Vidakovich column: My favorite sporting events
Since we have nothing in the way of live sports to attend these days, or even anything worth watching on the television in the way of current athletic competition, I decided to reach down into the archives of my fading memory to come up with some of the best sporting events that I have been fortunate enough to attend in my almost 60 years here on earth.
What follows is my list of the top 10 most memorable games I have attended and why they hold such a special place in my heart. The first three picks were pretty much no-brainers for me, but after that it was almost a toss of the coin type of decision to round out the final seven spots.
Not many of these games were of epic importance in the history of recorded sports, but they remain days and journeys, mostly from my youth, that I will never forget.
1. Notre Dame at Air Force, Nov. 11, 1972
I rode the Greyhound bus from Glenwood over to Boulder, and my sister Peggy, who was at CU at the time, picked me up and I spent that Friday night in her apartment. The next day, we drove down to Colorado Springs and I got to see the Fighting Irish football team in person for the very first time. I used to watch the Notre Dame replay with Paul Hornung and Lindsey Nelson every Sunday morning on channel 2, and I became a big fan. I can still remember the feeling I had that day when I walked into Falcon stadium and spotted the Irish warming up on the field. I picked out coach Ara Parseghian and quarterback Tom Clements and I thought I had surely gone to heaven. Notre Dame won 21-7 and I was the happiest little boy on the planet. I’ve seen Notre Dame play two other times at Air Force and once at CU. I have never been to Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana, but I hope to go someday.
2. New Orleans Jazz at Denver Nuggets, February 1979
The first time I ever got to see my all-time sports hero Pistol Pete Maravich play in person. Our entire varsity basketball team at Glenwood High School got to go to the game and it was quite a treat. Some of us snuck down from the balcony at McNichol’s Arena and got into seats close to the court. Maravich was playing on a bad knee that day, but he still dropped 29 points on the Nuggets. To this very day, Pistol Pete is the best basketball player I have ever seen. Bar none.
3. Nebraska at Colorado, November 1989
At the end of the game, the scoreboard in the north section of Folsom Field flashed “27-21, Things Have Changed.” The Buffs had beaten Oklahoma and Nebraska on consecutive weekends for the first time since 1961. I sat in my seat and watched the students take down the goal post and frolic on the field to celebrate the forthcoming trip to the Orange Bowl. Coach Bill McCartney had CU trending upward for the first time in many years. They could use him again in Boulder.
4. St. John’s vs. North Carolina State, March 1985
I was driving back to college in Greeley that day and decided to stop by McNichol’s Sports Arena to see if I could get a scalper’s ticket to get in the door to see this NCAA western regional basketball final. I might have paid a little too much for a seat in the end balcony, but I got to see coach Lou Carnesecca of St. John’s and Jimmy Valvano of NC State guide their talented teams with a spot in the final four on the line. Several future NBA players dotted the lineup of both teams. St. John’s won a close game. The only negative of that day was that I had to go back to college.
5. Wheat Ridge vs Denver Manual, March 1972
My brother Tom took me to the Denver Coliseum that night to watch what is still regarded as the greatest high school basketball game ever played in Colorado. The heavily favored Wheat Ridge Farmers, the team from the suburbs, was led by Dave Logan and Jeff Fosnes. Most felt that the inner city Manual Thunderbolts had no chance at all. The game was as much about race relations of the time as it was about basketball, with half of the coliseum being white and the other half black. The ‘Bolts shocked the city and the state with a 64-60 win in what is the most intense sporting event I have ever been to.
6. North Carolina State at South Carolina, October 1989
Scott Bolitho and I flew out to Columbia, S.C. to visit our friend from high school, Chris Massaro, who was the ticket manager at USC at the time. We watched the game in Williams-Brice Stadium with 75,000 other maniacal southern football fans. Massaro, who is now the athletics director at Middle Tennessee State, took us on a tour of the historic city of Charleston on that trip. That was the only time I have been in the south and it was quite an experience for me.
7. Denver Broncos at San Francisco, November 1979
Accompanied by Jeff and Rob Velasquez, I got to see the Broncos play at the old Candlestick Park in San Francisco. We stayed in a hotel at the Fisherman’s Wharf, got to see Alcatraz Island, and did the tour of the bay area. Beautiful!
8. Baseball at Dodger Stadium, summer of 1980
Rick Eccher and I headed to California in his orange Mustang to visit my brother Jim for a week in Santa Monica. We went to Disneyland, the beach, and saw the LA Dodgers play the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium. We ate a few Dodger Dogs also!
9. NCAA basketball tournament, March 1991
Rich Law, Sandy Nieslanik and I loaded up in Kent Mincer’s vehicle and headed to Salt Lake City for a long weekend of first-round college basketball action. I can only remember that Syracuse and Missouri were there along with six other teams. We all had fun kicking around the town and going to see the Doors movie. I’m a die-hard fan of Jim Morrison and the Doors.
10. The Phoenix Suns and their Gorilla, November 1980
Jim Richmond and I headed to warmer climate during Thanksgiving break that year. We went as far south as Puerto Penasco, Mexico, but the highlight of the trip was going to the Veteran’s Coliseum and watching the Suns play the Houston Rockets and the Chicago Bulls. Phoenix had a mascot called the Gorilla, and he (or she) stole the show during breaks in the game entertaining the crowd. I’ll never forget Chicago’s 7’2” center Artis Gilmore grabbing the bottom of the backboard to stretch his calves.
NBA All-Star Saturday, February 1984
Saw the legends game with Pistol Pete and Rick Barry, among others, and got to see Larry Nance win the slam dunk contest.
Fiesta Bowl, January 1990
Went to see Nebraska play Florida State with Rick Chavez. Great to be in Phoenix that time of year.
Indiana Pacers at Denver Nuggets, May 1975
Rudy Steele and I went to see this game number 7 of the ABA western conference finals at the old downtown Auditorium Arena. George McGinnis dropped that red, white, and blue basketball through the net for 40 points to dash the Nuggets hopes of making it to the ABA finals.
We do so many things and go so many places in our youth that most adults regard as goofy and frivolous. But I honestly think we had the right idea about life when we frolicked in our youth. What’s really stupid is getting old and stubbornly doing the same-old-same-old each day of our lives and clinging to our routine religiously.
In writing this, it was great therapy for me to go back to those days and those wonderful trips. I was part of a magical world back then that sadly doesn’t seem to need me anymore.
Mike Vidakovich grew up in Glenwood Springs, is a longtime youth basketball coach and is a regular sports contributor for the Post Independent.
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I’m not often given to public displays of affection, but on the morning of Monday, July 19, I felt it necessary to give an old and dear friend a proper send off.