Wednesday, February 11, 2015

stevo's favorite team-o-meter

"I took two weeks vacation
For the honeymoon.
A couple tickets, all inclusive
Down in Cancun.

I couldn't get my money back,
So I'm in Seat 7A.
I'm getting drunk on a plane!

I bet the fella on the aisle
Thought I was crazy,
Because I taped your picture to the seatback
Right beside me.

Now I've got empty mini-bottles
Filling both our trays.
I'm getting drunk on a plane!

Buying drinks for everybody,
But the pilot -- it's a party!
Got the Seven Thirty Seven?
Rockin' like a G6!

Stewardess is something sexy!
Leanin', pourin' Coke and whiskey!
Told her 'bout my condition;
Got a lil' mile high flight attention!

It's Mardi Gras!
Up in the clouds!
I'm up so high?
I may never come down!

I'll try anything
To drown out the pain!
They all know why
I'm getting drunk on a plane!"

-- "Drunk On a Plane" by Dierks Bentley.  What?  I like the song, dammit!


Allow me to apologize up front for the fact that this is only the second post of the year.  In my defense, my professional life has been swamped.  Also, there may or may not be a “Fake Mailbag” just about done, to post in the next few days, and those always take me a bit of time to compose.


Fine, there is a “Fake Mailbag” just about done.  It’s one of the “fake questions” from you “real readers”, that inspires tonight’s post, as the response was too long to shove into a larger post.

* “Where do the 2014 Royals rank on the Stevo Favorite Team-o-Meter?” – Jasson W, Shawnee.

Well I’m glad you asked sir!  Because I have given this some thought.  And so, I figured I’d post my 27 favorite teams / seasons of all time.

There are only two caveats to this listing:

(1) The season has to matter, not a single event.  For instance, Kenny Brack winning the Indy 500 in 1999 is still my favorite moment in Indy history.  But outside of the 500, Mr. Brack did not have a great 1999 season, so it isn’t included.  Ditto Phil Mickelson winning the 2010 Masters (which was one of the funnest Sunday of my last six, seven years).  The Masters was the only (hootie johnson voice) toonumunt Phil won that year.  His 2010 season ain’t making this list.


(2) The number one team in this ranking is locked in, save for one potential future team.  And sadly, the number one team on this list cannot be knocked out of its perch in the 2015 calendar year, and it’s highly unlikely to be knocked out in the 2016 calendar year, as well.

For the record, 2 of the picks, are from NASCAR, and none are from the PGA Tour.  The one honorable mention, is from IndyCar.  The other 25 pull from the Major Four sports, at either the collegiate or professional level.

Let’s do this.

* HM: 2005 Dan Wheldon (IRL).

Results: 2005 Indy 500 Champion (note: this is a biggie with me, and if you want to start shouting “f*cking hypocrite!” at me right now for claiming this post emphasizes the entirety of a season, versus a moment of said season, feel free … but you’d be wrong, as much as you’d be right), 2005 IRL Champion. 

Reason: the single most dominant open wheel season of my lifetime.  Dan Wheldon won 6 of the 17 IRL events staged in 2005 (which was the first year the IRL had road course tracks).  He won 4 of the first 5, on every type of track used – a NASCAR sanctioned oval, a street race, and a traditional road course.  The points race was effectively over after Indy … and there were still 12 races to go!

And oh yeah – Indy.  My God, the 2005 Indy 500.

2006?  Was better in terms of quality, in terms of the shootout to the finish (3 lead changes in the final five laps, two of which involved an Andretti), and if I’m being honest, even if Dusty and I never speak again in this lifetime?  We’ll always have that 2006 500.

But 2005?  2005 was a game-changer.

Because Dan Wheldon?  Was bigger than the moment.

He OWNED the moment.

Yes, I chose as “the honorable mention”, the 2005 season the late, great Mr. Wheldon put up, because it was great.  But all I can say, is that if you were there at Indy that magical final Sunday in May ten years ago?  You know the pressure Dan Wheldon was under.  NOBODY was rooting for him.  That place was 300,000 plus crazed, delusional fans all pulling for a chica to win motorsports’ greatest prize.  Even me – and my favorite driver of all time (Kenny Brack) was making his final start, and the guy I was rooting like mad for to win (Sebastien Bourdais), even I was texting The Voice of Reason “does she have the fuel to make it?”  If you were there that day, you have to be honest: there was NOBODY in that heaven on earth at 16th and Georgetown, cheering for anyone other than Danica, on the restart on lap 189.

