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Basketball great at great endings.

What is the greatest game ever?



Much like the previous night's NBA classic, Wednesday's Blackhawks-Bruins overtime special is being described as an all-time great Finals game. I offer no argument. It was perfect -- ebbs and flows, high drama, big stakes.

On Wednesday afternoon Bulldog and I spent most of our show hashing out not only what the greatest games in sports history are, but what makes them great?

In this loftiest of contexts -- greatest ever -- some factors can send memorable games into instant elimination. Including:

It happened in the regular season. Bills fans fondly remember the famous "No Punt Game" in San Francisco back in 1992. But sorry, to best the greatest game ever you can't be a Week 2 interconference matchup televised regionally. Everyone had to see it. Great game? Yes. Important? No.

It involved at least one irrelevant team. The Steelers' thrilling Super Bowl XLIII win had all the components of a great game. A late comeback that included thrilling plays. The game was close throughout. One problem though: It came against the lowly Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals are not only almost always bad, they weren't even good the year they made the Super Bowl, going 9-7 and getting pounded by good teams.

Rule: The Greatest Game Ever did not -- can not -- include the Arizona Cardinals.

If one or more teams isn't important -- either as a current top contender or based on its legacy and tradition -- the game is disqualified from consideration.

You don't remember the ending. Not all classic games are memorable for moments that occurred early on, or even midway through. But they all feature the big finish. A basket at the buzzer (Christian Laettner), an overtime goal (Sidney Crosby), a play at the plate (Sid Bream). The better the buildup, the better the game. But what happened in the first half/second period/third inning of these games? I don't know either, and it really doesn't matter.

Not to worry, these quick cuts don't deprive us from a long list of classics. All sports have them -- championship-round games that went to the finish, legacies made and shattered.

But are some sports better-built than others to provide them? For sure.

The greatest game ever, in my opinion, cannot be a hockey game because in hockey you never go from behind to ahead in one moment. Yes, overtimes are dramatic and thrilling. But for me, moments like, say, Laettner's shot trump any hockey moment. Duke was down to Kentucky in the '92 Regional Final and had mere seconds to go all the way up court and score. In a flash, a season-ending loss was transformed into sudden victory. Basketball can give you that.

So can baseball. In the same year, Atlanta in Game 7 of the NLCS was one strike away defeat with runners on second and third. Francisco Cabrera's famous single tied it and won it in a matter of seconds.

Football can do this too but it's not the same. There's usually the drive, the build-up. You know it's coming. It's more dramatic in football when a team is closing in on the winning points and they don't get them, either on, say, a defensive stand or a missed kick. Otherwise the late win can be somewhat anticlimactic.

Can the greatest game ever end on an error? I say yes. The greatest game ever need not be perfectly played. The end-of-game error is often more dramatic than the good play. Bill Buckner's error, Billy Cundiff's missed field goal or for that matter Scott Norwood's on a tougher kick -- these games aren't punctuated be heroism, but the pain and shock that go with this type of ending evoke more relatable emotions. That sports aren't like movies, which usually end in happiness, makes sports more interesting. And sometimes in life, we blow it.

(I'm not sure I feel this way about basketball. I don't know if the greatest basketball game really can end on a miss.)

One more thought: It's tough for me to include games played many decades ago. There certainly is no reason why a game back then couldn't have been great. But watching the drama play out live, riding the emotions, well, if you didn't do that for a particular game then it's not the same. A World Series once ended in Game 7 with Babe Ruth thrown out trying to steal second. But I couldn't tell you how that felt to watch.

What's your greatest game ever? Post it below. Maybe we'll revisit this. If you choose either Finals game from the last two nights, I wouldn't blame you.

 


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