Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Question of the Week: What is your favorite sporting event that you saw in person?

It’s Superb Owl week, and while I only give the tiniest of figs who wins (I want Cincinnati to win because I think Sean McVay, the coach of the Rams, is wildly overrated, but I don’t care all that much), I figured I’d ask a sports ball question this week! People who follow sports religiously are, of course, just nerds who like a more socially acceptable thing (Brady-vs-Rodgers is Hulk-vs-Thor, basically, and have you ever heard two sports ball pundits talk about fWAR or QBR or True Shooting Percentage?), so we can talk about sports ball here!

I’ve never gone to a lot of sporting events, mainly because they cost a lot and my dad didn’t take me to a lot when I was but a lad. I watch a lot of sports, but I don’t go in person. That being said, I have been to some cool sporting events. I saw the “centenary match” between Carlton and Collingwood in person in 1992 at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds, and that was a ton o’ fun. I had a grand time in 1991 at Rec Hall at Penn State watching a basketball game against Temple (which the Lions lost, but the atmosphere was excellent). The best sporting event I have ever attended, however, was on 16 November 1991, when Penn State defeated Notre Dame at Beaver Stadium, 35-13. No, it was not a particularly good game. But herein lies a tale.

The year before, on 17 November 1990, Penn State played Notre Dame in Indiana. The Fighting Irish were ranked #1 at the time, and while Penn State was 7-2 (the Irish were 8-1), Notre Dame was still heavily favored – they were playing at home and the national media always – even today, over 30 years after their last National Championship – gives Notre Dame the benefit of the doubt. I was watching the game at an apartment of a friend on Beaver Avenue (James Beaver was the governor of Pennsylvania in the late 1800s and the president of the university’s board of trustees, so he gets things named after him!), which runs through downtown State College. Notre Dame got out to a 21-7 halftime lead, and things did not look good. Penn State quarterback Tony Sacca brought the team back, the defense shut out the Irish in the second half, and Craig Fayak made a field goal at the end for the upset, 24-21. It was pretty epic.

Here’s the thing: the game was on the road, as I mentioned. But it was such a great win that people flooded the streets of town, cheering and screaming. At some point, someone near us (not me, and not anyone I knew) got the idea to … storm the field. The stadium, needless to say, was over a mile away (here’s a map; I was near where the Tavern is marked on it), but many people were well lubricated (I don’t think I was, but I may have been) and that didn’t seem like too crazy an idea. So we started walking, jogging, or running up to the stadium, picking up mobs as we went along (who knows, others might have had the same idea). We reached the stadium and found it dark and locked (because the game was on the road!!!!!), and at that point, I went the hell home – it was a November night in Pennsylvania, and it was getting pretty danged cold. The next day I found out that students actually got into the stadium, tore down the goalposts, and paraded up College Avenue (the other main road through downtown – it went one direction and Beaver Avenue went the other) with them before eventually depositing them on Joe Paterno’s front yard. It was a pretty good night.

The next year, Notre Dame wasn’t quite as good, but both teams were still 8-2 coming into the game. The game wasn’t in doubt very early on (Penn State got out to a 21-0 lead), and by the fourth quarter, the students were getting rowdy. We all began chanting “goalposts” as the clock ticked down, and the university had wisely hired extra cops for the game, and they patrolled the sidelines, waiting for students to storm the field. When the game ended, we all went down to get onto the field. One person would go and get tackled by the cops, and a bunch of others would make it in the confusion. I was down on the field with some friends, and we went toward one set of goalposts but found them blocked by the cops, so we tried the other end of the field, but while some people managed to climb onto them, it wasn’t enough and they stayed upright (I never went anywhere near them, because I was just enjoying milling about). The cops eventually pepper-sprayed us, something they denied, but something melted my friend’s contact lens, so I think they were probably lying. Eventually we all went home, but it was still an excellent evening.

I liked going to Penn State games back then. The student section was pretty raucous, and we were able to smuggle in marshmallows and throw them at each other and onto the field (you can see them on the field in the video above, and you can see one almost hit a Notre Dame returner on a kickoff). I imagine some schmuck snuck something hard into the game at some point and it hurt someone, because nobody’s allowed to chuck anything anymore. The atmosphere was always electric (it still is, I imagine, as Penn State has always had rabid fans), and the team usually won. But that evening was the most fun I’ve had at a sporting event, and it didn’t really have too much to do with the actual game.

