When Junior Seau died on Wednesday, you probably stopped what you were doing. You went to the internet. You turned on the TV or the radio (preferably 97.1 The Ticket) You called your friends. It was one of those ‘whoa’ moments where you’ll probably remember where you were when you heard the news.
Maybe I’m overrating it. We don’t live in San Diego so the suicide might not have the same impact on us that it does out there. Maybe in ten years, I won’t remember where I was when Junior Seau died. But sports have produced plenty of those moments over the years. Most of them are sad. All of them are shocking. This is my personal list.
1) Magic Johnson announces he has HIV
It seemed like a put on. Two friends told me the news as I walked across my college campus. I thought they were kidding me. Here was this larger than life personality whose career and life were now over – and that’s exactly what we all thought at the time. It seemed unthinkable he’d ever play basketball again. It seemed impossible that he’d live another 20 years. But that’s exactly where we are 20 years later.
2) The OJ Chase
Maybe this is a stretch to lump into a list of shocking sports moments. But let’s be honest – the only reason we knew about the Juice was because of football (and Hertz). The chase happened before the Internet and at a time where cell phones were only owned by the rich and famous (like Al Cowlings). So all we could do was huddle around the TV and watch the thing unfold. I remember when the sun started going down in LA and you couldn’t see what was going on anymore outside the mansion. It was like yelling at a movie to hurry up so you can see the ending. ESPN produced a superior film about that whole historic day called “June 17, 1994”. I highly recommend it.
3) Barry Sanders Retires
William Sanders warned us that it was happening during the spring of 1999. We just chose not to believe him. But when Barry walked away on the eve of training camp, it sent the entire town into a frenzy. The Lions got plenty of blame for creating an atmosphere where their franchise player could simply walk away. But Barry deserves blame too for doing it so late in the summer and doing it in such an impersonal fashion. We all thought he would come back and probably play for another team. There’s still an irrational part of me that thinks it might still happen even though he’s 43.
4) Malice at the Palace
It was surreal. What else can you say? Nobody could quite believe what he or she was watching. And as it unfolded – it seemed to get darker and darker. As bad as it was, I thought it was going to get worse. I thought someone was going to get seriously hurt or even worse. It ruined the Indiana Pacer franchise, which was good enough that season to win the NBA title, and instead has never made it back to real Eastern Conference contention.
5) San Francisco Earthquake
A little biased. I’m from the Bay Area and a huge Giants fan. I left California that fall for college and was watching the game in my dorm room. Al Michaels famously said, “We’re having an earth…” on ABC before he was cut off. I wasn’t paying close enough attention to realize what was going on. But then when the camera turned back on, they showed downtown San Francisco in flames. They were literally playing the first (and only) Bay Bridge Series and the Bay Bridge had partially collapsed. I remember every detail of that night.
Wojo and I will list off some more shocking moments tonight between 6 and 8. What are some of yours?