We're blessed with such an abundance of sports these days that any random night could be magic. Some college baseball game in the middle of the season might turn into an epic you'll always remember. Some NHL playoff series makes it to Game 7, and then to overtime, and the suspense presses down on you like a Hitchcock movie.
But those are bonus days. The best days in sports deliver again and again. They rise up from the calendar. You plan your life around them.
Here's my list of the 10 best days in sports. Arguments expected and welcomed.
10. The Indy 500/Coca-Cola 600
It took a long time for this to line up right -- the 500 used to be on Memorial Day itself (Monday), and then the two races used to start at the same time on Sunday. But for 20 years now, Indy runs starting at noon and NASCAR runs from Charlotte at night, which means race fans can spend all day watching fast cars turn left.
The schedule dangles the possibility of driving both races in the same day, which is insane, but only slightly more insane than being a racecar driver in the first place. To pull it off requires an on-time finish at Indy, good weather on the 430-mile flight to Charlotte, and, I assume, a couple gallons of Red Bull. Only three drivers have tried it, and only Tony Stewart completed all 1,100 miles. He finished sixth at Indy and third in Charlotte that day in 2001. I submit to you that Tony Stewart is awesome.
9. The World Cup final
My friend John, an expert on central Africa, woke up in the Congo one night to screaming and hollering and shots going off in the streets. He figured a coup had happened while he slept. It turned out that neighboring Cameroon had won a World Cup match. They partied in the middle of the night, for the country next door, and it wasn't even the final. I know this should be higher on the list. I just don't have a deep enough knowledge of soccer yet. But I want to learn! Especially because the next World Cup is in Rio.
8. Breakfast at Wimbledon
Sorry, God, for the times I talked my folks into letting me stay home from church so I could watch Boris Becker, or Ivan Lendl, or that weasel Jimmy Connors, or (best of all) Borg vs. McEnroe. Lord, I believe that a great tennis match on a beautiful grass court is one of your finest creations. Thank you for Sampras and Agassi, for Nadal and Federer, for Djokovic and Murray. And thank you for coming up with the DVR. That thing is sweet.
7. The National Spelling Bee
All I'll say is, I was in the audience for this.
Part of the value of any sporting event is drama. The Spelling Bee is guaranteed drama, every year. Plus you get to see a bunch of smart, focused and interesting kids do their thing, and maybe you realize the world won't collapse into chaos after all. So that's nice.
6. The Olympic women's figure skating final
We all know the Tonya and Nancy saga from '94. But I thought 2002, when a young Sarah Hughes took away Michelle Kwan's best chance for gold, was one of the great simultaneous joy-and-pain moments in sports history. Figure skating at that level is like a basketball game where you have to make every shot. One stumble on the ice, one triple jump reduced to a double, and you're done. It's terrifying to watch. It's amazing to watch.
5. Opening Day
Schedule creep has infected just about every sport. Now even Major League Baseball starts early (Sorry, MLB! And, um, thanks for helping pay my salary!). It was decreed -- somewhere in the Magna Carta, I think -- that baseball should begin on the first Monday in April, and the Reds should host the first game at noon, and you should dig your shorts out of the closet because this is the real first day of spring. That's Opening Day. No matter what happens beforehand.
4. The Super Bowl
I used to hate all the hype over the Super Bowl, especially the endless pregame shows on Super Sunday, until I figured out one important thing: You don't have to watch any of it. So I skip the celebrity predictions and the sniffly features and the deep discussion over how the barometric pressure might affect the three-wideout set. I flip the TV on in time for the national anthem. And what you end up with is a few good commercials and (lately) some damn good football games. This also increases socializing time, and the chance you'll get to the good chili before it runs out.
3. The first Saturday of college football
A quick story: On the first Saturday of college football in 2007, I wasn't watching football. I had a big story running the next day in the paper and I was the office giving it a last look. At some point, I ran out for lunch or something and flipped on the radio. Appalachian State was beating Michigan!
I got back to the office and told everybody. The game wasn't on TV in Charlotte. It wasn't even streaming anywhere. All we had was the ESPN gamecast, where you could see a little dot move up and down the field. We watched that little Michigan dot fly down the field late in the fourth quarter. Michigan, down two, lined up for a field goal. We stared at the screen. Eons passed. Then a guy across the room -- he must've had a faster Internet connection -- jumped up from his desk:
"THEY BLOCKED THE KICK!"
I've never enjoyed not watching a football game more in my life.
The first Saturday doesn't always offer up an all-time upset. But you'll always see a contender or two belly-flop. You'll always see a top team survive at the gun. And somehow there's always a late-night shootout in the Pac-12. It's a glorious day.
2. Sunday at the Masters
The genius of the Masters is not that it's a great course (although it is a great course). The genius of the Masters is that it's the same course every year. History has accumulated. If you've watched for years, you've seen all the great golfers of the modern era flirt with Rae's Creek at 12 and think about going for eagle at 15 and land the approach so it rolls back to the pin at 18. This year on Sunday, when Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera fought in a playoff, you could remember Scott Hoch's miss and Bubba Watson's miracle and Larry Mize's dance. At the Masters, they're always hitting through the shadows of the ones who came before. And the shadows are longest on Sunday.
1. The first day of March Madness
What I love most about that first Thursday of the tournament -- more than the upsets, more than the brackets, more than rooting for teams you've barely heard of -- is the rebellion. Office workers all over the country just stop working. Teachers roll TVs into classrooms. Folks sneak off and spend the afternoon at a bar. Normally something bad has to happen for people to act like that on a weekday. The tournament slows down the Great Machine of our lives for something fun. That's a plus, I think. It's worth working late on Monday if the world brings you Harvard over New Mexico in return.
Questions? Comments? Challenges? Taunts? You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tommytomlinson. Please feel free to question my picks with furious anger in the comments. I'm already questioning one or two myself.