I’m sure there are many sports fans out there, whether you’re a casual fan, a rabid hard core fan, or a “used to be” fan. And I can say there were a lot of heart breaking, soul crushing, gut wrenching moments where you did everything from bite every nail off your fingers relegating them to stubs, to praying and damn near swearing off sports altogether. I know your hometown team has probably been in the dumps for many years, or some have been riding high (i.e., the sports fans for the City of Boston has named themselves “title town” for their 7 sports titles from 2001-2011).
Did you ever sit there and ask yourself, “What If?” or say, “Man what a game or match THAT would have been”? Let’s go on a ride of “What If” as we visit a few sports scenarios in recent memory I like to call, What if…? The Sports Scenario We’ll Never Know.
2001-2002 NBA Finals New Jersey Nets vs LA Lakers
How they got there: The resurgent New Jersey Nets who made the playoffs only once in the previous eight seasons- led by star Jason Kidd and a young neucleus of Kenyon Martin, Kerry Kittles, and Richard Jefferson- beat the Boston Celtics four games to two in the Eastern Conference Finals. The LA Lakers were the two-time defending champions led by superstar-in-the-making Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal (only the most dominant big man in the last generation defeated the Sacramento Kings in seven games, with some shoddy officiating in game six, but we won’t go there).
The Outcome: The Lakers “three-peated” by easily dispatching the Nets in a four game sweep.
The What If Factor: What if the Boston Celtics beat New Jersey? I mean they hadn’t made the playoffs in seven years and were the laughing stock of the NBA. However they got their stuff together and were one of the most exciting teams that season, and led the rebirth of basketball back in Boston. Led by stars Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce, they made it all the way to Eastern conference finals. *note: many sports pundits picked them to not make the playoffs that year.
Think of the story lines in this one: Old NBA rivals back in the finals again; memories of Kevin Mchale clothes lining Kurt Rambis drumming back up; Magic Johnson’s sky hook; Cedric Maxwell’s heroics; I could go on and on. You could take it a step further – you had the #1 scoring duo in the NBA, Kobe and Shaq (53.4 ppg) vs the #2 duo of Pierce and Walker (48.2 ppg). The Celtics beat the Lakers both times they played that season. This was also around the time when O’Neal gave Pierce his current nickname “The Truth” because of his outstanding play.
2003 World Series Florida Marlins vs New York Yankees
How they got there: The Yankees going to their 6th world series in eight years (winning four) were THE dominant team in baseball. They had everything you could want in a baseball team: pitching, hitting, defense, and coaching. They defeated the Boston Red Sox in seven games with Aaron Boone hitting the game winning home run off Tim Wakefield in game 7 extending their “Curse of The Bambino” (the Sox hadn’t won since 1918 the last year they had babe Ruth). The Florida Marlins were a young upstart team that had some veteran experience led by coach Jack Mckeon. They defeated the Chicago Cubs also in a dramatic seven games, keeping their 100+ year “curse” intact (The Cubs haven’t won a title since 1908). I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Cubs blew a 3-1 series lead and a 3-0 lead in the 7th inning of game 6.
The Outcome: The Marlins upset the Yankees in six games with Josh Beckett getting World Series MVP honors.
The What If Factor: Do I need to say it? Really? The Red Sox vs Cubs. Two of the oldest franchises going head to head. It would have been battle of the curses 1918 vs 1908. Deep dish pizza vs Clam chowder. Not to mention the Latin Flavor with both cities having big cultures. And both teams boasting their share of Hispanic players (Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Moises Alou, Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Zambrano, Mike Lowell, Juan Castillo and budding superstar Miguel Cabrera). Imagine the hysteria this series would have caused if it happened (not to mention huge ratings numbers).
1990 Ladies Wimbledon Finals: Zina Garrison vs Martina Navratilova
How they got there: Zina Garrison held her own as a solid player achieving moderate success in singles and doubles but having never reached a Grand Slam final before upsetting top seed Steffi Graf in the semifinals 6-4 in the 3rd set. And 2nd seed Martina Navratilova seeking her record 9th Wimbledon title defeated Gabriela Sabatini in straight sets.
The Outcome: Martina having little trouble, ended Garrison’s Cinderella run 6-4, 6-1.
The What If Factor: For those of you who followed tennis in the mid 80’s to early 90’s know all about The rivalry between Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova. Steffi was one of the most dominant players at the time and was seeking her 10th of 22 singles titles (and 3rd consecutive Wimbledon). Navratilova was billed as the “Queen of Tennis” and Graf was arguably the princess. Martina was in her 9th consecutive Wimbledon final. They met in the previous three Wimbledon finals with Graf winning two. They were definitely on a collision course, but Graf was derailed in what would have been a classic match.
1998 Super Bowl: Denver Broncos vs Atlanta Falcons
How they got there: The Denver Broncos seeking their 6th trip to the Super bowl beat the new and improved New York Jets 23-10 in the AFC title game as well as the Atlanta Falcons led by pro bowl running back Jamal Anderson, shocked the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC game 30-27.
The Outcome: John Elway in his last game threw for 421 yards and the Broncos won 34-19
The What If Factor: Saying the Minnesota Vikings had a high powered offense was an understatement. They scored an NFL record (which as of the time of this post, is still unbroken by the way) of 589 points with 3,704 passing yards, 34 TD’s and 11 INT’s led by quarterback Randall Cunningham and the dangerous all pro receiving tandem of Chris Carter (1,017 yards 12 TD’s) and rookie Randy Moss (1,313 yards 17 TD’s). They also had a good defense and running attack. Simply put they were a well-oiled machine, finishing the season 15-1.
The Broncos finished 14-2, scoring the second highest points of that season (501), and finishing 8th overall in points allowed. Did they have weapons you ask? Man, listen, they boasted three all-pro receivers: Rod Smith (1,222 yards 6 TD’s), Shannon Sharpe (1,053 yards 10 TD’s), and Ed McCaffery (768 yards 10 TD’s). To go along with this receiving attack they had Terrell Davis who only rushed for 2,008 yards, 21 Touchdowns and won the rushing title. This would have and could have been a game for the ages. But we will never know.