Over the years sports has given me many memorable moments - way too many to list in a column. I have narrowed the list to five.
Five tiny moments that helped to lead to my love of sports.
A couple of these are not even in my top five. There really is no rhyme or reason as to why these moments. This is the list I kept coming back to after eliminating others. You may agree or disagree and I am sure most of you have your own list with better moments than those I have selected.
But this is my column. Ergo, my list.
5. The Play
The Play is a reference to a last second lateral-filled kickoff return resulting in a touchdown in one of the most controversial and memorable moments in the history of sports in America.
On Nov. 20, 1982, the University of California battled John Elway and Stanford University in a huge rival game on the gridiron. Stanford led 20-19 with 4-seconds remaining in the game.
The Golden Bears used five lateral passes on the ensuing kickoff return to score the winning touchdown for a disputed 25–20 victory. While the play was unfolding, members of Stanford’s band had come onto the field believing the game was over.
The Play began when Harmon squibbed the kick and Cal’s Kevin Moen received the ball inside their 45 near the left hash mark. The first lateral was from Moen to his left to Richard Rodgers.
Surrounded by Stanford, Rodgers gained one yard before looking behind him for Dwight Garner, who caught the ball back at the 45.
Garner ran straight ahead for five yards, but was soon swallowed up by five Stanford players. As he was being tackled he tossed the ball back to Rodgers.
This was when several members of Stanford’s band took to the field celebrating thinking Garner had been brought down and the game was over.
Rodgers evaded a tackle and took the ball toward the middle of the field, where other Cal players waited for the next pitch. Close to Stanford’s 45, Rodgers pitched the ball to Mariet Ford, who caught it in stride.
Meanwhile, 144 band had run out past the south end zone—the one the Cal players were trying to get to—and had advanced as far as twenty yards downfield.
Ford sprinted upfield avoiding a tackle moving to the right of the right hash mark, and into the band, which was scattered all over the south end of the field. Around the Stanford 27-yard line, three Stanford players smothered Ford, but while falling forward he threw a blind lateral over his right shoulder.
Moen pulled in the football at about the 25 and bolted to the zone. Moen ran through the scattering Stanford Band members for the touchdown running into unaware trombone player Gary Tyrrell.
Chaos at the end of The Play made the officials’ task very challenging. In question was the fifth lateral which was hard to see because of Stanford’s band. Referee Charles Moffett said of the moment:
“ I called all the officials together and there were some pale faces. The penalty flags were against Stanford for coming onto the field. I say, ‘did anybody blow a whistle?’ They say ‘no’. I say, ‘were all the laterals legal’? ‘Yes’. Then the line judge, Gordon Riese, says to me, ‘Charlie, the guy scored on that.’ And I said, ‘What?’ I had no idea the guy had scored. Actually when I heard that I was kind of relieved. I thought we really would have had a problem if they hadn’t scored, because, by the rules, we could have awarded a touchdown [to Cal] for [Stanford] players coming onto the field. I didn’t want to have to make that call.”
“I wasn’t nervous at all when I stepped out to make the call; maybe I was too dumb. Gee, it seems like it was yesterday. Anyway, when I stepped out of the crowd, there was dead silence in the place. Then when I raised my arms, I thought I had started World War III. It was like an atomic bomb had gone off.”
The final score was Cal 25, Stanford 20.
4. 1968 Olympics in Mexico City
A milestone in America’s civil rights movement and perhaps one of the most famous photographs in Olympic history are of two black American sprinters standing on the medal podium with heads bowed and fists raised at the Mexico City Games in 1968.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos were approached by friend and sociologist Harry Edwards, who asked them and other African-American athletes to join together and boycott the games in hopes the move would bring attention to America’s civil rights movement and injustices black America was facing.
The boycott wasn’t realized but Smith and Carlos were influenced by Edwards’ passion, decided on a non-violent way of protest.
Smith won the gold medal and Carlos the bronze. As the American flag rose and the Star-Spangled Banner played, the two closed their eyes, bowed their heads, and raised black glove-covered fists in the air.
Smith later said that he raised his right, black-glove-covered fist in the air to represent black power in America while Carlos’ left, black-covered fist represented unity in black America. A black scarf worn by Smith stood for black pride and their black socks with no shoes represented black poverty in a racist America.
Both were suspended from their national team and banned from the Olympic Village for these actions. Smith and Carlos were honored in 1998 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of their protest.
3. Secretariat not only wins the Triple Crown, but dominates each of the three legs.
In 1973, Secretariat or Big Red, became the first U.S. Triple Crown champion in 25 years, setting new race records in two of the three events in the Series—the Kentucky Derby (1:592⁄5), and the Belmont Stakes (2:24)—records that still stand to this day.
Secretariat was the favorite among bettors at Churchill Downs. He broke last in the race, but gradually moved up on the field in the backstretch. Secretariat overtook rival Sham at the top of the stretch and pulled away to win the Derby by 21⁄2 lengths.
In the Preakness Stakes, Secretariat once again broke last, but made a huge, move on the first turn to take first place. With 51⁄2 furlongs to go and the lead, the horse was never challenged, and won by 2½ lengths, again with Sham finishing second.
Four horses, including Sham, competed against Secretariat on June 9, 1973 in the Belmont Stakes. Before a crowd of 67,605, Secretariat and Sham set a fast early pace, opening ten lengths on the rest of the field. Sham began to tire, ultimately finishing last. Secretariat astonished everyone by continuing the fast pace and opening up a larger and larger margin on the field. Viewers heard the wonder in CBS Television announcer Chic Anderson’s voice as he described the horse’s pace: “Secretariat is widening now! He is moving like a tremendous machine!”
Secretariat won by 31 lengths; breaking the margin-of-victory record set by Triple Crown winner Count Fleet in 1943, which won by 25 lengths. And he ran the fastest 1½ miles on dirt in history, 2:24 flat, which broke the stakes’ record by more than two seconds.
Secretariat became the ninth Triple Crown winner in history, and the first in 25 years.
2. Jackie Robinson Signs a Major League Contract
When Jackie Robinson signed to play major league baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers, it ended approximately eighty years of baseball segregation. He was the first African-American major league baseball player of the modern era in 1947.
At this time in the country, many white people believed that blacks and whites should be segregated or kept apart in many aspects of life and this included sports.
Jackie Roosevelt Robinson broke the color barrier and paved the way for modern sports in America. Behind the efforts of Brooklyn president Branch Rickey, and Robinson’s courage, the newest Dodger faced down all odds to become Rookie of the Year and lead his team to World Series opening doors for generations of greats to follow.
1. The Miracle on Ice
What has been called a “rag-tag assembly of mostly teenaged amateurs” came together in 1980 uniting an entire country while igniting pride behind “Old Glory.”
During the 1980 Olympics, a group of relatively unknowns came together on ice for possibly the greatest upset in the history of sports.
The U.S. Hockey Team did the impossible and defeated the unbeatable Soviet Union. The Americans had only been together a short while when they took on the most polished, professional and unbeatable team in the history of international hockey.
The same two teams had played only a week earlier in an exhibition match and the Soviet Union easily defeated USA 10-3, setting the stage for the expected American embarrassment that never came.
In the final seconds of the game, the crowd began to a count down. Sportscaster Al Michaels, was calling the game on ABC along with former Montreal Canadians goalie Ken Dryden, picked up on the countdown in his broadcast, and delivered his famous call “…Eleven seconds, you’ve got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk…five seconds left in the game…Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” US won the game 4-3. This victory was voted the greatest sports moment of the twentieth century by Sports Illustrated.
By the way, the USA went on to defeat Finland for the gold medal.