And when Danica passed him on the restart?  I’ll put it this way: I’ve been blessed enough in life to witness many amazing moments.  (Some of which are gonna be mentioned below.)  I have NEVER heard a louder crowd roar in my life, than when Danica took the lead on that restart.  300,000 plus people losing their collective minds at the same time.  Or as Al Michaels so perfectly put it in “the Miracle on Ice” game: “now?  You’ve got bedlam!”

Dan Wheldon somehow overcame that, and he overcame something even greater than the power of Danica that day: he overcame the Andretti Curse, handing his owner (Michael Andretti) his first ever 500 victory.

Sadly, tragically, Mr. Wheldon passed away three years ago, in a wreck in the season finale at Vegas that I was watching with my buddy Gus at the old Wild Wings on 350.  You take a look at Mr. Wheldon’s deadly crash, then compare it to the one my favorite driver somehow survived, eight years earlier.  In both cases, I cried fearing the guy I was rooting for was dead.  Sadly, in one case, it was true.

* 27. 2010 Kansas City Chiefs.

Result: 10-6, AFC West Division Champions, L Wildcard Roundt o Ravens (7-30).

Reason: Because it was the one bright, shining moment in six years of utter darkness.  The 2007-2009 Chiefs went 10-38; the 2011-2012 Chiefs went 9-23.  19-61 outside of these sixteen games, that resulted in a wholly satisfying division title, home game, and for one brief moment, the Scott Pioli Error was relevant for something other than candy wrappers and Jovan Belcher.

* 26. 2003 Kansas Jayhawk Football.

Result: 6-7, L Tangerine Bowl to NC State 26-56.

Reason: where to begin?  The season opening loss to Northwestern in a monsoon, when KU was stopped at the goalline as time expired?  The gigantic upset of Missouri to close out September?  The victory over Iowa State to close the season, that saw the student body rush the field, and chuck those goalposts into the lake, as KU clinched a bowl berth for the first time in nearly a decade?  Or all of the above?  In year two, Mark Mangino had just achieved more than Terry Allen did in six plus years before him: reach a bowl.  He’d do it three more times, before the floor felt out in 2009.

* 25. 1994 Kansas City Royals.

Result: 64-51 when the strike hit.

Reason: because for the first time in five years, the Royals entered August in decent shape to make the postseason.  Because they won 14 in a row at one point, including one of only two moments worth remembering between 1993 and 2014 (Bob Hamelin’s shot off Roberto Hernandez in the bottom of the 11th, to open the four game sweep of the White Sox, that got the Royals back in contention).  Because David Cone won the Cy Young Award.  Because The Hammer won the Rookie of the Year.  Because within a few months of the season ending, Jose Lind because forever known as Chico “No Pants” Lind, for wandering the side of a freeway naked from the waste down.  Because … because other than 2003, and possibly part of 2013, this was the only season of worth for us Royals fans, for twenty bleeping years.

* 24. 2011-2012 Kansas Jayhawks Basketball.

Result: Big XII Regular Season Champions, Midwest Regional Champions (defeated North Carolina 80-67), L National Championship Game to Kentucky (59-67).

Reason: the two final Missouri games?  Two epic games, in which the team with a gigantic ten plus point lead at the under four timeout, blew it?  The “bleep you!” attitude this team adopted after the loss in the Big XII Semis to Baylor, that culminated with beating Roy for a second time, to reach the Final Four?  The guts, the sheer guts and never quit mentality, that somehow survived Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft and Ohio State in the Final Four, a 64-62 thugfest that deserves recognition as one of the most physical (and fun to watch) games of the decade?

Or the fact that 6 of the top 8 scorers from the team that crapped out against Northern Iowa, and crapped out against VCU, saw the replacements and backups march this team to heights, those teams could only imagine?

To say nothing of what Thomas Robinson became, barely a year after losing his grandma, his grandpa, and his mom, within three weeks of each other?

* 23. 1989 Kansas City Royals.

Result: 92-70, no postseason.

Reason: it’s the first true pennant run I remember.  (Sorry, but I don’t remember 1985 … or 1984 … and I sure as hell don’t remember 1981, 1980, 1978, or 1977, if I can’t recall 1985.)  The three best teams in baseball that year, resided in the same division – the A’s, the Angels, and the Royals.  All won 90 plus (99 for Oakland, 92 for KC, 91 for California).  All would have made the playoffs, under the current model (and man, would that have been one HELLUVA wildcard play-in game: Mark Langston vs Bret Saberhagen, the season on the line, between the two most deserving Cy Young candidates in the AL that year).  Or it could have been Rookie of the Year Jim Abbott, against the runner up Tom “Flash” Gordon.  Or it could have been two wily veterans, “Circle Me” Bert Blyleven vs Mark Gubicza.  Or, in a final nod of nostalgia to the mid 1980s, Mike Witt vs Charlie Liebrandt. 

