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Published: Tuesday, 11/17/2009

Author ranks 'must see live' sports events ...

BY RYAN E. SMITH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The Ohio State-Michigan game ranked No. 17. The Ohio State-Michigan game ranked No. 17.
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Everyone knows that the Ohio State vs. Michigan game on Saturday is a big deal. It always is. But if you're not actually up in Ann Arbor watching it in person, you'll be missing something - a certain vibe, an energy, and more than 100,000 people.

That's the point of Robert Tuchman's book, The 100 Sporting Events You Must See Live, which has the event at the Big House pegged at No. 17.

"This book is for people who understand that there's something about live experiences and there's something about attending events and just getting out there and getting off the couch. ... There's nothing like experiencing an event with other people," he said. "There are people in life who embrace life and want to experience life, and there are people who want to watch it on TV."

Mr. Tuchman, 38, lives in New York and is an executive for a company that puts together travel packages for sporting events. While he's never been able to attend this particular game, the mystique, passion, and intensity are enough for him to call it the "premiere rivalry in all of college sports."

As with any list, there is plenty of room for debate. Mr. Tuchman ranks the Masters golf tournament No. 1, followed by the World Cup, while the Super Bowl trails in third and the Summer Olympics is fourth. Locals may be flabbergasted to see that the battle between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines actually comes after the Army vs. Navy football game (No. 5), with all of its ceremony and history.

The larger point, however, is that for many fans there's no substitute for seeing something live - if you can find a ticket. You don't have to travel far from northwest Ohio, as shown by these reminiscences by Blade staff writers who attended several events, including a certain one in Ann Arbor, ranked by Mr. Tuchman.

Crack! Of all of the memories I have of witnessing the three 1984 World Series games in Detroit, they all come back to the sound of Kirk Gibson's shot into the upper right field deck of Tiger Stadium in the eighth inning of Game 5, effectively putting the series away with a three-run homer.

His blast infused new life into a state that had felt economically beaten and was suffering through one of its greatest recessions. Much has been made about the post-series celebration that resulted in a police car being set on fire, but it didn't, at first, have the feeling of a riot. To be honest, I had never seen so many strangers high-fivin' each other.

But that hit off Gibson's bat from where I sat in the upper deck behind third base - man, that was a sight to behold. It's the closest thing I've ever seen to Robert Redford's bulb-popping home run in The Natural come to life. The packed stadium was already buzzing when Gibson stepped up to the plate, chanting in unison, "Goosebuster!" in reference to the opposing pitcher Richard "Goose" Gossage and the hit movie Ghostbusters.

As Gibson rounded the bases pumping his fist in the air, the celebration was on. When the game was over, the frenzied crowd broke past security and stormed the field, tearing up chunks of sod from the field as souvenirs. For a while, I had the grass to prove it. - Tom Henry (pictured)

Next chance: Fall, 2010. Info: mlb.com

As a Michigan alum, I've seen seven UM/OSU games in Ann Arbor's "Big House," and to me this event is like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates: You never know what you'll get. Weather is the first variable. Held in late November, the game has been played in sunshine, icy temperatures, rain, hail, high winds, and snow. At the 1971 game, I sat through all of those conditions.

I've witnessed Bo Schembechler rage on the sidelines and Woody Hayes tear up yard markers. I've seen Buckeye players tear down Michigan's M-Club banner in 1973, and UM fans place an "M" flag over the Ohio State band's "i" during its "Script Ohio" formation.

The fans are a people-watcher's feast. Pre-game, both sides circle the stadium, bragging loudly, goading incessantly. Fashion is eye-popping as everyone saves their most outlandish garb for this one game. Afterwards, I've gotten hugs from strangers and witnessed jubilation, sobbing, and fist-swinging anger.

Then there's the game itself with plays so unbelievable you'd swear you watched them in slow motion. Rows in the 106,000-plus stadium are jam-packed and the crowd is thunderously loud. If you're lucky enough to get tickets - I've had to pay $200 for bad seats - catch this game at the Big House. Go early and stay late. After all, you never know what you'll get. - Jon Chavez

Next chance: Saturday. Info: mgoblue.com

Horse race? What horse race? On the first Saturday in May, there is no better place in the world to be than Churchill Downs in Louisville. The Kentucky Derby is the big draw, but it is by no means the only draw:

The Derby is just one of several races that day, so there's no shortage of chances to put your money down on a great horse.

