Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Bennett Conundrum



Wednesday night, a situation arose that sparked an interesting debate involving myself, my friend who shares my passion for college hoops and had his phone handy, and an extremely talented freshman playing in a conference road game between two top-25 teams. Now, if you’re like most of the country and are waiting until March to care about college hoops, this debate may not interest you. But it’s one that I felt like writing about. (Quite simply, I haven’t written enough over the last month, damn it, and I have this blog that I haven’t used in forever. YOLO.)
The situation was this: following Minnesota’s ass-whooping of Illinois (an extremely impressive road win for a team that just might have a dark-horse shot at stealing the regular season B1G championship from Indiana and Michigan—perhaps a later blog post?), I flipped over to CBS Sports to catch the second half of the game between No. 24 UNLV and No. 25 New Mexico.
UNLV’s stud freshman forward Anthony Bennett was doing things. By this I mean he was making the Lobos look like a middle school team. Straight out of the gate in the second half, he took over the game. He started making everything—3s, mid-range jumpers, well-executed post moves—and led a 15-2 run that had the Runnin’ Rebels threatening to, well, run away, up 45-39.


Then, just like that, Bennett had to leave the game with his fourth foul. Having just flipped to the game at the start of the second half, I had not realized that Bennett was in foul trouble. It was quite an interesting twist to a game that seconds before he was squeezing the life out of. The Lobos returned fire, grabbing back the lead.
The following conversation then occurred between my friend Colin and I:
Me: “You watching UNLV/UNM?”
Colin: “Yessir turned it on after the gopher game.”
Me: “How long do you sit Bennett here?”
Indeed. The dreaded question that every coach must ask himself at one point or another: How long do you sit your star player when he gets in foul trouble early in the second half? As the teams traded baskets and the game stayed close, the debate wore on. Following the under-8 timeout, we got our answer. Bennett had re-entered the game. I feared it was too early. Colin wasn’t so sure.
As it turned out, Bennett was able to avoid picking up his fifth foul and played the final seven-plus minutes. He was far from effective, however, even turning the ball over during a crucial possession down the stretch as the Lobos got a crucial 65-60 win at home in The Pit.
I still think I was right for a variety of reasons. Those reasons are reinforced by a list of questions that I feel any coach should ask himself in this situation. The coach, in this instance, was Dave Rice. Here are the questions:
1. Is the presence of Anthony Bennett crucial to my team winning this basketball game? The answer: Yes, as proven by the devastating skill that he had just put on display over the last few minutes before he picked up his fourth foul. New Mexico simply had no answer for it. I’m not sure anyone does.
2. Can Bennett be effective (on both ends) for a long period of time without fouling? The answer: As proven by his play over the last seven minutes, no. New Mexico’s Alex Kirk punished Bennett in the first half, which is the reason he was in foul trouble. Kirk finished with 23 points and nine rebounds. While you can take Bennett off of Kirk, the Lobos are a heady team that moves the ball well. Bennett was a liability in man-to-man defense. Hiding him in a zone might have worked, but New Mexico torched UNLV earlier in the game when they tried to go zone. Offensively, Bennett likes to get the ball inside and is normally aggressive when he does. It looked like he went away from that for the first few minutes upon re-entering, which limited the Rebels’ effectiveness.
3. How long can we hang in without him? The answer: This one usually answers itself. While you don’t want to allow a team to completely steal the momentum, you do have timeouts that can stop the bleeding. A few quick baskets by the home team would have sent The Pit into a frenzy. In my opinion, that wouldn’t have been the end of the world. Call a timeout and get your star back in the game with your team down five or six and plenty of time to make up the deficit.
Having asked those questions and decided upon the answers, I’m still not sure what the correct course of action is. I do however know what I would have done. Having watched my team stay within one (52-51) heading into the under-8, I would have kept Bennett on the bench. In that timeout, I would have asked my team to value each possession. Give up nothing inside the lane on defense and work the ball and the clock on the other end, and let’s see if we can’t play these next four minutes even or better. If New Mexico had made a run (which they did, with Bennett in) I would have called timeout and put Bennett back in.
I would have went that route for two reasons: One, with a player like Bennett who relies on being able to get the ball on the block as well as outside, you’re handicapping his game making him play without fouling. It’s like tying one arm behind his back. The Lobos recognized that and fed on it like a pack of angry dogs (college basketball mascot puns!). Two, I worry that UNLV has become too reliant on its star. That can be dangerous for a team that hopes to make a run in March. The Rebels are a talented team, but they’re going to have to find other players who can score in big moments. It was a great opportunity to put the ball in the hands of Khem Birch, Anthony Marshall and Katin Reinhardt. I think Rice panicked and went back to his main weapon a little too early. 
Of course, there is another side to this debate, which is the side Colin was on. He thought Bennett should have returned to the game when he did. I asked him to explain why, and here’s what he came up with:
“What makes this argument so difficult is that I can easily see both sides of it.  I completely understand wanting to save your best player for a close ending and having them on the court during the most crucial part of the game, however, what if you aren’t able to get to that point because you leave them out of the game for too long? 
When Bennett came back into the game with just under eight minutes to go, I thought it may have been a tiny bit too early, but, as I told Chris, I’d rather put a guy like that in too early than too late.  Bennett had been on a tear before picking up his fourth foul.  He was the reason that UNLV had been leading and was still easily within striking distance in one of the most hostile arenas in the country.  The Runnin’ Rebels clearly needed to have Bennett in the game for as long as possible. 
Leaving your star player on the bench until your opponent makes a run or gains momentum doesn’t appeal to me at all.  When you’re playing on the road, and especially in The Pit, momentum becomes an even bigger factor.  If New Mexico goes on a run, gains all the momentum, and has the crowd rocking, putting your star player back into the game may be too little too late.  Sure you can call a timeout and attempt to calm the crowd and somewhat reset the momentum.  But why wait to put your star back in the game until your team is down eight and force them to try and fight back when you can have him in the game down only one, and have a chance to take the lead or go on a run of your own? 
Another issue with keeping Bennett, or any other star, out of the game until your opponent makes a run is your star player picking up that last foul right after being put back in the game.  If this happens, then you will have taken your star out, given up momentum, and now your team loses even more confidence.  Even if you put your star in early when your team is down by 1 and he picks up his fifth foul quickly, your team is still in the game and still believes they can win.  If they give up a run, then you bring your star back in to save the day, and he fouls out right away, your team is going to have less belief they can come back because they will be trailing by a larger deficit and not have their leader on the court to help drive a comeback. 
I believe in having your best players on the court for as long as possible.  This does not mean you play a guy with 3 or 4 fouls in the first half, obviously, you still have to use common sense.  But I would much rather have my star player on the court playing with eight minutes left knowing that he could not pick up that last foul and he could play a solid final eight minutes and help my team get a victory, rather than keep him on the bench because there is a possibility that he could foul out early.  If he fouls out, then he’s on the bench anyway and you know you got as much out of him as you could.  You don’t have to ask the question “What if I’d put him in earlier?” when you only play him for the last 4 minutes and your team can’t quite come back from the eight point hole that they’ve been dug into while your star was on the bench.
Is there a perfect scenario?  Of course not.  Whether a coach decides to play his star or have him on the bench to make sure he can play in the final crucial moments of the game, they both have major pros and major cons.  This is the exact reason why I’m glad that I’m the one sitting on my lazy butt watching the games instead of being the guy coaching the team who has to make decision like this.” 

