Some of the most breathtaking moments in sports have happened in New York’s legendary arenas. Others are owned by storied players who came to represent our teams. New York has been the epicenter of iconic sports events for over 50 years. These five fan faves rise to the top and capture the essence of each decade.
Joe Namath Calls Super Bowl III
It was the third AFL-NFL championship game, and the first to officially be called the Super Bowl. The now legendary game, played on January 12, 1969 at the Orange Bowl in Miami, pitted the American Football League’s New York Jets against the National Football League’s Baltimore Colts. In a stunning upset, the underdog New York team defeated the Colts with an astonishing score of 16-7.
Despite broad-based belief among pundits and fans alike that the Colts would eviscerate the Jets on the field, this first AFL Super Bowl victory was forsworn three days before the game by popular and brash Jets quarterback Joe Namath. Namath ensured fans that victory would be his and would belong to the beleaguered team. He was right.
Namath went on to complete 17 out of 28 passes for 206 yards and was named the Super Bowl’s MVP, despite the fact that he did not throw a single touchdown during the entire game. The pregame ceremony honored Apollo’s astronauts and featured the inimitable comedy of Bob Hope.
The Fight of the Century
When the 1970s dawned, Cassius Clay had already converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. A boxing legend, Ali was banned from the ring having lost a court case four years earlier for draft evasion, when he requested conscientious objector status for religious reasons. Stripped of his world heavyweight title, Ali fought to get back in the ring and won.
He then went up against the current reigning champion, Joe Frazier, on March 8, 1971 at Madison Square Garden but this time, lost the fight. Dubbed the Fight of the Century, the showdown between the two heavyweights was highly anticipated and star-studded with Sammy Davis, Jr. and Barbra Streisand sitting ringside.
The unique match was the first time in history that an unbeaten, former heavyweight champion went up against an unbeaten, current champion. The two were equally matched in weight, age and some say skill, although Ali had only completed two tune-up fights after a solid three years without a match. Each fighter was compensated with a guaranteed $2.5 million purse, the highest payout as of that date for any fight.
The Mets Win the World Series
The underdog National League Mets were the New York baseball team everybody loved to hate. Having only one World Series win under their belts — nabbed 19 years earlier in 1969 — it was a dubious, albeit loyal, fan base that kept an eye on the Series in 1986. Up against the American League champions, the Boston Red Sox, the Mets went on to victory in the seventh game of the Series on October 27, after a near-catastrophic deficit in Game 6.
The astonished crowd at Shea Stadium was joined by a massive viewing audience who watched the game in record numbers at home. Those listening on radio heard CBS’s Jack Buck exclaim, “Well, open up the history book, folks, we’ve got an entry for you.”
The Rangers Beat The Devils; Advance To The Stanley Cup Finals
For many, it was hockey’s finest hour. For Stéphane Matteau, it was the crowning achievement of a career, plus the end to one of hockey’s most sacred superstitions. The New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils had sparred heavily through six intense games, when Game 7 pitted the two evenly-matched teams against each other at Madison Square Garden on May 27, 1994. Both teams played brilliantly to the roaring approval of the on-their-feet fans and it looked like the Devils were going to take it.
Suddenly, Rangers superstar Matteau stole the show, scoring an astonishing overtime goal by putting a wraparound shot off of rookie Martin Brodeur’s stick and over the goal line. Matteau later admitted to tapping the Prince of Wales Trophy, awarded to playoff teams before the final games of the Stanley Cup, with the blade of his stick, violating a long-held superstition among players not to touch Conference trophies until the coveted Stanley Cup had been won. Continuing to own the ice, the Rangers did ultimately win the Cup that year on June 14 against the Vancouver Canucks.
Derek Jeter Makes the Play of a Lifetime
Called the most iconic play of his career as well as New York Yankee history, Jeter’s flip play rocked the house at Network Associates Coliseum when the Yanks played the Oakland Athletics there on October 13, 2001. It was the 7th inning during the third game of the American League Division Series. Jeremy Giambi was on first base when Oakland right fielder Terrence Long hit a double off Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina, into the right field corner.
Giambi was starting to head for home plate when right fielder Shane Spence got hold of the ball, throwing wildly and missing two cut-off men, including Tino Martinez. Seeing this, Jeter ran from shortstop, grabbed the ball and shoveled it in a backhanded flip to catcher Jorge Posada who stopped Giambi from crossing home plate and helped the Yankees keep their one-run lead. Jeter’s flip play was voted one of Baseball Weekly’s 10 Most Amazing Plays of all time and won the 2002 Best Play ESPY Award.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.