Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top 10 NY games of the decade

Top 10 NY games of the decade
December 21, 2009 by NEIL BEST / neil.best@newsday.com

Like any good story - be it from a book, a movie or a weekend in Vegas - the best part of a memorable game is reliving the details for days, and sometimes years, after it is over.

So it is with some of the best from New York sports in the 2000s, starting with the most shocking of all from a historic night in Glendale, Ariz.

As always in our series looking back at the past decade, extra credit was given for important games, but the regular season counts, too.

Especially when the Red Sox are in town. Or if Jumbo Elliott catches a touchdown pass.

1. Super Bowl XLII, Feb. 3, 2008, University of Phoenix Stadium

Some of New York's biggest championship upsets, such as Super Bowl III and the 1969 World Series, lacked a dramatic, climactic finale.

But like their Super Bowl XXV ancestors, the 2007 Giants won it all with a flourish, one so grand it was easy to forget the big picture:

Their 17-14 victory over the Patriots ruined the first 18-0 start in league history and foiled the most productive offense the NFL ever has seen.

After three quarters, the Patriots led 7-3 in a defensive struggle, one that hardly was the stuff of football lore.

The final quarter more than made up for it, with the lead changing hands thrice, the final time when Eli Manning found Plaxico Burress in the end zone with 35 seconds left.

What at the time was the largest TV audience in sports history saw Manning win the MVP award, David Tyree's life change forever and the Giants' secure their seventh league title.

2. Game 7, 2003 ALCS, Oct. 16/17, 2003, Yankee Stadium

You could fill a top 10 list with Yankees playoff games from the '00s - Game 1 of the '00 World Series, Games 4, 5 and 7 of the '01 Series, Games 4 and 5 of the '04 ALCS, Game 2 of the '09 ALCS, etc.

But one stands above the rest: Game 7 of the '03 ALCS.

The Red Sox bounced Roger Clemens en route to a 4-0 lead and led 5-2 in the eighth when the Yanks got to a tiring Pedro Martinez - who assured manager Grady Little he was fine.

Mariano Rivera came in for the ninth and would pitch three scoreless innings.

In the bottom of the 11th, Aaron Boone led off against Tim Wakefield, and soon the Red Sox would be waiting another year to seek their first championship since 1918.

3. Giants-49ers playoff game, Jan. 5, 2003, 3Com Park

It was one of the wildest, most controversial playoff games in NFL history.

The Giants led the 49ers, 38-14, in a wild-card game late in the third when the offense congealed and the defense collapsed, allowing San Francisco to rally for a 39-38 lead.

A Matt Bryant field goal still would have won it in the final seconds, but Trey Junkin's snap was off target, forcing holder Matt Allen to attempt a desperate pass.

Allen might have hit Rich Seubert if Seubert had not been pulled down by Chike Okeafor. But the officials forgot the guard had checked in as an eligible receiver. No pass interference was called.

The NFL apologized the next day. It was too late.

4. Big East quarterfinals, March 12/13, 2009, Madison Square Garden

Syracuse upset Connecticut, 127-117, which seems like an unusually high score until you consider they played six overtimes, one short of a Division I record set in the pre-shot clock era.

The Orangemen, who had an apparent buzzer-beater waved off at the end of regulation, did not lead in any of the first five OTs but took charge in the sixth, starting with a three-pointer by Andy Rautins.

Said Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn, who played 67 minutes and had 34 points and 11 assists: "I can't even feel my legs right now.''

Syracuse came back the next night to beat West Virginia - in one overtime.

5. Game 6, NBA second-round series, May 19, 2000, Madison Square Garden

The 1999-2000 playoffs were the last significant gasp of the Patrick Ewing-era Knicks, who made it to Game 6 of the conference finals before losing to the Pacers.

There were dramatic turns along the way, including a second-round struggle against Pat Riley's Heat typified by Game 6, in which the Knicks fell behind by 18 but rallied to win, 72-70.

"This is absolute madness,'' said Riley, whose team scored only 25 points in the second half.

Game 7 was another thriller, with the Heat's Clarence Weatherspoon missing a shot in the final seconds and the Knicks - controversially - being awarded the ball after an out-of-bounds play.

6. Dolphins vs. Jets, Oct. 23/24, 2000, Giants Stadium

The Dolphins and Jets both were 5-1 when they met on "Monday Night Football,'' but there was little pre-game hype, seeing as how it was the night between Games 2 and 3 of the Subway Series.

There was no ignoring this one, though, not after the Dolphins took a 30-7 lead behind quarterback Jay Fiedler of Oceanside, then watched the Jets come back to win, 40-37, in overtime.

With some of the thousands of fans who had left early returning to their seats, the Jets tied it at 37 on a tackle eligible throw to Jumbo Elliott with 42 seconds left.

In the fourth quarter alone, the other Long Island-raised quarterback in the game, Vinny Testaverde, was 18-for-26 for 235 yards and four TDs.

7. Red Sox vs. Yankees, July 1, 2004, Yankee Stadium

The ALCSes of 2003 and '04 were defining events of New York's sports decade, but between those two series the Yankees and Red Sox showed even a regular-season game between them can be a classic. GRAF

It happened in July of '04, a 13-inning battle in the Bronx best remembered for Derek Jeter's catch and dive into the stands in the 12th. GRAF

There was much more that night, including a third-to-home double play started in the 11th by Alex Rodriguez, who later moved from third to shortstop to replace the injured Jeter.

Manny Ramirez homered in the top of the 13th, but the Yankees answered with two in the bottom. John Flaherty drove home Miguel Cairo to win it, 5-4.

8. NFC Championship Game, Jan. 20, 2008, Lambeau Field

Super Bowl XLII somewhat has obscured what preceded it, but how can you beat an overtime conference title game between two historic franchises at Lambeau Field - in below-zero temperatures?

The capper was Corey Webster's interception of Brett Favre on Favre's last play as a Packer at Lambeau, setting up a 47-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes, who had missed two earlier tries.

Favre appeared far less comfortable in the cold than did Manning, a fellow Southerner. But even Favre didn't look as frozen as Giants coach Tom Coughlin, whose face was a bright, scary shade of red. GRAF

Plaxico Burress caught 11 passes for 154 yards despite the horrendous conditions.

9. Game 7, 2006 NLCS, Oct. 19, 2006, Shea Stadium

As special as the Mets' run to the '00 pennant was, there is no game fans will remember more from the 2000s than Game 7 of the '06 NLCS against the underdog Cardinals.

Oliver Perez and Jeff Suppan battled evenly through the early innings, and the Mets' Endy Chavez kept the score tied at 1 when he leaped over the leftfield fence in the sixth to deny Scott Rolen.

Yadier Molina's two-run homer in the ninth put St. Louis ahead, 3-1, setting up a dramatic bottom of the inning.

The Mets loaded the bases with two outs, but Adam Wainwright struck out Carlos Beltran looking to eliminate the Mets' best team of the decade.

10. Galaxy-Red Bulls, Aug. 18, 2007, Giants Stadium

Why the Red Bulls when we have excluded the Nets and Devils? Because unlike the Nets and Devils they are the area's only major-league team in their sport - the world's favorite, by the way.

The mostly moribund franchise flashed its potential when it hosted David Beckham and the Galaxy in the summer of '07 and drew 66,238, the most for a league game there since the Cosmos era.

Better yet, the teams provided enough action to satisfy even the most skeptical soccer spectator, with the Red Bulls winning, 5-4, on a late goal.

Said Beckham, who set up three scores: "I haven't been involved in a game like that since I was 9 or 10 years old.''

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