Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
This week’s topic: What is your favorite elimination game memory for your team?
Josh’s Take: 2022 AFC Championship Game
This past weekend was a great reminder that there is nothing better (in sports) than an elimination game. More specifically, I am talking about a series-deciding elimination game. The culmination of a best-of-five or best-of-seven series really gets the blood pumping, and we got seven of them over the weekend! The NBA, NHL, and even MLB own the prime real estate when it comes to these elimination games, but I am going a bit off the board for my choice. After all, my favorite elimination game ended more than three decades of suffering, so I think I am entitled to this one.
While fully admitting that the final matchup in a five or seven-game series should take the cake, my favorite elimination game comes from the NFL. I am talking about the 2022 AFC Championship Game, won by my Cincinnati Bengals. Played on Jan. 30, it was a win-or-go-home contest, which absolutely makes it an elimination game. Every NFL playoff game is technically an elimination game, but they tend to be these one-off matchups, and there is not the same level of buildup that we see in a series. But damnit, my Bengals last played in a Super Bowl in 1989, so this is a total homer pick, and I will not apologize to you or anybody else, Gene! Sorry, I told you game 7’s get the blood pumping.
Most football fans know the story by now, but to provide a quick recap: Cincinnati was garbage, they drafted Joe Burrow first overall, he got hurt, and the Bengals seemed to be doomed by their perpetual inability to protect the franchise quarterback. But then Burrow came back, and he came back with confidence and a better team around him. The franchise invested in him, and he paid them back handsomely with their first Super Bowl appearance in more than 30 years. Prior to that epic Super Bowl in Los Angeles, Burrow and the Bengals needed to get by Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs — the darlings of the AFC. The 2022 AFC Championship Game was one for the ages, even if you are not a Bengals fan.
The Chiefs scored a touchdown on each of their first three possessions, and seemed well on their way to a fourth score when Mahomes and/or Andy Reid apparently lost their mind(s). Rather than take the easy points before halftime, Mahomes threw a lateral to Tyreek Hill, who could not get out of bounds, and Kansas City was forced to settle for a 21-10 halftime lead. The beginning of the third quarter saw solid defense and zero points from both teams, until the Bengals added a field goal with three minutes left in the quarter. Just moments later, Cincinnati got the ball back thanks to a B.J. Hill interception, and it was game on.
Burrow hit Ja’Marr Chase for a TD with 14 seconds left in the third, and then found a wide-open (and seldomly used) Trent Taylor for the two-point conversion, tying the game at 21 as the teams entered the fourth. The final quarter provided more tough defense, and each team was only able to add a field goal. KC’s Harrison Butker notched one for the Chiefs as time expired, give them an opportunity to play in a third straight Super Bowl.
After KC won the coin toss, Mahomes made another puzzling decision during the extra period as he threw a ball up for grabs in the middle of the field. Cincinnati safety (and Ohio State’s own) Vonn Bell came down with a clutch interception, setting Burrow up to play hero. And he did... with help. The former Buckeye quarterback got the Bengals into field goal position, and rookie kicker-extraordinaire Evan McPherson buried the Chiefs with a 31-yard game-winning FG. Cincinnati was going to their first Super Bowl in 33 years, and this fan was finally able to celebrate once again.
The Bengals losing the Super Bowl did nothing to take away from their season, nor did it diminish the epic comeback they staged against the Chiefs. The 18-point come-from-behind win tied for the largest comeback in AFC Championship Game history. Already the underdog, Cincinnati showed grit and determination, and put the NFL on notice that Burrow and the boys are a force to be reckoned with. The defense, the turnovers, and the final drive completed by Burrow and McPherson only added to special and unique circumstances of this elimination game victory. I will remember it for years to come... or at least until the Bengals inevitably win a Super Bowl. Who dey!
Gene’s Take: 2015 NLDS Game 5
There is a lot going on in this edition of You’re Nuts, and other than Vonn Bell being involved in Josh’s pick, not a ton of it has to do with Ohio State. I figured this week we could go a bit off the script, and with all of the NBA and NHL Playoff action this past weekend, it seemed like an easy selling point to look at some of our favorite elimination games for our favorite teams that aren’t the Buckeyes. Sure, Ohio State’s win over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl was technically an ‘elimination’ game, but that feels like a cop out. Plus, I never get an excuse to write about the Mets on here, so that’s where I'm at.
