Posted: Wednesday February 9, 2005 12:42PM; Updated: Wednesday February 9, 2005 12:43PM
Bryan Trottier helped lead the Islanders to four Stanley Cups in the early '80s.
Mike Powell/Getty Images
Hype, greed, cheating, gross misconduct -- this dive has been serving a pretty steady diet of lemons and vinegar. So this week, we offer a blue plate special of what's good: the game.
Pick a game, any sport. Ignore the nattering noggins and scrolling fantasy league advice, and the flashpots, shrieking scoreboards, blaring music, gyrating dancers, and shenanigans in the stands. The game itself is why we care and why we're there, right?
It's funny how the Grand Viziers of various leagues and networks can't seem to grasp that few things enthrall all by their lonesome like a well-played game. Thankfully, great ones still occur on a pretty regular basis
When all the ingredients come together -- rivalry, high stakes, great players, great plays, gallant efforts, wrenching mistakes, shrewd coaching, close score, horror movie suspense, dramatic finish, unlikely hero -- they create the perfect storm that leaves you drained with elated exhaustion or appreciative despair. You think about it for days and never forget the feeling even as the details grow hazy.
Sunday's Super Bowl was a nice example. If the Eagles had recovered their onside kick with 1:55 left and put a real scare into the Patriots, I would have elevated this one to the level of last year's, which had me marveling at the Panthers' refusal to quit and Jake Delhomme's improbable heroics in a losing cause. I'm a sucker for an underdog, especially when I don't have a passionate rooting interest, and that game was one of the most engrossing I've seen in any sport.
As for the absolute best, I agonize as a fan over Yankees vs. Red Sox 2003 ALCS Game 7 (Boone's blast), Giants vs. Bills in Super Bowl XXV (Norwood's miss), and the Yankees vs. Red Sox playoff in '78 (Dent's dinger). But the winner is: Islanders vs. Rangers, Game 5, 1984 Patrick Division semifinals.
The Islanders began their drive for their fifth consecutive Stanley Cup by meeting their bitter rivals in a first-round best of five. After losing the opener, the gritty Rangers took the next two and had the Isles on the brink and down 1-0 late in Game 4 in the howling maelstrom of Madison Square Garden before John Tonelli and Brent Sutter forced the decisive game at Nassau Coliseum on April 10, 1984.
I was lucky to attend with an electric sell-out crowd of Ranger fans bellowing "Let's Go Rangers!" and Islander fans retorting "1940!" The series had worn me out and the very idea of the hated Rangers killing my team's Cup run on home ice was horrifying, the battle that ensued, excruciating. More than once I begged my Maker for lithium.
When Ron Greschner put the Rangers up 1-0 in the first period, I contemplated the abyss until Isles sniper Mike Bossy stole the puck from defenseman Tom Laidlaw and fired home the equalizer with 11 seconds left. I breathed just a bit easier through the intense but scoreless second period. Aside from Laidlaw's misplay, the Rangers were keeping Bossy, Bryan Trottier, and the other Islander guns at bay without their captain, defenseman Barry Beck, who had been lost after a crushing hit by Pat Flatley in Game 4 that surely added a dash of Tabasco to these proceedings.