Before I finish my list, I would just like to point out that walking between my classes and my job at the Union I have been pelted with snow, hail, and rain today. Let the record show it is April 11th. I love Michigan.
But enough complaining...on with the show:
5. I Believe He Can Fly: Woodson Picks Off Schultz, 1997.
Everyone knew Charles Woodson was a fantastic cornerback by the time Michigan went to East Lansing for the seventh game of the 1997 season. This play, however, vaulted him into the race for the Heisman, where he eventually beat out Peyton Manning for the coveted award.
Todd Schultz, Michigan State's quarterback, was overwhelmed by the juggernaut that was the Michigan defense. He threw five of MSU's six interceptions on the day, and none was more spectacular than Woodson's leaping grab along the sideline in the third quarter. The intended receiver? Probably someone in the third row of the stands. Schultz's attempted throw-away could not escape the outstretch right arm of number two in white. Catching the ball was incredible enough in itself, but C-Wood also managed to drag his left foot inbounds, giving Michigan the ball in State territory and turning the tides permanently in Michigan's favor as UM turned a 13-7 third quarter lead into a 23-7 blowout victory.
4. Stick to Threes, Reggie: Tayshaun Blocks Miller Layup, Game 2, Eastern Conference Finals. (Also known in the state of Indiana as "Dunk, Reggie, Dunk!")
With the Pistons clinging to a 69-67 lead against the Indiana Pacers in the final half-minute of Game 2, Reggie Miller took a Jamaal Tinsley outlet pass at the three-point line and drove towards what appeared to be an uncontested layup. Tayshaun Prince, the second-year Piston forward, chased Miller down from halfcourt, knocking away the layup mere centimeters before it would have hit off the backboard. Rip Hamilton chased down the loose ball and was fouled, and the Pistons tied the series at 1-1 before ultimately finishing off the Pacers in six games.
This play sealed my love for Tayshaun, the gangly forward out of Kentucky with an underrated shooting touch and the ability to guard anyone from point guard to power forward. It also helped the Pistons avoid what could have been an insurmountable 2-0 deficit against the talented Pacers, and helped propel them to their first NBA title since 1990.
3. Magglio Writes New Chapter in Tigers' Storybook: Ordonez Walk-Off HR, Game 4, 2006 ALCS.
Because of their craptastic play from the time I moved to Michigan, I was never a huge Tigers fan until 2004, when we acquired Pudge Rodriguez in the offseason and shot some life into a listless club that had lost 119 games the previous year. By 2006, I was watching every game I could on TV, something I had never done in the past. Watching the Tigers make it to the playoffs for the first time in my lifetime and win the American League pennant was one of the most enjoyable sports experiences of my life.
By game 4 of the ALCS, it was almost a given that the Tigers would dispatch the Oakland A's and head to the World Series. However, I had watched the 2003 ALCS, when the Boston Red Sox can back from a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees on their way to their first World Series title since 1918. With the game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth with two on and two out against A's closer Huston Street, Magglio Ordonez hammered a 1-0 fastball into the left field seats, setting off pandemonium at Comerica Park and in my living room in Ann Arbor, MI. The FOX broadcast was dramatic, but the joy captured in the many home videos from the stands far surpasses what any network broadcast could convey:
Chills. Every time.
2. I Disagree, Andre, Roses Smell Pretty Damn Good to Me: Woodson Returns Punt 78 Yards Against Ohio State, 1997.
THE defining moment of the 1997 National Championship season, and I was lucky enough to be in the stands as Charles Woodson took a Brent Bartholomew punt to the house to give Michigan a 13-0 lead before halftime against the hated Ohio State Buckeyes. The play locked up the Heisman Trophy for Woodson and opened up a lead that Michigan would never relinquish, as they finished out the regular season with a 20-14 victory. I have been to many Michigan football games, but none matched the excitement (or volume) of that game. With two impeccably-timed cuts, Woodson left the OSU coverage team in his wake and gave me one of my favorite memories in my time watching Michigan football.
1. Janne Niinimaa is Still Brushing the Ice Off His Knees: McCarty Seals Wings' First Stanley Cup in 42 Years, Game 4, 1997.
I chose this play number one for several reasons. The Red Wings were the team I followed more than any other (on par with Michigan football) in the first few years I lived in Ann Arbor. They also provided me with my first devastating sports moment, when they got swept by the underdog New Jersey Devils in 1995 Cup Finals, robbing me of my first hometown championship experience. My despair over the Wings grew when they were defeated by the hated Avalanche in the Western Conference Finals the following year. In my 10-year-old mind, Detroit was more than overdue for a championship after back-to-back years of coming so close. While I never played the sport myself, I love the game of hockey and its divine mix of beauty and savagery.
Nobody defined this duality more than Darren McCarty. A tough-nosed grinder with decent puck-handling skills and scoring touch, McCarty scored 19 goals in 68 games in the 1996-1997 season while also racking up 128 penalty minutes. He also endeared himself to every Wings fan when he pummelled Claude Lemieux bloody during the Wings-Avs brawl on March 26, 1997, exacting revenge for Lemieux's check from behind that knocked out Kris Draper from the 1996 playoffs.
By Game 4 of the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals, the outcome of the series wasn't really in doubt. The Wings had a 3-0 series lead over the Philadelphia Flyers and their "Legion of Doom" line led by Eric Lindros. In the 3rd period, the Wings were clinging to a 1-0 lead when McCarty took the puck while streaking up the middle of the ice. He preceded to pull one of the greatest inside-outside moves in hockey history, juking Flyers defenseman Janne Niinimaa to the ice and beating goalie Ron Hextall, sealing the game and the series for the Red Wings.