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Best Sporting Event of the Summer That You Probably Missed

I've said it before and I'll say it again. This has been an extremely boring summer for sports. No World Cup, no Olympics, and no juicy NFL or NBA trade/free agency rumors due to lockouts have led to some boring summer weekends for those who don't like to leave their couch. Since the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA Championship in June, the highlights of the summer have been as follows: Rory McIlroy's astounding eight-shot victory at the U.S. Open, Mexico's 4-2 defeat of the U.S. Men's Soccer Team in the Gold Cup Final, Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit, and the U.S. Women's Soccer Team's thrilling run in the FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany.

Did I miss anything? What's that you say? Mexico's Gold Cup win doesn't deserve to be in there? Fair enough, point made. However, there is one summer tournament that took place this month that I think deserves to be in the conversation. Lost amongst the excitement of the Women's World Cup, put out of mind by Americans who would rather casually fall asleep to a baseball game, and shunned from English language broadcasts on American television, Copa America 2011 took place from July 1-24 in Argentina.

Broadcast Stateside only on Univision, which is known by many cable-watchers as "the Spanish channel", Copa America provided thrilling goals, gut-wrenching shootouts, outlandish commentating (GOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLL!!!), and crazy upsets. My DVR could barely keep up, and my guess is you probably missed the whole thing altogether. Not to worry, I'm about to fill you in on all of the action that took place. Buckle your seat belts, click on as many YouTube and Wikipedia links as you like, and here we go!

What is Copa America?
Copa America is a soccer tournament held every four years in South America. Twelve teams compete for the right to represent South American soccer's governing body CONMEBOL in the Confederations Cup, which is held the year before every World Cup as a tune-up for the host nation. While South America only has ten competing nations, Copa America is a 12-team tournament (three groups of four teams). This means that CONMEBOL must invite two nations to play alongside the South American teams. I know, it confuses the hell out of me too.

The three groups for these year's tournament were: Group A- Colombia, Argentina (hosts), Costa Rica (invitee), and Bolivia; Group B- Brazil (defending champions), Venezuela, Paraguay, and Ecuador; Group C- Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Mexico (invitee).  Due to a proposal made regarding national teams playing in international competitions outside their own confederations, Mexico had to send their Olympic Under-23 squad to the tournament. Japan was originally invited, then pulled out due to conflicts with their domestic league, opening up a space for Costa Rica. (Why Costa Rica got to send their senior squad I don't understand. This would be like if the Big Ten hosted a football tournament and invited Texas and Bowling Green to compete, except Texas has to bring their JV team. Why not just invite Akron instead of Texas? Neither team can expect to compete, especially after the douchebag JV Longhorns get busted at a crazy sorority party. Um... that'll make sense in a little bit. Trust me.)

If this seems boring, I just didn't want anyone thinking this was the same Mexican team who beat the U.S. to be alarmed when they saw Mexico didn't win a single game in Copa America. Also, I thought it was strange to see Japan mentioned as being a possible team in Copa "America". Moving on...

Copa America is widely regarded as the third best international soccer tournament behind the World Cup and the European Championships (UEFA Euros), which will be held next summer. All of South America's stars come out for Copa America, including the best from world powers Argentina (Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, Gonzolo Higuain, Angel Di Maria, etc.) and Brazil (Neymar, Ganso, Julio Ceasar, Pato, etc.), as well as last year's World Cup Cinderella Uruguay (Luis Suarez, Diego Forlan, Edison Cavani, etc.) and a slew of other South American talents including Chile's Alexis Sanchez.

Group Stage
The tournament opened on July 1 with a match between host nation Argentina and South American minnows Bolivia. Bolivia scored a surprising go-ahead goal in the 47th minute that had the home fans holding their breath until Sergio Aguero unleashed a wonderful volley (included in the above link) in the 75th to secure a disappointing opening draw. Argentina's struggles continued in their next match against Colombia, which finished a scoreless draw. That meant that the host nation would need to win their final group match against Costa Rica to avoid watching the rest of the tournament from the sidelines.

After Aguero scored on a rebound to make it 1-0, Lionel Messi put together a magical second half to secure Argentina's spot in the quarterfinals. Messi set up both Aguero and Angel Di Maria in front of goal on the way to a 3-0 victory. Advancing ahead of Argentina from the group were Colombia.

 Group B provided the worst day of the tournament on July 3, when both group games played to scoreless draws. Brazil and Paraguay provided some entertainment a little less than a week later when a fortunate bounce put Paraguay ahead of the Copa's holders 2-1. Brazil trailed late into the second half, only to equalize in dramatic fashion on a late goal from substitute Fred (one of my favorite soccer names; no last name, just Fred). Four days later, the group made up for their scoreless night with twelve goals combined in the group's final two games. Paraguay looked to be cruising to second place in the group, leading Venezuela 3-1, when they let up two late goals (one in stoppage time) that allowed Venezuela to leap-frog them and set up a rematch between Brazil and Paraguay in the quarterfinals. Brazil had a thriller of their own, allowing Ecuador to play them goal-for-goal until Neymar and Pato each added a second goal to take the game 4-2 and the group on goal differential over Venezuela.

Out of Group C came the first controversy of the tournament, and it happened before Argentina and Bolivia kicked off in La Plata. Mexico's U-23 squad got into trouble after it was discovered that they had had Ecuadorean prostitutes "visit" their hotel. Eight players were sent home, leaving the already weak side even weaker. Not that Mexico cared, as they had just won the Gold Cup and were hosting the U-17 World Cup, a tournament they eventually won. Still, come on Mexico. I wonder if Texas football players would go for Ecuadorean prostitutes?

On the field, Mexico became the whipping boys of Copa America 2011, losing all three of their games by a goal apiece. Chile finished top of the group with Uruguay close behind and Peru advancing as the top third place team.

Highlight videos: I found four equally satisfying YouTube videos of highlights from the group stage. Here you will find more of a music video than a highlight video, although it really captures the Spanish flavor of the tournament with the song "Creo en America" by Diego Torres. For those who prefer English, no music, and cool animated banners, your video can be found here. Those who prefer more highlights, Argentina briefly morphing into Barcelona for 32 consecutive passes (fast-forwarded of course), foreign announcers, and what I believe to be Arabic graphics all mixed to a catchy beat that is most definitely as foreign as the guy who put up the video, here you are. And for those of you unorganized souls who prefer a montage of goals in between clips of the band Kasabian playing their song "Empire" over silly countdowns, OfficeHanchoBoxing has you covered. I suggest you watch all four, if for no other reason than to make the time I spent finding them worth it. Then again, I enjoyed every minute of it because YouTube soccer highlights are my drug.

