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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why This Year's Super Bowl Lived Up to Expectations. (The Best Finals Ever Part II)

As Clint Eastwood said in his Super Bowl ad, “It is our Second Half!”

5. US Open -Tiger Woods (2008)
This was the greatest golf tournament ever. There it is. I laid it all out on the table. Many see Golf as a boring sport but this was absolutely one of the most exciting sporting events I have bore witness to. I happen to love golf and even furthermore love Tiger Woods. All personal matter aside, Tiger is one of my favorite athletes of all time and he was never greater than in this US Open. Here is some of the background:
· The tournament was set at Torrey Pines, one of the most infamous golf courses in the world.
· For the first time ever, the PGA decided to pair the top 12 players in the world together for the first two days of the tournament. This gave us 2 straight days of Tiger-Michelson which is one of the best sports rivalries over the last 20 years. The top two players in the world playing two full rounds side by side at one of the world’s most famous golf courses; amazing!
· The first round and its 18-holes was the first round of golf played by Tiger since his knee surgery after the Masters. The injured knee played a significant role.
Here is what went down. The Major Championship was unfinished after the standard 72 holes. The tournament was forced into a Monday 18-hole playoff between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate. But even this was not enough to settle the battle as the two players were tied once again after 90 holes. Then as it hit Monday afternoon and the two worn out stars went into a Sudden Death Playoff, Tiger pared the first playoff as Rocco Bogeyed, earning Tiger his 14th and hardest earned Major Championship.
What can add to the amazement of the tournament was that Torrey Pines is a brutal course. The winner is usually the person who doesn’t mess up; but this year was different and very different for Tiger Woods. Tiger played a roller coaster tournament going up and down with 14 bogeys, 4 double bogeys, 17 birdies and 3 eagles. Tiger ended his first round at a poor 4 over par. But then the magic started as he began pouring in the birdies and moved into a tie for 2nd. Eventually he made his push for the tie of the lead which included two of the most insane shots ever seen in Golf on the big stage. The first was a 65 foot putt on the 13th par 5 after a very poor approach. The next was an insane shot on the 17th, when from the thick rough; Tiger’s pitch took one bounce, hit the flag pole and dropped in the bottom of the cup for birdie. Then on the 18th hole, Tiger hit another 25 foot putt for his second eagle of the back nine. Many have said this was one of the most insane 9 holes in Golf History. Perhaps the most fascinating part of this tournament was the fact that with every single shot he took, Tiger Woods was in excruciating pain. Barely able to stand and walk on his knee, Tiger wasn’t even able to do his standard stare down after hitting the ball because he was bent over in pain. The fact that he was able to walk 91 holes was a pure miracle.
But all the drama that had happened after 3 rounds culminated on Sunday when Rocco Mediate, the 157th ranked player in the world, pushed the immortal Tiger Woods to his brink. Unyielding with “the eye of the Tiger” watching him, Rocco walked up to a short birdie putt on the 17th hole with a chance to force Tiger to shoot an eagle on the last hole for the tie. But as fate would have it, Rocco missed the putt and headed into the 18th with just a one shot lead. At this point Tiger was literally limping his way from shot to shot and on the 18th. His first shot ended in the fairway bunker which ended any chance of the green in 2 and then with his second shot, Tiger found the thick rough. This would have normally ruined any chance for a birdie for most men. But Tiger gathered up his strength and knocked his third shot 12 feet from the cup which was amazing in its own right. Then with the whole world watching, Tiger buried the putt while yelling at the top of his lungs.
Even Monday was an amazing round as Tiger took a three stroke lead after the 10th but then bogeyed a few holes allowing Rocco back in it and then with three straight birdies, Rocco actually had the lead going into the 18th. It was here that Tiger once again buried a putt with the silence of the world around him before eventually winning in the playoff.
From start to finish this was one of the longest and most exciting sporting events I have ever seen. There was no shortage on drama, heroics and amazing athleticism. It is surely one for the ages.
Here are some of the highlights:

