It’s impossible to predict where our most memorable sports moments will come from, which is part of the fun.
So it was in New York in the 2000s, when some of the best drama was provided by a future Hall of Fame catcher as well as by two ordinary third basemen and a special teamer turned wide receiver.
Below are 10 of the best in a category admittedly broad and difficult to define. But we know memorable when we experience it, right?
For this list, we stuck mostly to the positive.
Drama counts, too. Hence the two Yankees victories from non-championship seasons ahead of entries from 2000 and ’09.
1. Mike Piazza’s home run, Sept. 21, 2001, Shea Stadium
Ten days after the terrorist attacks that rocked the nation and its largest city, the Mets and Braves met in New York’s first major post-9/11 pro sports event.
Victims were honored and remembered.
Thousands of fans bought tickets on game day, braving fears of a large public gathering.
The Mets won, 3-2.
Mets manager Bobby Valentine called the game-winner “a small miracle.’’
Piazza said, “It was a surreal sort of energy out there. I’m just so proud to be a part of it tonight.’’
2. David Tyree’s catch, Feb. 3, 2008, University of Phoenix Stadium
The video images forever are seared into the brains of every Giants fan. Third-and-5 from the Giants’ 44. Just over a minute left. Patriots ahead 14-10 and on the verge of a 19-0 finish and their fourth title of the decade.
Under severe pressure, Eli Manning somehow escaped, set himself and found backup receiver David Tyree for a 32-yard reception that required him to pin the ball against his helmet while being wrestled to the ground by star defensive back Rodney Harrison.
Soon, Manning was throwing to Plaxico Burress for the winning touchdown with 35 seconds left, and the Giants were champs.
Tyree, injured in 2008 and released in ’09, never played for them again.
3. Aaron Boone’s home run, Oct. 17, 2003, Yankee Stadium
When he arrived at the plate early on the morning of Oct. 17, 2003, Aaron Boone had played a total of 54 regular-season games for the Yankees and had been so bad in the playoffs he was benched for Game 7 of the ALCS against the Red Sox.
Boone finally entered as a pinch runner and had his first at-bat leading off the bottom of the 11th against Tim Wakefield with the score tied at 5.
He redirected Wakefield’s first pitch into the leftfield stands, ending one of the most memorable games in the Yankees’ history and giving them their 39th pennant – and last until 2009.
Before the next Opening Day, Boone injured his knee playing basketball and was cut, eventually to be replaced at third base by . . . Alex Rodriguez.
4. Scott Brosius’ home run, Nov. 1, 2001, Yankee Stadium
But what made the moment off-the-charts shocking was that it came one night after Tino Martinez did the same thing in the same situation to the same pitcher, the Diamondbacks’ Byung Hyun Kim, to set up Derek Jeter’s game-winner in the 10th.
“It’s ‘Groundhog Day,’” manager Joe Torre said. “I don’t know what the heck is going on.’’
Still, the Yankees lost Games 6 and 7 in Arizona, ending their championship streak at three.
5. Tiger Woods wins U.S. Open, June 16, 2002, Bethpage Black
It soon became known as the “People’s Open,’’ during which spectators brought a team sports vibe to a famously genteel sport.
Fans adopted Phil Mickelson, who finished second, three strokes back. But they respected Tiger.
6. Sarah Hughes wins Olympic gold, Feb. 21, 2002, Salt Lake City
It was in an otherwise quiet locker room that a camera captured their reactions when they learned that Hughes had come from way behind to win the Olympic women’s figure skating competition, and we all got to witness their pure, spontaneous shock and joy.
7. Wellington Mara talks trash, Jan. 14, 2001, Giants Stadium
The only thing more remarkable than the Giants’ 41-0 rout of the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game was the defiant victory speech from co-owner Wellington Mara, then 85.
Mara took the mike after the trophy presentation and sarcastically responded to critics of both his team and its tattered grass field, which he called “our field of painted mud.’’
The Giants’ performance was the most dominant in a title game since the Bears beat the Redskins, 73-0, in 1940.
8. Pete Sampras wins U.S. Open, Sept. 8, 2002, Arthur Ashe Stadium
As he did in 1990, Sampras prevailed, winning, 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, for his fifth Open title and 14th and final Grand Slam championship.
“This one might take the cake,’’ said Sampras, who called it “a storybook ending.’’
9. Mark Messier retires, Jan. 12, 2006, Madison Square Garden
But this was no ordinary retirement ceremony for a team that retired six players’ numbers this decade alone.
Most of the 1994 Rangers showed up, and the price of tickets on the secondary market skyrocketed to Stanley Cup finals levels. Messier was emotional, as always.
10. Yankee and Shea stadiums close, Sept. 21 and 28, 2008
Someday the two baseball stadiums only will be the stuff of history. Not yet, though, not as long as those of us who lived parts of our lives in them are around to tell the tales.
Thanks for the memories.