John Fay shares his top nine Cincinnati sports memories
How do they compare to yours?
John Fay | WCPO contributor
12:00 PM, Oct 18, 2016
2:53 PM, Oct 18, 2016
CINCINNATI -- The death of Aaron Pryor shocked me. He's about my age. I knew he wasn't in great shape after seeing him interviewed recently, but I remember him as this vibrant athlete and one of the most entertaining boxers of all time.
When you think about Aaron Pryor, you can't help but think about his classic bout with Alexis Arguello. I knew it ranked somewhere high on my personal list of Cincinnati sports memories.
How high? I was guessing top five.
I was curious, so I ranked them.
This is my list.
I'm sure you have yours. I'm just around the corner from turning 60, so my memories go back a ways. I don't remember the 1961 Reds, but I'm well versed in the Big Red Machine from start to finish.
I use the word "memories" instead of "moments," because very few things in sports come down to a moment.
Here are my top nine:
1. The 1975 World Series
This was perhaps the greatest World Series in history. It was also a great relief for Reds fans. The Reds had lost the World Series to Baltimore in 1970 and to Oakland in '72 and lost to the Mets in the league championship series in '73. When Carlton Fisk hit his famous home run in Game 6 (infamous if you were a Reds fan), it was: "Here we go again." Game 7, of course, changed that. I was a freshman at the University of Dayton. I was very happy and relieved I wouldn't be hearing it from my dorm mates the rest of year.
2. The Freezer Bowl
If you see an image of Riverfront Stadium with huge clouds of steam coming out of the players' mouths, you know it's the Bengals-San Diego 1981 AFC Championship Game. It's the only pro football game in which I was able to determine the outcome from the warm-ups. The Chargers clearly didn't want to be there -- a 59-below wind chill isn't California weather.
3. 1976 World Series
This one did not have a moment or moments like the 1975 series. It was a simple dismantling of the New York Yankees, and it cemented the Big Red Machine's place in history. I went to Game 2 with some Yankee fan friends of mine from UD. It was freezing. The Reds won 4-3 on Dave Concepcion's RBI single in the ninth. The term walk-off hadn't been coined yet. It was a very different era of playoff baseball. Time of game: 2:33. Total pitchers used: 3.
It was inevitable that Pete Rose was going to break Ty Cobb's record, but the emotion of the moment made it special. Rose in tears on the field? No one saw that coming. I was working in the Enquirer sports department then. We had a lot of balls in the air -- a special section, a book, that night's coverage. It was a lot of work, but it was the most fun I ever had working.
We watched the fight at my friend's dad's house. The 14th round had everyone on their feet cheering. The flurry that ended the fight was perhaps the greatest single minute in Cincinnati sports history. I covered the fight in which Pryor won the world title with a knockout of Antonio Cervantes in 1980. Pryor was scary in the ring -- Cervantes looked terrified almost from the opening bell -- but Aaron was a sweet man outside the ring. He was also troubled. It was good to see he found peace in later years.
6. 1990 World Series
This was a stunner. The Oakland A's were big favorites. Emphasis on big. I remember seeing them around the batting cage before Game 1. Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire looked like NFL linemen. The Reds looked the way baseball players looked in the pre-PED era. Eric Davis hit a home run in the first inning of Game 1. That was a statement. Beating the unbeatable Dennis Eckersley in Game 2 was a bigger statement. Jose Rijo was as good as any Reds pitcher has ever been in the Game 4 clincher.
7. Griffey trade
How big was the trade? Every elected official in the county showed up at the press conference. Jim Bowden infamously declared, "Baseball is back in Cincinnati." Everyone felt it was the beginning of a new era, the second coming of the Big Red Machine. We all know how it turned out. That's a shame. But you could have walked around Cincinnati all day and not found one person who didn't like the trade at the time.
8. Xavier beat No. 1 UC
I was working courtside as the UC beat writer when Xavier beat UC 71-69 on Nov. 26, 1996. I was shocked like everyone else. My shock was tempered by the fact that I was writing on deadline. Andy MacWilliams uttered his famous line: "No. 1 in the nation, but No. 2 in the city."
9. Super Bowl XXIII
The Bengals were 3:10 from winning this one. They were up 16-13 when the San Francisco 49ers took over at their own 8. Joe Montana added to his legend with a classic drive. It ended with a touchdown pass to John Taylor with 34 seconds left. The 49ers won 20-16. The game came during my stint on the news copy desk at the Enquirer. We were working on snappy Page One "world champ" headlines when it went sideways for the Bengals.
I kept adding and subtracting as I compiled this.
Jay Bruce's home run in 2010 to end the long playoff drought for the Reds just missed the list. I also considered XU's win over Georgetown in 1990 that got the Muskies to the Sweet 16. That established Xavier as a big-time basketball school.
I didn't put Rose's ban on the list. It isn't a memory. It's a long series of disappointing stories.