Welcome to Top 5 Fun Friday, a regularly-occurring blog feature where I give you a list of extremely specific pointless shit from my life no one asked for. Why? Because the internet is STILL incredibly un-fun in 2021 and I enjoy blogging. It’s Friday and these will be fun! This week’s list…
Top 5 Favorite Teams of All-Time
Professional sports fandom is weird. I don’t have the time for it that I used to, but when I was younger, a lot of this shit felt like life or death. I’ve seen that persist in grown ass adult friends of mine, and frankly, it’s goddamn embarrassing. Our sports fandom, at its core, is supposed to be a fun diversion from life’s many drudgeries, but think for a second about how much of your social media is filled with handwringing, anger, and RUINED DAYS because, I dunno, the Pittsburgh Steelers or whoever the fuck lost a game. Get a grip.
With that said, you can probably draw a straight line from the bitterness of current loss into the past where one or two perfect teams touched our souls and imprinted themselves on us forever. When your favorite team manages to put together that shining season filled with indelible memories, crazy reversals of fortune, and that hard-to-place feeling of destiny that only becomes visible with the benefit of hindsight, you fall in love all over again and redouble your commitment to them. It’s what sports is all about.
Sadly for many fans, that love and devotion curdles into a sense of resentment and entitlement that results in the toxic fandom we see far too frequently. Thankfully, I’ve mellowed out a lot and am the very definition of a casual sports fan. Nothing in this realm sways me too far one way or another these days, but when I feel like mashing the nostalgia joy buzzer, here are five teams that give me that lovely soap and water feeling in my soul.
2007 Colorado Rockies
A year after I wrapped up graduate school, 2007 is one my favorite years of my entire life. I spent the first 10 months of that year living alone which is transformative and grows me the hell up, moved in with my now-wife in October, and watched the Rockies go an absolutely unprecedented tear to close the season, sneak into the playoffs, buzzsaw through the Phillies and Padres, and then get swept in the World Series by the shitass Boston Red Sox.
The thing everyone remembers most about that team is Game 163, the Wild Card tie-breaker game against the Padres, and for good reason. It’s my favorite game of all-time (more on that in a second). But let’s go back to Game 162 of the season. The Rockies had already won 12 of their last 13 games (including an iconic, mammoth walk-off homer by Todd Helton off Dodgers closer Takeshi Saito), and they needed a win against the division-leading Diamondbacks to stay alive combined with a Padres loss to the Brewers to force a play-in game. I was at Coors Field that day, and the best part was watching the scoreboard. Every time the operator would update it, the crowd would go apeshit until that game was final, which erupted in one of the biggest pops I’ve ever heard, and certainly the biggest pop unrelated to anything happening on the field of play.
Game 163, I’m home alone in my apartment. I am GEEKED for the game. It’s a Monday night, but I’m so nervous, I’m drinking heavily. The Rockies get out to an early lead, but Josh Fogg predictably coughs it up. The Rockies battle back and it goes to extra innings. With the bullpen wearing thin, I think every single one of us knew Jorge Julio was going to blow it in the 13th. By this point, I’m on like my 8th beer, have smoked a half pack of cigarettes, and have furious text exchanges with Kristin and Jason. As soon as Scott Hairston bombs one over the centerfield fence, within two seconds of one another, I get texts from both Kristin and Jason that say the same thing – Fuck.
I text back: We ain’t losing this game. And sure enough, bottom of the 13th, Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman on the hill, and Kaz Matsui immediately doubles. Tulo follows with a double of his own plating Matsui. Holliday triples, scoring Tulo and tying the game. They walk Helton, and up steps Jamey Carroll who launches the first pitch to right. Holliday tags, the throw comes to the plate, and Holliday eats a face full of dirt as the ball skips away from catcher Michael Barrett. I lose my fucking mind.
I could probably write about this team for 3,000 words, but suffice to say the details of this team still reside strongly in one of the happiest parts of my brain. I was at Game 3 of the NLDS when they swept the Phillies. I was at Game 3 of the NLCS when Yorvit Torrealba hit a homerun in the pouring rain on, like, the 11th pitch of the at-bat. I have the picture of Todd holding his glove triumphantly while Eric Byrnes lies face first in the dirt. I remember Spilly, Hawpe, Atkins, Willy Taveras, Brian Fuentes, rookies Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales, Manny Corpas going lights out, Clint Hurdle chewing gum like a fucking cow working on a cud. I remember 2007 as one of the happiest years of my life, and this team played a significant role in it.
1995-96 Colorado Avalanche
In 1994 Denver was awarded the Grizzlies, a minor league team under the New York Islanders in the International Hockey League. In their only year in existence, they won that league’s championship: The Turner Cup. My dad, an old Chicago Blackhawks fan, bought season tickets and I went to probably at least 20 games that year, kicking off my love of hockey.
The following year the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Denver and became the Colorado Avalanche with an absolutely LOADED team thanks almost entirely to Eric Lindros who didn’t want to play for the Nordiques resulting in an absolutely mind-boggling trade with the Flyers that netted the Avalanche approximately 50% of their core group of players including Peter Forsberg and Mike Ricci directly, and Adam Deadmarsh, Mike Keane and Patrick Roy indirectly, among many others.
