My Five Most Painful New York Sports Minutes
The pain hasn't gone away.
Photo by Corn Farmer
1984 Game 5 Playoff Loss to the New York Islanders
My father was a Ranger fan so I followed suit. But I didn't watch much hockey, and my following mostly amounted to checking the standings. I began taking note when the Rangers and Islanders played in the 1975 playoffs. Pre-cable, none of the games were televised. But it certainly sounded exciting that the Islanders scored eight seconds into the game deciding overtime to take the series. The Islanders went on to defeat the Penguins after trailing 3-0 and then forced a game seven after trailing 3-0 to the Flyers. I watched the final game and realized hockey was worth my attention. Nonetheless, I stayed off the airwaves, but it was another Islander game seven that made me a fan. They lost an overtime thriller to Toronto, and I was ready for 1979. But I stuck with my lineage. The process was facilitated as the young Ranger team was on the upswing. They upset the Islanders in the playoffs, and I was all in. I even felt bad for their second straight heartbreaking exit. But there proved little need for that. The Islanders would incur my wrath by winning four straight cups and knock the Rangers out three times.
I hated the Islanders like no other team, and the insidious chants of 1940, hit Ranger fans exactly where we lived. So when the Rangers stood at the precipice with a 2-1 series lead, a victory was more than an upset. These were the four time defending champs and represented the pinnacle of all I hated. One more win would have been the greatest moment I could have ever experienced as a fan. And when Don Maloney forced overtime with 37 seconds remaining in regulation, sudden death would have been the best way to stick it to all those Long Island hicks. But eight minutes in, the Rangers could not clear the puck, and all me and Glen Hanlon could do was skate away with our heads down. Worse yet, there's no chance that a similar moment could ever reoccur, and the opportunity lost, still stings.
1979 Dallas 16-Giants 13
Growing up in the 70s, Superbowl victories were no where near our aspiration. A .500 season would have amply sufficed. 1978 seemed to be that year, and a few kneel downs would have had the Giants a game out of first at 6-3. But they handed off to Larry Csonka instead. We didn't know the upside to follow so we all joined in the flyover… 15 years of lousy football, we’ve had enough.
George Young didn't seem any reason to get our hearts in a flutter either—especially when he picked a guy named Phil Simms in the first round. From Morehead State, his un-parted blonde hair looked like someone put a bowl over his head.
He played no part in the Giants 0-4 start, though. But we suddenly had hope as Simms replaced Joe Pisarcik in Game 5 and began moving the Giants down the field. The franchise seemed saved—until he threw his first pic. Nonetheless, we knew we saw something. Four straight victories later, and the seventies looked to be in the rear view mirror.
Of course, what better way to show that we had arrived than usurping America's team? On this day, the Giants went ball control with running back Billy Thomas, and the ferocious Giant defense did the rest in keeping Roger Staubach on the sideline. So up 14-6 lead with three minutes to go, not even the 1970s master of the comeback could stop this express.
The football gods had to finally be on our side too. Unfortunately, the Cowboys worshipped at a vastly different alter, and the Giants did their part by going into the prevent defense.
Still, Dallas was 32 yards away, and keeping Staubach out of the end zone for one more play would get us inside two minutes. No such luck, and the scoring play to Drew Pearson made a pretty good case that there was no god. Even so, one first down would put the Giants at .500 and a game removed from first place.
Of course, the Giants went, three and out, but when Dave Jennings pinned Dallas at the eight, a deity seemed a viable possibility. That's called being a true believer—despite all evidence to the contrary.
Staubach quickly made his case and set the Cowboys up from the Giant 15. Sorry, the miracles were all stacked in the Cowboys favor, and if are not from this era, you probably never heard of Rafael Septien. Let me just say, he never missed —ever.
Yes, good things did come to those who waited, but it is the only time I've cried as a fan. I’m sure I wasn’t alone.
1980 League Championship Loss to Royals
I had little choice but to become a Yankee fan in 1973 when Bobby Murcer deposited three home runs in the right field bleachers of old Yankee Stadium. Seated with my dad, I had me a hero. But I thought I knew heartbreak when the Yankees came up two games short of the pennant in 1974.