What was your favorite sporting event that you’ve actually attended? Was it just a great game, or was it for some other reason, like my favorite? Don’t be shy!


  1. Peter

    My universe of meaningful in-person sporting events is also pretty small, but the easy answer is 2013, Penn State vs. Michigan. I was a freshman in fall of 2011, when the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal came to light – not a very nice time to be a Penn State student, let alone a supporter of their football team. After the NCAA levied bowl bans and scholarship reductions, etc., it seemed like there wasn’t going to be much to look forward to, football-wise, throughout my undergraduate career (I still don’t think this was a just punishment for the administration’s cover-up of Sandusky’s crimes, but it’s a complicated issue to be sure).

    Nevertheless, I went to all the games as a sophomore – the team was actually arguably one of the two best teams in the Big Ten after Ohio State (also bowl-banned that year), but our kicker cost us some games and at the end of the season we had to say goodbye to folk-hero Matt McGloin and some other seniors who had sort of helped keep the program from total disarray. The 2013 season looked like it was going to be rough, even if the incoming freshman QB prospect Christian Hackenberg was highly-touted.

    And indeed, 2013 started off pretty badly! We lost to UCF! (It turns out that they had future NFL-level QB/The Good Place punchline, Blake Bortles, and would actually 12-1 on the year, but losing to a team from the American so early in the year seemed like a catastrophic loss.) We would get creamed by Indiana (our first loss to that school ever) in our Big 10 opener! With no. 18 Michigan coming to town for a night game, it felt like it almost might be worth selling my ticket and being spared the inevitable shellacking…

    Nevertheless, I went to Beaver Stadium that night with my friends and felt my optimism from a good first half fade as Michigan opened up a 10-point lead in Q4. Yet somehow, Allen Robinson made two of the craziest catches I’d ever seen to extend two last PSU drives in the last 10 minutes that allowed us to tie the game. Michigan almost came up with a last-second field goal, but missed. We went into OT.

    Penn State got the ball first (a good sign) but missed a field goal (the same jittery kicker from the previous year improved, but was still not automatic). All Michigan needed to do was not lose yardage on their possession, and they were basically guaranteed to be within field goal range at worst. Indeed, they just knelt down 3 times to get the ball at the optimal hash mark for their kicker… but the try was blocked! The stadium erupted with a magnitude I’d never heard in person before as double-OT was served up. The stadium erupted even louder when Michigan had another chance to ice the game after a bad PSU fumble in OT3, but the kicker missed once again. Finally, we scored a TD in dramatic fashion to Michigan’s field goal in OT4 and ended the game. I’ve never jumped around so hard in my life. I felt like there was a pregnant pause where everyone in the stadium thought about storming the field… but nobody even tried. We all went into the night too pumped up to think about sleep for many hours, though.

    The season would not finish on a high note, our coach left at the end of the year, Christian Hackenberg proved to be a bona-fide scrub, Allen Robinson made it to the NFL but had the misfortune of having to catch passes primarily from Blake Bortles (him again) and Mitch Trubisky for his career to date, and the two friends I went to the game with who were dating broke up a semester later… but that game still brings to mind a feeling that any kind of great thing was possible, no matter how unlikely.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Peter: I watched that game on television, and I can’t imagine what the atmosphere was like at the game. Dang, that would have been cool and very nerve-wracking.

      I loved those years, actually – the anxiety over whether they’d make a bowl game was gone, so I could just enjoy the games (I hated the reason they were banned, but the actual games were all right). I think you’re a bit hard of Sam Ficken – he turned out to be a pretty good kicker, and he made the game-winner against Wisconsin in 2012 that was such a huge upset. I also don’t hate Hackenburg – he was really good in 2013, but he wasn’t the kind of quarterback Franklin wanted, and the sanctions really hit hard in 2014 and 2015, and as we’ve seen going forward, Franklin isn’t great at building a good offensive line even without scholarship restrictions! Hackenburg could have easily gone someplace else, but he stuck around, and I will always appreciate that.

      Anyway, that was a great game, and Robinson was insane. I’m impressed he’s had as good a pro career as he’s had, given the quarterbacks he’s played with!