There are very, very few things in life, I admit to being 100% wrong about my initial belief in.  Opposing the wildcard in MLB as it originally existed?  I was right.  But how could anyone oppose a one-game play in, a virtual playoff game, between the teams that finished with the 3rd and 4th best records in the game, in 1989, with pitching staffs that loaded, and offenses as potent as the Royals and Angels were?

MLB botched the initial wildcard setup.  They NAILED the current one.

(Oh, and if you doubt how deep and how talented every damned team in the AL West was in the late 80s / early 90s?  The Angels finished in dead last (7th place) in 1991 … at 81-81.)  The World Champs that year?  Your AL West Champion Minnesota Twins, at 95-67 … with an 8-4 postseason record as well.)

* 22. 2005 Tony Stewart (NASCAR).

Result: NASCAR Nextel Cup Champion, won 5 of 36 point races, including the 2005 Brickyard.  (Again: feel free to shout “bullsh*t!” at my claims, that moments don’t matter more than the entire body of work, for any of these choices.)

Reason: I was there.  I saw him outduel my favorite NASCAR driver over 160 laps, that magical August Sunday.  I saw him later that year at Kansas, en route to his second Cup title.  I’ve never seen an outpouring of support from a fanbase so ecstatic over a win, as I did in 2005, over the 20 (at the time) winning the Brickyard.

* 21. 2008-2009 Milwaukee BuKCs.

Result: 34-48, no postseason.

Reason: BuKCsteball happened.  And reading that link, I can't help but think, sweet merciful Jesus: how some people change forever, and not for better.

* 20. 2003 Kansas City Chiefs.

Result 13-3, AFC West Division Champions, L Divisional Round to Colts (31-38).

Reason: as hard as it is to believe, this might be the worst of the three best win-total Chiefs teams (the other two of which are still to appear in this list).  Having said that, there were so many memorable moments from 2003.  Dante Hall's forgotten return in Baltimore to beat the Ravens.  "Cut" Greg Wesley tackling tim brown at the six inch line to escape in oakland on a Monday night in late October.  Obliterating the Bills the following week on a Sunday night, to reach 8-0 at the bye.  The debacle in Cincinnati.  The surreal setting for tailgating before the Lions game (the United States forces in Iraq had captured Saddam Hussein that morning). 

But there's two moments that stand out, two Dante Hall returns that defined that season for me.  The first, everyone remembers: the punt return with barely eight to play, when Dante Hall single-handedly outfoxed and outran the entire donkeys special teams unit, to put the Chiefs up 24-23 in one of the most exciting, amazing, incredible games in this exciting, amazing, incredible rivalry with satan's squad.  It's the other one that drives me bananas.  Trailing 31-17 with a little under eight play, once again Dante Hall fielded a punt, and once again he took it to the house, to bring the Chiefs to within seven of the Colts in the playoff game.  I will argue until the day I die, the Chiefs should have onside kicked the kickoff.  They should have gambled right then (especially since the Colts wouldn't see it coming ... and for those of you who say "yeah, right", I remind you, the turning point of their Super Bowl defeat to the Saints, was the onside kick to open the second half, that the Colts had no idea was coming).  Instead, the Chiefs kick off, satan converts the 3rd and 6, and for all intents and purposes, the season was over.  (Both sides would score another touchdown, to get us to the final score.)

* 19. 1993 Kansas City Chiefs.

Result: 11-5, AFC West Division Champions, L AFC Championship Game to Bills (13-30).

Reason: the team's first division championship in 22 years.  Two epic Monday Nighters against two Hall of Fame quarterbacks (elway, Favre).  The blocked punt against the Steelers in the wildcard game, followed by Joe to Tim Barnett on 4th and goal to tie the game at 24.  Keith Cash giving Buddy Ryan the business, as Montana's elbow kept getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger.  And did I mention, first division championship in 22 years?

* 18. 2001-2002 Kansas Jayhawks Basketball.

Result: 33-4, Big XII Regular Season Champions, Midwest Regional Champions (defeating Oregon 104-86), L Final Four to Maryland (88-97).

Reason: one of the best Kansas teams of my lifetime.  They went 16-0 in the Big XII.  Of their four defeats, one was a fluke in the first game of the season (Ball State, in the Maui Invitational), one was to a team that reached the Sweet Sixteen (UCLA), and the other two were to teams that reached the Final Four (OU, Maryland).  The talent -- my God, was this roster loaded.  Collison, Gooden, Hinrich, Simien, Langford, Miles, Mikey Lee, the underrated Jeff Carey, and the original Stevo Man Crush*, Boschee! 