You can see beautiful thoroughbreds parade majestically from their stalls to the track, and a bevy of celebrities parade every bit as majestically into the clubhouse. One year we spotted Ivana Trump and soap opera queen Susan Lucci in beautiful suits and the required over-the-top hats. Bo Derek and Kid Rock have been regulars.

The Churchill Downs Clubhouse oozes tradition, but unless you have lots of money and connections, a spot in Millionaires Row is hard to come by. The infield is the place to be. You won't see the whole race - your view of the horses thundering by is limited - but you'll see plenty of partying, and you might drink an overpriced mint julep or two. And you can hear the strains of "My Old Kentucky Home" just before the race.

The race itself is often called "the most exciting two minutes in sports" for a reason. It's hoof-pounding, adrenaline-pumping excitement. Afterward, all you can do is look at your ticket and say, "Damn, I knew I should have picked Mine That Bird!" - Homer and Sue Brickey

Next chance: May 1, 2010. Info: kentuckyderby.com

Magic danced in the eyes of children. Laughter circulated with the happy whistle of Sweet Georgia Brown at the University of Toledo's Savage Hall. It was 1996, the Harlem Globetrotters, and my 9-year-old son was crazy for basketball.

Ringside seats put us close to the action. I loved their antics, marvelled at their artful shoulder rolling, knee passing, and spinning of the ball. Everybody should see the Ambassadors of Goodwill at least once. But neither magic nor laughter graced my boy.

"They're not playing by the rules!" he huffed. And the Washington Generals, he observed, weren't really trying to win. My explanation that this was a different kind of basketball, a funny game to make people laugh, fell on deaf ears. Things worsened at halftime when Globetrotter Paul "Showtime" Gaffney snatched my purse and skipped around the floor. When the referee asked him whose it was he said, "Some white lady's."

Then - horrors - Showtime trotted back and pulled me out to center court. He shoved a cap on my head, held my arms, and we be-bopped to deafening disco. Released from Showtime's grip a minute later, I returned to my seat to find my son in the throes of SPE (Severe Parental Embarrassment). He had psychologically fouled out. To the rest of the jolly crowd, however, it was a slam dunk. - Tahree Lane (pictured)

Next chance: Dec. 29, Lucas County Arena. Info: harlemglobetrotters.com.

Only in Canton, where I grew up, do the streets fill with people wearing football jerseys in early August. Actually, there are more than jerseys. There are cross-dressing Washington Redskins fans wearing hog noses, Pittsburgh Steelers die-hards twirling Terrible Towels, and a gigantic guy named Big Dawg.

They come to see their idols - big men, proud men, manly men - break down and cry at the Pro Football Hall of Fame's annual enshrinement ceremony. The tear-filled speeches by the players aside, the real thrill is being with them in person, up close, after their playing days have ended. Seeing Cleveland Browns inductee Ozzie Newsome take the podium in 1999 was like being reunited with a long-lost brother.

For one weekend, the city becomes a who's who of NFL greats and it's not unusual to run into one around town, like when my brothers and sister-in-law met Browns enshrinee Leroy Kelly at a restaurant and Kelly picked up the tab.

It may be blasphemy to say this, but the event even transcends football. It's entangled in a week of activities: concerts, fireworks, a ribs burn-off, not to mention a huge parade that once included Mr. T. I like to say that for my old friends, returning to Canton for Hall of Fame festivities - led by the annual Smith HOF BBQ - is a requirement. Thanksgiving? That's optional. - Ryan E. Smith (pictured)

Next chance: Aug. 7, 2010. Info: profootballhof.com.

What are the best sporting events to see live in northwest Ohio? It's too soon to rank the area's new team, the Toledo Walleye, but here are The Blade's top five other picks.

1. Toledo Mud Hens home opener. Nothing beats opening day at Fifth Third Field. Bring your smile and your glove.

2. UT vs. Bowling Green State University football. This battle for bragging rights is a miniature version of Ohio State vs. Michigan in our own backyard.

3. Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic. Your best shot to see some of the world's greatest golfers is this LPGA event at Highland Meadows.

4. Friday night football. Check out a local high school football rivalry game. There are some classic ones in the city, but the suburbs and outlying areas are just as intense.

5. City League boys basketball championship. No matter who's playing, these games run on pure emotion and adrenaline that's contagious.



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