Knockout Rounds
Four upsets, for better or worse, shook up Copa America 2011 in the quarterfinals stage. First, Peru used two goalkeeping errors to beat Colombia in extra time 2-0. Then, Argentina and Uruguay played perhaps the best game of the tournament. Uruguay scored first when captain Diego Perez tapped the ball in at the far post in the fifth minute. Messi's brilliance led to Argentina's equalizer twelve minutes later, when he put a cross directly on Gonzalo Higuain's head seven yards from goal. Due to outstanding goalkeeping and the fact that the game turned into a war of attrition after both teams went down to 10 men, the game remained 1-1 through extra time. Muslera got the save Uruguay needed on Argentina's third penalty kick, taken by Carlos Tevez. The Uruguayans hit on all five of their attempts from the spot and moved on to the semifinals to take on Peru. For Argentina, it was heartbreak for a team and a nation that expected to hoist the trophy in Buenos Aires.

If there was any consolation for the Argentinians, it was that Brazil exited the tournament a day later. The rematch with Paraguay proved to be too much for the defending champions, as the tournament's second penalty shootout in less than 24 hours swung Paraguay's way. Brazil failed to find the back of the net, missing three penalties and having one saved by Justo Villar, who played an outstanding game. For the Brazilians, it was the second time in as many years that they bowed out of a major tournament in the quarterfinals and a disappointing start to the 2014 World Cup cycle.

The last quarterfinal featured Chile, who were riding high after finishing atop Group C behind the play of their star striker Alexis Sanchez, against seemingly happy-to-be-there Venezuela. That wasn't the case after Venezuela took the lead on a set-piece header. Chile equalized in the second half, but Venezuela scored the game-winner off of another free kick, propelling them into the semifinals.

The semifinals were rather uneventful, save for Luis Suarez taking over against Peru and a brawl at the end of the Paraguay-Venezuela match. Suarez showed why Liverpool spent so much money to bring him in last season when he scored two goals within five minutes to send Uruguay to the final. Paraguay made it to the final without scoring a single goal in the knockout rounds, advancing on penalties for the second game in a row, 0-0(5-3). Things turned ugly after the shootout when players from both sides exchanged words and punches on the pitch.

Peru claimed third-place on Saturday, beating Venezuela 4-1. The stage was then set for Sunday's final between Uruguay and Paraguay in Buenos Aires. Paraguay got away with a handball on the goal line in the opening minutes, but it didn't matter after Luis Suarez put Uruguay in front in the 11th minute, his deflected shot hitting the far post before finding the back of the net. Uruguay continued to chip away at the Paraguay defense, Diego Forlan finally blasting a shot past keeper Villar to put Uruguay up 2-0 going into halftime. Forlan ensured that the Copa would be heading to Montevideo when he and Suarez linked up for Copa America 2011's final goal in the 89th minute. Suarez headed-on a cross to Forlan, who slotted it past Villar for his second goal of the evening. With that, Uruguay took their place as the top team in South America and proved to the world that their strong showing at last year's World Cup was not a fluke.

Highlight Videos: An inspiring video of Uruguay highlights leading up to the final, set to Martin Solveig's "Ready 2 Go"; the same for Paraguay, far less inspiring; A Sergio Aguero fan put some Copa America Highlights to Backstreet Boys; aljamaheir4 got up a top 10 from his hut before the Copa America channel on YouTube and I reward him; Really Sky Sports? This is worse than the Backstreet Boys guy

Tournament Awards
Most Valuable Player: Luis Suarez. Hard to argue with this one, as the Liverpool striker scored four of his team's most vital goals on the way to lifting the Copa, including the one that put them ahead in the final. You could also make an argument for teammate Diego Forlan, who set Suarez up for most of those goals and scored two of his own in the final. I thought that Lionel Messi played outstanding in his last two games, but I guess you have to expect that from the best player in the world. Messi relied too much on his talented teammates to finish chances that he created, never really taking the game over on his own the way he does for Barcelona.

Top Goalscorer: Peru's Paolo Guerrero scored a tournament-high five goals, including a second half hat trick in the third-place game against Venezuela. Guerrero plays for Hamburger SV in the German Bundesliga.

Best Goalkeeper: Paraguay's Justo Villar. I have to disagree with this choice. Don't get me wrong, Villar played an amazing tournament, including stone-walling Brazil in the quarterfinals. But I thought Uruguay's keeper Fernando Muslera played an equally impressive game against Argentina, and Muslera outplayed Villar in the final. Both goalkeepers are under-appreciated, 34 year-old Villar playing in Argentina while 25 year-old Muslera just signed to move from Lazio to Galatasaray in Turkey. The Uruguayan is a top ten goalie in my book.

Analysis
To be completely honest, Copa America as a whole was a bit of a let-down. The group stage matches were a little cagey and the quarterfinal upsets, while awesome games, led to less intriguing match-ups in the semis and the final. I was looking forward to a possible Argentina-Brazil final as were most fans around the world. The highlight of the tournament was Uruguay's upset of host nation Argentina in penalties, but I have to say that was the only game that really sucked me in. In fact, I multi-tasked or fast-forwarded through every other game besides the final. Uruguay winning was a great story, but I would have much rather watched Argentina and Brazil for two more games each.

The Women's World Cup stole the spotlight from Copa America from the start, showcased on ESPN and providing wonderful storylines. I was sucked in with the rest of the nation as the U.S. team made their amazing run to the final, but I still programmed my DVR to record the Copa games on Univision. Watching soccer on Univision has a certain charm. The Spanish announcers never disappoint, even if it is annoying to listen to for two hours. Watching a pre-recorded match between Venezuela and Paraguay provides thoughts such as "I wonder if I'm the only one in the United States watching this game right now and eating Buffalo wing-flavored pretzels." I undoubtedly was, and they were delicious.

So, what did you miss by not watching the Copa America? Well, you missed out on this summer's best international men's soccer tournament, a chance to see some of South America's best assembled for the last time before World Cup qualifying, and you missed Uruguay proving the same point that the Dallas Mavericks did when they beat the Heat in The Finals. Uruguay proved that it takes a team to win a championship. Brazil and Argentina were by far the most talented teams in the Copa, but they failed to come together just like at last year's World Cup. Uruguay advanced farther in both of those tournaments because of stout defense, a refuse-to-lose attitude, and an undeniable chemistry that can't be taught. Funny how that adage proves it right time after time and teams still refuse to take notice.

Uruguay's win also secured their spot alongside Brazil, World Cup champs Spain, Asian Cup winners Japan, and Gold Cup victors Mexico in the 2013 Confederations Cup to be held in Brazil. Those five teams will join the champions of Africa, Oceania, and Europe. Next year's UEFA Euro Championships are the next big international soccer tournament to look forward to. The tournament will take place in Poland and Ukraine starting June 8 next summer and will be broadcast in America by ESPN. Europe's best from 16 nations will be on display, competing for the continent's most coveted trophy. Some say that the competition at the Euros might be better than that of even the World Cup, with a more competitive group stage and less chance for upsets. Spain are the defending champions, and you won't want to miss as the rest of Europe try to take them down.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hope (Solo) for Women's Soccer?