  2. Eric van Schaik

    In ’91 we went to see friends of my (now ex) wife in Japan who lived and worked there. They showed us around the first few days (to understand how to read part of signs so we knew how to travel) before we started our trip on our own. They lived close to Tokyo, and before we went to Japan I asked of it was possible to see a baseball match. His wife took us to an enormous indoor stadium. I don’t remember the teams anymore but it was a great experience. It’s the only baseball match I have ever seen

    I’ve been to the Davis Cup match between Holland and Germany which took place in my hometown Utrecht. This was also in the ’90 (yeah, I’m a bit older). I wanted tickets for the first day because you could have 10 sets if both matches would go all the way.
    The first match was Haarhuis against Becker (won) and Krajicek against Stich (lost). We had seats high up in the stadium so not a very good few but the atmosphere was amazing. In the end we lost 1-4.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Baseball in Japan looks insane, so that’s pretty cool.

      That’s not a bad tennis experience at all. I read something years ago about Davis Cup matches and how crazy they are, and if you add in those players, that sounds fun!

      1. Eric van Schaik

        It really was Greg!!

        I forgot 1: in ’98 I got a ticket for the world championship ice skating in Heerenveen. This time I had front seat tickets because my employer got sponsor tickets 🙂
        I always thought that Barbara de Loor didn’t look attractive when I saw her on tv, but now up close so looked really prettig. Hubba hubba LOL

  3. William Wilson

    English Cross Country Nationals 1995. This race is now an open 12k, back in 1995 it was restricted to nine men a club running nine miles. I was spectating as my club finished 7th, a remarkable achievement for a club of our size, our best position since has been 32nd. This link from the last Nationals gives an idea of the event
    I’m somewhere at the back.

    I’ve been to cup finals, games in Europe, local derbies, but this league comeback is the game that stays in my memory, being swept away by a crowd on a terrace is an exhilarating feeling when you are young.

    In recent years I’ve gone to more non-league games than league, this was my highlight.

  4. conrad1970

    Many years ago I got to see a pre-season NFL game at Wembley Stadium in London.
    Eagled against the browns during the Randall Cunningham era, it was pretty special for me at the time as the NFL is the only sport that I follow.
    Just got to mention that I was so happy when the Bengals eliminated the Chiefs last week.

  5. Bright-Raven

    Various Cubs and Tigers games (3 early season Cubs; 2 late season Tigers – I lived in Illinois but spent summers in Michigan at the time) during the 1984 season where it seemed like they were going to end up facing each other in the World Series until the Cubs completely botched the National League Championship Series against the Padres. At least the Tigers won that the World Series that year. Unfortunately the Cubs and Tigers never got to play against one another that year (they didn’t have the cross-league games in the regular season back then). That would have been cool to see.

    Chicago Bulls vs. Detroit Pistons 1989 Game Three of Eastern Conference Finals when it was Jordan and the Jordanettes vs. the Bad Boys. It was a HS Graduation Gift. And yes, I was cheering for Detroit. I was / am not particularly a basketball fan, but I was pretty well sick and tired of Jordan even then. The Pistons won and eliminated the Bulls (YAY) and then defeated the vastly overrated Lakers 4 games to 0 for the title that year.

    Cubs Vs. Diamondbacks 2007 NL Divisional Round Game 1. Cheered for Cubs, was very disappointed in the coaching from Lou Pinella, especially when he took out Carlos Zambrano for reliever Carlos Marmol because I never liked Marmol and figured he’d botch it and of course he did, which set the whole tone of the series. Once Zambrano didn’t win that first game, I didn’t think the Cubs pitching could sustain, and they didn’t, losing the series 3 games to 0. I believe that was the year the Red Sox won over the Rockies in the latter’s only World Series appearance. I didn’t watch the rest of the MLB season once the Cubs were eliminated.

    As for this year’s Super Bowl… I am of the mindset that if the Bengals win, that’s cool it’ll be the franchise’s first Super Bowl win. If the Rams win, then that’s cool because poor Matthew Stafford wasted his career in Detroit and I’d like to see the guy get a championship just so he can thumb his nose at the Ford Family (owners of the Lions). I’m mainly just glad that it’s not the Chiefs, Bucs, Packers or some other overrated freakin’ team with an overhyped, overpaid quarterback who isn’t happy with just NFL Money and needs to be all over my TV in a bazillion commercials yet again.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Louis: I like how you’re sick of Jordan BEFORE he even won anything. The Nineties were not your time as a basketball fan, I guess!

      Yeah, I won’t be too bummed if the Rams win, but I definitely want the Bengals to. And I agree with you about the ubiquitous QBs being out. That’s fun!

