5 career moments: Jordan’s ‘All-Star’ Last Dance, Andruw’s walk-off and a 1995 special

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is presenting a series of columns from our staff detailing the five most memorable events they have covered in their careers.

Not everyone in this business gets the opportunity to watch games in-person on a regular basis, and editors in the office are important in moving articles to print and digital. I wasn’t on the front line, but I’ve witnessed some crushing, career-defining losses from my work cubicle – Falcons in the Super Bowl, Georgia vs. Alabama in the College Football Playoff national title game (in addition to the SEC title game losses to the Crimson Tide in 2012 and 2018) and Georgia Tech vs. UConn in 2004 NCAA basketball title game.

Watched Muhammad Ali’s breathtaking 1996 Olympic moment from the office, and was less than 15 minutes removed from the office on the night of the Olympic Park bombing. Earlier in ’96, I actually covered three future Olympians – Dwight Phillips, Angelo Taylor and Terrence Trammell – in the DeKalb Relays.

But I’ve been fortunate enough to venture out and witness firsthand some big moments in my 26 years at the AJC, and here are my top five:

No. 5: Dec. 28, 1997: North Carolina 82, Georgia 80 (OT). Dean Smith had recently retired, but the Tar Heels were still ranked No. 1 and rolled into Athens for a nationally televised game against the Bulldogs. December basketball at Stegeman Coliseum? Usually not a big deal, especially with students away for the holidays, but this game packed the house and the home team put on a show.

The Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison-led Tar Heels were down 73-66 in the final two minutes, and I’m preparing the cliched “Georgia takes down mighty UNC again 14 years later” top to my story – with an energetic group of students seated behind me yelling in my ear. But UNC scored the final seven points in regulation to force overtime and won the game on basket by Carter in the final seconds.

The ghosts of Georgia’s 1983 team that defeated Carolina on the way to the Final Four couldn’t lift the Dogs in the December matchup that had a March Madness feel to it. Georgia didn’t help its cause with three missed free throws and a pair of turnovers as UNC mounted its comeback.

And I’ll have a little more on that Carter guy later.

No. 4: Jan. 4, 2000: Florida State 46, Virginia Tech 29 in the Sugar Bowl. Any trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl is a good one, but this one was even better – unbeaten Florida State against unbeaten Virginia Tech for the 1999 BCS championship. Bobby Bowden eventually would win his second national title as Seminoles' coach, but the game is remembered by most as the breakout performance on the national stage for the Hokies' Michael Vick.

Vick was just faster than everyone else on the turf of the Superdome that night and had a pair of breathtaking runs en route to finishing as the game’s leading rusher. But the best player on the field was Florida State’s Peter Warrick, who scored three touchdowns and had a two-point conversion.

I would bump into Warrick many years later, and we talked briefly about the game. I remember him saying they had to “get that one” after losing to Tennessee in the ’98 title game.

We didn’t know this at the time, but two key figures from the game would still attract headlines 20 years later – Seminoles offensive coordinator Mark Richt, who spent 15 years as Georgia’s head coach, and Vick, the top pick of the 2001 NFL draft by the Falcons.

No. 3: Feb. 9, 2003: West 155, East 145 (2OT). As an NBA All-Star, Michael Jordan held his Last Dance on the floor of Philips Arena. The events of the day fell into place just like a script of a movie (or 10-part documentary) – Jordan received the loudest ovation during introductions, and although he wasn't voted in as a starter, Vince Carter gave up his spot so that Jordan could start. Yes, the same Vince Carter who would ultimately score the final basket at State Farm Arena (formerly Philips Arena) before the interruption of play in 2020.

Sorry, back to the script. Sporting a No. 23 Wizards jersey, Mariah Carey provided the halftime entertainment and then introduced Jordan, who was emotional during his speech. And then with the score tied in overtime, it was Jordan who made the go-ahead basket to send the sold-out audience into a frenzy. Perfect movie ending, right?

Not so fast. After he was fouled by Jermaine O’Neal, Kobe Bryant made two free throws in the final seconds to force a second overtime, and the West eventually would win by 10. Hollywood missed out on that occasion, but it was cool for me to be able to soak it all in.

A side note: Saw Yao Ming and Shaquille O’Neal chatting before the game, by far the two largest humans I’ve ever seen side by side.

No. 2: Oct. 28, 1995: Douglass 25, Southwest DeKalb 13. There were three big events that day, and this would've been my clear No. 1 choice if I had covered Game 6 of the World Series in-person (instead I watched the dramatics from the office). Here's how that Saturday unfolded – In the office early and had some of the backlash after the David Justice headline in the paper that morning (I was the high school editor at that time, but I'm a member of the staff and what affects everyone also affects me). And then watched on TV as Florida dropped half a hundred on Georgia as the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" was held in Athens for one year.

Broke away from the office for a few hours to check out a high school football game – and it was a doozy (”crunk” or “lit” in today’s terminology). Southwest DeKalb versus Douglass at DeKalb Memorial Stadium. That stadium wasn’t the easiest to get into on a normal day, but add 20,000-plus fans jammed in to see teams featuring a pair of future high-profile NFL players, and it was all but inaccessible (but I had the power of the press on my side).

Jamal Lewis had 170 yards and three touchdowns as Douglass upset top-ranked Southwest DeKalb 25-13. Eight years later, Lewis became the fifth player in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.

Quincy Carter didn’t have his best game against the Astros, but Southwest DeKalb captured the bigger prize that year - defeating Parkview on the same field seven weeks later to win the state championship. And while Lewis was gaining 2,000 yards for the Baltimore Ravens in 2003, Carter started 16 games for the Cowboys that same season and led Big D to the playoffs.

Oh, and I made it back downtown in time to see the Braves win it all – from the office.

No. 1: Oct. 19, 1999: Braves 10, Mets 9 (11 innings). Before I mention the actual game, here's a little bit of a setup – the Braves won the first three games of the National League Championship Series and had two chances to close it out in New York. They lost 3-2 in Game 4, and Game 5 – another one-run loss – was a 15-inning marathon that lasted a playoff-record five hours and 46 minutes.

So … back to Atlanta for Game 6, and I’m the editor on site at Turner Field. For those in this business, just imagine how many different story-leads you would have had during an 11-inning, four-hour, 25-minute game with the World Series on the line.

The marathon ultimately ended with Andruw Jones’ bases-loaded walk for a 10-9 victory – and the place went crazy. The loudest eruption and celebration I’ve ever heard by far. Not sure about the acoustics when Sid slid at the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in ’92, but it was pretty loud at Turner Field that night.

While the celebration continued on the field and in the stands, the real work began for everyone in the press box. Four-hour game with an 8:12 first pitch? You could have cut the tension with a knife with everyone scrambling to meet deadline.

I remember leaving Turner Field well after 2 a.m., and for those familiar with the stadium layout, you could go through the loading-dock area to get back to the primary media parking lot. I could still hear the celebration as I rode down the elevator and made the walk to the loading dock. Not sure if the noise was coming from the players, but definitely fans and stadium workers.

Still remember a very cool parking lot attendant saying, “Make us look good brother” as I made my way to the car. Little did he know that our writers and editors had already done that, and it was easy to do after the most memorable game I had witnessed in my career.