The second round, my single favorite KU game I have ever attended.  KU / Stanford.  I'll never forget that Saturday as long as I live.  Cold, rainy -- and full of fear.  The Voice of Reason and I managed to scalp a couple for $50 each ... in the Kentucky section.  (Kentucky / Tulsa was the opening act.)  Blue cheering for Blue.  The decent UK fans offering us something to liven up our non-adult beverages (damned NCAA not allow beer sales), and Gregg, like a grizzled veteran, taking a hit off the flask and simply saying "yup.  It's shine." 

The fear was for Kirk Hinrich, who'd suffered a severe ankle sprain in the opener against Holy Cross (a game KU damned near lost; they trailed at the under eight timeout, and were up a possession at the under four).  If Hinrich was a no-go, the odds of KU winning weren't good; Casey Jacobson was that unguardable.  Sweating through the pregame warmups, waiting to hear the lineups ... and hearing "Number Ten", and the relief.  Jesus, it was like one massive exhale by 30,000 people at the same time.  And then, the game itself.  KU OBLITERATED Stanford.  Poor Mike Montgomery had to call his first timeout 91 seconds in, with KU already up 15-0.

The stress of surviving Illinois in the Sweet Sixteen.  (Coached by?  You guessed it, Frank Stallone!  Just kidding -- coached by Bill Self.)  KU survived and advanced by four. 

Which led two days later to that most magical of moments, when Ernie Kent called a timeout with barely a minute to go, to get the seniors in one last time for his Ducks, and the KU band had the option.  (If you've never been to a NCAA Tournament game, the band that gets to play alternates at each timeout.)  A solo trumpet belts out the first six notes.  Then all the trumpets belt out the next seven.  Then the full band belts out the last nine, to the opening of the song.  Once the full band started, well, in the words of Al Michaels: "now you've got bedlam!"

For the first time in ten years, KU was returning to the Final Four.  

It was real, and it was spectacular.

(*: added late by the editor (hey, that's me), because I knew I had an asterick in this post somewhere.  Jeff Boschee is one of three ridiculous man-crushes I've had in my life.  The other two?  Chadwick Pennington, and Jon Scheyer.  Again -- if you don't get me help at Charter?  Please get me help somewhere.)

* 17. 2009-2010 Milwaukee BuKCs.

Result: 46-36, 6th seed in Eastern Conference, L First Round to Hawks (3-4).

Reason: Yeah, that about sums it up.  (Of course the BuKCs couldn't pull it out.  Of COURSE they couldn't.)

* 16. 1993-1994 New York Knicks.

Result: 57-25, Atlantic Division Champions, Eastern Conference Champions (beat Pacers 4-3), L NBA Finals to Rockets (3-4).

Reason: because finally, the dragon was slayed.  Everyone remembers the childish antics of Scottie Pippen from Game 3, when he refused to take the court for the final shot because the play wasn't called for him.  (Toni Kukoc sank the three to give the Bulls a one point win.)  Everyone forgets his idiotic foul on Hubert Davis late in game seven, that gave the Knicks the win and the series.  So damned overrated, Mr. Pippen is.  And of course, the "Forgotten Finals", as Ken Berger so brilliantly put it -- upstaged by Orenthal James Simpson and a white Bronco.  No word on if he was doing drugs with (oj simpson voice) Pe Dro Gu Erre Ro in the back seat.

* 15. 2003 Kansas City Royals.

Result: 83-79, no postseason.

Reason: because until last year, this was the funnest season for a Royals fan over the last twenty years.  Because the Royals were in first place in late August (although the wheels were falling off).  Because meaningful September baseball was played.  Because Barry Bonds damned near put a hole in the roof of the old right field GA concession stand.  Because of Lima Time.  Because of Double Header Day Dos.  Just, because.

* 14. 2006 Kasey Kahne (NASCAR).

Result: NASCAR Chase Participant (finished 8th); won 5 of 36 races.

Reason: he swept Lowe's; that was cool.  But it was the last two races before the Chase that made this season.  Trailing by 90 points -- 90! -- entering the Labor Day weekend race at Fontana, Kahne went out and dominated, winning the race and making up 60 of those 90 points.  And then, six days later, he stormed into Richmond, and not just won that race, but more than made up the 30 points he needed -- he made up 46, to get into the Chase.  It also didn't suck that this was the spring and summer I was unemployed, and got to actually enjoy racing all season long, rather than check in on it every so often.