Hope Solo (right) and Abby Wambach gave Americans a reason to pay attention to women's soccer on Sunday.
I know. Believe me, I know. It's women's soccer. It combines women's sports and soccer, two things that have never caught on as far as being regularly televised sporting events in America. I have no problem with women's sports. I'm not one of those guys who sits there watching high school girls basketball and thinks "get back in the kitchen." In fact, I embrace women's athletics. If I have a future daughter who wants to play basketball or soccer, that would be awesome! I would be a kick-ass soccer dad (maybe bordering on Will Ferrell from Kicking and Screaming, but I like to think that I could control myself better than that at a U-12 girls game. I'll save that for my future son.) I believe that women have every right to pursue athletics that men have, I really do.

I just don't see women's sports as entertainment. That's what televised sports are. When you watch the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, college football, college basketball, or professional soccer, you are watching to be entertained. Even if you don't necessarily care who wins the game, you can at least appreciate the talent on the field and the sport being played at the highest- or nearly the highest in the case of college sports- level possible. You can't do that with women's sports. If you could, the WNBA wouldn't cost the NBA so much money and we might not be in this lockout situation. For the life of me, I can only think of four legitimate reasons why a man might watch women's sports:

1.) You know someone who is playing or you have a direct tie to one of the teams playing. For example, if you go to Penn State and their women's volleyball team is playing in the National Championship game, you might flip on ESPN2 to catch the action, but probably only  if you are "friends" on Facebook with one of the players.

2.) You have a daughter who is into sports or whom you are trying to get into sports. This is the demographic that the WNBA should be going after, and they haven't done a good enough job of it. (If you ask me, they should hover over pee-wee girls basketball games closer than a child rapist. Most dads want their daughters to be good at sports. What a better way to get them interested than to take them to a WNBA game? But that's neither here nor there.)

3.) It's July 10, 1999, and the Women's World Cup Final is on ABC. 90,000+ have packed the Rose Bowl to watch the United States play China in the final game, which has gone to a penalty-kick shootout. You've seen the pictures. U.S. keeper Brianna Scurry makes a save after clearly coming off the line early, leading to Brandi Chastain's iconic winning penalty kick and taking off of her shirt. This game drew an overnight television rating of 13.3, more than watched the 1994 Men's World Cup final between Brazil and Italy, which was also played in the Rose Bowl. Over 40 million people in the United States were estimated to have watched the 1999 women's final between the U.S. and China. That's ridiculous! I can only figure that it was a really boring summer Saturday for most Americans.

4.) This should probably have been first, but I put it down here so that I wouldn't feel like a pig. The women are either scantily clothed (beach volleyball), or you find one of the athletes to be extremely attractive. I say "extremely" attractive, because at this point there are plenty of other ways for men to watch beautiful women on television with far less clothes on than women who are competing in a sport. Women can complain about this reason for watching a sporting event all they want, but they have no room to talk. Women check out male athletes way more than men check out female athletes, fact.

If those are the legitimate reasons, then why was I watching USA vs. Brazil on Sunday afternoon? Well, first of all, I love soccer. Any time soccer is on television AND I can watch it in English, I'm in. Secondly, my friend Dylan just so happens to be in Brazil (his mother's homeland) right now. Dylan is one of my closest friends, and any time I can watch a sporting event that brings together Brazil and the U.S., while my American friend is in Brazil, I'm in. Also, sports are boring right now. I've mentioned before on here that I am not a fan of baseball, and there's not much else going on right now. The under-17 World Cup Final was also on Sunday, but it didn't start until 7 and I needed something to fill those boring post-church afternoon hours. I watched USA vs. Brazil for all of those reasons, and because....

Hope Solo is freaking hot! The United States goalkeeper falls into the category of extremely attractive in my book. Her eyes are beautiful, she has a rocking soccer bod, and she's not afraid to speak her mind. The only story I remember from the Women's World Cup four years ago is that after the U.S. was eliminated, Solo came out and flat-out said that if she had been in goal, they would have won. Now that's a strong woman. So, I wanted to see her in action. She did not disappoint. Yes, I'm talking about the brief moment when we got to see her midriff because she slid to make a save and her shirt came up. But she also played a great game in goal.

I missed the first goal because I wasn't home from church yet, and I turned the TV off for lunch because my mom hates it when the TV's on during lunch (I know, what a drag). After lunch, I went upstairs to check Facebook and did what all people do after they get on Facebook: I completely forget what I had been doing beforehand. About ten minutes into my internet trance, I realized that I was missing the game. I was trying to watch a women's sporting event and I almost missed it. So, I went back downstairs and turned on the TV sometime between the 65th and 68th minutes. I know this because the game report tells me that Rachel Buehler (no word on whether she's related) fouled Marta in the 65th minute and that Marta buried her penalty in the 68th. Thanks to the miracle of DVR, I rewound and witnessed this:

Marta made a beautiful touch to flip the ball over Buehler's head inside the box. Buehler then made a sloppy challenge on Marta that left both of them on the ground and earned Brazil a penalty kick and Buehler a red card. That's when things got interesting. Hope Solo (my dream woman) made an outstanding save on Marta's kick, diving to her left to stop the ball from finding the back of the net. However, something illegal was done by the U.S. during the PK (we would later learn that an American player stepped inside the box before the kick was taken, a call that is almost never made), which led to Hope Solo getting a yellow card for dissent followed by Marta burying her second attempt to tie the game at 1-1. All of a sudden, I found myself enthralled by the injustice of the call and completely wrapped up in a women's soccer match.

With the U.S. down to ten (women?), Brazil started to take over the game as the U.S. tried desperately to hold on for extra time. They succeeded, but in the 92nd minute Brazil took the lead on another brilliant piece of skill by Marta. She took a bouncing cross from Erika (who appeared to be offside when she received the ball) and steered it past Hope Solo and towards the back post. The ball bounced of the post and into the goal, giving Brazil a one goal lead to go with their one (woman?) advantage.

Brazil kept their lead all the way through the first extra period, into the second, and looked to be heading to the semifinal as the seconds ticked away in stoppage time. That's when Megan Rapinoe delivered a perfect cross to Abby Wambach, who headed it in to tie the match at 2-2 and send it into penalty kicks. Hope Solo saved Brazil's third attempt and the Americans nailed all five of their kicks to take the victory and propel themselves into the semifinal against France.

If you allowed yourself to get sucked into the game like I did, it took you on a roller coaster of emotions that I've found only soccer can provide. For me, it was pure shock of the second penalty being given, turned into sheer anger once the Brazilians took the lead, sadness for the American players once it looked like all of their hard work was going to be taken away by one bogus call, and jubilation once the U.S. finally scored and went on to win.

