I vividly remember watching Monday Night Football on Monday, December 22nd 2003. I was excitedly watching my favorite team the Green Bay Packers face off against the reigning Super Bowl losers Oakland Raiders. In addition to rooting for my team, I was riding on the high of staying up past my bed time as I was just a few days into my winter break away from school.
I watched the game on a little 10 inch TV/VCR combo in my bed room at a low volume in an attempt to not wake my parents. This game has remained in my memory due to the drama surrounding my favorite player Brett Favre. Irving Favre, Brett’s father, had died the night before after suffering a heart attack while driving in his hometown of Kiln, Mississippi . Having read his biography I knew that Brett and his father had a close relationship and that his death brought much grief. Instead of traveling back to Mississippi to be with his family, Brett decided to play in Oakland under the bright lights of MNF surrounded by the chatter and coverage of the death of his father.
Brett Favre had the best game of his 20 year career that night.
His wide receivers performed on a level that at the time I had never seen before, catching almost everything he threw their way. Brett finished the game with 399 yards passing, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions on 22-30 passing. He had 311 yards and all 4 touchdowns going into half time and didn’t play in the 4th quarter at all. The 3rd touchdown was a 43 yard bomb that dropped through several defensive backs into the hands of Javon Walker.
I was ecstatic as my team was going to make the playoffs and win the NFC North Division and I couldn’t believe how incredible Favre played under such unique and tragic conditions. After the third touchdown that was completed to Walker in double coverage I ran into my parents’ bedroom and explained to them what happened allowing my joy to overpower my intentions of being quiet.
Last September Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and two others died in a boating accident due to what we now know to be a an intoxicated Fernandez who was driving the craft. Fernandez was one of the best pitchers in the league at age 24 and was on a path to a massive 200 plus million dollar contract. Even more disheartening was the loss of his jocular and youthful attitude that all of his teammates loved him for. The most emotional and fun member of the clubhouse was gone and all of his close friends and teammates were devastated.
The day after his death, the Marlins played against the New York Mets at Marlins Park in Miami. Dee Gordon (left handed hitter), a close friend of Fernandez, led the game off taking the first pitch for a ball batting from the right side imitating the batting stance of Fernandez and wearing the batting helmet of Fernandez. After switching back to the left side of the plate, Gordon crushed a lead off home run to right field and rounded the bases to a cheering crowd. He was embraced by his teammates at home plate breaking down in tears. The moment will forever be remembered as remarkable as that was just the 9th home run of Gordon’s 6 year career and was his 1st of the season.
A more spiritual person would believe that Brett Favre’s best performance and Dee Gordon’s home run were a result of a greater power such as god or the spirits from the afterlife. A more cynical person such as myself believes that these feats of athleticism are wonderfully unbelievable and still touching as they were done under such heavy circumstances but without the aid of an unknown entity.
Around 5 am on Saturday, April 16th 2017, Chyna Thomas died in a single car accident. Chyna was just 22 years old and was the younger sister of Boston Celtics all-star guard Isaiah Thomas. Similar to Favre and Gordon, Thomas had a game to play the next day. A playoff game in a city on the opposite side of the country of his grieving family.
Images of a distraught Thomas during shoot around yesterday were broadcasted across all forms of media. Thomas could be seen with tears in his eyes hunched over on a chair with Avery Bradley next to him trying to offer any kind of relief. Despite his grief Thomas played against the Bulls with all of the attention of the national sports fandom focused on him.
Thomas played well as he normally does, but appeared to be playing frantically and with lots of extra energy that resulted in some early sloppy turnovers. Early in the first quarter Thomas showed off his passing ability by delivering a pass to Avery Bradley from behind his back. Bradley passed the ball back to Thomas who was standing significantly behind the three point arc and pulled up a 29 foot jump shot.
The Boston crowd went fucking crazy. Chills spread through my body as I witnessed the successful shot from my recliner. Isaiah Thomas, a 5’ 6” all-star lovable point guard who was accepted into the hearts of the harsh but loyal Boston fans was experiencing one of the worst days of his life. Everyone in that arena and everyone watching at home felt that rare jolt of elation that I have only experienced twice before in my 26 years when he made that shot.
Thomas didn’t have the Disney movie ending like Favre and Gordon by winning the home playoff game, but his 33 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists were nothing short of incredible under such circumstances. Losing a home game to the 8th seed adds to the awful couple days that Thomas and his family have suffered, but that first quarter 3-pointer will forever be included in the Isaiah Thomas highlight reel.
Playing professional sports is difficult enough but performing at the highest level under such heartbreaking circumstances will always be some of the most memorable and impressive moments.