Over the past two weeks, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution presented a series of columns from our staff detailing the five most memorable events they have covered in their careers. Today we end the series with the contribution of former sports editor Ray Cox.
When you’ve had a long career in sports journalism, you know it’s time to leave when sons of players you covered in their teens begin making the big leagues.
So it was when I walked away as AJC sports editor 21 months ago.
Now with world events causing a step back from doing virtually anything except things you can do virtually I’ve joined my old AJC mates in looking back at the top five events I covered.
I grew up a huge baseball fan and saw some things in person as a youngster that were a real treat and likely got me on the road to sports journalism:
• June 1, 1966: Hank Aaron and Willie Mays hit home runs in the same game in then-Atlanta Stadium in a San Francisco victory.
• Aug. 8, 1969: We got in our seats at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium late but just in time to see Tony Oliva muff a Paul Blair liner into an inside-the-park homer. Davey Johnson won the game in the ninth with a sac fly.
• June 28, 1970: Cincinnati’s Pete Rose and Bobby Tolan led off a game in the Astrodome with back-to-back homers and Tony Perez hit another home run in the ninth for a 3-2 victory against Houston.
Some of the names in my favorite five you’ll recognize, and I don’t even include a hustling Dennis Rodman in the 1985 NAIA national tourney in Kansas City before the tattoos and NBA titles. Every coach in that NAIA field wished Rodman had been on their team.
5. March 22, 1984: Indiana 72, North Carolina 68. It was the NCAA East Regional in the old Omni. My first trip to Atlanta as a journalist was memorable for me even if Michael Jordan didn’t include it in the Last Dance documentary as a key game for His Airness.
UNC was favored, but Jordan was held by Dan Dakich to 14 points on a pedestrian 6-of-14 shooting and Jordan also fouled out. What was among Dean Smith’s best and most heavily favored teams was knocked out early by Bobby Knight and Steve Alford.
4. Early April 1985, South Atlantic League season opener, Sumter, S.C.: As the Charleston (S.C.) Post-Courier beat writer for the newly named Charleston Rainbows, I covered only a few road games, but this was the opener.
The Braves had switched their SAL affiliate to Sumter, a godforsaken backwater, and the ballpark was in worse shape than the town.
It was too cold for baseball, there wasn’t much hitting in the game, and I was just thankful the press box didn’t collapse.
The talent on both teams, though, was amazing.
Ron Gant, Jeff Blauser, Mark Lemke and a left-hander just turned 19 named Tom Glavine was on the mound for Sumter.
For Charleston, a San Diego Padres affiliate, the second baseman was Roberto Alomar, all of 16 and parading that year as a 15-year-old, and he was the star along with his 18-year-old brother Sandy Jr. behind the plate.
Past is prologue? Glavine pitched a 1-0 beauty, as I recall because it’s hard to find records. He led the league in ERA that season and a decade later won the World Series clincher 1-0 for the big-league team. Brian Snitker managed the Sumter team the following season.
As I also recall, I predicted Alomar would be a Hall of Famer later in the season. People thought I was crazed.
3. Oct. 12, 2008: Falcons 22, Bears 20. Chicago took the lead at 20-19 with 11 seconds left in the Georgia Dome.
The Bears used a squib kick, so the Falcons got the ball at their 44. Not enough time, right?
Under a heavy rush and big hit, rookie Matt Ryan heaved a pass down the sideline in front of the Falcons’ bench and Michael Jenkins made an improbable catch around the Bears’ 30.
Jason Elam, having missed a makeable kick before the Bears’ TD drive, came on to redeem himself with a 48-yard game-winner and everyone began to process that Ryan was a worthy successor to Michael Vick.
2. Jan. 1, 1994: Florida State 18, Nebraska 16: In the 60th Orange Bowl, Florida State won the national championship.
The undefeated Cornhuskers scored early in the fourth quarter to pull within 15-13 of the 16 1/2-point favorites.
And then Byron Bennett kicked a field goal with 1:16 remaining that would give Tom Osborne his first national title.
Or as one press box newbie, now a long-time veteran Braves writer, wrote: “or so it seemed.”
Charlie Ward quickly rallied the Seminoles, and Scott Bentley, a kicker recruited by Bobby Bowden after all the heartbreaking missed kicks by FSU five times in 12 seasons, drilled a 22-yard field goal with 21 seconds left for Bowden’s and assistant Mark Richt’s first national title. They won again in 1999.
1. Sept. 4, 1994: Dolphins 39, Patriots 35. The Dolphins’ Dan Marino returned from a torn Achilles the previous season and wasn’t moving particularly well in the exhibitions.
But in the season opener at Joe Robbie Stadium, Marino threw five touchdown passes for the sixth time in his career in a comeback victory and joined Fran Tarkenton as the only passers to that point in NFL history with more than 300 TD passes.
Marino, like Jordan, was an athletic savant who could do anything on the playing field that he wished … but unlike Jordan, Marino could never win a title.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.
Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.