* 13. 1998-1999 Dallas Stars.

Result: 51-19-12, Pacific Division Champions, Western Conference Champions (beating the Avalanche 4-3), Stanley Cup Champions (beating the Sabres 4-2).

Reason: because anytime you can watch the only hockey team you give a sh*t about play in the Stanley Cup, you have to do it.  (I went to Game Two; I was in Dallas for work.)  And because anytime you can watch the only hockey team you give a rat's ass about clinch the Cup in triple overtime, via one of the most controversial goals of all time, while playing blackjack and pounding screwdrivers at Harrahs, you have to do it.  (Yes, that is where I was, and what I was doing, for Game Six.)

* 12. 1997 Kansas City Chiefs.

Result: 13-3, AFC West Division Champions, L Division Round to broncos (10-14).

Reason: there's still four more Chiefs teams that are going to appear in this listing, including one that will make you stare in shock at your screen, do a double take, then yell at your significant other "honey, Stevo done finally lost his marbles!"  None of those four still to appear -- and none that already have, were the best team in franchise history.  The 1997 Chiefs were.  To lose to denver as they did hurt.  (They lost due to a bullsh*t incompletion call on a ball Tony Gonzalez clearly caught in the end zone; had replay existed in 1997, the Chiefs challenge, the call is overturned, and instead of kicking a field goal to pull within 4, the Chiefs tie the game.  Which means that instead of having to run a two minute drill, needing a touchdown, while the headsets shorted out (which actually happened)?  The Chiefs are trotting Pete Stoyanovich out with :04 to play, to kick a 40 something yard field goal attempt into the west end zone, to beat the denver broncos.)

I mean, come on.  Pete Stoyanovich, on a crazy cold day, with the game on the line against the donkeys, attempting an extremely challenging field goal.  He'd never make any of those, would he?

To lose to a team I despise more than isis and al quada combined, on my 21st birthday?

Is pain I'll never get over.

Thankfully, there were so many great moments -- Andre Rison burning al davis' house down.  Gun sends 11 on 4th and goal -- yes, he literally sent every defender on the final play of the game against Buffalo.  Marcus Allen throwing for the Chiefs only touchdown in the Monday Night win over the Steelers.  Billy Joe Hobert being taunted at the players entrance in the season finale.  (One of Gregg's most underrated moments.  Not quite as underrated as nearly causing a melee by asking Cris Carter where his ring was, but asking Billy Joe Hobert if he remembered his playbook was a classic.)

* 11. 2003-2004 Kansas Jayhawks Basketball.

Result: 24-9, NCAA Tournament 4th Seed (Midwest Regional), L Midwest Regional Final to Georgia Tech (71-79, OT).

Reason: well for starters, as of today?  This is the only KU team Bill Self has coached, that did not win at least a share of the Big XII regular season title.  And yet, having noted that?  I'd argue this is the best coaching job he's done, since arriving in Lawrence ... and he did it in year one.

This team was running on fumes from the Final Four teams of the previous two years.  Gone were (fred white voice) Dwight Gooden, Nick Collison, Kirk Hinrich, and Jeff Boschee,  Nobody expected KU to get past the Sweet Sixteen, where Kentucky likely laid waiting.

Instead, Mike Anderson engineered a massive upset of UK in the Round of 32, and KU survived a couple god-awful efforts, blew out UAB, and found itself one of the last six teams standing, as noon dawned on Elite Eight Sunday.

I've rarely entered a game more geeked than I was for this one (it was played in the whatever the hell they call it now Dome in St. Louis).  I've rarely left a game more disgusted and disappointed, than I did 2 1/2 hours later.  KU led once all day -- for about five seconds to open overtime.  They rallied from down 10 at the under four to force overtime on an epic JR Giddens three pointer.  But they couldn't overcome the Rambling Wreck that day.

Still, one awesome season, that set the foundation, for the ten (and counting) championship seasons that have followed.

* 10. 2007 Kansas Jayhawks Football.

Result: 12-1, W Orange Bowl vs Virginia Tech (24-17).

Reason: where to begin?  The biggest game KU and MU have ever played, on any stage, in any sport?  The Big XII North, a potential National Championship, and a potential BCS berth on the line, in the regular season finale?  College GameDay at a KU Football game?!?!?!  The "Spirit of 76", as "Sur" William Callahan's Huskers were nearly doubled up (final: 76-39), as KU scored a touchdown on ten consecutive possessions, and poor "Sur" Willy was reduced to an incoherent mess on his coach's show a couple days later?

Or maybe it was yet another KU Band inspired moment, the "Don't Stop Believing" montage after demolishing Iowa State to get to 11-0.