Bobby Murcer was shipped off for Bobby Bonds in response. Enduring the loss certainly was eased as the Yankees had a dynastic run from 1976-81. Acceptance got even easier as the 78 season proved to be the most exciting I have ever experienced. Even so, I still believe that the 1980 team was the best of the lot.
Reggie went on a rampage, and the team's depth had the balls flying over the wall at a prodigious pace. This iteration also excelled at the most crucial aspect of winning—relief pitching. Goose Gossage, Ron Davis and Rudy May had a 78-2 record when leading after seven.
1980 also featured a thrilling pennant race that has long been forgotten. The fact that my hero had returned and played a key role in holding off the Orioles made it dear to my heart.
All that awaited was another victory over the determined but less regal Royals. But when Willie Wilson “threw to a spot” George Brett took the overthrow and Willie Randolph was out at the pivotal moment of the series. The Bombers trailed 2-0.
However, game three had Goose on the mound with a 2-1 lead in the seventh. The standard certainty was in place, and when George Brett came to the plate with two runners on, it was still easy to forget that he hit .390 that year.
One hundred miles per hour later, we didn’t even get in a blink before the ball landed in the upper deck. Yankee Stadium went silent, my heart stopped and so essentially did the Yankee Dynasty.
1995 Wildcard Loss to Seattle
My other preeminent hero was Don Mattingly. He was everything a ballplayer and a man should be. He was the actual natural. Donny could hit for power and average, take outside pitches to the opposite field and was the best first basemen I’ve ever seen. He also hated to lose, and the defeats hurt him just as much as us. His numbers between 1983 and 1988 also destined him an address in Cooperstown. Unfortunately, second place was always his current address, and we as Yankee fans, died a slow death with him every year.
And then the unthinkable—the Yankees resurgence occurred the same year as the player strike that canceled the postseason. If I thought there was no god in 1979….
Nonetheless, the Yankees won 22 of their final 28 games in 1995 and secured the wildcard. Donny Baseball finally has his chance to make his mark on the big stage and gave us reason to put aside all the past pain. He did not disappoint. Number 23 went 5-10, and the Yankees took a 2-0 series lead. He would also go 4-5 as the Yankees jumped out to a 5-0 lead in game 4. But the Yankees could not follow the lead of their captain, and a one run lead in the bottom of the ninth was not enough in the face of one Ken Griffey Jr. Great things did lie ahead but a bad back meant they would not include Mattingly. Four world Championships in five years, it just isn’t right, and I immediately switch the channel if his image from that era appears. It just hurts too much.
Knicks 1995 Second Round Loss to Pacers
I was pretty mad when the Knicks traded Mark Jackson for Charles Smith. So much so that I didn’t watch the Knicks much over the next two seasons. But I did rise up with John Starks’ dunk over Michael Jordan and then fell in love with the three pointer during the 1994 Finals run. Of course, it would have nice if Starks could have dropped one or two in game 7. I would then re-up in 1995, and after dispensing the Cavs, they were easily the better team than Reggie Miller, Mark Jackson and the Pacers. But Reggie stole game one and rode the 17 second cascade to a 3-1 series lead. Staying alive in game five, I was all in with Patrick - even after he obviously traveled on his game winning drive. “I thought I was Michael Jordan,” was good enough for me. Thus, game six at the garden was a given, but for as much as game sevens should follow suit, I was wary. Wouldn’t you know it, the Knicks fell behind by 15. But they came fighting back, and sat poised at the edge of Patrick Ewing’s fingertips. A clear path to the rim, and the drop we looked to have had turned into a debilitating clank. Not only sounding more dashed aspirations, the fall away clearly signaled the end that team’s run. Pat Riley, John Starks, and Anthony Mason were soon to be out the door. The same goes for Charles Oakley, and never were my favorite player’s efforts more valiant. The final indignity came for me in 2010 when I saw the 30 for 30 documentary, Winning Time. I was working during game one, and of course, I saw Reggie Miller burying his two threes afterwards. But I never knew how the game actually ended. The utter shock I endured as Starks came up with a few clanks of his own. Really…
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