We are the champions

More than once on this blog you’ve read me going on about how lucky a life I’ve had.  This is not intended as bragging or one-upmanship and I certainly don’t want to bore you with endless repetition of a theme.  But I am deeply appreciative of what I have; living in a country of great freedoms, living in a state of bountiful natural beauty, being reasonably ambulatory (except after long tennis matches) and being of predominantly sound mind.  I literally make it a point each day to take a moment to be thankful for all that.

But, seeing as this is supposed to be “sports week”, you’re no doubt wondering when I’m going to tie that theme into sports somehow.  You can let out a relieved sigh now; this post is definitely about sports.  More specifically, about how lucky I have been in the sporting events I’ve been able to witness firsthand.

The earliest evidence of these amazing sports luck was simply by living in South Florida during 1972.  That year, the Miami Dolphins made modern professional sports history by going through every game, including the championship game (you may know it under its other name:  Super Bowl), undefeated.  No other team before or since in any sport has done that.  I wasn’t at the Super Bowl, but I saw many games including the playoffs that year.  The Dolphins played in the Orange Bowl then, stadiums of a bygone era that had little in the way of comfort.  It had one fascinating characteristic, though.  When the fans stood on the concrete floors and stomped their feet, the stadium would vibrate and a huge wall of sound would radiate from the stands.  Pretty cool.  Awesome, actually.  (No, we never imagined the stadium would collapse.  Things like that didn’t seem to happen in those days)

The next big day also revolved around the Dolphins and being undefeated.  Only this time, it was the visiting team, the Chicago Bears, that were threatening the Dolphins’ record.  Miami was a couple years removed from what (unbeknown to us) was our last Super Bowl appearance and we had Dan Marino driving our offense, but we were clearly the underdog.  The Bears were a juggernaut with a bone-crushing defense and were dominating the league.  By now, the Dolphins were playing in Joe Robbie Stadium, a terrific stadium (with seat backs, no less).  The crowd was as fired up as you ever see one in South Florida (yes, that’s a dig at my hometown).  The ’72 Dolphins made a pregame appearance (before it became passé for them to show up for games like that).  It was nationally televised, more, it was Monday Night Football!  And we stomped the Bears.  And the fans found a new characteristic of Joe Robbie Stadium.  Made much too impressively for mere stamping feet to affect it, we found that if we all stood and banged the seat back in front of us, they would vibrate and a huge wall of sound would radiate from the stands.  Pretty awesome.  The Bears never lost another game that season, including winning the Super Bowl.

The next amazing moment was also in Joe Robbie.  This was the opening day of Major League Baseball circa 1993.  It also was the first game ever for the first professional baseball team ever in the state of Florida.  I know you’re all aware by now how much I love baseball.  Can you imagine I would not be there?  What a fabulous day, to see that crisply mowed green outfield, those sharp white lines and those…er…odd teal colored baseball caps.  Of course, storybook like, we won the game, with a later-to-be-nicknamed “Mr. Marlin” Jeff Conine getting four hits and an aged veteran knuckleballer Charlie Hough getting the win.

Flash forward four more years.  Same team.  Same stadium.  Situation:  the ultimate game of Baseball’s ultimate game:  The seventh game of the World Series.  Tight.  Down late.  A solo homer to get close.  A miraculous error by a gold glove infielder allowing it to go extra innings and then a scrappy pair of hitters just beating a throw home to set off a celebration unseen in South Florida…ever.   No other South Florida sports team had won the championship in South Florida.

Six years later, I had the opportunity to witness Roger Clemens first “last” game in a World Series appearance at Joe Robbie (more on that in the post “The roaring of the crowd”).  The Marlins would also win that World Series, in less dramatic fashion and, sadly, away from home (in storied Yankee Stadium).

A few year after that, I was given the opportunity to be at the Georgia Dome for the 1-loss Florida Gators to face undefeated Alabama for the SEC Championship.  The winner would most likely get to play in the BCS National Championship game a few weeks later.  It was my first experience inside a domed football stadium and as could be expected with the perfect storm of championship game and college sports, the noise was beyond deafening.  It was numbing!  The Gators (led by the astounding Tim Tebow) jumped ahead, but Alabama began to slowly muscle into control.  My friends and I were being deluged with abuse (but, oddly, not mean-spirited) from exultant Alabama fans.  And then it all changed.  Two drives later the Gators would go on to win the game and get a shot at the mythical national title.

Which, by another amazing stroke of luck, I was given tickets to go see.  Inviting my roommate from my first quarter in UF from nearly 30 years earlier (you know him if you’ve been reading along this blog, he’s my childhood buddy), we got there extra, extra early and set up for tailgating.  Hooting and hollering with other Gator fans before we faced the Oklahoma Sooners.  Both teams were offensive juggernauts that year, so of course the game was a defensive struggle most of the way.  But UF had just enough to move ahead and win the national championship.  What made the game so much more special was that, of all the places the game could be held as it rotated across the country, that year it was held at none other than Joe Robbie Stadium…right in my own backyard!  It’s almost enough to make me believe in fate!

So forgive me if I wax happily about my good fortune in life.  As we sometimes say on a ball that trickles over the net for a winner, I’d rather be lucky than good.  Looking back on my sports experiences, I’ve been luckier than most.  And believe me, I do appreciate it.  Which reminds me, opening day is April 1st.  I better check out the available seats now…who knows what I’ll be lucky enough to witness this year?

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