April 10, 2008

It Comes Down to This: Top-5 Picks for Cornell Sports

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In the excellent Nick Hornby book and later film High Fidelity, the main character frequently recites top-5 lists about all facets of his life, especially girls and music. Likewise, I love reading about and making lists. If ESPN ran a list of the top-5 NBA players from the 1990s that won an All-Star Game MVP award and also appeared in a Sprite commercial, I would probably read it. With that in mind, a friend and I recently discussed our picks for the best Cornell games during our four years in Ithaca. Of course, I had to put my choices in list form.
In order to make my list complete, I considered three main criteria — the quality of the game, its immediate impact on campus and its enduring legacy. That is why as much as I like the smaller sports at Cornell, they don’t make the list. Also, I am only including games between two teams, so sports such as track and wrestling do not apply. Interestingly, I was only at three of these games, but I saw all of them live, either in person or on television.

Honorable Mention
Games that I considered but ultimately dismissed included the men’s lacrosse team’s win against Albany in the 2007 National Quarterfinals, the men’s lacrosse team’s loss to Duke in the 2007 National Semifinals, the men’s basketball team clinching the Ivy League title against Harvard, the women’s basketball team playing UConn in the NCAA tournament and the men’s hockey team’s back-to-back double overtime games against Clarkson in 2006.

No. 5 — Football 38 Brown 31, OT — Oct. 25, 2007
Even though football is my favorite sport and I love the NFL, I usually dislike college football because of the idiotic clock stoppage after first downs, which makes games last longer than the movie Gettysburg. But this game, even though it didn’t really matter in the Ivy League standings, was admittedly enthralling down to the last second. Cornell was down 31-14 early in the third quarter, but the Red came back, winning in thrilling fashion in overtime by stopping a Bears trick play on fourth down.
I used to like to joke that football head coach Jim Knowles has the mindset of a riverboat gambler, and he proved it in this game as he successfully called a fake field goal which led to a crucial touchdown. The game was also a coming-out party for sophomore Randy Barbour, who gained 159 yards and three touchdowns. The only bad part about the huge comeback was that few fans were there to see it.

No. 4 – Wisconsin 1 Men’s Hockey 0, 3OT – March 26, 2006
This game is probably known in the common vernacular as the “David McKee ’07 Game.” Even though Cornell eventually lost in three overtimes in the Midwest Regional Final of the NCAA tournament, McKee turned away shot after shot, making a career-high 59 saves to keep talented Wisconsin off the board for over 111 minutes.
Even though this game was a Cornell loss, it embodies criteria No. 2. The game occurred the day we were returning from spring break, and my friends and I sat enthralled in front of the television, unable to start our work. The day afterward, despite the loss, everyone was talking about the masterful performance of everyone’s favorite Texan since J.R. Ewing. To make things better, the game lasted so long that ESPNEWS picked up the feed at the end of the game.

No. 3 – Stanford 77 Men’s Basketball 53 – March 20, 2008
Yes, I know that Cornell lost to Stanford and those Little Mermaid-loving Lopez twins. But this game blows out all the others in criteria No. 2 and No. 3. If you were a Cornell student, you knew about this game and probably watched it, even though it started at 5 p.m., which meant it was not on television in most markets. Luckily, CBS has a great service in which viewers could watch all the games on the Internet (sending the economy spiraling downward even more). Therefore, everybody still got to hear the great Jay Bilas describe how he broke down a ridiculous amount of tape of the Red. Despite the loss, everyone can now say that they rooted for their school in the NCAA tournament. Cornell should be back next year, while the Lopez brothers can use their NBA salaries to buy copious amounts of Beauty and the Beast DVDs.

No. 2 – Men’s Hockey 3 Clarkson 2, OT – March 12, 2005
I thought long and hard about the best men’s hockey game, and I eventually decided on this instead of the back-to-back double overtime bonanza in 2006. For many of us, this game was our first truly great experience at Lynah Rink. The contest was incredibly close throughout, but then-freshman and current senior Topher Scott won it in overtime on a perfect one-timer in the slot. The ensuing pandemonium was unlike anything I had ever seen before, and Lynah was as loud as a Marilyn Manson concert in Germany.
In addition, this game will always hold special place for me personally. I had never sat in the student section so far that year, though I had sat in section O a couple of times (and we all know section O sucks). My friends and I were at dinner at RPCC that night at our usual 5:30 time, and luckily for us, a group came over and offered to sell us tickets. That fortuitous transaction became one of my fondest sports memories, and I hope the kids who sold us the tickets had fun wherever else they were.

No. 1 – Men’s Lacrosse 16 Syracuse 15 – April 10, 2007
Even though this game was not a league contest and Syracuse had a down year, there is still no doubt in my mind that this is far and away the best Cornell game over the last four years. Then-sophomore and current junior Max Seibald’s diving game-winning goal really legitimized the prowess of the lacrosse team in the eyes of the sport’s cognoscenti, as well as the Cornell students.
For me, that night was basically a blur; after the game, current sports editor Cory Bennett and I got lost in the labyrinthine Carrier Dome and almost missed the press conference. I was up until after 2 a.m. — first writing that recap (the longest article I have ever written) and then blogging about the game.
The next morning, the campus was literally buzzing about the contest, especially because Sportscenter had named the goal the No. 1 top play of the day. In my pop culture class, my professor made a speech congratulating the team, especially former co-captain Mitch Belisle ’07, who was also in the class and had helped to shut down star Orange attacker Mike Leveille. Even though Belisle and his team had won the contest on the field, everybody in the class and all across campus felt like it was a victory for all of Cornell, which is why the game easily tops this list.
Nick Hornby would be proud.