I once said to Brian “Want me to try to write something when [my son] takes his nap?”
Jon responded “Yes!”
So then it became a question of what to write about. I have something in mind for a future post about my experience at road games, but my fearless leader said “We’re still in list season. And people love lists.”
So here we go: The Top Five Sporting Events I’ve Seen Live
Now...for the sake of “legitimacy,” I won’t include any professional wrestling. So I won’t talk about the Royal Rumble in St Louis, or the Elimination Chamber where the pyro was either mistimed or misplaced and set the Undertaker ablaze.
So here I have for you, in no particular order, the top five sporting events I’ve seen live...that don’t include the Huskers. I’ll save that for next week.
St. Louis Cardinals vs San Francisco Giants, May 24, 1998
So remember that summer that got people back into baseball? The Summer of ‘98. The Home Run Chase. Mark McGwire v Sammy Sosa. In May, we didn’t know exactly where the Summer would take us. I went to a lot of games in the first half of the season. I would turn 16 the weekend of the All Star Break, and though I was in Colorado at the time, I couldn’t score a ticket to the Home Run Derby. But more than that, I learned in the Spring that my best friend was moving from our small town to Spokane, WA. Such is the life of an Air Force kid. So his dad made a point to take us to a lot of ballgames.
None stick out in my mind as much as this Sunday afternoon game that featured two of the most prolific hitters in the last 20 years. If cell phones were commonplace in 1998, my mom would have been blowing up my phone asking when I’d be home. The reason? This game went to 17 innings and took five hours and 45 minutes. And to top it all off, Cards fans couldn’t even go home happy, as a throwing error scored two Giants in the top of the 17th. But the game saw home runs from McGwire and Barry Bonds. It was McGwire’s league-leading 24th home run. We walked to the ticket booth before the game and got nosebleed seats for $8 apiece and as the game went on and people left, we kept moving down section by section. More importantly, as a 15-year-old spending his last summer with his best friend, it was a terrific memory that I keep with me to this day.
St. Louis Blues v Nashville Predators, October 30, 2002
To date, I’ve only been to two NHL games. This was the first. I’d only marginally followed hockey at the time, but my folks were given two tickets, and told me to go and see if my grandpa wanted to go with me. So we went. It was a 7-0 win for the Blues, and I remember there being physical altercations in each period. Upon research, it appears that there was only one instance in the third period that resulted in five-minute majors for fighting.
It was a pretty sweet entry into hockey. I only attended one more Blues game, in the Spring of 2003. As an intern on a St Louis morning radio show, I was offered a pair of tickets since the show’s co-host also had tickets to the Cardinals’ season opener that night. But Blues games are definitely on my to-do-again-soon list.
Chadron State Eagles v Damn Near Anyone, 2005-06
This was a period of time when I was working in Chadron and Danny Woodhead was doing amazing things for the Eagles. It was common for football fans to go to Elliott Field for an early game then watch the Huskers that afternoon. I exploited my media access to watch the games from the sidelines, taking pictures for KCSR’s website (www.chadrad.com - I’ll give them a shout out - they were kind enough to give me my first job). It was always cool to see kids I covered in high school go on to play for Chadron State. But then a highly touted kid from North Platte took the field and did terrific things. A two-time Harlon Hill Trophy winner. A record-setter. He put asses in seats and - with all respect to Don Beebe - put Chadron, Nebraska on the map.
You’ve all heard the stories. He had a chance to break a big run every time he touched the ball. It’s what made him so fun to watch. His pro career has taken him to the New York Jets, New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers, and as of this past off-season, the Baltimore Ravens. And while he tore his ACL in Week 16 last season, I hope he’s healthy and ready to go. And I wouldn’t complain if he sat out the two games his Ravens will play against my Steelers.
Speaking of the Steelers:
Pittsburgh Steelers at St Louis Rams, December 20, 2007
I had been to a few Rams games prior to moving to Nebraska, but this was the first chance I had to watch my team in person. It started with a great tailgate across the river at the parking lot of the Casino Queen. And it was a Thursday. So I took a day off work to drink beer, eat food, and watch football. For this game, I originally had two tickets for the upper deck. But I sold them and bought four better tickets, so I could take my whole family (mom, dad, sister).
This was actually a pretty competitive game, but likely an end product of Steelers RB Willie Parker breaking his leg in his first carry of the night. A tough pill to swallow for any team, but at that point, Parker was the league’s leading rusher. With five minutes left, Pittsburgh was up 31-24. But a Jeff Reed FG gave the Steelers a 10-point lead and gave the ball back to St. Louis. But leave it to Marc Bulger and that Rams offense to do terrible things. Bulger throws an interception to CB Ike Taylor and he housed it, taking it back 51 yards. Nail. Coffin. You get it.
Let’s go back to New Busch Stadium one more time for our fifth and final live sporting event.
St. Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates, April 18, 2017
This was a day of mixed emotions. I’ll get to that in a minute. The last time I had been in Busch Stadium was 2011 when Albert Pujols reached the 2,000-hit milestone. My buddy had texted me early on the morning of the 18th and asked if I wanted to go to the game that night - as well as my wife and our son. I was definitely game.
Later in the day, I got a call that my grandpa had passed away (the same one I went to the Blues game with). He was 96 years old, so it was partially expected. I decided to go to the game and not make my buddy try to find two more people for those tickets. But I also felt like I needed the distraction of going out to the ballgame. So my wife and I took our then-16 month old son to Busch Stadium. And he was an absolute trooper. We stayed for the whole game, a 2-1 Cardinals win.
While he got tired as the game went on, he never gave in, and was very well-behaved. No fussing, no crying. Just some clapping and smiles. It was absolutely what I needed at that time, passing on a little baseball to the next generation. Even when the fireworks went off after the Cardinals won, he just looked on in awe. No fear from the loud booming sounds.
In conclusion...I think what you’ll find from the list more than anything isn’t the games themselves, per se, but the people with whom I was fortunate enough to take in the games. Even a loss isn’t really a loss when you’re able to spend time with family and friends.