December 28, 2009
Because you haven't already been exposed to enough top 10 lists in the past few weeks, I give you ten moments that defined the sports decade in Toronto ...
#10. Mats Sundin Scores #500 - October 14, 2006
It wasn't that Mats Sundin became the 35th player in NHL history to score 500 goals that night. It was the way he did it: a shorthanded, overtime game-winning goal, to complete his hat-trick, and finish off the Calgary Flames. Vintage Sundin. In 612 regular season games over the course of the decade with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Sundin tallied 606 points. Forty-nine of his 259 goals were game-winners. On that autumn night in 2006 when Sundin became the first Swedish hockey player to score 500 goals in the NHL, he was cementing himself as arguably the greatest Toronto Maple Leaf to ever play the game.
#9. Dustin McGowan Takes A No-Hitter Into The 9th Inning - June 24, 2007
"It was just one of those days." That's how Dustin McGowan so eloquently put it, when he had Toronto Blue Jays fans on the edge of their seats on a sunny June afternoon back in 2007. Pitching against the Colorado Rockies, McGowan was tossing a no-hitter until the leadoff man in the 9th inning hit a single up the middle. Curse you, Jeff Baker. It was the closest a Toronto pitcher came to a no-hitter all decade, I believe. After the performance, Frank Thomas was singing the praises of McGowan, saying his might have been some of the nastiest "stuff" he'd ever seen. I don't know about you, but it breaks my heart all over again to know that injuries have stalled what looked like McGowan's very promising big-league career.
#8. Ohhhhhh Danny Dichio - August 12, 2007
When Major League Soccer announced it was expanding to Toronto in 2005, I'm not sure anyone expected Toronto FC to enjoy the rousing success they have in three short years on the pitch. I know, they haven't qualified for the playoffs in their youthful existence but, well, they're just trying to fit in. Expansion was announced in 2005, the club named in 2006, but TFC officially arrived on August 12, 2007, when Danny Dichio scored the club's first ever goal in its fifth game, and second at BMO Field, during the now infamous 24th minute. The rest, as they say, is history.
#7. The Toronto Raptors Win Their First Ever Playoff Series - May 4, 2001
After being swept by the New York Knickerbockers in the first round of the playoffs the season prior, the Toronto Raptors weren't going to let history repeat itself. Down two-to-one in the series, the Raptors took care of business at home and all that remained was game five, do-or-die, at Madison Square Garden. Led by Vince Carter and a gutsy performance from Alvin "Boogie" Williams, the Raptors pulled it off, 93-89, to take the series three games to two. It remains the only playoff series victory in franchise history.
#6. Kobe Bryant Drops 81 - January 22, 2006
From good times to bad. This one makes the list for all the wrong reasons, but on a cold January night, with Toronto on the road in Los Angeles, we witnessed history as Kobe Bryant scored 81 points on our defensively challenged Raptors. I remember watching this game with my brother in the basement of our old house in Scarborough. After scoring 26 points in the first half, Bryant went off for 27 in the third quarter. With 53 points heading into the fourth, we knew we were watching something special. Bryant finished 28 for 46 from the field; seven of 13 from beyond the arc. He hit 18 of 22 free throws, and averaged 1.9 points a minute that night. (He actually sat on the bench for six minutes.) Early in the third quarter, the Raptors were actually winning, 71-53. That's when Kobe took over. Bryant ended up outscoring Toronto 55-41 in the second half. Absolutely bloody ridiculous. A once-in-a-lifetime performance.
#5. Carlos Delgado Belts Four Home Runs - September 25, 2003
King Carlos. He was crowned at the SkyDome late in September 2003, after he became only the fifth American League player in baseball history to hit four home runs in one game. I watched the game at home that night, and shrieked with delight each time Delgado strode to the plate and went yard. Three solo shots and a three-run bomb; one of them off the Windows restaurant deep in centre field. Watching Delgado never got old. I never tired of seeing his beautiful swing make home run contact. A swing of beauty. A meaningless game on the schedule, but one I'll never forget. Do me a solid and bring him home, Alex Anthopoulos.
#4. Mats Sundin: The Greatest Maple Leaf Of All Time - October 11, 2007
With a third-period goal against the New York Islanders a couple of years ago, Mats Sundin killed two birds with one stone. It was the 390th goal of his Maple Leafs career, one more than the record held by Darryl Sittler. It was also the 917th point for Sundin in the blue and white. Again, one more than the beloved Sittler. Thirteen years after becoming a Toronto Maple Leaf, Sundin had finished rewriting the record books. As fate would have it, I was at the Air Canada Centre in attendance that night, thanks to a pair of free tickets I scored two hours before puck-drop. I'm not sure I'll ever hear the building as loud as it was that night, and I don't think I should. A fitting tribute for the best.