4. Super Bowl XLIII Arizona Cardinals vs Pittsburg Steelers (2009)
There have been some amazing Super Bowls and this decision was a tough one, but after much deliberation I have given the #4 spot to arguably the best Super Bowl of the last 20 years, The Cardinals vs the Steelers. Other games such as the Patriots- Giants (2007 and 2012) and the Rams-Titans were in the running for this spot but in the end I gave the award to the greatest catch in Super Bowl History. The game had a little bit of a slow start but towards the end of the first half started one of the best Super Bowls ever. The Steelers ended up with the thrilling 27-23 victory over the Kurt Warner led Cardinals. Let’s examine why this has earned the #4 spot on the list.
The game seemed like it was over before it ever began. Arizona was a surprise team that started making a run in the playoffs. The 9-7 Cardinals was led by Warner (4,583 yards/30 TD/14 INT)and wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald (96 receptions, 1,431 yards, 12 touchdowns), Anquan Boldin (89 receptions, 1,038 yards, 11 touchdowns), and Steve Breaston (77 receptions, 1,006 yards, three touchdowns, 904 special teams return yards), who made the Cardinals the fifth team ever to feature three players with over 1,000 receiving yards. With some veteran running backs the Cardinals had a high powered offense. But the defense which was ranked at the bottom of the League got hot at the right time as the team made a miraculous run towards the Big Game. But on paper they were no match for the powerhouse Steelers. With a record of 12-4, the NFL’s best defense and a stellar ground & pound offense, the Steelers were poised for an easy win.
The game started out just that way. The Steelers took the opening kickoff 71 yards and scored a field goal. They dominated the first quarter allowing only one drive and one first down for the Cardinals in comparison to their 135 yards. Then after trading second quarter scores, the Cardinals were down to the Steelers 1 yard line but with 18 seconds left in the first half. In a remarkable play Steelers Linebacker James Harrison intercepted Kurt Warner on the goal line and ran the ball back 100 yards (Super Bowl Record). It was a thrilling play as Larry Fitzgerald ran 100 yards to tackle Harrison but Harrison was just able to break the plane for the 17-7 halftime lead.
In the second half, the team’s traded some more scores and the Cardinals even scored a safety with a holding penalty in the end zone. With the score 20-16 the thrilling 4th quarter went down. The game really picked up when down by 4, Warner hit Fitzgerald for a 64 yard TD pass as Fitzgerald took a crossing pattern and simply blew up the middle past Pittsburg defenders. Now down by three, the Steelers took over with 2:37 left and began their comeback drive. After some big pass plays the Steelers found themselves at the Arizona 6 yard line. As Roethlisberger avoided the pressure, he found Santonio Holmes in the corner of the end zone. As the ball floated over the head of 3 Arizona defenders it appeared as if there was no way Holmes would stay in bounds. But with the greatest catch in Super Bowl history, Holmes stayed in bounds with his tippy toes and pulled in the grab. The Pittsburg Defense eventually ended the game on a sack fumble. The game was amazing from start to finish. In my opinion, the best played Super Bowl of my lifetime.

3. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Boise St. vs Oklahoma University (2005)
Correct, this is not a National Championship game but it was a BCS Bowl game and was the season’s finale. The point is that this game was so frakking good that it has earned this spot. The game pitted the Big 12 Champion Sooners (#8) against the WAC Champion Boise St. Broncos (#9). This was a true case of David vs Goliath. Oklahoma is one of the most storied franchises in all of college football and the Broncos came from a relatively small and relatively unknown sports school, Boise St. The Sooners were favored by 7 ½ points going into the game but the Broncos pulled out the 43-42 victory in overtime. This is without a doubt one of the most sunning endings to a game I have ever seen. I remember staying up very late on a Saturday night watching this game and I am so happy I had seen it live.
The first half of this game was a shocker. The underdog Broncos with their high powered offense just exploded out of the gate and earned them a 21-10 first half lead. Jared Zabransky, the Boise QB, threw 2 TD’s in the first half. As the 3rd quarter began the Broncos seemed to have the game in hand once Boise St. scored on a returned interception for a touchdown extending their lead to 28-10. With the game seemingly out of hand, the Sooners began their amazing 25-0 run to take the lead. Down by 8 with just a few minutes to play the Sooners drove down the entire field and ended up scoring the tie with just 1:26 left. The first attempt at the 2 point conversion was spoiled but a pass interference penalty gave the Sooners another chance. The Sooners scored on the two point conversion and the game was tied with just over a minute to go. It was a remarkable comeback. On the very first play of the next drive as Boise attempted to regain the lead that they had just squandered, Zabranksy threw the out pattern just a little under thrown and Marcus Walker, intercepted the pass and ran it in for the easy TD. It was a stunning turn of events as the Sooners scored 14 points in just a few seconds to take an astonishing 35-28 lead with 1 minute to go.
After the kickoff, the Sooner defense stepped up and sacked Zabransky for 8 yards on first down before stopping the Broncos on the next two plays. But with a 4th and 18 and only 18 seconds left on the clock, Zabransky passed for 15 yards to Drisan James. With five Oklahoma defenders playing a "prevent" style defense to prevent a long conversion, James quickly scoop-passed the ball to an in-stride Jerard Rabb, who ran the ball along the left sideline an additional 35 yards for a touchdown. (The hook and lateral play—called "Circus" by Boise State—allowed for at least two more laterals. Johnson and Zabransky had trailed Rabb along the sideline as potential outlets or possibly as blockers.) The extra point tied the game up at 35 with just seven seconds remaining in regulation, and the game then went into overtime. If you were not watching this game live you cannot really understand how amazing this play was. I can unequivocally say this was the greatest play I have ever seen in my life. But the amazing plays didn’t end there.
Overtime was a very quick roller coaster turn of events. On the very first play, the outstanding Adrian Peterson broke through the Broncos defense for a 25 yards untouched TD run. With the extra point the Sooners took a 42-35 lead. The Boise drive came down to a 4th and 2 from the Sooner 5 yard line. At this point the Broncos ran their second trick play as the backup wide receiver received the hike in a wild-cat format and then proceeded to roll to his right before launching a touchdown pass to the TE to bring the Broncos within 1 point at 42-41. It was at this point that Broncos coach Chris Peterson decided to forgo tying the game and go for the win. The team lined up three wide outs on the right side and faked the screen throw out there. As Zabransky calmly held the ball behind his back, RB Ian Johnson took the ball and ran to the opposite end of the End Zone for the successful two point conversion and the victory. The moment was iconic and jubilant. As David defeated Goliath, it was as if all of college football began to recognize the smaller schools in the country. The game could not have possibly ended better. Even Ian Johnson’s proposal to his cheerleader girlfriend was just perfect. This was such an exciting game and will go down as one of the best of all time. It no doubt has earned the 3rd spot on this list.
Here is the full game: http://www.hulu.com/watch/5105/tostitos-fiesta-bowl-boise-st-vs-oklahoma
Here are just the highlights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhuHuFbIFy4

2. World Series NY Yankees vs Arizona Diamondbacks (2001)
This has to be up there with one of the best World Series ever. The only reason it did not earn the #1 spot on the list is that the truth is this was not amazing baseball. The Yankees hit a record low .183 as a team against the stellar Arizona pitching and this was in fact one of the lowest scoring World Series ever (less a blowout Arizona win in game 6). So why is this series #2 on the list? Let’s get into it.
This series has earned such a high spot on the list mostly for 3 games. Games 4, 5, and 7 go down as one of the most amazing things ever seen in sports. With the emotional backdrop of the 9/11 tragedy looming over the city of New York and the postponement of the Playoffs, NYC was a city in mourning and recovery. With the Yankees losing the first two games in Arizona by a combined score of 13-1, NYC and the Yankees were desperate for a glimmer of hope. Then in game 3 with President Bush throwing out the first pitch, Roger Clemens and Mariano Rivera combined for 1 run and 3 hits over 9 innings to win game 3 on a 6th inning Scott Brosius RBI single. Then in game 4, with the threat of going down 3-1 and only a handful of hits, the Yankees found themselves down 3-1 with one out and no one on in the bottom of the 9th. With Paul O’Neill on after an opposite field single, and Bernie Williams striking out for the second out, Tino Martinez made the entire city of NY explode with a 2 out, game tying two run homerun off Byung-Hyun Kim. The entire stadium started to shake as the game was tied. Then in the 10th inning as the clock struck twelve, sending the MLB playoffs into November for the first time ever, Derek Jeter, earned himself the name “Mr. November” with a 3-2 opposite field solo-walk off home run.
Game 5 was also a thriller as once again the Yankees needed a miracle. The Arizona starting pitching shut down the Yankees for 8 innings and then blew it in the 9th. Kim was brought in once again and after giving up a leadoff double to Posada, Kim retired the next two batters. Then with 2 outs, Scott Brosius rocked a 1-0 pitch high in the sky to left field and tied the game once again. For this to happen two nights in a row off the same closer in similar situations is unheard of. Alfonso Soriano was the hero this night with a walk-off RBI single in the 11th. The game was also memorable for the top of the 9th standing ovation for Paul O’Neill which delayed the game in O’Neill’s last game ever in Yankees Stadium. After a blowout win in game 6, the Diamondbacks earned a game 7 showdown.
In the game 7 pitching duel, twenty game winners Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling put on a show with the game going scoreless through 5. With the nerve racking game tied 1-1 going into the 8th inning, Alfonso Soriano had one of the biggest hits in World Series history with a solo-home run off Schilling which could have won the game. But in the bottom of the 9th, the Arizona Diamondbacks did something almost never done before; they came back on Mariano Rivera. With Luis Gonzalez’s walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth, the NY hearts were broken and one of the best World Series ever came to a close. Game 7 was one of the best pitching duels in history. The game featured 4 of the best pitchers ever to grace the mound with Schilling, Johnson, Clemens and Rivera. Rivera was immortal in the post season and was seemingly invincible before the Diamondbacks got to him. This is why this has earned the 2 spot on the list.

