The end of July gets a little slow for a lot of sports fans. Instead of waiting around for things to get ramped up, lets all jog our memories for a moment. Please take some time to reminisce about the greatest sporting event you have been privileged to experience in person and tell us about it.
Mine is easy. The greatest game I have ever been to and, as far as I can predict, will ever go to was the final installment of the "Border War Game" in Allen Field House in 2012. I had been to many games in AFH up to that point, but a KU v. Missouri game had always been on the top of my bucket list. I hadn’t put much effort into making it to one at that point because I fully expected to have decades of opportunities. However, when Missouri’s Big 12 defection became official I saw my opportunity fading fast. Fortunately, my wife looked long and hard and was able to find two tickets that she gave to me as a birthday gift. The best birthday gift I will ever get - thanks honey.
I was pretty jacked to be going to this game, but my inner pessimist did have one reservation. I feared I could witness a loss to Missouri, in AFH, in the last game of the Border War. I couldn’t imagine anything more horrible (in regards to sport of course), but I couldn’t let that prevent me from attending something this historic.
The stars were aligned for this game. The implications outside of the ultimate bragging rights made this final match up almost poetic as the outcome of the game had big picture ramifications. National rankings, a conference title, and potential NCAA tournament seeds were all on the line. In addition, the fact that we gave the game away in Columbia earlier that year was more than enough to fuel an intense game.
The pregame energy was unbelievable and I challenge any venue anywhere to match the atmosphere leading up to tipoff. Not sure it could be recreated.
The majority of the first half was pretty back and forth and not particularly pretty for either team. Jeff Withey missed a portion of the first half due to an ankle injury and Thomas Robinson ran into foul trouble, limiting his impact. Missouri took advantage to go on a 17-2 run to end the half. Remember my fear of witnessing a loss in person? After the first half, this concern was pretty tangible.
I didn’t doubt we would get back into the game, but it felt like one of those games that would only provide glimpses of a comeback. Perhaps a game with a few good stretches that would close the gap to a possession or two, but end with the opponent burying an energy-sucking three-pointer that would result in a six point loss. I am the ultimate pessimist.
The second half started about as well as the first ended and Missouri extended their lead. Things looked very bleak. I thought to myself, maybe we just didn’t have it this game? My fears grew even despite a brief run KU made around the 15-minute mark. Missouri had an answer for every big shot KU made and also seemed to come up with all of the loose balls. It wasn’t until a Tyshawn Taylor drive and dish to Kevin Young for a dunk at the 12-minute mark, followed by Conner Teahan three-pointer at the 10-minute mark that I started to believe again. Following a brief rebound battle by Young and Robinson that led to a KU put back, KU cut Missouri’s lead to single digits. At that point, the energy in the building really elevated with decibel levels exceeding 110.
KU finally cut the lead to three points but then floundered a bit. The team missed a couple bunnies that could have tied the game and given us the lead. I couldn’t help but think we had exhausted our energy and a couple of timely shots by Missouri were going to end the comeback, but Robinson wasn’t going to let that happen. Elijah Johnson got into the lane (side note: how good was EJ at the end of 2012??) setting Robinson up for the and-one bucket that tied the game. I think we all remember the Robinson block that sent the game to overtime - hey Mizzou, that was not a foul!
Overtime was incredibly excruciating for my wife and I, but I had a good feeling at this point. There was no way these players were going to give this one away. Marcus Denmon was great in overtime for Missouri, but we had Tyshawn Taylor and he was equally amazing. It is incredibly fitting that he had the chance to redeem himself from the line after what happened in Columbia. And, it was appropriate that a program that defines itself by defense didn’t allow Missouri to get a shot off before time expired.
Nothing illustrated the importance of that game more than the reaction the players and coaching staff had at the buzzer. Go back and watch the last part of the CBS broadcast and you would think KU won the National Championship. The postgame atmosphere in AFH was unlike anything I may ever experience again. I nearly threw my wife through the roof and I recall watching a very elderly lady in front of us bouncing around like she was 15 years old again. My guess is the post game atmosphere this day is only surpassed by the atmosphere that surrounded Mario’s Miracle and I imagine there are some fans that cherish this game more than that one.
This win catalyzed a pretty magical tournament run that year and the 2012 team and season will go down as one of my favorites. Those players made up a true "team." Robinson was a stud and Taylor is one my favorite PG’s of the Williams/Self era. Withey has since had an "effect" named after him and Young fit a role that a lot of teams lack. EJ was good off the ball that year especially toward the seasons end and his play that season makes me wish he didn’t have to assume the role of PG the following year. Great game, great team, great memories.
So what’s the best sporting event you have ever witnessed in person? It doesn’t matter what sport or level at which the sport was played. Maybe you got to witness a championship in person or maybe it was something as simple as your child’s first soccer game. Whatever it is, think back on it and tell us about it.