Or possibly proving beyond the shadow of all doubt that Kansas Jayhawk Football being selected for a BCS Bowl was the right and proper decision, by beating ACC Champion Virginia Tech on my (gulp) 31st birthday.

Or ... all of the above. 

* 9. 2013 Kansas City Chiefs.

Result: 11-5, L Wildcard Round at Colts (44-45).

Reason: I guess I'll just say this: if you had told me, that I would be in Indy to witness the rise, and epic fall, of the Chiefs that cold January day, one day after I turned (big gulp) 37 (Part 1 of the Recap; Part 2 of the Recap), I'd have believed you.

If you had told me that wouldn't even be within 500 miles of the best sporting event I'd attend all year?  I'd have called Two Rivers on your behalf.  I honestly thought NOTHING could top that playoff game.  Yes, the Chiefs lost ... but it was a season that restored the faith and passion in the franchise, and let's just be honest: that was one EPICALLY awesome game, win or lose.

If you'd told me that not even nine months later, I'd witness something in person that would put that cold January Saturday to shame and embarrassment, at how pathetic it was compared to this other event?

No way in hell I'd have believed you.

But you'd have been right.  And I'd have been wrong.

Because to answer the "fake email" from the "real reader" that sparked this post ...

* 8. 2014 Kansas City Royals.

Result: 89-73, W AL Wildcard Game vs A's (9-8, 12 innings), W ALDS vs Angels (3-0), W ALCS vs Orioles (4-0), American League Champions, L World Series vs Giants (3-4).

Reason: if you had any doubts before, that claiming one game, one moment, cannot forever make a season meaningful to me ... you now know, that it can

* 7. 2006 Kansas City Chiefs.

Result: 9-7, L AFC Wildcard at Colts (8-23).

Reason: this?  Isn't the "quick, call Charter, Stevo's freaking lost it!" Chiefs team, I referenced at number 12 earlier.  I love the hell out of the 2006 Chiefs.  They overcame so damned much, beat every odd, they never quit.  They just never quit.

Trent Green lost for three months during the opener?  Damon Huard turns in a Pro Bowl worthy performance.  Lose three straight in December?  Win the last two and nail the Immaculate Fourfecta.

Field goal from 48 to beat the Chargers nullified due to a bullsh*t penalty?

Nail the retry from 53 even more perfectly than the attempt from 48.

Have to host -- and beat -- your two most hated rivals in a five day span?

Intercept aaron brooks in the end zone with :06 remaining, and then hold denver to a franchise record-low 38 yards rushing, in a game you never trail.

In a game that got the 2006 Chiefs into the postseason.

And folks?  Don't forget -- as awful as that loss to Indy was (no first downs for 44 minutes)?

The Chiefs had the ball, with 12 minutes to play, down one score.

They never, ever quit.

I admire that.

And speaking of quitters, on the opposite end of the spectrum ...

* 6. 2002-2003 Kansas Jayhawks Basketball.

Result: 30-8, Big XII Regular Season Champions, West Regional Champions (beat Arizona 78-75), L National Title Game vs Syracuse (78-81).

Reason: Dick Vitale giving Nick Collison a standing ovation in one of the best wins in program history (vs Texas, 90-87).  The sheer panic over opening 3-3 (losing to UNC, Florida, and Oregon ... no shame in any of those, but still).  Crapping out in the Big XII Tournament to Mizzou.  Surviving the West Regional -- Utah State missing a three as time expired, holding on to win by four against Duke, and three against Arizona.

The thrill of propping the feet up at halftime of the Marquette Final Four game, up 35, knowing the entire second half was one long visual fellating of the Jayhawk program.

The agony of Mikey Lee getting raped by Hakim Warrick on the final shot of the season, preventing overtime against Syracuse ... who owned that National Title Game for 33 minutes behind the brilliance of Carmelo Anthony.  (As someone whose 1B hoops team is Syracuse, let me tell you, this title game was painful to watch ... but with the benefit of twelve years of hindsight, I'm glad Syracuse won.  Boeheim got the championship to cement his legacy, on the court where his legacy drew the most question.  (Indiana beat Syracuse in the 1987 Title Game in the Superdome, on Keith Smart's jumper ... and Syracuse didn't have the presence of mind, to call timeout afterwards, to set up a final play.)  Roy should win all his titles at UNC; I honestly hope he gets at least one more before he retires.  And KU got theirs five years later.)  

* 5. 1999 Kansas City Chiefs.

Result: 9-7, no postseason.