Honourable Mention: Mats Sundin's Homecoming - February 21, 2009
I paid $280 for two seats up top, in the purples. I was going to that game, come hell or high water. I would be there receive my captain. It didn't matter what sweater he was wearing. The ovation was fit for a king. The tickets worth every penny. Closure. She's a beautiful thing.
#3. The End Of An Era: Roy Halladay Traded To Philadelphia - December 14, 2009
I may have ranked this a little high atop the list for some people's liking. But that's only because the wounds are still so fresh. It's not the trade that makes this list, but the eight dominant years of Roy Halladay in Toronto that does. From 2002 to 2009, Doc was the best pitcher in the American League; the best pitcher in baseball. He was the Toronto Blue Jays. I believe only two pitchers are synonymous with the Blue Jays. Pre-World Series championships: Dave Stieb. Post-World Series championships: Harry Leroy Halladay III. There will never be another. Thanks Doc.
#2. Vinsanity - 2000-2004
What most people don't remember is that prior to the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, the competition had been put on layaway for two years. Vince Carter brought it back. He put Toronto, and the Raptors, on the map in the process. Carter, after hanging on the rim by his God damn elbow, made sure the Dunk Contest would never be the same. To this day, I can still hear Kenny Smith: "Let's go home!1 Let's go home, ladies and gentlemen, let's go home!1" I can still hear him asking for a timeout.
Those were good times. The early part of the decade was great. We were in love. I went out and bought my Carter jersey. I wore it with pride. Sure, there was the playoff defeat at the hands of the Knicks in 2000, but lessons were learned. The Raptors came back in 2001 and returned the favour. After the Knicks came Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers. I know you remember VC's buzzer-beater in Philly rimming out. What if Carter hadn't gone to his graduation ceremony that morning? What if he'd hit that shot? But brighter days were ahead.
Over the 2001 summer, Carter signed his 6-year, $94 million extension. He was in it for the long haul. He was hosting charity basketball games at the ACC, and buying nightclubs downtown. And then ... then it all fell apart. The injuries. The declaration that he'd never dunk again. The sulking. The allegations that he was helping the opposition. The trade request. The fight with Sam Mitchell. Finally, on December 17, 2004, divorce. Carter, traded to the New Jersey Nets, for Aaron Williams, Eric Williams, Alonzo Mourning and two first-round draft picks. Mourning would never play a game in a Raptors uniform. He was paid not to. The trade would set Toronto back years, and ruin the general managerial career of Rob Babcock. (It wasn't very promising to begin with.)
Carter is, of course, heartily booed whenever he returns to Toronto. Not because he's hated. No, because he's remembered. Fondly. Because we know we'll never see the likes of his talent on the floor again. Chris Bosh has been a model Raptor. Everything we could ask for. But he's no Vince Carter. Carter was the best. It's not often I agree with Dave Feschuk, but he's right: Carter is "the greatest raw athlete Toronto has ever seen ..."
#1. The Battle of Ontario - 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004
The Toronto Maple Leafs over the Ottawa Senators in the playoffs. Three seasons in a row, and four seasons out of five. For all intents and purposes, if I were to leave this world tomorrow, my Stanley Cup. Four rounds, right?
In 2000, it was the first-place Leafs in six games. The finishing blow came in Ottawa. On the road. In their house. A delicious way to get the rivalry started. In 2001, it got even better. The seventh-seeded Leafs were in tough against second-ranked Ottawa, especially after the Senators swept the regular season series. The result? A 4-0 Leafs sweep, with Toronto, led by Curtis Joseph, shutting out the Senators in the first two games of the series in Ottawa. No doubt adding to Senators fans' Toronto complex.
In 2002, the rivalry reached its climax. The teams met in the second round of the playoffs. The Maple Leafs were without their captain, Mats Sundin. You remember the series. When Gary Roberts took the Leafs on his back. When Alyn McCauley became a man. When Daniel Alfredsson hit Darcy Tucker with a cheap-shot from behind. Trailing 3-2 in the series, the Leafs made the trip to Ottawa. They fell behind early in game six. Down two goals, facing elimination, they rallied. And Ottawa choked. As only Ottawa can. The Leafs would go on to win game six 4-3, and game seven 3-0.
In 2004, the Leafs would win another seven game series. This time, Ed Belfour's turn to shut the door. He recorded a shutout in three of the four victories. Game seven, won by the good guys 4-1, was all about the heroics of Patrick Lalime. Another classic Ottawa choke job.
Four bitter playoff defeats have left their mark on Ottawa. The fanbase's existence is centred on its hatred for the city Toronto, its hockey team, and its fans. Ask a Senators supporter if they'd rather Ottawa have lost in the Stanley Cup final in 2007, or have beaten the Leafs once - just once - in the playoffs. If they choose the Stanley Cup final, they're lying. Thanks for the memories, Ottawa. They're precious.