Thursday, January 8, 2009

The search of the "noise"

I am reading a book right now called "Bloody Confused" by Chuck Culpepper that I am really enjoying. He is a sportswriter who has become disenchanted by American sports so he spent a spring in England watching the English Premier League.

During the early part of the book he talks about the reason people love sports is for a particular moment. What he calls that noise. An moment in a game that gets the crowd and atmosphere in general to create a noise that "might swim in your ear canals and rustle your soul and electrify your skin and maybe even prolong your life."

He writes about a goal between Portsmouth and Manchester City as being that it moment for him that truly hooked him into the EPL. He was not even at the game, but watching on TV, but he could just feel the noise through the television.

As a sportswriter Culpepper has covered 11 Super Bowls, seven World Series, five Olympics, 25 major golf tournaments and countless bowl games among other events. But one he remembers most is a moment he missed. When Kirk Gibson hit his famous home run off Eck in the '88 Series, Culpepper was in the hallway outside the Oakland locker room waiting to interview the supposed winning pitcher Dave Stewart.

He witnessed one of the biggest home runs in baseball history on a monitor in the hallway at Chavez Ravine and said he only wishes he knew what the noise in the stadium sounded like.

That got me thinking about whether I have ever experienced that noise. That moment in sports that "rustled my soul or electrified my skin." Have I ever experienced a moment that some people search their entire sporting lives for? Some never find it.

I guess I have been lucky. In my 31 years of the pursuit of the "noise" I can pinpoint four times I experienced it. That moment that not only qualifies as a fantastic moment in a game, but changes the environment around you. For that reason, the finish to the Sam Houston State/Eastern Washington playoff game in 2004 doesn't qualify because the game was in Cheney, Washington. Although the silence in that stadium was awesome.

The first was in 1997 at the Alamodome at the NCAA Basketball Midwest Regional. With the UCLA Bruins trailing 73-72 to Iowa State Cameron Dollar sprinted the length of the floor after a shot by Iowa State's Shawn Bankhead scored to put the Cyclones up with 10 seconds left in overtime. Dollar floated a 3-footer over the outstretched arm of Kelvin Cato to give the Bruins a thrilling victory.

To top it off, it was the second game of what had to have been one of the most exciting nights in NCAA regional history as Minnesota had beat Clemson in double overtime the first game of the night. When Dollar hit the shot, the place erupted. I have never experienced anything like. It was my first NCAA Tournament and I loved every second of it. Probably because of that night, I have been to the Big Dance four more times.

My second it moment was another college basketball game (this is going to be a theme here.) This is my only Sam Houston game on the list. It was the 2003 Southland Conference Championship game. In overtime, Donald Cole hit a 3-pointer with 18-seconds left to beat Stephen F. Austin.

I was sitting on press row right next to the Bearkat bench. The final moments of that game are a blur. To noise in Johnson Coliseum was indescribable. I have since watched the shot again and it looks nothing like I remember it in person. I had been to the NCAA Tournament two times before, but that shot meant I was going to see my Bearkats in the Big Dance. That was one of those moments.

The next one stings. Simply known as the 18-inning game. The 2005 playoff between the Astros and the Braves. As a Braves fan the game was absolutely gut-wrenching to watch. I don't remember what inning it was in, maybe the 15th or 16th, but the Astros hit a ball that looked like it was in the Crawford Box, that just drifted foul. For a moment I thought I was going to puke.

After getting stop after stop and forcing yet another inning, I just kept feeling like the Braves were finally going to break through and get a run. And then in the bottom of the 18th Chris Burke of all people hit a bloop that managed to find its way into the seats.

The Minute Maid crowd erupted. It was easily the most energy I had ever felt from a stadium. I don't think I even saw Burke cross home plate. As soon as the ball dropped in the Crawford Box I was out of my seat and heading to the exit.

The thing I remember the most is being in the concourse afterward and heading down the escalators. We were the only two people out there as you could here the noise out in the stadium. There was an eerie clam heading down the escalators. Little did I know at the time, but that is the last time Atlanta has walked off the field in the postseason.

The final moment for me was this past year at the Final Four. My fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament and my first Final Four. I was assisting the media services staff and had the fortunate pleasure to watch the games courtside. I was standing just off the baseline on the opposite end of the court when Mario Chalmers hit the 3-pointer to force overtime in the National Championship game.

Once again, the energy in the Alamodome that night was indescribable. While there was still five minutes of overtime to play, you just had a feel there was no way Kansas was going to lose. Before the game started a friend sent me a text and asked me who I thought was going to win. I sent back and said I didn't care, I just wanted to see the greatest game in NCAA Championship history. I think Chalmers certainly gave me a chance to make that claim.

All of these moments are ingrained in my memory not because of what I saw, but because of what I felt in that moment. Culpepper says these are the moments in sports that "rustle your soul and electrify your skin" and I have never thought about it that way before, but it is so true. Now here's to hoping they also help prolong my life.