Reason: This, Chiefs fans, is the team I expect you to be spitting out the shiraz or Beam and Coke, at the placement in this listing.  Because no team has ever simultaneously thrilled me, and enraged me, and confused me, and drove me bat sh*t crazy, like Gun’s Guys did in 1999.  The debacle of the opener in Chicago … followed by taking the denver broncos to the woodshed, and giving them the business like few Chiefs teams ever have.  Adam Vinatieri somehow, someway, missing from 22 yards out at the gun to let the Chiefs escape in Week Five.  (Note: “The Voice of Reason” and I have spent many a moment together after a Chiefs game – which makes sense, given that we were the Chandler and Joey of real-life for eight years.  Neither of us had a word to say, on that ride home … other than deciding, to hit the old Hen House (now Price Chopper) on Wornall, for a very, very, very healthy package, of adult beverages, to process what we’d just witnessed.  Adam Vinatieri misses for all intents and purposes an extra point, with the game on the line.  That ain’t something you see every day.)

The high of the 5-2 start after demolishing the Ravens on national television … to three straight losses, punctuated by the Seahawks demolishing us at Arrowhead, to drop the Chiefs three out of the playoffs – any playoff berth – with six to play.  An all night, “why not!” last minute drive to Indy for the Colts game, only to be told that “no missile like objects are allowed” in the old RCA Dome. 

Then the rise – from 5 and 5, to 9 and 5, winning at oakland on “Pete for President” Stoyanovich’s last meaningful kick that was made, winning at denver on a Vanover punt return with less than two to play, beating the Vikings on a Sunday night that was DT’s last epic game (and saw Elvis Grbac of all people, successfully execute a two minute drill, after a Randy Moss punt return tied the game at 28 with 1:31 to go), culminating with the “Mitch Lyons Game” on national television against the Steelers.

And then the final collapse: up 17-0 barely five minutes into a “win and you’re in as some participant” finale, the Chiefs choke away the lead to oakland, the refs give Dick Gannon a fifth down, Pete misses from 45 as time expires, that crappy punter kicks the kickoff out of bounds, and the Y2K bowl shifts the power in the division away from Arrowhead, west … where for the most part, it has remained, every year since.

Why, then, is this team ranked so high for me?  Because re-read those previous four paragraphs.  That’s a season folks!  And because, as noted earlier – this 1999 Chiefs season, the oakland finale in particular, the fifth down in certainty – is my greatest “what if” in sports.

* 4. 1999 New York Knicks Basketball.

Result: 27-23, 8th Seed Eastern Conference, Eastern Conference Champions (defeated Pacers 4-2), L NBA Finals to Spurs (1-4).

Reason: If number three was the last great sports team I rooted for growing up, then this team was the first great sports I rooted for as a grown-up.

The Knicks barely got in as the final team in the field.  In a rarity, the top of the Eastern Conference saw not one, not two, but three teams tied for the best record – Miami, Indiana, and Orlando.  As a Knicks fan in the 1990s, that was “pick your poison”, that was Russian Roulette, who you root for.  The Knicks drew Miami, and Allan Houston hit the series winner as time expired in game five, to advance the Knicks.  The Knicks then swept the Hawks, which set up the next-to-last of the great Knicks / Pacers series in the Eastern Conference Playoffs of the 1990s / early 2000s.  (They’d meet again in the Eastern Finals in 2000, with the result exactly flipped).  Despite losing Patrick Ewing to (al michaels voice) an Achilles in Game Two, the Knicks survived and advanced, thanks to the most “holy f*cking sh*t!” four point play you’ll ever see, out of Larry Johnson.

Sadly, the luck ran out in the Finals, as the Spurs won their first championship four games to one.  Still, this team to this day resonates with me, like no other NBA team ever has.

* 3. 1994 Nebraska Cornhuskers Football.

Result: 13-0, Big 8 Champions, Orange Bowl Champions (beat Miami 24-17), National Champions (via the Miami victory).

Reason: growing up, you wouldn’t find a bigger backer of the Big Red outside of the state of Nebraska, than me.  No season ever tried me, like this one did.  Tommie Frazier goes down against Pacific with a near-fatal blood clot in his leg; he’s out until the Orange Bowl.  Then Brook Berringer goes down against Wyoming with a collapsed lung, and entering the nuthouse that is (now) Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, the freshman walk-on from Wahoo, Nebraska, Matt Turman, is called on to save a season.  A 17-6 victory later, the season was saved.

The #2 vs #3 showdown on Halloween in Lincoln, when Nebraska beat the crap out of Colorado, to firmly announce to the nation “hey!  We’re legit!”

