"Stupid Lightning blogger... Having to bring this crap up again. Come on, Frank, lets go to Buffalo Rumblings. They'll treat us with some respect." (Credit George Rose / Getty Images Sport)
Let me preface this by saying the post is part of a campaign across the SB Nation Network (sponsored by Samsung) to have blog managers speak of their favorite sports highlight. So, this is off topic through and through.
Making sure you know that, I can tell you that it's difficult to judge a singular favorite sports highlight in all my years watching sports - baseball, football, hockey, tennis, boxing, even some basketball. I wouldn't be completely honest if I were to just write a post about the Tampa Bay Lightning here and say the 2004 Cup win was my favorite sports highlight, or Steven Stamkos' "goal of the year" from 2009-10, or some other feat that happened on ice between 1992 and 2012 was my favorite sports highlight.
I may have been a Lightning fan way back when with this club, but I can't say hockey was the end-all-be-all sport as I came of age during the 90's. Baseball dominated my perspective of the sports world, and watching NFL football (and the hapless-then-later-defensively-dominant Tampa Bay Buccaneers) was a pastime in the fall...
Trying to think of a singular instance from among hundreds of sporting events that I've witnessed from my home and in person is a tough task. There are ones that I got a rise out of, others that warmed my heart, amazing feats that left me in awe at the spectacle, and more often ones that left me feeling sick to my stomach and hateful to all things in the world. Sports have a knack to both reward your personal involvement in teams and athletes, as well as color you a fool for investing your emotions within them.
A sports highlight? Where to begin?
I could very well talk about Super Bowl XXV (25, for the Roman-Numerically challenged) that was played in Tampa at the old Tampa Stadium in 1991. I was involved in that game in an emotional sense (being the son of a die-hard New York Giants fan) and a personal sense (as I knew plenty of local kids who were performing as part of the halftime show). It was a contest played in the shadow of Operation Desert Storm and the first Gulf War, with the aforementioned halftime show being skipped by ABC in favor of news updates from the late Peter Jennings.
It was a close game, and would go down as the closest in Super Bowl history. Backup QB Jeff Hostetler was leading the Giants attack at QB, playing place of Phil Simms who went down weeks earlier. Ottis Anderson was relied upon for the Giants smash-mouth running attack. Meanwhile the cast of Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, and Thurman Thomas were intimidating on the Buffalo offensive (and Bruce Smith even more so on defense).
I remember the waning seconds of the game and Buffalo setting up for a field goal in close range. It was a chip shot, it was too close, and it was perfect for them. The Buffalo Bills would receive the Lombardi Trophy and be christened as world champions, while the Giants would be sent home with their tail between their legs.
I could say what happened next was my favorite sports highlight... I can't. I didn't see it. Scott Norwood lined up and... I covered my eyes. I couldn't watch. There are very few instances in sports where I couldn't take the potential horror of the next moment that was coming. But, as a 12 year old with everyone around me rooting for the Big Blue? I couldn't handle it. It was
Al Michaels Frank Gifford that alerted me (and my eagerly watching family) to the miraculous blunder of the wide kick.
Scott Norwood Missed Field Goal Super Bowl XXV (via klosani2785)
That's a highlight; recalling the game itself and my family hunched around the television in our living room and going nuts, right? It's a story that can be retold with different players and different contests in different sports, but the same type of incidents and arrangements in our personal lives. We live and die with our victories and pratfalls. We stake so much of our heart on accomplishments, and even just escaping from the proverbial cellar of also-ran status.
That brings me to another highlight. But it wasn't an on-the-field accomplishment where an athlete achieved the impossible, or history was made. No, in this instance, it was a telephone call from a ticket rep from the Tampa Bay Lightning in late September or early October 2002. It was just your run of the mill call, really, of a rep trying to take a fan and convert them to a customer.
I'd been following the Bolts with hopeful eyes since Palace Sports and Entertainment took over the team in the summer of 1999. Rick Dudley had been saying the right things for the most part, though he seemed too willing to trade "assets" on a regular basis to try to find "assets" that actually worked. And his drafting history was weak at best - Nikita Alexeev, Alexander Svitov, Alexander Poulshin (kudos to the fans who recognize that name). Jay Feaster was now at the helm, after Dudley's failed dealing of Vincent Lecavalier to Toronto in the winter of 2002, with John Tortorella calling the shots behind the bench.
I wasn't sold on where the team was going that season. Nikolai Khabibulin was lights-out in net, sure... But a tight camp that dismissed prospects and building long term left a sour taste... They weren't ready to compete now, were they? This call came fresh after training camp - where forward Vaclav Prospal made the roster over former 20-goal scorer Shane Willis. That did not seem like a wise move, and I let the representative know that as I dismissed his call.
The highlight isn't the call itself, but the error in judgment. The highlight isn't Prospal's numbers that season, or his overall career with the Lightning. It was the fact that I was proven wrong. The mire of losing that the Bolts had been lost in for so long receded that season. Instead of golf plans for early April and gauging prospects and hope or the future, the Bolts crashed the NHL's second season for the second time ever. It would be the first of four consecutive seasons of playoff hockey in Tampa Bay. One of those four seasons would result in the Lightning's name being engraved on the Stanley Cup.
I think we all can admit, as sports fans, that it's nice to be proven wrong -- dead wrong, as it were - from time to time. Someone does something opposite of what you planned. I think that narrative point applies to both anecdotes. While we revel in the unbelievable achievements on the field, it's the ones that defy our doubts that can remain with us the longest.
Are these two incidents the end-all-be-all of my sports fan life? Hardly, they're just two memories wandering the concourse of the stadium that is my life as a fan. But for the sake of an assignment, they'll work.
What about you? Can you name a favorite sports highlight? Fill us in with your memories in the comments.