The National Hockey League released its "Return to Play" plan this week, and other shuttered sports leagues across North America are bound to follow in the next month.
Two months ago, I would have been as excited as everyone else to hear about the return of sports — especially the Stanley Cup Playoffs — but today I can’t help but think, “What’s the rush?”
Live sports are great, I agree. There’s nothing better. And they’ve paid this sports reporter’s bills — somewhat — for the last 15 or so years as well. I have that on my mind every day.
But the classic games and documentaries airing on the networks in place of live action have provided me with hours of enjoyment and nostalgia the past three months, and I’ve found myself thirsting for more.
Here’s a sampling of what I’ve enjoyed:
2019 NCAA men’s hockey championship
I finally got around to re-watching the Bulldogs’ second of back-to-back national championship victories when it was re-aired in mid-April. It’s always an interesting exercise to see what television focused on, compared to what I remember seeing in the press box.
While not unexpected, I was surprised how much airtime was given to the 2019 Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner out of Massachusetts — Cale Makar. The Bulldogs made him a complete nonfactor at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York, that night, yet he was often front and center of ESPN’s coverage.
Makar was a ghost for much of that game, so much so, that five minutes into the second period, I turned to The Rink Live’s Mick Hatten and asked if he saw Makar leave the ice injured. Seconds later, Nick Wolff leveled Makar at center ice.
That hit by Wolff was the play of the game for me, not because it changed the course of the game, but because it symbolized UMD’s dominance that day. I thought it then, and I thought it again re-watching it on TV.
2018 Olympic women’s hockey gold medal game
I’ve seen this epic showdown between the United States and Canada a number of times now. It’s a classic game, and seeing Maddie Rooney crack a smile just as the shootout is about to get underway never gets old.
What jumped out to me during my most recent viewing, though, was how solid former Bulldogs defenseman Sidney Morin was that night for Team USA in Pyeongchang, South Korea. She might have been the team’s best defenseman.
It’s a thought I remember having as I watched the game live on my couch in the middle of the night. That was my story line in my head until Rooney’s heroics.
Super Bowl XXXI
Desmond Howard’s 99-yard kickoff return for the Green Bay Packers in their 35-27 victory over the New England Patriots was not the game-breaking, MVP moment I seem to remember it being when I watched this game as a kid.
Brett Favre’s 54-yard touchdown pass to Andre Rison and the killer 81-yard TD toss to Antonio Freeman had way more sizzle. Reggie White should have been the MVP with his three sacks.
A week later, I watched the Packers’ 38-27 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in the 1995-96 NFC Championship. A heartbreaking game for young Matt at the time — Packers led 27-24 in the third quarter before two fourth-quarter TDs by Emmit Smith — I found this game much more enjoyable to watch and endure after watching the replay of Super Bowl XXXI a week earlier.
Week 2 of 1988 NFL Season
Across the globe, this pandemic has inspired innovation and resourcefulness beyond belief. The best example of this is when someone compiled footage from all the noon games from Week 2 of the 1998 NFL season, cut it up, synced it together and broadcast it on YouTube as if it was bring shown live on the NFL Red Zone channel.
That week included a number of key games, including a previously injured Joe Montana returning to the San Francisco 49ers’ lineup to replace Steve Young against the New York Giants; Dan Marino’s Miami Dolphins squaring off against Jim Kelly’s Buffalo Bills; and two of the worst teams in football then — the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers — playing a classic “Bay of Pigs” debacle at Lambeau Field during Sterling Sharpe’s rookie year.
It was glorious. I watched the entire thing one Sunday. You should, too.
The Last Dance
ESPN’s documentary on the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls — a team I loved and adored as a kid as much as the Packers — has been the best trip I’ve taken down memory lane the last three months because the 10-part series has touched on every emotion live sports often brings.
There’s the excitement of watching one of the greatest professional athletes that ever lived in action. The surprise of learning Jordan had food poisoning — not the flu — in Game 7 of the 1997 NBA Finals due to a late-night tainted pizza in Salt Lake City. And the anger and frustration over the mismanagement of the franchise by general manager Jerry Krause (and that fact that Jerry Reinsdorf let it happen).
That documentary — and many of the classic games I’ve watched — had it all, which is why I feel sports can take all the time it needs before returning to play.
There’s no need to introduce a cheap, watered-down format to finish a season, just for the sake of finishing a season. There’s no need to hold events in lifeless stadiums before a sea of empty seats. There’s no need to risk the health and safety of players, coaches and staff just to keep us sports nuts entertained.
Let the networks — and heroes of the internet — dig deep into the vaults. We can all relive the glory years until sports is ready to return.