The Huskers ended OU’s relevance for a few years as a national power in the finale, demolishing Gary Gibbs’ final Sooners squad, and paving the way for such excellence as Howard Schellenberger (fired after one season!) and John Blake (should have been fired after one season!)

And then came the Orange Bowl.  New Year’s Eve 1994.  Tommie Frazier starts.  A disasterous 0-10 start.  Falling behind 7-17 midway through the third.  Then a safety.  Then Cory Schlesinger, the second touchdown with slightly under three to play through a gassed Miami defense, to finally deliver Dr. Tom his long-overdue national championship.  That would turn out to be the last great sports moment of “my childhood”.  I couldn’t have scripted it better.

* 2. 2007-2008 Kansas Jayhawks Basketball.

Result: 13-3, Big XII Regular Season Champions (shared with Texas), Big XII Conference Tournament Champions (beat Texas 84-74), Midwest Regional Champions (beat Davidson 59-57), National Champions (beat Memphis 75-68, OT).

Reason: Holy God, where to begin.  KU lost three games all year … by 12 combined points.  They were never ranked lower than 7th.  The Davidson game is one for the ages, and ended in a comfortable main room in South KC for me, the exact way it ended on the sidelines in Detroit for Coach Self: collapsing to the floor, and pounding it in relief / ecstasy / joy.  Because of the comeback, from down 9 with 1:38 to play, to (bob davis voice) “Overtime! Overtime!” euphoria as Super Mario’s Three somehow, someway, was picture perfect, uuh, perfect.  Because the Rat Bastard got his ass handed to him, in a game us KU fans had waited five years for … and because Roy Williams ceased to be the Rat Bastard 48 hours later, when he chose to (roy williams voice) not give a sh*t about his sponsors, and covered up that logo with a gigantic KU sticker, rooting like hell for his former team.

(Note: I also may, or may not, have collapsed to the floor, bawling uncontrollably like a baby, pounding the floor while screaming “Yes!  Yes!  Yes!” through the tears of joy, for five straight minutes, after Super Mario’s Three went in.)

There’s only one team that could ever top that for me … at least so far.

* 1. 1995 Kansas City Chiefs.

Result: 13-3, AFC West Division Champions, L Divisional Round to Colts 7-10.

Reason: they are my favorite team of all time ... until a Chiefs team reaches the Super Bowl in my lifetime.  Then?  The 1995 Chiefs may get bumped.  Because the only way this squad ever is assured of getting bumped, is if the Chiefs win the Lombardi.

1995 was the most epic, amazing, incredible, "what the hell is going on here?!?!?!" season of my lifetime.  The first three home games?  Saw the Chiefs rally from late fourth quarter deficits to force overtime, then win them in overtime.  First, the Giants -- down 17-3, win 20-17 on a Lin Elliott field goal.  Then the raiders -- down 17-3, win 23-17 on James Hasty's TaINT.  Then the Chargers -- down 23-16 with 1:12 to play, Derrick Walker ties it with :07 to play, and Tamarick Vanover wins it with my favorite play of all time, in overtime.

And yet, you can make a strong, credible argument, NONE of those were the most "holy f*cking sh*t, what is going on here?!?!?!" home game of the season!  Because Todd McNair, running out the clock to reach overtime for the Oilers, fumbled the exchange, Mark Collins took it to the house, and the Chiefs won 20-13 against the Oilers in a Sunday Nighter right before Thanksgiving, that might be the single most "wait, what?!?!?!" finish in Chiefs history.

The 1995 Chiefs went 8-0 in the AFC West.  Eight.  And.  Zero.  Only the 1998 denver broncos matched that achievement.  Their only defeats in the regular season were (a) at Dallas (your eventual Super Bowl champs) on Thanksgiving, (b) at Miami (eventual wildcard team) on a Monday Night in December that essentially was their season, and (c) at Cleveland the week before Art Modell announced he was moving the franchise to Baltimore. 

They had six win talent.  They won thirteen.  This team was Marty Schottenheimer's finest hour.  It started Steve Bono at quarterback.  Greg Hill as the featured back.  Lake Dawson and Sean LaChapelle at WR.  Derrick Walker at TE.  Yeah -- those five key contributors, won thirteen bleeping games.  

And you actually wonder why they're my favorite?


I hope to get the first "fake mailbag" of the year up by Friday evening.  I also have a couple other things I've been working on, that I'd like to get done and posted as well.  But, if I don't, just indulge me.  I don't draw an average of 31 separate viewings for each post for nothing ...

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the third thursday thirteen ...

"So you're dancing on the ocean -- Running fast, along the sand. A spirit born, of earth and water -- Fire flying from your hand...