My dad again got season tickets, and so I went to a multitude of games that year, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t get enough hockey in my life. I watched the Stanley Cup playoffs pretty much every night that year, but watched the Avs with a feverish intensity usually reserved for people on cocaine binges. I strapped on my skates in the driveway and shot a rollerhockey ball against the garage when games weren’t on. My parents went to Europe for their 25th wedding anniversary right in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs, so my dad asked me to tape the Stanley Cup games while they were gone. I did, but the only downside was that Game 4 went scoreless into 3 overtimes and the tape ran out before Uwe Krupp’s Cup-winning goal.
2019-2020 Denver Nuggets
Hey, a quarantine team! Perhaps a quaranteam? Please don’t click out of this article.
I have truly fallen in love with the Nuggets 3 times. The first was 1994 when the 8-seeded Nuggets improbably took down the 1-seeded Seattle Supersonics in the first round of the playoffs. The second was the 2013 George Karl-led squad with Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee that should have been really good (3-seed in the West!) but ran into Steph Curry in the hot second before he went thermonuclear. And the last time is this current version of the Nuggets with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.
I’m not interested in revisiting much about quarantine, much less singing the praises of anything about it, but THANK CHRIST FOR THE NBA BUBBLE. I know that my days would have been at least 15% worse if I didn’t have Donovan Mitchell of the Jazz and Jamal Murray of the Nugs having an absolute Rocky fight against each other in the first round of the playoffs dropping 50 points on each other. I would have been sad had I not seen the Nuggets claw back from down 3-1 to take out the Jazz, and then claw back again from down 3-1 to watch them send a joyless Kawhi Leonard packing and the rest of those overrated dipshits with him.
Sure, the Nuggets lost to the Lakers in the Conference Finals, but the Nuggets ALWAYS lose to the Lakers in the Conference Finals. Plus, they went down 3-1 again, and I thought to myself: “We’ve got them right where we want them.” Anytime your team is losing and you can think that, that team is fun as hell.
You didn’t honestly think you’d escape this thing without me talking wrestling, did you?
When I was 5, my dad taped WrestleMania 2 off of Showtime. I watched that tape over and over again and developed a few favorites – Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid, and pro football player Bill Fralic (he was in a Battle Royale – don’t ask). On another channel was WWF competitor AWA, which my dad loved because in the territory days, Chicago and Denver were both AWA’s turf. Both WWF and AWA’s weekly shows were on at the same time on Sundays, and the only time I would switch over to AWA is when my dad would tell me The Rockers were on.
I used to wrestle my uncle Frank, and I would ask him what his character was named. He’d say, “Frankenstein McGillicutty” or some such cartoony nonsense. He’d ask me my name and I’d say, “Shawn Michaels.”
The Rockers moved like no one I had ever seen before. Their coordination, their timing, their flair, their outlandish ring gear… it all spoke to me on almost a cellular level. I gravitated toward the blond guy (Shawn Michaels) because I was a blond kid, and I would learn soon enough that blond kids were almost always the bad guys in movies. We had to stick together! Of course, when Shawn put his partner Marty through that plate glass window to end their partnership (best tag team breakup of all-time, btw), maybe he lived up to that blond = villain stereotype.
The Rockers spent most of their career in the WWF near the bottom of the card, but I didn’t care. They were frequently responsible for the most entertaining match on the card, and still hold the distinction of my all-time favorite match. They fought The Orient Express at Royal Rumble 1991, and that match still brings me as much joy now as it did as a 9 year-old kid. It’s just about everything I want out of a wrestling match, and a match I’ve watched probably at least 3x per year for the last 30 years.
Holy smokes that’s a lot of times to watch a match!
1989 Chicago Cubs
The first team I ever loved. I turned 8 years old that summer. The Cubs were on WGN it felt like every single day. And they were good! It was right about that age that my awareness of the world ramped up in earnest. I started looking at baseball standings and box scores in the newspaper. I could actually read competently. I could put things in context. And I started to form my own opinions.
It was the first year I played tee ball, and when we chose numbers, I picked 11. Why? Because the Cubs made a trade deadline deal for 3rd baseman Luis Salazar who also wore #11. I played 3rd base because I was the only player on our team who could reliably throw from 3rd to 1st accurately.
The Cubs ultimately fell to the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS before the Giants got swept by a juggernaut Oakland A’s team in the World Series. Cubs first baseman Mark Grace batted .647 in that series, but Will Clark batted .650 and had more clutch hits that propelled his team to victory. To this day he’s my least favorite baseball player ever.
My dad bought a video commemorating the 1989 Cubs called “The Boys of Zimmer” (amazingly available in full on YouTube here ) that I watched over and over again. Rewatching it now, it’s amazing how many key players on that team ultimately didn’t amount to much. Sure, you had Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Greg Maddux and Mark Grace, all of whom had superlative careers.
But what happened to Rookie of the Year centerfielder Jerome Walton? Or runner-up Dwight Smith? Everyone remembers poor Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams because of Joe Carter and the World Series, but what about setup man Les Lancaster whose 1989 season made him look like Eric fucking Gagne? How about #2 starter Mike Bielecki?
These names exist in my memory fixed in time and space, not unlike Mike Ricci or Josh Fogg who I mentioned above, neither of who I’d thought about in a great long while.
I suppose that’s what a great team really is. It’s a time machine to some of your happiest places. Thinking about that is TRULY a Fun Friday.