First off, I have to address the sadness. I've gone through a lot of emotions while watching sports, but sadness doesn't often fall into the equation. Certainly not during the action. When I say that I was sad, I don't mean that I was going to grab a box full of tissues and a gallon of ice cream and bawl my eyes out if they lost. I just mean that I felt awful for the players, many of whom have worked their whole lives for the opportunity to compete in a World Cup, who were about to go home because of a referee, which should never be the case. In that moment, I thought of how awful it would feel to have a dream ripped out from under you because of someone else doing a shitty job. It was similar to how I felt for Lindsey Vonn during the 2010 Winter Olympics, when injuries and bad luck cost her multiple medals. I just wanted to give everyone on the U.S. team a big hug (two for Hope Solo) and tell them that we were all rooting for them and that life goes on. If that sounds a little gay, I would never feel that way for male athletes. They can get over it themselves.

Onto the jubilation. There I was, watching a Women's World Cup quarterfinal match, and I was yelling like a freaking idiot because a woman made a goal to send the U.S. to extra time. Even stranger was the fact that it didn't feel goofy. It felt authentic. I was rooting for my country, an extremely hot goalkeeper, and a group of women playing a game that they love on a soccer field in Germany. It was sport in its purest form, with one of the most amazing finishes that I have ever seen.

When Abby Wambach suggested in her post-game interview that the game was "a perfect example of what this country is about," it didn't feel forced. Believe it or not, she was right. The Americans played with courage, passion, and heart. They had their backs against the wall and somehow found a way to win. If that's not the American spirit, then I don't know what is.

Now, is this game going to have a profound impact on women's soccer in the eye of the American public? Probably not. However, just as in 1999, it gave people a glimpse of the game being played in an exciting fashion. The next great American women's soccer superstar may have found inspiration in that game. The WPS (Women's Professional Soccer) may have grown its fan base enough to stay afloat in a tough economy. Most importantly, U.S. Women's National Team earned its place in the World Cup semifinal against France. If they win, they will get another Sunday afternoon slot on national television when they play in the final against either Japan or Sweden. Just like in 1999, they will dare sports fans across America to flip to a women's sporting event on a day that won't offer much else besides the final round of the British Open, which should be over by then. Will you be watching? I know I will.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Top 10 Moments in the History of Sports (sort of)

Sports fans don't agree on much, but I think most of us can agree on this: sports are best enjoyed in person. While you can probably see the action clearer from your couch on your humongous high definition flat-screen, it will never be the same as actually being there. This is a fact that sports as a business depends on. There's a reason professional and big-time college sports teams can charge ridiculous prices for tickets. We're going to buy them, no matter what.

Buying tickets to a big sporting event is risky business. The best and worst part about sports is that they are unpredictable. Just like you never know when you're going to see something amazing, you never know when you're going to see a complete blowout. Spending a ridiculous amount of money to get in the door does not guarantee a great experience. The players still have to perform, and, depending on your rooting interest, one set of players probably has to outperform the other for you to fully enjoy yourself.

Buying a ticket or going for free to a youth, high school, or small college sporting event is less risky. You're probably there to see someone you know play, and that's probably more important to you than seeing a good game. However, going to these games can provide some of the greatest sports moments we will ever see. A kid on your fourth-grader's basketball team might make a half-court shot to win the game. Your high school's quarterback might break a 50 year-old state record for touchdown passes. You just never know what you might miss when you stay at home.

I bring this up as the introduction to my first-ever countdown list because I want you to know exactly what I am ranking and why the events are so random. You would think that the most memorable sports moments that I have seen in my life would go in order of the amount of money I spent to see them, the talent assembled on the field, or successes of the teams I was rooting for. It's far more complicated than that. Or maybe it's less complicated.

This is a list of the most memorable moments that I have witnessed in person over the 19 years that I have been going to sporting events.It's far more biased and subject to change than any other list I could have come up with. It's also more mine than any other list I could have come up with. No other person witnessed all of the games and moments that I am about to share, and no other person saw them the way I did. So, without further adieu, here are The Top Ten Moments in the History of Sports that I have witnessed in person.

10. November 4, 2010: Ashland 5, Northwood 1- "Who said soccer was boring?"
Here's what I wrote in The Collegian following the Eagles' stellar performance in the GLIAC Men's Soccer Tournament Semifinals:

The nightcap featured the regular-season champs in the Ashland Eagles and the fourth-seeded Northwood Timberwolves. Ashland was 1-0-1 against the Timberwolves during the regular season, the draw coming at home.
The Eagles came out ready to play, and in the ninth minute Michael Kennedy made a run that took him just outside the box before he was chopped down, resulting in an Ashland free-kick. Junior midfielder Kenny Hewitt stepped up to take the kick. He did his best impression of an opposite-footed Cristiano Ronaldo, blasting a left-footed strike that bent away from the keeper and dipped its way into the top right corner of the goal frame.
"I had one in the exact same positioning yesterday in training, and Justin (Nolan) made a world-class save, which put me in a bad mood," Hewitt said with a grin. "I had to get it right today."
It took less than a minute for the Eagles to find their second goal, as Mitch Deyhle crossed one in from the left wing for Danny Lusheck, who headed it to the far post to put AU up 2-0.
From there, the Eagles played at the best level that they have all season, putting together a highlight reel of goals worthy of the "SportsCenter" Top 10.
Louis Clark found his way onto the score sheet in the 20th minute with the help of a cross from Lusheck. Clark volleyed the ball into the turf from close range as all the goalie could do was watch it find the back of the net.
In the 25th minute, Kenny Hewitt did another impression of a word-class footballer, mirroring Brazilian Maicon's goal from this past summer's World Cup.
"The keeper kind of cheated and came off of his line," Hewitt said. "It was more of a cross, but if you just put it in there you never know. It could come off a defender, a toe, a head, anything. It just went in and I got lucky, but I'll take it."
Chen Tzfania pulled one back to ruin goalkeeper Justin Nolan's clean sheet in the 39th minute with a blast from outside the box. Nolan played an outstanding game in goal for the Eagles, making five saves in just over 81 minutes of action.
The final goal of the game was a work of beauty between Englishmen James Livingston and Louis Clark. Livingston hit a breaking Clark with a high through ball that all but landed on his right foot six-yards from the goal. Clark tapped it out of the air and past the goalkeeper for his second goal of the game to secure the 5-1 victory and a spot in Saturday's championship.

I've watched a lot of soccer games in my life (mostly on TV or the internet), but I'm not sure that I've ever seen a barrage of goals like the ones in this game. Hewitt's free kick was blasted into the top corner, the Deyhle to Lusheck header was flawless, Clark's first goal was a brilliant volley into the ground and past the keeper, Hewitt's second was a carbon copy of Maicon's goal against North Korea only from the opposite side, and Clark's last goal was the equivalent of an over-the-shoulder alley-oop. Even the Northwood goal was a "cracker" from long range. It was not a good day to be a goalkeeper, but it was a great day to be a spectator at Ferguson Field if you didn't mind freezing your ass off.

