Five on Friday: Best games I have seen in person

Alabama and Clemson battled in University of Phoenix Stadium in January 2016.Photo by Anthony Gimino

Doing a little something different for this week's edition ..

Whether it was because of the way the game ended, the stakes, the drama, the historical significance -- or some combination of all of that -- here is how I rate the best games I have seen in person:

1. Miami-Ohio State, 2003 Fiesta Bowl

If not for the epic USC-Texas Rose Bowl at the end of the 2005 season, this game, played at Sun Devil Stadium, would have been the greatest national championship game of the BCS era. It was superb from start to finish, with Maurice Clarett doing Maurice Clarett things, loaded Miami going for back-to-back national titles ... and, of course, the controversial pass interference call in the end zone in the first overtime.

By that time, I had gone down from the press box to field level, standing on the sideline, basically at the goal line, when Ohio State snapped the ball on fourth-and-3 from the 5, trailing 24-17. The pass was incomplete -- essentially right in front of me -- but I quickly turned my eyes from the end zone to the Miami sideline, hoping to catch a reaction that I could use for my story.

That's when the guy standing to my right me tapped me on the shoulder. With his other arm, he was pointing to this yellow thing on the ground, a flag thrown late (says every Hurricanes fan), signifying defensive pass interference (which didn't actually occur, says every Hurricanes fan).


Ohio State went on to tie the game, take the lead in the second overtime on Clarett's 5-yard run and then stopped Miami on downs for a 31-24 upset victory.

2. Arizona-Washington, 1998

There is no worse feeling than having mere minutes to go before deadline and having to delete the first several paragraphs of your game story while trying to make sense of what just happened. Did Ortege Jenkins really leap over a trio of defenders and somersault into the end zone?

Given the quick re-write, I almost hated that O.J. did that in the final seconds of the game, but his historic landing on the painted-purple paydirt in the end zone of Husky Stadium is still an all-time goosebumps moment. It gave Arizona a 31-28 victory over Washington, moving the Cats to 5-0 and giving them their ninth consecutive victory overall. (Fun fact: I picked Arizona to win 31-28 a day earlier in the Arizona Daily Star.)

But this game was more than the Leap by the Lake.

Jenkins and Keith Smith not only rotated at quarterback all game, but did so on the final drive. (Fun fact: Jenkins caught a pass on the game-winning drive). Peter Hansen blocked an extra point. Marcus Bell blocked a field goal. True freshman defensive tackle Keoni Fraser made two solo stops at the goal line, resulting in Washington missing a 21-yard field goal.

As Arizona offensive guard Yusuf Scott said after the game: "Unbelievable. Unbelievable. This team is unbelievable."

3. Arizona-UCLA softball, 1997

I could do a whole story on great Arizona softball games -- hmmm, maybe a book? -- but I always seem to come back to this thriller in the winners' bracket of the 1997 College World Series.

The sport's two dominant programs were at the height of their powers, bad blood still boiling from UCLA's vacated victory over the Wildcats in the 1995 national title game due to NCAA violations. For this game, Arizona sent All-American Nancy Evans to the circle. UCLA countered with freshman Christa Williams, the recruiting superstar of her day.

For 13 agonizingly intense innings, there was no score.

In the top of the 14th, Arizona broke through when Katie Swan looped an opposite-field double to left for a 2-0 lead. In the bottom of the inning, UCLA loaded the bases with two outs before Evans fielded a bouncer off her face, recovering to throw the batter out at first.

Other than perhaps Taryne Mowatt at the 2007 World Series, this was the most clutch pitching performance I've seen as Evans effectively pitched TWO shutouts.

"Best heavyweight fight I've seen since Ali and Frazier," UA coach Mike Candrea said after the game.

UCLA battled back through the losers' bracket and met Arizona in the title game. This time, the Cats cruised 10-2 in five innings for their fifth national championship.

4. Red Sox-Angels, July 27, 1986

Growing up, I would often spend a week or so visiting an uncle, aunt and younger cousin in Yorba Linda, Calif., during the summer. These trips were often timed around a Red Sox-Angels series in Anaheim, so I got to see a young Wade Boggs, an ageless Rod Carew and a very special matchup in the summer of '86.

The Red Sox had traded for 41-year-old Tom Seaver a month earlier, and on this day he was pitching against California's 41-year-old Don Sutton, who had earned his 300th victory earlier that season.

Sutton pitched six scoreless innings on that sunny Sunday -- in front of 61,559 (!) at Anaheim Stadium -- and Seaver was good, too, allowing two runs in six innings. The Red Sox lost 3-0, which normally would disqualify this game from my list, but considering the game is one of only five matchups of 300-game winners since 1900, it remains pretty special in the ol' memory bank.

5. Alabama-Clemson, 2015 national championship game

Alabama couldn't stop quarterback Deshaun Watson. Clemson couldn't stop tight end O.J. Howard. In a wild 40-point fourth quarter, Nick Saban went all riverboat gambler and called for an on-side kick. Alabama recovered, took the lead with a touchdown and had enough juice to hold off the Tigers for a 45-40 victory in Glendale, Ariz.

The next season's rematch, won by Clemson on a last-second touchdown, was even better, but, alas, I was not in Tampa, Fla.

Have your five games you want to share? Let me in the comments section...


Anthony Gimino
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