Carroll County Times
Carroll County Sports

Appreciate those who come through in the clutch

Every year, March Madness seemingly produces some incredible odds-defying, last-second shots that send one team on to the next round or crowns them champions and the other team home to wonder "what-if" scenarios because the unthinkable unfolded in front of them and snatched victory from their hands.

Sometimes those game-winning shots cement the player's already impressive career, and yet others provide a springboard to an otherwise obscure player.


I don't remember in any of my sports careers whether I was ever the deliverer of such a clutch, game-winning shot.

I do remember one soccer game in college where I scored what I thought was the game winning goal in overtime, ran past my teammates and jumped in to the crowd (of about 45 people I think) to celebrate with my peeps only to find out that both teams were lining back up to resume the game because we didn't play sudden-death overtime, we played full-time periods, regardless of who scored when.


I had exhausted any reserves of oxygen I had left, had to remove myself from the game, and we went on to score another goal in OT and win 4-2.

We all know those guys, the "money" players, the athletes that can deliver in the clutch. I was never that player, but I knew on every team who that player was and I used my own skill set to do what I could to put the ball in the money player's hands (or feet more often than not). They just have a knack for the dramatic, for delivering in the most crucial times, and they welcome the opportunity.

The ones that don't welcome the chance won't get it. Or when they do, they'll give it up to the next guy.

Many of us will think of Michael Jordan as the best clutch shooter of all time. Time and again, he not only expected, but demanded, the ball in important game-winning or game-tying situations. There was the obvious one, the game-winner in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz when he stripped fellow Hall of Famer Karl Malone dribbled down court, faked out Byron Russell with a cross-over dribble and drained the shot to ice his sixth NBA title.

But there were many more situations where he drained the shot at the crucial time of the game, including his career-projecting game-winning shot as a Tar Heel in the 1982 NCAA championship game against Patrick Ewing and his Georgetown Hoyas.

How about Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, or Tom Brady, who each have more than 50 game-winning drives under their belts?

Or Peyton's little brother, Eli, who stole the title from "Tom Terrific" not once, but twice during Super Bowl play with incredible game-winning drives fueled by bey-human catches by different receivers?

For more than one reason, it's hard to forget Brandy Chastain's clutch World-Cup winning penalty kick in the 1999 Women's World Cup final against China in the Los Angeles Coliseum. Chastain was a starter but all of the focus during that tournament was on the young Mia Hamm, who was beginning to make her mark on the world stage.


I still remember where we were when Landon Donovan scored probably the most important goal in men's national team soccer history. When Donovan snuck the game-winner past the Algerian goalkeeper to give the U.S. the group play title and push them in to the round of 16, my sons, their friends, and our dog ran around the house celebrating the unthinkable, a 100-yard sprint from goalkeeper to striker through 3-4 other players in the waning moments of the game to give the U.S. its best group play finish yet.

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My all-time favorite clutch performance came in the 1988 World Series between the Oakland A's and the Los Angeles Dodgers. I was much younger then, but as I've gotten older and the pains of performance gone by have descended upon my body, I appreciate Kirk Gibson's performance even more.

Limping out of the training room as the Dodgers were on their last gasp of hope in the opening game of the World Series, Gibson went down in the count 0-2 against Oakland closer Dennis Eckersley, before working his way back to a full count. He dribbled a foul ball up the sidelines and you could tell watching him limp toward first base the only way he would ever be safe would be to knock the ball out of the park.

And that's exactly what he did, drilling a 3-2 fastball in the bleachers which gave him all the time he needed to round the bases.

English clergyman Sydney Smith once wrote, "The thing about performance, even if it's only an illusion, is that it is a celebration of the fact that we do contain within ourselves infinite possibilities."

And in sports, those impossibilities are highlighted practically every season in every sport.