdine. Bias
might have jumped center, and he might have tipped the ball to a teammate,
slipped behind the defense, gotten a pass back, and laid it in for the first two
points of the game. But I might be making that up.

This part, I swear, is true: In the second game, against UNLV, he came around
a pick to catch the ball at the top of the key. Two guys collapsed on him, and
then he disappeared. What I'm saying is, he dematerialized -- millions of
sub-atomic particles scattered throughout the arena, thin air, wisps of smoke
where his arms and legs used to be. The Vegas players ran into each other. It
looked like that scene in "It's A Wonderful Life" when Burt the cop and Ernie
the cab driver try to grab George Bailey, and end up in a bear hug on the
stoop in the snow. Anyway, it was all quiet for a drawn-out instant, until Bias
reappeared, fully-formed, above the rim, and dunked with two hands. My
friend Aaron was sitting next to me, giggling. He saw it all.

There were several jumpers with defenders hanging on his back, and a
handful of muscle put-backs -- one up-and-under and high off the glass, I
think -- but the only other specific play I remember was a breakaway dunk.
Bias stole a perimeter pass and headed the other way. A UNLV guard --
Freddie Banks? Maybe Mark Wade? -- gave chase, but only for a few steps. It
was a gimme, so Bias slowed just enough to get his dribble right, planted his
feet and jumped backward for a reverse.

I watched the play through my camera lens. He scissor-kicked his legs, the
right one extended and the left one bent behind him, and tucked the ball over
the rim and behind his head. The ball came through the net and bounced off
his bent back leg and into a cheerleader's lap. He hung up there half a
second, looking back at the other end of the floor. I swear he was smiling. It
was a stiff, sheepish-looking thing -- it might even have been a grimace --
but I think it was a smile.

When I developed the film, even after I blew up the shot, it was hard to tell for
sure.
--Eric Neel

36Tiger Woods hugs dad after record-setting Masters
Golf is not supposed to be this easy. You don't destroy a course like Augusta like this. You don't destroy the best golfers in the world like this.

But Tiger Woods did. It reminded me of the footage of Secretariat coming down the stretch at the Belmont Stakes to win the Triple Crown. How can he be so much better than the competition? Twelve shots better than the second-place finisher? Take that, Augusta.

And when he walked off the 18th green and hugged his father, tears in his eyes, you realized Tiger Woods was not just a golfing machine. Even he could be overwhelmed by this moment.

And perhaps that explains his current "struggles." Perhaps he isn't just a robot programmed to win every tournament. Maybe, just maybe, perfection isn't as easy as he made it appear in April of 1997.
--David Schoenfield

37Nolan Ryan tosses record 7th no-hitter
Nolan Ryan isn't the greatest pitcher of all time. He's the not the greatest pitcher of the past 25 years. He isn't even close, matter of fact (he never won a Cy Young Award, for example).

What Nolan Ryan is, however, is the most unique and fascinating pitcher most of us have ever seen. His extraordinary strikeout totals are mind-boggling (so are his extraordinary walk totals earlier in his career). His dominance into his mid-40s is astounding, when he led the AL in K's at age 43 in 1990 -- the 11th time in his career he led his league.

How much of a physical freak was Ryan? In one 1974 game, he pitched 13 innings and struck out 19 hitters ... and walked 10. He must have thrown close to 250 pitches that game.

When he tossed his seventh no-hitter at the age of 44, his legend and cult status grew even bigger. So, he's overrated by most baseball fans? So, he did things that nobody else did, things that didn't necessarily mean he was the best pitcher?

That's OK. Because when Nolan Ryan pitched, we watched. I remember seeing the end of his no-hitter in college with a bunch of guys huddled next to a TV in the front lobby of one of the dorms. A man twice our age, striking out 16 batters, just blowing away the helpless Blue Jays. We sure weren't thinking he was overrated.
--David Schoenfield

39Aaron Boone's HR wins 2003 ALCS
I was at a hockey game the night of Game 7. I'm never, ever, at a hockey
game, but that's where I was. I was in the rafters of the HP Pavilion in San
Jose, watching an early-season Sharks game from the press level.

The room was full of local reporters and me. It didn't take long before we'd
all forgotten the hockey game. Our eyes were trained on the TV sets,
watching what we figured, what most of us hoped, would be the Red Sox
getting their tickets to the Series.

Then Boone stepped in against Wakefield. And we'd already seen Grady blow
the Pedro call, and we all remembered Bucky Dent. And we all had a sense of
dread.

Then he hit it, and there was an eerie calm about us. It wasn't the sort of
cool you normally get with reporters, where nothing impresses them. It was
the sort of quiet you get when the world slaps you down, again. And you've
come to expect it; you know it's inevitable. And you take your medicine and
go back to the hockey game.
--Eric Neel

40Borg beats McEnroe in epic Wimbledon final
I remember "Breakfast at Wimbledon" being something special in 1980,
even before we knew how great a match it would be. Borg going for five
straight, McEnroe always just electrifying -- he never looked
particularly strong or athletic, but somehow, almost magically, he
was.

Breakfast became lunch as they almost literally slugged it out, close
games slowly turning into close sets and then, as the hours passed, we
all wondered if it would ever end, and that fourth-set epic
tiebreaker, man, I remember being on the edge of sofa, off the couch, on the
floor, almost playing along. It took physical stamina just to
watch Borg and McEnroe duel on the brown grass.

It took emotional stamina, too: I was rooting for Borg, the stoic
Swede, but he had five match points during the 18-16 fourth-set
tiebreaker, and at those times, I was kind of on McEnroe's side. Or,
more accurately, I was on my side, not wanting the match to
end.

It almost didn't. And in my brittle memory bank, it lives on
rock-solid, at No. 1 on my own reel of best sporting events ever.
--Jeff Merron