In 2015, my New York Mets faced off against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS — a best-of-five series. As the higher seed, the Dodgers got themselves home field advantage, which meant Game 1, Game 2 and Game 5 would all be played in Dodger Stadium. The Mets would get to host Game 3 and Game 4 at Citi Field, and as much as I wanted to go see my team in their first playoff series since 2006, I couldn’t quite justify paying for the flight from Columbus to New York plus the cost of what would have likely been a standing room only ticket. Alas, I watched from my dorm room at Ohio State as an intense series with a multitude of storylines began.
The Mets would take Game 1, as Jacob deGrom out-dueled Clayton Kershaw in LA. Daniel Murphy, in a sign of things to come, opened up the scoring with a solo home run in the 4th inning to give NY a 1-0 lead, and David Wright would tack on two more with a two-run single in the top of the 7th to give the Mets a 3-0 lead. Jacob deGrom was his usual self, tossing seven brilliant innings while allowing no runs, walking just one and striking out 13. The Dodgers would get one run back in the bottom of the 8th, but the Mets would steal Game 1 in LA, 3-1.
Game 2 is when the vitriol between the two teams began. In the bottom of the 7th inning, with the Mets leading 2-1, Howie Kendrick grounded into a fielders choice to second base. As Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada fielded the throw from Murphy, the Dodgers’ Chase Utley took him out with a hard slide way outside of the base path, never even touching second base in the process. Tejada would not be able to turn two, and the Dodgers would score the tying run. Utley’s slide wound up breaking Tejada’s leg, and the Dodgers would go on to score three more runs in the inning en route to a 5-2 win as there was now officially bad blood in this series.
The Mets got their revenge in Game 3 back in New York. On a night where Ruben Tejada was introduced to the crowd walking with a cane to a roaring applause, the Mets beat up on the Dodgers 13-7, highlighted by a massive three-run home run from Yoenis Cespedes into the second deck. The Dodgers, however, would not just go away quietly, as after stealing Game 4 in New York 3-1, this series was going the distance as the two teams headed back to Los Angeles for Game 5.
It was a great pitching duel on tap, as deGrom once again took this bump, this time in opposition of Zach Greinke. The Mets got to Greinke early, as Murphy continued what we be on the beginning of his postseason tirade with an RBI double to give his team a 1-0 lead in the top of the 1st inning. The Dodgers answered quickly, however, scoring two runs in the bottom of the 1st off deGrom to go on top, 2-1. Both pitchers would settle into a groove from there, as Travis d’Arnaud’s sac fly tied the game at 2-2 in the 5th, and we were all knotted up heading into the final three innings of the series’ final game.
In the top of the 6th, Daniel Murphy struck again — this time with a 394-foot home run to right field to put the Mets on top, 3-2. The bottom of the 6th inning was deGrom’s to finish, and he did so with ease as he finished the night with seven strikeouts and just the two earned runs in another impressive outing. The Mets went scoreless in the 7th, as did the Dodgers as New York brought in starter Noah Syndergaard to pitching the inning. They would bring in their star closer Jeurys Familia to pitch the final two innings of the game, and he did not allow a single baserunner over the last two frames as the Mets emerged victorious, 3-2, both in the game and in the series.
The rivarly-esque tone the series took on from the Utley slide as well as Daniel Murphy going Super Saiyan made that NLDS super memorable for me. The Mets would go on to make it to the World Series, but unfortunately would fall to the Kansas City Royals in a series they repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with defensive miscues (they led in the 7th inning or later of every game, but only won one of them). Still, beating a team like the Dodgers as a franchise that was just living in the shadows of the Yankees at the time was super special, especially with how the games wound up playing out.
Surely you all have your own fond memories of your teams emerging victorious in elimination games. Be sure to let us know in the comments here or on Twitter your favorite Game 7 (or Game 5 or one-off, if it suits your fancy) sports moment!