On Father’s Day, Cherished Memories of Games Past With My Children
Two years ago, I paid tribute to my father with a column for WFAN (Lichtenstein: The Best Games I Attended With My Father (audacy.com)) on the most memorable games we attended while I was growing up to be a rabid sports fan. As a father of three children myself, I have made it a priority to pay it forward, so to speak.
Now that my two sons are adults and my daughter will be a high school senior, what better time to pick out my own favorites than this Father’s Day. Originally, I was going to let them choose, but I found that there was a recency bias, so I’m selecting them. Besides, the point of these outings was for me to spend quality time with them—why bother listing one of the Nets games, like their rousing playoff victories over the Heat in 2014 or the Celtics and Bucks last year, that I covered from the press box while they were in the stands?
Unfortunately, there is a bit of an equity issue since Sam, as the oldest, was the prime beneficiary of most of the perks I received from my days in the hedge fund world. His “ticket book”, which is now probably closed for good due to the elimination of paper tickets in favor of digital downloads, will always be the thickest.
However, as any parent would, I made sure all three are included in my rankings below. Thanks to the New York title drought over the last decade, none have been lucky enough to experience the same thrills I did when my father took me to see, for instance. the Islanders win two Stanley Cups. Worse, for most of their lives, the teams I root for have stunk, limiting their opportunities to witness contests with the highest stakes. Still, as a father, I have been able to find other things besides watching my favorite teams win big games that make them forever etched in my mind:
5) January 4, 2003: Jets 41 Colts 0
Please don’t call Child Services on me for making my kids Jets fans. I commend them for staying loyal, which isn’t easy on anyone, let alone on the young and malleable. I like to tell people that I’ve been to every Jets home playoff game since they moved out of Shea Stadium in 1984. All four of them. Sam is just old enough to have been able to attend the last one, a total domination of Peyton Manning and the Colts. Santana Moss, Sam’s favorite player, who the Jets of course would trade away two years later, scored a touchdown in the corner of the bowl where we were sitting--I mean standing--right before the end of the first half. My wife wasn’t all that pleased that I took a five-year old to a 4:30 start on a frigid night, but to this day I still believe it was worth it, even if for the entire game I had to hold him above the deafening throng to the point where I welcomed TV timeouts.
4) February 21, 2016: Hornets 104 Nets 96
Why include some random game from an abominable 21-61 Nets season? My daughter Charlotte will probably tell you that watching the inimitable Kevin Durant rip the Knicks for 53 points during a 110-107 Nets victory on March 13 was her most memorable, but this was her first pro basketball game, one where I would forgo my usual press box seat so I could sit with her in the stands. The Nets sweatshirt I got her likely helped get her noticed by the Nets’ Game Day staff. Charlotte was asked to participate in a halftime dance contest on the Barclays Center floor. Though so nervous that arena announcer Ally Love thought she said we were from West Virginia instead of West Windsor, New Jersey, Charlotte used her gymnastics skills to win the contest over another boy. The prize: Wrestling tickets, which we couldn’t even give away. It wasn’t the point—and neither was the game—Charlotte experienced the wonder of it all, including meeting the always gracious Nets broadcasting crew: Ian Eagle and Sarah Kustok from the YES Network, and Chris Carrino and Tim Capstraw on the radio side. In addition to being captivated by Sarah, Charlotte was also introduced to the woman in charge of the Nets social media accounts, and I remember her being piqued by the fact that playing on your phone all day could be an actual job.
3) April 1, 2005: Nets 93 Knicks 91
This one gets included because of the vantage. A broker my firm did business with scored four tickets for this contest at Madison Square Garden—two on the floor and two right behind in the second row. Sam and Jack, my 22-year old son who was named a finalist in this season’s NFL Big Data Bowl analytics competition, squeezed onto my lap so they could both get the closest view while my broker friend pitched me his firm’s financial products into my ear from behind. Though it was an underachieving season for New Jersey, with injuries wreaking havoc on the lineup (how things change, huh?), we did get to see Jason Kidd and Vince Carter hold on for the win down the stretch. Two other things stood out: Me screaming across the court at Nets Head Coach Lawrence Frank to pull lousy guard Jacque Vaughn in favor of Travis Best; and Sam dropping some Skittles that rolled into the corner of the court during live play. Fortunately, during a stoppage we yelled for Knicks guard Jamal Crawford to alert someone before anyone could injure themselves stepping on them.
2) November 26, 2006: Lakers 99 Nets 93
Similar to above, you can’t beat the magic of watching an NBA game from up close. It’s better than Disneyland, where we took the kids during a Thanksgiving break and where the Nets and the Devils also happened to be in town. Jack went with me to see the Devils fall in Anaheim and then both joined me for the Devils shootout loss to the Kings. Sam won the draw for the grand prize: Second-row seats at the Staples Center for Nets/Lakers. Though he was too young to know the celebrities like Turtle from Entourage who walked by us and too shy to go up to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he did have one unique experience: When the Nets emerged from the locker room after halftime, Richard Jefferson started warming up with some corner jumpers. He peered into the crowd and saw two young boys watching him intently—Sam in his Carter Nets jersey and another kid with Lakers garb. Jefferson tossed the ball to Sam, who immediately passed it back. Jefferson nailed the ensuing turnaround jump shot and yelled at Sam, “Nice assist!” An unforgettable moment.
1) November 9, 2006: Rutgers 28 Louisville 25
Jack might still think it a small consolation for not being able to go to the above Lakers game, but he instead got to see one of the wildest college football games ever. Rutgers, a patsy for many years before and since, was actually ranked No. 15 in the country and tied with Louisville for first place in the Big East at 8-0. The two teams met in a prime-time ESPN contest on a school night, a pretty big deal for a kid Jack’s age. Honestly, I don’t know how Rutgers managed to come back from down 25-7 in the third quarter, but running back Ray Rice (good thing I never found a Rice jersey in Jack’s size that he wanted in the weeks afterwards—it wouldn’t exactly be a collector’s item) went nuts with two touchdowns and the defense got some stops. It came down to the final Rutgers possession, where kicker Jeremy Ito lined up for a 33-yard field goal with 18 seconds remaining. He missed, but Louisville was offside. His subsequent attempt was true and you could feel the stadium shaking. We rushed out to beat the traffic, but not before Jack noticed that this was the first time in his life that he got to stay up past midnight.
Funny what, as a father, you remember. Happy Father’s Day to all of you readers!