Friday, May 1, 2020

Time Wrap: Shock to the System

By Jonathan Lowe

In this elongated break from live sports, reminiscing is the way to go. Whether it's ESPN's highly-touted look back at the 1990s Chicago Bulls or classic contests being shown on multiple platforms, that "harken back" tendency is quite strong these days. I'm definitely in that camp, and I decided to reflect even further. I started thinking, "What are some of the 'bests' or 'mosts' that occurred in sports since November 10th, 1979 (the day I was born)?"

Over the next few weeks, I wanted to look into some of the moments that stuck out over the vast pile of days, events, and instances that made sports the encompassing companion it is to many of us fans. I also wanted to try and get these up on Fridays to roll into the weekend with something you and your sports-loving crew could discuss (being socially distant, of course).

To start things off, I wondered about the most stunning/shocking moments from in and around the sports world since November 10th, 1979. Now, I'm not reinventing the wheel. Most of these pointed-out items have been documented many time over. But they did stick out as items that turned attentions en masse to that particular situation.

October 17th, 1989: Earthquake Halts the World Series

It was a special Series with a big throwback element. For the first time since 1956 (just before West Coast relocation), two teams for the same general metropolitan area were meeting in the Fall Classic. The Oakland A's were in the middle of a successful run as titans of the AL. The San Francisco Giants celebrated their first Series appearance since 1962. Players were in their warmups and the cameras were rolling live in preparation for Game 3 of the Series.

Then, in an instant, one of the worst earthquakes to hit California's Bay Area put everything at a stand-still. As Al Michaels infamous words put it after only sound was restored to the ABC broadcast, "I don't know if we're on the air or not, and I'm not sure I care at this particular moment..." The Series would resume on October 27th, with a surrounding metro area continuing to rebuild.

February 11th, 1990: The KO in Tokyo

Mike Tyson was a juggernaut. It wasn't just that no one could beat him. It was that you'd be hard-pressed to find a guy that would last more than a couple rounds with him. Going into his first fight of the decade, "Iron Mike" left everyone in his wake. He brought a 37-0 record (with 33 knockouts) into the ring at the Tokyo Dome to battle James "Buster" Douglas. Only five of Tyson's previous 23 fights slated for 10 rounds or more got past Round 7.

But Douglas proved to have the night of his life, shocking the world by knocking the undisputed champ out in the 10th. Tyson would eventually hold one of the title belts a few years later, but the invincibility that defined his career, and his personal life, seemingly dissolved that night.

March 4th, 1990: Loyola Marymount Loses Its Star

It was profiled as part of the ESPN movie "The Guru of Go". A few years back, the L.A. Times relived the moment through Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra. In a time where UNLV, Duke, Michigan, and half the Big East were battling for national championships, LMU made a name for itself with no small help from Hank Gathers. The forward led the nation in scoring and rebounding just the year before. The Lions were a potential tournament dark-horse when the star collapsed during LMU's conference tourney game against the University of Portland.

Gathers had other scares earlier that season, but still continued on. When he did not against Portland, the country tuned in on this West Coast Conference school for a more somber reason. An irregular heartbeat ended a lot of potential ... and shined a light on this affliction in the world of athletics.

November 7th, 1991: Magic Johnson's Announcement

The rise of the AIDS epidemic coincided with the rise of the modern NBA. Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Magic, and others reaped the fame of basketball's resurgence. Meanwhile, the worldwide pandemic was thought to be a monster, but a confined one that only effected certain factors of the population. It was the moment of Johnson announcing his contraction of HIV — and his subsequent retirement from the NBA — that heads started to turn. Magic wasn't in the prime of his playing career, but he was in the prime years of his life. With HIV being connected to someone so far outside the "parameters" many set inside the virus' circle, attention, good and bad, ratcheted up.

January 6th, 1994: Nancy Kerrigan Injured at U.S. Championships

You didn't expect this where it happened. Is the world of figure skating competitive and tense? Sure. It's competition. Where you have competition, you very well could have drama. And, yes, there are controversies in this subjectively judged exercise. But I don't know of an incident, before or since, that put this graceful sport in such tabloid territory.

When Kerrigan got hit on the knee with a pipe after a practice session, the soap opera had its start. When word came down that the assailant was an associate of rival Tonya Harding, the plot twist developed in earnest. And the fact that it all played out for weeks leading up to, and after, the Lillehammer Winter Olympics may have helped guide us this world into our current "reality" culture.

July 27th, 1996: Tragedy at the Atlanta Olympics

While this list focuses on moments of my choosing, there's a very slight personal connection with this incident. Earlier in the year, my father thought it'd be cool to go to the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. My parents and I ended up getting tickets to a women's basketball game at the Morehouse College Gymnasium on July 29th. We decided to make a road trip out of it instead of flying in. On the night of the 27th, I was sitting in our hotel room in Nashville watching the televised late-night coverage. That's when the moment happened.

Seeing the Centennial Park bombing made us pause on whether we'd continue our trek to Atlanta. Ultimately, we decided to continue. We made that game on the 29th, then decided to catch a baseball game at the old Fulton County Stadium. After the basketball game, we wanted to see what we could. At the time, Centennial Park was still closed, so we joined thousands of people that walked in the cordoned-off detour. It was surreal to be in the same vicinity as a tragic scene that happened just 36 hours before. The Games continued, but the scar of that deadly event remains on that Olympiad to this day.

July 18th, 1999: Final Round Collapse at the Open

About three years before this moment, the film "Tin Cup" debuted in theaters. If you're a fan of golf, I'm betting you're a fan of the flick. And it you've played the game with any type of regularity, I'm betting your heart always sinks a little when Roy McAvoy refuses to take a drop at the 18th on Sunday.

No one, in Hollywood or beyond, would have thought up the disastrous 18th hole that Jean Van de Velde played at Carnoustie. Losing a 3-stroke lead with one hole to play is head-scratching in itself. Losing it by hitting over a creek, then into the bleachers, then into the creek, then into the greenside bunker, then holing out a six-footer for triple ... that's almost unthinkable. Actually, it's what I would probably do at a local muni after my typical banana slice off the fourth tee. But I don't have the Claret Jug on the line.

April 15th, 2013: Boston Marathon Bombing

It's arguably the biggest long-distance race in the world. It's one of the most well-known tests of endurance. And it does have a couple odd moments in its history (most notably, Rosie Ruiz in 1980). However, this was a moment in time that the Boston Marathon became a sign of fear, resilience, and perseverance in a period of hours.

This was not the first time a terrorist act has occurred at a famed sporting event (the 1972 Munich Olympics come top of mind). But there's only one time I can remember something this heinous happening at an athletic gathering on American soil (see above) ... and that didn't happen while an actual sport was being contested. The aftermath was devastating. In short time, though, the city exhibited a spirit and togetherness that encouraged many outside the New England corridor.

There are a myriad of things that I missed. And a whole lot more that I couldn't get to because of my particular time constraint. Hopefully, you can think of some that I wasn't able to come up with. The goal is to keep this rolling for a few more weeks. I'll try to keep my end of the bargain.

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