9. 2008: Arlington at Convoy Crestview Junior Varsity Basketball- "The Turban Game"
I may be overselling this one because I played in it, but this was without a doubt the best comeback game that I ever played in. This game had everything: a random rule discrepancy that worked in our favor, a bloody head injury that was taken care of with some ridiculous bandages, the greatest backhanded compliment ever, and a 17-point comeback victory by the JV Arlington Red Devils and yours truly.
The game started like any other Ohio Division IV JV struggle except for the fact that Crestview's conference played JV games with seven minute quarters instead of six. Those extra four minutes would make a huge difference in the outcome of the game.
We got absolutely owned in the first half, and it looked to be getting worse mid-way through the third quarter as Crestview had stretched their lead to 17. To make matters worse, our lone freshman starter, Cam Brown, went down after taking an elbow to the head. There was blood everywhere. I think it kind of woke us up. Off the bench I came, looking to make an impact on a game that was turning ugly.
We made a little run during which I hit a couple of threes, and we slimmed the lead to around ten at the end of the quarter. If my memory serves me correctly, we had cut the lead to under five with just about three minutes left. That's when Cam re-entered the gym with the most ridiculous head-wrap ever assembled. Someone had bandaged him up by wrapping athletic tape around his head and tied a blue wrap around it to make sure it stayed. After we called timeout to get Cam back in the game and took a break from our intense comeback to make fun of how stupid Cam looked in his makeshift turban, I took a seat on the bench next to Coach Newlove to make way for Cam to get back on the floor.
Following the timeout, Newlove turned to me and said something that my friends who were sitting beside me have never let me live down. "Bils, if you had any athletic ability at all you would be playing varsity," he said. Thanks coach!
Needless to say, we pushed the game into overtime and took it from there. I think I may have even come in and hit a couple of free throws towards the end. It's just too bad that only a handful of parents and about three students from our school actually saw the game. It really felt like a turning point for our team, and I will always remember Cam's turban.

8. Janurary 18, 2008: Liberty-Benton 58, Arlington 54 (OT)- "The Aaron Craft Show"
By far the best athlete in our area while I was in high school was Liberty-Benton's Aaron Craft. He now plays point-guard for Ohio State, and he spent his four years at L-B terrorizing the Blanchard Valley Conference in football and basketball. The best performance I ever saw him have was his sophomore year when we almost beat his eventual state runner-up basketball team.
L-B was a powerhouse in our conference (the Blanchard Valley Conference), in large part because their school enrolls more than three times as many students as some of the other schools, including Arlington. Their conference win streak was at 20 games when they marched into the Devil Dome (holds about 1500 capacity, but at least 3,000 crowded the bleachers and doorways for this one, some as early as 3 p.m.) in January of 2008. L-B came in as heavy favorites, undefeated and ranked #1 in the latest D-III polls.
That didn't stop Arlington from jumping out to a 27-15 lead at halftime to the delight of the home crowd. L-B's suffocating defense forced the Red Devils into 17 turnovers and helped them force the game into overtime. Senior forward Jacob Drerup went for 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Red Devils, but was outplayed by sophomore Craft who scored 34 points. The Eagles outscored the Red Devils 12-8 in overtime to win the game.
Following the win, the visiting fans rushed the court and started a variety of nasty chants (typical L-B). Arlington's athletic director and principal quickly rushed to stop the Arlington students from retaliating, instead starting an angry chant of "WE'VE GOT CLASS!" I'm just surprised that the L-B students didn't come back with "We've got Craft" in which case all hell may have broken loose in the Devil Dome. I'm still shaking my head at how that ended. That was the last time my class even got close to beating Craft.

7. Decermber 4, 2009: Arlington 66, Fort Jennings 60 (OT)- "Rogers to Leonard"
It was the 2009-10 season opener for the Arlington Red Devils at home in the Devil Dome against the Fort Jennings Musketeers. It was also my first game in the student section after being a member of the basketball team the first three years of high school. We were jacked up. We had just bought early '90s jerseys from the school's retro athletic apparel sale (short shorts and all), and we were ready to revive Arlington's student section, which had been pretty lame the past few seasons.
The Courier's write-up for this one was pretty lame, but I here's what I remember from the game, and it's better than "the Red Devils canned 18-of-21 free-throws": Arlington found themselves down two with the ball under their own basket and 4.6 seconds remaining on the clock. Kevin Rogers (26 points, 12 rebounds) took the ball out of bounds and heaved a pass to Zane Leonard (10 points), who had just set a screen and was streaking down the right sideline. Rogers' pass was right on the money, hitting Leonard on the right wing. From there, Leonard took one dribble, used a jump-stop to put a defender on his hip, and put up an awkward left-handed layup from the right block. It dropped in ahead of the horn to tie the game at 49, and I thought the roof was about to come off the Devil Dome.
All twelve rows of people on both sides jumped to their feet, some jumping up and down, some crying, and Arlington's players did some weird celebrating on the court that did not involve any of them touching each other before they got to the bench. I don't think anyone calmed down during the break between the 4th quarter and overtime. In fact, I can remember jumping up and down until after the tip-off of overtime (I'm pretty sure over half of that was sarcastic, but it sure helped carry over the momentum).
By the time both teams got back on the court, Fort Jennings still hadn't recovered and Arlington was riding a tidal wave of momentum that they used to outscore the Musketeers 17-11 and take the victory. Sophomore Thayne Recker (25 points, 11 rebounds) scored 13 overtime points, most of them from the free throw line. Now, will somebody please put a video of the Rogers to Leonard play up on YouTube?

6. October 24, 2010: Ashland 1, Urbana 0 (2OT)- "GOOOOOOOOOALLL!!!!"
Here's my game story from The Collegian after Ashland's sudden-death victory over Urbana:

Fast-forward to the second overtime of Sunday's game against an inferior Urbana Blue Knight's squad. Ashland dominated the proceedings from start to finish, piling up 26 shots, eight of which were saved by goalkeeper William Harvey from England (where was he during the World Cup?).
Ashland's 27th shot of the game turned out to be the difference maker. With just twenty seconds to go, Ashland brought the ball up the field for what they knew would be their final chance of the game. Louis Clark passed the ball to senior James Livingston, who took two touches before slotting home the game-winner. The shot was Livingston's eighth of the game.
"I just remember Louis getting the ball and putting the ball in across the box. He flicked in a brilliant ball," Livingston said. "I'm terrible with my left foot. I just had to take it onto my right. After that, it was just a blur, I just ran off [the field]. Obviously, with twenty seconds left it's unbelievable. It was like a buzzer-beater. It was just a brilliant feeling."
The emotional victory was huge for Ashland, as they can't afford to lose games down the stretch heading into the post-season. Another team that Ashland beat in dramatic fashion (also on a Livingston goal) comes into town Friday in the form of the Tiffin Dragons.
Ashland can clinch home-field advantage for the GLIAC tournament if they take care of business in that game at 4:30 p.m. at Ferguson Field. The Findlay Oilers will then travel into town for a rivalry game that will start at 2 p.m.
"It's a big weekend for us; The players' first goal is to win the conference and if we want to win the conference and gain home field advantage, we want to win these games," Coach Jon Freeman said. "Right now we're going to focus on Tiffin. I think we'll be hitting them when they'll be peaking and hopefully we will be peaking as well. It should be a good game."
Buzzer-beaters are supposed to be reserved for basketball, and that's why this game has a slight edge for me over the Arlington-Fort Jennings buzzer-beater game. This game was 20 seconds away from being a nil-nil draw, otherwise known as sports' biggest waste of time. The most impressive part about James Livingston's game-winning goal was his composure. Livingston took not one, but two touches to sidestep the goalie and get the ball onto his right foot to ensure that he would find the back of the net. I don't even remember getting out of my seat, but there I was interviewing an ecstatic Livingston after he had just saved the Eagles from an embarrassing draw to a Division III opponent, and it was one of the best moments from an unforgettable first season as a beat writer for Ashland soccer.