1) Wimbledon Men’s Final Roger Federer vs Rafa Nadal (2008)
Before you all go crazy that a tennis match was the best final ever, just read this summary. This match was simply amazing. Every point in this 5 set, 4 hour and 48 minute match was a display of beauty, power, and grace. Nadal pulled out the victory with a 6-4 6-4 6-7 (3-7) 6-7 (8-10) 9-7 victory over the #1 seed. Here is some background, Roger Federer is the #1 player in the world at the time and in discussion to be the greatest player of all time with 12 Grand Slam titles (he has subsequently won three more to take the all-time lead). Federer was nearly untouchable up this point in his career. After setting records with straight victories, weeks at #1 and many more, Federer had only one kryptonite; Rafa Nadal. Rafa had clearly established himself as the #2 player in the world and was fighting to get over that hump and dethrone Federer from the throne. Nadal was unable to touch Federer on most surfaces but owned the Swiss on clay. It just seemed that Nadal couldn’t beat Federer on any other surface but each time they played, he seemed to get a little bit closer. Everything just seemed to be the perfect storm for this epic match up of the games two best players. I don’t know the stat exactly but I think a player not named Nadal or Federer had won only 1 Major title out of the past 15-20. The match would eventually change the entire landscape of Tennis. As Nadal finally did the impossible, he seemed to have rightfully claimed his spot as the heir to the throne. Federer would win a few more majors but his dominance would never be the same as Nadal had established himself as the next big star. Nadal would go on to become the #1 in the world and go on his own undefeated streak, win numerous titles and move his way up the rankings as one of the greatest of all time. Let’s look at the Match.
Nadal was able to win the first two sets 6-4 and 6-4 as he was able to take advantage of the many break chances he received. Federer kept on fighting and earned his own break points but was unable to cash in on the opportunities. At this point, Federer, for the first time in his career looked like a broken player. The odds were against him. Federer’s unbeaten streak at Majors was on the line but not since 1927 had someone come back from 2 sets down to win the Wimbledon Final. But with the third set tied 3-3 and Federer down 0-40, the Swiss Champion mustered everything he could and staged a remarkable comeback. Federer was able to save not one or two championship points but three championship points on his way to winning the 3rd and 4th sets. After coming back in the third, Federer won both the 3rd and 4th sets in tiebreakers, the 4th going to an amazing 10-8 score.
As amazing as Federer’s comeback was, Nadal’s perseverance and heart is second to none. Nadal will go down as the hardest working and fighting tennis player of all time. He literally puts his heart and soul into every single shot. Once Federer made his comeback and evened the sets at 2-2, it almost seemed as if Roger was destined for this amazing comeback against his arch nemesis. But Nadal would have none of that. As the battle on Center Court moved towards 5-5 the two played on since there are no tiebreakers in Championship matches. Nadal was able to pull out the 5th set at 9-7 and with that, the greatest final in the last 20 years came to a close.
This final was just as impactful for its history as it was for its impact on the current field and future sport of Tennis. The game changed the landscape of the sport while honoring two the game’s greatest of all time. If you have never seen this match, watch it because every single point was full of drama, intensity, and some of the greatest athleticism ever seen. All of the top five on this list were special sporting events and there can be no doubting that this match is up there with the best of them.
Some Highlights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEUGjcQ3jYs

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