The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is presenting a series of columns from our staff detailing the five most memorable games they have covered in their careers.
When the Braves signed Eric Young Jr., I introduced myself and told him I’d covered Eric Young Sr. when he played for the Brewers. It was my first realization that I’d been doing this a while. That was five years ago, which is my way of saying that I’m old enough to recount the five most memorable games or events I’ve covered in my career.
I started at The Courier-Journal in my hometown of Louisville, Ky., but none of the games I covered during that time made my list. (Considered: Bryan Bullington, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 MLB draft, pitching a one-hitter to win the 1999 Indiana Class AAA championship for Madison High.) My list includes two events I’ve covered for the AJC, one for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and two for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
No. 5: May 23, 2002: Dodgers slugger Shawn Green hits four homers vs. Brewers. Only 18 players in MLB history have hit four home runs in a game. But what I remember most about Green’s big day is the anguish on Brewers reliever Jose Cabrera’s face when he looked to his dugout at Miller Park in the ninth inning. Cabrera had just given up Green’s fourth home run, a two-out shot, after the previous batter, Adrian Beltre, had homered against him.
Cabrera also was the victim of Green’s third home run, in the eighth inning. Cabrera’s expression after Green’s fourth home run suggested that he didn’t believe he could get another out and wanted his manager to save him. But Brewers skipper Jerry Royster didn’t want to use another pitcher with his team trailing 15-2, so he left Cabrera in to face Dave Hansen, who also homered.
Finally and mercifully, Royster pulled Cabrera from the game. I felt bad for Cabrera. He did his best, but just didn’t have it on a day when the Brewers needed him to take one for the team and no pitcher could get out Green, who went 6-for-6 with five extra-base hits.
No. 4: Oct. 6, 2007: LSU 28, Florida 24. Tim Tebow was a backup to Chris Leak during Florida’s national championship run in 2006, words that seem too preposterous to be true. Tebow was becoming a star by the time of this game. A week after the Gators lost at home to Auburn on a field goal as time expired, Tebow was leading them into Death Valley at night to face No. 1 LSU.
I’d covered Gators games during the daytime at The Swamp, but this was something different. I couldn’t believe the number of tailgaters at Tiger Stadium and how, um, enthusiastic they were about the game. At kickoff, I remember thinking it felt as if the Gators were playing in the middle of a city surrounded by 93,000 angry citizens, many of them intoxicated, who hated them.
The game lived up to the hype. LSU coach Les Miles kept going for it on fourth down, and the Tigers kept converting, if only barely on two critical plays. (“Very frustrating,” Florida coach Urban Meyer said afterward). Tebow would go on to win the Heisman Trophy that season and the BCS championship the next season.
No. 3: July 9, 2002: National League 7, American League 7. I was covering the Brewers that year, and the All-Star game was at Miller Park. I thought Barry Bonds’ incredible home run exhibition during batting practice would be the highlight of the week. I was wrong. The All-Star game infamously ended in a 7-7 tie when the teams ran out of pitchers.
Fans in the stadium heaped scorn on MLB commissioner Bud Selig when the possibility of a tie game was announced before the 11th inning. They let Selig have it again when the game did end in a tie. What should have been a lifetime highlight for Selig in his hometown ended with boos from the stands and beer bottles on the field because of his decision.
It wasn’t really Selig’s fault — his “What do you want me to do?” shoulder shrugs are a lasting image — but MLB quickly moved to avoid a repeat of that fiasco. Beginning the next year it made the All-Star game more competitive by awarding home-field advantage in the World Series to the winning league. MLB changed the rule again before the 2017 season so that the pennant winner with the best record gets home-field advantage.
No. 2: Feb. 5, 2017: Patriots 34, Falcons 28 (OT). I’d worked plenty of Super Bowls before this one, but this was the first time the team I covered was in the game. I was too busy rewriting my story several times to fully appreciate the calamity of the Falcons squandering the Super Bowl as it happened. That didn’t happen until after I filed my first postgame story.
Outside of the press box, I saw Kyle Shanahan among Falcons assistants waiting and waiting for an elevator down to field level as Patriots fans taunted them. In the interview area, I saw the disbelief and hurt in the faces of Falcons players. The surreal scene reached its peak when I realized that Dan Quinn seemed unaware of the coaching errors that contributed to the largest blown lead in Super Bowl history.
I used to laugh at Atlanta sports fans who believe their city’s sports teams are cursed. I laugh less after what happened to the Falcons in that Super Bowl. Maybe something supernatural really is at work.
No. 1: April 14, 2019: Tiger Woods wins his fifth Masters. Augusta National Golf Club’s obsessiveness about being special worked in my favor for my first Masters. Unlike other PGA events, the Masters doesn’t allow media access inside the ropes and there is limited seating in the grandstands. That made it hard to get a good view of the golfers. It became harder when Tiger Woods was trying to win the Masters after injuries and self-inflicted personal problems left him without a majors victory since 2008.
It turned out that being among the ticket holders was the best way to cover what happened. I followed Woods around the course for the final round and, as I recounted in my column, the sounds told the story even when I couldn’t see. Being pinned near the back of galleries allowed me to absorb the energy of an event in a way that’s usually not possible when I’m working.
It was exhilarating. Seeing how the sausage is made sometimes makes me cynical about sports. It sounds trite, I know, but that day reminded me why I fell in love with sports. The circumstances of that day lined up in a way that I doubt will ever happen again when I’m on the job.
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