5. November 6, 2010: Ashland 1 (6), Ohio Dominican 1 (5) (PKs)- "Nolan Clutches Victory"


This time, my story from The Collegian says it all. Let's just say I was really excited. I even referenced Clockstoppers!

Every once in a while, there is a moment in a game when everything stops, the crowd goes dead silent, and everyone is barely able to watch the drama that's about to unfold. The players find a level of focus they never knew was possible and try to shake the entire colony of butterflies that have manifested inside of them.
The GLIAC Championship game that was played Saturday night between the Ashland men's soccer team and Ohio Dominican was one of those moments. Those in attendance were able to witness one of the most bizarre and rarest forms of deciding a game - a penalty-kick shootout. Not only that, the shootout went past the customary five shooters for each team, progressing to the sudden death stage. All of this provided for more time-freezing than the early 2000s movie Clockstoppers.
All year, one of the main goals for the men's soccer team was to get back to the GLIAC Championship and reverse the result of an overtime loss to Tiffin. Saturday night, they got that chance. The only differences were that they had home-field advantage this time and the opponent was a first-year member of the conference, Ohio Dominican.
Both teams played their hearts out from the get-go, fouls and cards being handed out like candy even though Halloween was last weekend. Michael Kennedy was the first to get his name in the book in the 10th minute.
Fifteen minutes later, Adam Spannbauer found a little treat in the form of a flicked-on header by Louis Clark.
"I couldn't really ask for more with the ball falling at my feet," Spannbauer said. "From ten yards away pretty much all I had to do was bang it on frame and that's what I did. Louis did all of the work, I was just there to clean it up."
The lead didn't last long for Ashland, as a penalty-kick was awarded to ODU in the 27th minute. Duncan Campbell converted the kick for the Panthers; one of nine shots on goal that keeper Justin Nolan faced in the game. Nolan made eight saves to keep the game alive, which set the tone for the drama that would unfold in the shootout.
The score stayed tied throughout the rest of regulation and through two overtime periods, but not for lack of chances on either side. In the closing seconds of regulation, forward Louis Clark got the ball at midfield and streaked down the left sideline towards goal. When the whistle sounded, Clark found himself on the ground listening to the outcry of supporters and teammates after being dragged down just before making an attempt at winning the game. No foul was awarded and the game headed to overtime.
In overtime, the game was nearly ended by the unlikeliest of heroes. Senior wing Tom Rankin, who had been nursing an ankle injury and has been out of action for the majority of the season, blasted a shot from the right side that shook the crossbar.
All of this brought us to the shootout: five shooters for each team versus the goalkeepers in soccer's form of Russian roulette.
James Livingston, Adam Spannbauer, Kenny Hewitt and Jamie Dollar all converted for Ashland and Nolan saved one for the Eagles, setting up freshman Louis Clark to drill his and win the game. No such luck. Clark stuttered trying to draw the keeper one way or the other, but the keeper didn't budge and made a fantastic diving save.
Bring out the next set of shooters for sudden-death. Danny Lusheck converted but so did Liam Fitzgerald for ODU. That left freshman defender Brian Ruhaak for Ashland. He converted. Then ODU's Justin Wheeler stepped up only to be denied by Nolan, who dove to his left and held on to the little white sphere with all his might before running towards the sideline where his teammates met him, piling on top of him in a ball of relief and euphoria.
Senior Adam Spannbauer expressed how it felt to accomplish something that the team has worked for all season.
"It's a long time coming," Spannbauer said. "The past three years we've made it to the final four of the GLIAC championship and we've made it to the final twice and came up dry. For me, since I'm a senior, it's just the cap on my year. It's the perfect feeling."
Head Coach Jon Freeman got the ice bath and the trophy that he deserved after leading the team to their first GLIAC Tournament Championship.
"It feels great," Freeman said. "I do still give a lot of credit to John Hall for mentoring me and setting these boys up in the right way. I came in and I just didn't want to mess it up. It feels good and at the end of the day the credit has got to go to the team. We got performances from literally everyone on the field today. We hung together, we dug deep and we knew what we had to do to get the result."
 4. September 14, 2002: Ohio State 25, Washington State 7- "Maurice"
Are you winded yet? If Maurice Clarett was winded after he racked up 230 yards and two touchdowns against No. 10 Washington State in 2002, he didn't show it. This was Maurice Clarett's coming out party, and I was there to witness it. I've only ever seen one single-game performance that may have been more impressive, and we'll get to that later.
I was sitting in the closed end of Ohio Stadium, between the tunnel that the band comes out of and the visitors' section, possibly the best seats that I have ever had. Unfortunately, that meant that most of Clarett's runs were away from me during the third quarter when he did most of his damage. He came within ten yards of breaking Archie Griffin's freshman single-game rushing record.
This game was closer than the score indicates, because the Buckeyes were actually trailing 7-6 at halftime, and Clarett had just 36 yards on the ground at the break. By the time he was done, the crowd was chanting his name and Ohio State had just gotten their third win of the 2002 season over a very good Washington State team (they went on to beat USC and played in the 2003 Rose Bowl, a game they lost 34-14 against Oklahoma). The Buckeyes went on to win the National Championship. Of course, Maurice Clarett left after his freshman season, never to return to football unless you count second-tier arena football. His performance against the Wildcats on that warm September afternoon ended up being the finest of his career.

