Wednesday, April 11, 2007

My Top 11 Michigan/Detroit Plays: 11 through 6

EDIT: As pointed out in the post above, I am a mathematically-challenged nincompoop whose "Top 10" plays really were a Top 11. I will now throw out the generic lame excuse that this is the last week of classes and my brain is completely fried. To save myself further embarrassment, I have gone back and changed the numbers. This never happened.

This is one of my favorite times of the year for sports. Baseball season has started up, the NHL and NBA Playoffs both start soon, and the NFL Draft is right around the corner. Throw in spring practice for college football and the ever-moving coaching carousel in college hoops and all the major sports have some newsworthy action right now.

In honor of this flurry of sporting activity, and because I really love perusing YouTube, I decided to compile my top 10 favorite plays from my time following Michigan and Detroit sports (keep in mind I moved to Michigan in the summer of 1993, at the ripe old age of 5). Some criteria:

1. I had to be watching the game as it happened, either in person or on television. This eliminates the Mike Legg goal and the Red Wings/Avalanche brawl from March 26, 1997, which was televised on Pass Sports, a channel which was the bane of my existence until the Wings started televising all their games on Fox Sports.

2. Significance plays a factor, and as you will see, the vast majority of these plays either decided a game or came in the playoffs (or both).

3. To come up with these plays, I literally sat down for 10 minutes and wrote down the plays that came to mind. This way I would be picking the plays that really stuck with me over time. I realized afterwards that I completely omitted Barry Sanders (or any other Lions highlights, shockingly) from this list. My explanation: Barry, above any other player I have ever had the privilege to watch play, awed me with his greatness. I cannot begin to count the number of his runs that made me gasp in amazement, or jump out of my chair, or just stare in disbelief that any human could do what he had just done. However, he was cursed to play on the pitiful Lions, and was rarely put in the position where his runs would have much more significance than affecting the Lions draft position for the upcoming offseason. If his run to break 2000 yards in 1997 was more than a 2-yarder, where most of the fans were unsure if he had actually hit the milestone or not, that play may have made it on the list. Barry is one of my favorite athletes of all time, and I truly believe he is the greatest running back ever, but for these reasons his exploits don't crack my list.

And so without further ado, plays 11 through 6:

11. Mercury Mercs Off, Swerves Off: Mercury Hayes' game-winning touchdown catch as time expires. Michigan vs. Virginia, 1995.

This was my first experience of pure jubilation during a sporting event. My dad started taking me to Michigan football games during the 1994 season, and the excitement of this play has always stuck with me. As I stood on the metal bench in the north end zone of Michigan Stadium, straining to see the final play, I could barely make out the ball floating towards the corner of the opposite end zone before hearing the explosion of 110,000 euphoric fans as Hayes hauled in the Scott Dreisbach pass to give the Wolverines an 18-17 victory. Inexplicably, there is not YouTube video of this play, but the video archive at has the footage. Enjoy.

10. Because We Only Win Titles in Spectacular Fashion, Part 2: Josh Langfeld's overtime national championship-winning goal against Boston College in the 1998 Frozen Four.

If you are familiar with Michigan hockey, you may be wondering why I didn't choose Brendan Morrison's OT winner against Colorado College in the '96 championship game. Yes, I did watch both games, but I was not a Michigan hockey fan until I saw Morrison's goal. By the time 1998 rolled around, I was a much more serious Michigan hockey fan, and any sports fan knows watching a team win the title is much more meaningful when you have been following the players involved through their time on the team. So, in my case, Langfeld's goal is more prominent to me than the Morrison goal.

On a side note, Langfeld also found his way onto the Red Wings this season, which gives me even more reason to like him.

Unfortunately, I cannot find any video of his goal. I promise this will be the last of my favorite plays that goes sans video footage.

9. The Bell Tolls for Thee, Big Aristotle: Big Ben Blocks Shaq, Game 5, 2006 Eastern Conference Finals.

This play sums up every reason why I loved Ben Wallace during his time on the Pistons. He was vastly undersized for a power forward/center, but more than made up for it with his freakish combination of strength and athletic ability. Ben seemingly hangs in the air forever before taking down the 7'1", 350 pound behemoth using only his mighty right hand. We may have ultimately lost the series, but this play by Wallace represented the mentality of the reincarnation of the "Bad Boy" Pistons perfectly.

8. Statue of Liberty Drops the Torch: Shanny Capitalizes on Roy's Boneheaded Play, Game 6, 2002 Western Conference Finals.

Although the Red Wings/Avalanche rivalry has lost much of its luster in recent years, in 2002 the bad blood between the two teams was still at the boiling point it had remained at since 1996, when Claude Lemieux rearranged Kris Draper's face with a brutal hit from behind during the West finals. Patrick Roy, the stellar Avs goalie, had always been one of my least favorite players in the rivaly. This was in part because of his ability to stymie Red Wings scoring chances and his overtaking of Detroit legend Terry Sawchuck in the record books, and also in part because he came off as an arrogant nut. He had the infuriating habit of muttering to himself after saves and victories, and he also had previously tussled with Wings goaltenders Mike Vernon and Chris Osgood on separate occasions prior to 2002.

Needless to say, this play brought me immeasurable joy, as Roy made a glove save on a point-blank Steve Yzerman shot and raised his arm in celebration of his fine work. Unfortunately for Roy and the horrified onlookers at the Pepsi Center, the puck trickled out of Roy's glove, and Brendan Shanahan tapped the puck into the wide-open net to give the Wings a 1-0 lead in Game 6. I remember dancing around my living room as Gary Thorne's call ("The goal counts! The goal counts!") rang joyfully in my ears. The play deflated the crowd and the Avs, and Detroit went on to a 2-0 victory in Game 6 before blowing out Colorado in Game 7 on their way to a third Stanley Cup title in six years.

7. The Legend of Super Mario, Part One: Henne to Manningham Upends Penn State, 2005.

The bright spot in a forgettable 2005 Michigan football season, Chad Henne's game winning pass to Mario Manningham was a classic ending to an epic game against the undefeated Penn State Nittany Lions. It also provided Wolverine fans with their first glimpse at the speedy wideout who would break out in the 2006 season, when he emerged as the number one option for Henne with a 3 touchdown performance in South Bend. The sheer excitement of this play overcomes the mostly negative feelings I have about the disaster that was 2005 Michigan football.

6. He is the One: Braylon Takes Down State, 2004.

Braylon Edwards, wideout extraordinaire, simply took over this football game as Michigan erased a 17-point 4th quarter deficit before beating rival Michigan State in triple-overtime. For this one, I'll simply let the video do the talking.

Coming tomorrow: my top 5 favorite plays...


Jimmie said...

As a big fan of University of Michigan and Detroit sports, it was cool to relive some great moments with your post, but I just wanted to point out that the Shanahan goal in play #7 was actually scored in game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals, not game 7. Roy's botched statue of liberty helped the Wings to a 2-0 game 6 victory at Colorado, and the Wings capped off the series with a 7-0 thumping at the Joe in game 7. Game 6 recap here, and series overview page here.

Ace Anbender said...

Thanks Jimmie. I guess we scored so many goals in Game 7 I just assumed that was one of them.