With a varied list of contributors to Perfecting the Upset, we decided it made sense to start a series of articles where we’d throw out a question to the crew and see how they stand. This week, we ask:
What was the first game you ever attended?
(Don’t forget to check out our Allegiances table to know our loyalties.)
The first professional game I attended soon became part of one of my first memorable heartbreaks: Game 6 of the 1992-93 Western Conference finals between the Houston Rockets and the Seattle SuperSonics. My uncle surprised me with tickets, which led to me frantically printing out “banners” on our old dot matrix to cheer on Olajuwon and crew. (They were terrible, but an eleven year old has to make do with the technology he has access to.) The first five games of the series had been decided by an average of 14.4 points, all won by the team at home. Game 5, in fact, ended in a 25 slaughter by the Shawn Kemp-led Sonics.
The game was tight through half-time until Kenny “The Jet” Smith took it upon himself and ripped the Sonics 36-15 in the third quarter with his 13-for-16 shooting. We won 103-90. But the real memory of that series remains in two parts: The first was Game 7, which ended in a 3 point loss at Seattle in overtime. It was the only game in the series that went down to the wire, where The Jet had a chance to clinch it at the end of regulation but failed. We lost 103-100 because we simply couldn’t stop Sam Perkins. Brutal.
But what I’ve never forgotten was outside the series, and why I’ve come to hate David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs so much: Game 82 of the regular season was against them. We won the game outright during regulation, but Hugh Evans decided to count a tip-in at the buzzer that was clearly too late. It was enough to send the game to overtime and help the Spurs eek out a 119-117 victory. Most importantly? It gave Seattle home court advantage against us, even though we both ended the season with the same record. And considering we were 2-6 against them over the past two seasons due to our inability to contain Kemp, Payton and Perkins, we could have used that. (Perkins, especially, was one of the few players in the league who gave Olajuwon problems due to his range and height.)
We know that one decision in the regular season doesn’t lead to your final seeding, but I’ve never been able to forget about it. My first experience at The Summit remains blood-stained by Robinson and Evan and kept us from having a go at Jordan.
I assume that the first sporting event I went to was a minor league baseball game but I don’t remember anything about it. And when I was a young’un I saw the Washington Bullets a couple of times and the Washington Capitals once. That’s all I remember.
The first game for which I remember any details was a Seattle Mariners/Baltimore Orioles game on June 6, 1993 at Camden Yards in Baltimore. The stadium was only about a year old then. I remember this game for a couple of reasons: One, my dad had procured access to the Tyson Chicken corporate luxury box, so I got to watch the game in style; and two, there was a giant brawl in the middle of the game.
The fight I remember well but the people involved faded from my memory over the past 18 years until a friend of mine found the box score for me. I knew Harold Reyonlds, Mike Mussina and Norm Charlton were involved and that Lou Piniella got thrown out for a temper tantrum. It was an epic fight by baseball standards, and it started as baseball fights usually do: Team A’s pitcher throws at or hits Team B’s batter and then Team B’s pitcher retaliates shortly thereafter. In this case, Chris Bosio of the M’s went headhunting and Mike Mussina of the O’s nailed some dude I’ve never heard of. Fight!
What I remember most was how the fight never seemed to end. Usually, these things end quickly and everyone’s standing around. The guys from the bullpen run in just to get some cardio in. But this fight just kept going on and on. The pile kept moving around the infield like those cups in that cup game they always throw up on the video board. Fights were breaking out all over the place. McNulty and Bunk tried to break things up until the umpires stopped them (the police did try to intervene). Apparently, Ripken was at the bottom of that mess. Everyone in the stadium was standing up just in awe of a real, honest-to-god fight on the baseball diamond. I was pretty sure it was the greatest thing I’d seen in my 14 years of life so far.
The end result: Chris Bosio broke his collarbone for the second time that season. Two guys on the O’s got all bloodied up. Norm Charlton threw some punches. Eight players were ejected, including Piniella (shocker).
I only knew who won thanks to the box score. But two teams brawling out all over the diamond, that’s the kind of thing that sticks with you. The only equivalent would be Pedro Martinez throwing Don Zimmer to the ground like a bag of flour. But I wasn’t there for that.
Oh, and Cal Ripken? Ripken lived to see another day (or so).
Technically, the first game I ever went to was Rockets vs. Knicks at Madison Square Garden on December 3, 1983, when my mom was pregnant with me. When I was old enough to hear this story, I instantly became a Knicks fan. During the 1983-84 season, the Knicks finished 47-35 and lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Celtics. As a Knicks fan, this was just the beginning of losing series to playoff rivals. Hubie Brown was the coach of the team at the time, and to this day he remains one of my favorite announcers to hear on the radio.
Survivor Series ’94. San Antonio. Freeman Coliseum. I was 12, and our poor asses smuggled food in from the outside, a pseudo-white trash family of four taking in the ‘rasslin for the night. Couldn’t have enjoyed it more, particularly when Undertaker extracted revenge by defeating Yokozuna in a casket match. The special enforcer for that main event match? A Mr. Chuck Norris, the man who doesn’t read books, but rather, stares them down until he gets the information he wants.
In September ’94, my dad took my brother and me to our first Buccaneers game. It was at the Old Sombrero against the New Orleans Saints, and little did I know that this would be the start of my hatred of the ‘Aints. In the midst of the Bucs’ thirteen year run of losing seasons, Sam Wyche was trying to put a consistent winner out on the field, but even his Super Bowl resume couldn’t get it done in Tampa. In a game that you could call a “defensive showdown” or an “offensive letdown,” the Bucs lost to the Saints 9-7. It would be a couple of more games until I saw my first win, and years until my first winning season, but being in the stadium for the first time and taking in the experience in all of its smash-mouth-football glory had me hooked. Buccaneer football at the Old or New Sombrero was the only way to go.
My first sporting event was a Capitals regular season game against the Minnesota North Stars in 1987, but it wasn’t the first one I was supposed to go to.
On November 1, 1985, my Capitals hosted an early-season home game against the New York Islanders—those New York Islanders, who had won four straight Stanley Cups and came one win away from a fifth. Bossy. Trottier. Smith. Potvin. Gillies. LaFontaine. Two Sutters. Tonelli. A stacked line-up, one of the greatest teams ever assembled in the NHL.
So needless to say I was excited for weeks when my friend told me that his dad got four tickets to the game from work, and I was getting the fourth ticket.
The day before the game, I stayed out playing night roller hockey with my friends in the cold Indian summer air wearing a t-shirt and shorts… and got sick. I could barely move the next morning. I skipped school, slept as much as I could, but couldn’t convince my mom I was healthy enough to go to the game.
The 4pm vomiting didn’t help my cause.
At 5pm I succumbed, and another friend went to the game. I watched the Caps beat the Isles, 5-3, on television. My friend’s dad brought me a Capitals team calendar, which was the promotion that night.
Missing that game was a source of inspiration from then on, though: I watched every minute of every Capitals game on TV (unless I went to the game in person) from that year until I went to college outside of the DC area 12 years later.
In my junior and senior year, there was some home tape-delaying involved since I was working, playing club hockey, and, for a little bit, entertaining a girlfriend who wasn’t a sports fan; go figure—but I made it happen.
Still, I wondered how great it would have been to see my Caps perfect the upset (pun intended!) against the vaunted 1980s Islanders.
I still am jealous to this day.