      1. conrad1970

        It was disappointing when Tampa Bay lost to the Ram’s, but then again I’ve been a long time suffering fan so it was awesome to see them lift the trophy last year.

      2. Bright-Raven

        Greg: I have never been a huge basketball fan. I hated Jordan partly because I lived in Illinois when he was starting before the threepeats. In the Chicago and northern Illinois area, teens mocked you if you didn’t wear Air Jordan shoes (especially if you played basketball, which I did my freshman year in HS in 1986-87 – sorry, I didn’t have $230 to waste on sneakers). I also ended up hating the sport from playing it that season. Had a HORRIBLY bad coach; we ended up with a record of 1-35 and only won our final game of the season by a Hail Mary shot by 1 point. Coach was an ass; split the team into “A” and “B” squads and never intermingled them, rarely spelled the “A” players during games so they’d be worn out by the end of the game and wouldn’t be able to keep up with the opposing team. Ruined any and all interest I had in the sport. So I only watched if / when the Pistons were in the playoffs. After the “Bad Boys” era was over, I pretty much have stopped watching it in general. I might watch the tail end of a game here or there waiting for Sportscenter or something.

  6. Edo Bosnar

    Had to give this some thought. I run hot and cold on sports (and I’ve been pretty cold the past few years in particular).
    I’d have to say a World Cup qualifier played in Zagreb’s Maksimir Stadium in the autumn of 2005: Croatia vs. Sweden – I think, the details are fuzzy because the game itself was nothing to write home about (I think the score was 1-0 for Croatia). However, even though there was still one more round in the qualifications, Croatia had secured enough points to advance directly to the World Cup, so at the end of the match, the fans when hog-wild – a good third of the spectators pulled out and lit emergency flares, so the stadium was bathed in this bright magenta glow and, of course, the noise was off the charts. It was a really interesting spectacle and hard not to get caught up in it.
    (Croatia’s performance in the 2006 World Cup was, by contrast, disappointing – they didn’t even make it out of their first round tournament group as I recall.)

  7. I haven’t been to a lot of live sports events, and I think they’ve all been baseball, but besides a few times at Fenway and once at Shea, the most interesting one was probably at the local AA team game. My dad worked for the company that owned the team (and/or stadium), and we got tickets several times, and once got to watch the game from the skybox. High class snacks and baseball? Hell yeah!

  8. Rantel

    I’ve only been to professional sporting events like twice in my life, so is have to say that my favourite in-person sports experience was watching my high school’s girls basketball team win the regional championship when I was 17.

  9. heyman

    Mine would have to be going to see the Cubs at Wrigley in ’88. We lived in Houston, but my Dad did a lot of work in Chicago and he took me with him on a business trip. We got to see a young Greg Maddux pitch. We also saw Mark Grace, Ryne Sandberg, Shawon Dunston, and the “Hawk” Andre Dawson. Great memories!

  10. JHL

    Two events spring to mind.

    The last time I went to Japan was 2010 and our trip just so happened to coincide with the Tokyo Summer Sumo Basho so we set aside a day to check it out. The basho includes a whole bunch of Sumo matches of the course of several hours. It was tremendously fun to attend. It’s in a big stadium, and much like a major sporting event in the US you can get drinks and there a wide variety of different types of food on offer. And the food was a heck of a lot better quality than what you’d get at most US stadiums. What really made the experience was that you could rent these little radio headsets that could dial in live commentary in various languages, including English. It ended up being a fun, educational, quite engrossing as we picked up some of the nuances of the sport over the course of the day.

    I’ll leave the debate as to whether or not this qualifies as a sporting event to people more pedantic than I but last year (in that pre delta gap when things seemed to be improving) I took my friend Rebecca to an AEW Dynamite wrestling event here in Austin. I took Rebecca because while she had no prior exposure to pro wrestling she is the the most open minded and positive person I know with a penchant for becoming an instant fan. Wrestlers, especially some modern ones, can be spectacular athletes capable of mind boggling feats and fortunately they pulled out the stops that night, culminating in a main event that was an absolutely wild coffin match. I would have had fun regardless, but being able to watch Rebecca get her mind blown seeing it all is something I’ll never forget.

    1. Greg Burgas

      That sounds very interesting. I know nothing about sumo, so that would have been neat.

      Wrestling is always a tough call (I’m not a fan myself, but I recognize the degree of difficulty involved), but whether you want to count it as “sports” or not (I wouldn’t, simply because the outcome is already known), that’s still a very cool experience.

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