3. August 26, 2009: Arlington 161, Van Buren 162- "Greatest Moment in Arlington Golf History"
High school golf? Yep, I went there. This was without a doubt the proudest sports moment of my life. Arlington had never beaten Van Buren in golf, but ours was not the typical rag-tag Arlington golf team. We were the first to beat Liberty-Benton our junior year, the first to make it to Districts as a team, and the first to beat Van Buren. Van Buren was the cockiest group of high school golfers in the area, and for good reason. They had a ridiculous head-to-head match streak when they arrived at Sycamore Springs that day.
It was early in the season, and winning this match was the first of many goals that we wanted to accomplish and the first step towards winning the conference. I played in a group with one of my best friends and our one-man, Cole "Late Nate" McMath, and Van Buren's Andrew Bell and Jude Palmer. My tee shot on the first hole hit a tree and ricocheted straight down (typical first shot for me and a great confidence boost for our whole team that had to watch it). I saved par, and we were off.
Jude ran into trouble early and never recovered, which was huge for us. The moment of the match for our group came on the fifth hole. Bell had just sunk a long putt for par from the top of the green that hammered into the back of the hole and may have rolled off the green had it missed. He and Jude celebrated with an extra douchey chest bump (chest bumps should never be done on the golf course, ever, period). Cole had a putt of almost-equal distance and was thoroughly pissed off by Bell's display as he lined it up. His putt went in the hole, albeit at a much more reasonable pace, and his was for birdie. He would finish at even-par 36, three strokes ahead of Bell and four ahead of me after I made bogies on 8 and 9.
One group behind us were teammates David Feller and Trevor Bower, along with VB's Michael Caris and Addison Sterling. The actual moment of the match came from Feller on the 7th hole, when he defied the laws of physics and hit a 200-yard seven iron to 15 feet and drained the ensuing put for an eagle 3. The eagle was the first of his life, and proved to be the difference in the match. Feller and Bower each shot 42, Sterling 38, and Caris 43.
That left us with a total of 161. Van Buren's top three combined for 120, meaning that someone from their last group would need to shoot a 41 or better to beat us (5th man tie-breaker would have went to them). Colin Stacy shot 42, meaning that we would win the match by one. Of course, we all needed to see it on paper just to be sure. Final scores were tallied, and Van Buren walked to their van like dogs with their tails between their legs.
It was a victory of epic proportions, at least in the minds of the five seniors on our team (the four mentioned previously and Evan Hill) and our coach Clint Dillon. I was one happy man when I hopped in the car and headed down the road blasting The Black Eyed Peas' I Gotta Feeling. I celebrated that night like a true high school golfer. With a heap of math homework.

2. October 28, 2000: Purdue 31, Ohio State 27- "The Drew Brees Game"
I was eight years old when I went to my first Ohio State road game with my dad, and I haven't been to one since. Maybe if Drew Brees hadn't ripped our hearts out and threatened my life that would be different. The Buckeyes were up 20-10 heading into the fourth quarter, and things were going great. Brees had thrown three interceptions, I had gotten over my fear of sitting in the very top row of Ross-Ade Stadium (which was still like sitting in A Deck at the Horseshoe), and it looked like we were going to get out of there with a win.
Even after Brees led the Boilermakers 73 yards, found John Standeford in the back of the end zone and cut the lead to a field goal, it still felt like Ohio State had control of the game. Then, the Buckeyes were forced to punt and Brees led another brilliant drive, going 91 yards and taking over five minutes off the clock before Vinny Sutherland caught a pass over the middle and scampered to the end zone.
That was when things started to get scary. I mean literally scary. The touchdown brought 60,000 Purdue fans to their feet, and I wasn't sure ancient Ross-Ade Stadium was going to hold (renovations have since been completed). The entire place was shaking, and it was almost more than little eight year-old me could handle.
Purdue got the stop they needed, and just when it looked like I was going to die watching my beloved Buckeyes lose in West Lafayette, Drew Brees threw his fourth interception of the game. Mike Doss was going to be the hero, as he raced down the sideline before being tackled at the two yard line by Brees himself. Ohio State scored three plays later go go up 27-24.
Mike Doss had saved my life. The place went deathly silent, stopped shaking, and the Purdue fans hoped that their star quarterback could somehow shake off his costly mistake and lead them down the field once more. That's exactly what he did. On 2nd and 10 from his own 36, Brees launched a bomb to Seth Morales that inspired Brent Musburger to scream "Holy Toledo!" and the Purdue fans to jump to their feet once again. As for me, I sat down and latched myself to the stadium bench, fully expecting to ride it to my death. The Buckeyes got the ball back and fumbled, causing more stadium vibrations.
That's why I was almost relieved when the Boilermakers finally ran out the clock and their fans rushed the field. Purdue would go on to play in the Rose Bowl and I would go on to remember it as the day I almost died in a crowd of 60,000 people. The game has since been played numerous times on ESPN Classic and "Big Ten's Greatest Games." In researching for this piece, I discovered that it has since gone down as the greatest game in Purdue football history. Two years later, Craig Krenzel delivered revenge in the form of a game-winning heave to Michael Jenkins, a play simply known as "Holy Buckeye!"


1. February 22, 2008: Kalida 53, Pandora-Gilboa 52- "That's In"


Jordan Basinger (top right)
The random series of events that led to me sitting where I was on the night of February 22, 2008 is the beauty of sports. I had no intention of witnessing anything amazing in the first of two Division IV sectional tournament games at Bluffton High School that night. I was there to support Arlington's varsity in the night-cap against Fort Jennings. I still can't believe what happened.
We walked in at halftime, I believe, and the place was packed. Not a seat to be had. One side was dressed in bright red (P-G), the other in maroon and gold (Kalida) I spent the majority of the second half standing between the bleachers and the wall near the home locker room (I couldn't see a thing), but once our varsity made their way in to get changed I snagged a chair under the basket that had been vacated by one one of the players. It was from there that I witnessed the greatest sports moment that I have ever seen in my life. 
As the clock wound down, Pandora-Gilboa had the ball with the game tied. They worked it into their big man, Josh Lee, who found the basket to give the Rockets the lead at 52-50. It looked like they would be heading to Districts, with only 2.3 seconds to go and Kalida needing to travel the length of the court. 
The original Coach K, ancient Dick Kortokrax, drew up a play for his team to try to send the game into overtime or win in regulation. I doubt that his team followed instructions. As I waited patiently for the game to end so that I could claim a seat in the bleachers and get ready to watch the game I had come to see, one Jordan Basinger stepped onto the court.
Basinger is your typical northwest Ohio star athlete. Standing at around 6'4", he was a combo guard-forward who could shoot, distribute, and rebound. Basically, he morphed into whatever his team needed to win and provided the necessary athleticism for a team of role players. I think he was their school's ace pitcher for the baseball team, and if they had a football team I'm almost certain he would have played quarterback. As he stepped out on the court for the last play against Pandora, no one knew that Jordan Basinger was about to have the shining moment of his high school athletic career.
Whatever Kalida had drawn up, I don't think they wanted their star player to be more than 40 feet from the basket when he took his shot. There Basinger was, clock winding down, ball in his hands, rising up to shoot from beyond half court. Close to 50 feet away, I was sitting in the perfect position to watch it all unfold. I watched the ball leave his hand and continued to watch as the ball floated through the air.
I remember thinking "that's in" well before the ball banked off the glass and into the hoop. It was crazy. The side clad in bright red sunk to their seats as the side in maroon and gold jumped to their feet in pure pandemonium. I was on my feet as well, amazed at how lucky I had been. The only person luckier than me that night was Jordan Basinger, and both of us knew that shot was in before everyone else.

If you made it this far, you deserve a prize. I hope you enjoyed reading this countdown as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you were at any of these events and believe that I was wrong about something, be sure to comment and let me know so that I can fix it.