This article was freelanced by Bret Leuthner. You can catch Bret live on Youcastr every weekday from 2-4 PM EST.
In the English language, there are two words that, when combined in the right combination and sequence, can invoke goosebumps and nervousness, excitement and anxiousness, giddiness and fear. Two words that when spoken can bring out adrenaline levels that one would think only occurs in bungee jumping, or riding the newest, scariest roller coaster. Two words that can invoke such jitters, you sometimes can’t even fathom the pressure that comes with it.. Those two words make heroes of the brave, and goats of the weak. And for those reasons, it is the ultimate sports experience…regardless of whether you are directly involved or just a bystander watching the events unfold. And those two words are…
It’s undeniable what game seven represents. It is the ultimate of success or failure. Win and you continue on toward your goal. Lose and you fall to the side, joining the rest of the vanquished in watching those remaining on the journey only wishing that they could have been the ones to join them. Some may say that only 3 sports have game sevens. Yet, football’s entire playoff structure is essentially one giant game seven. Basketball, hockey, and baseball all have best-of-seven series. And many game sevens in each of those sports go down in history as some of the greatest games ever played.
Heroes are born from game seven successes. Some of them are legendary. Magic and Bird are two that immediately come to mind in basketball. Then there’s some others are relative unknowns. Anyone remember Stephane Matteau? Probably not, but if it wasn’t for his game seven winner against New Jersey, the curse of 1940 would still be in play for the all too long suffering Ranger fans. And yet some others used that game seven success as a vault to immortality. Would Bill Mazeroski be in the Baseball Hall Of Fame if it were not for his memorable blast in game seven of the 1960 World Series against the vaunted New York Yankees? Probably not.
The atmosphere in the venue is always electric, the anticipation palpable. Hopes and dreams of fans and players alike are at a fever pitch. Often times, the place is deafening, even in silence. It is what keeps players from retiring and keeps fans coming back to the arena. The sheer gravity of the moment is something that everyone wants to be a part of. The pressure of a game seven is so intense, words such as these cannot begin to describe them.
And we haven’t even gotten into overtime of game sevens. If you think the pressure of a game seven is tremendous during the regulation portion of the game, then you can multiply it one hundred fold for overtime. In the ultimate winner-take-all scenario, a mere mistake in an overtime period can cost your team all of it’s championship hopes and aspirations. Hockey has a special circumstance here as overtime is sudden death. It’s next goal wins, as opposed to the full inning of baseball or full five minutes of basketball required to be played to determine a winner. Hockey’s overtime is special because it literally is next goal wins. Stay on the pond until someone scores. But no matter which of these sports goes into OT, you’re guaranteed to have tired legs and burning lungs, frayed mentalities and extreme emotions. And that’s just the fans! Multiply that feeling tenfold to get a sense of what the players are going through!
Now for a history lesson of game sevens.
Entering the 2009 NBA Playoffs, there have been exactly 100 game sevens played, with the home team winning 80 of them. The first ever NBA game seven was back when the league was called the Basketball Association of America. It was in the BAA semifinals way back on April 6, 1948 that the visiting Philadelphia Warriors, led by Joe Fulks and Howie Dallmar, defeated the St. Louis Bombers 85-46. That 39 point margin of victory would stand as the most lopsided game seven in league history until May 7, 2005 when the Dallas Mavericks beat the Houston Rockets 116-76. 16 times were the NBA Finals decided in a seventh game, the last one being San Antonio beating Detroit in 2005. 6 game sevens were decided in overtime, the last being in 2006. And twice were the fans treated to overtime in game seven of an NBA Final…April 13, 1957 when Boston beat the St. Louis Hawks 125-123 (in the only 2 OT game in NBA playoff history), and again 5 years later on April 18, 1962 when Boston again won, this time defeating the L.A. Lakers 110-107. Entering this year’s playoffs, the Celtics have won the most game sevens (19), while 5 teams have played in yet never won a game seven.
In MLB, the World Series has gone to a seventh game 35 times (39 if you count the days when the series was a best-of-9). And only 3 times did baseball’s penultimate game have to go extra innings, with the home team winning all 3. The 1924 Washington Senators (now the Minnesota Twins), the 1991 Minnesota Twins, and the 1997 Florida Marlins all walked off in extras. 2 other times was the series won in walk-off fashion…1961 and the aforementioned Mazeroski, and again in 2001 courtesy of Luis Gonzalez for the Arizona Diamondbacks against the New York Yankees. In addition, there have been 14 game sevens in the LCS (8 NL, 6 AL). And remarkably, the St. Louis Cardinals have the most game seven victories with 8…5 in the World Series, 3 more in the NLCS. The Yankees only have 5 game seven victories.
And in the NHL, the Stanley Cup Finals reached a seventh game 14 times. And while there have been an abundance of playoff game sevens, there have been 31 game sevens that have reached overtime. And 31 different players have ended a seventh game in OT…that’s right there has never been a player to score multiple game seven OT winners! The longest game seven was in 1987, when the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals went into a 4th overtime before Pat LaFontaine won it for the Isles (official time of the goal was 68:47…or 8:47 of the 4th OT). And only 2 times was the Stanley Cup won in the ultimate of sudden deaths, and both by relative unknowns…April 23, 1950 when the Detroit Red Wings Pete Babando scored 8:31 into the 2nd OT to beat the New York Rangers 4-3 (which came exactly 2 weeks after Leo Reise scored the ONLY goal in a Game 7 OT that beat the Toronto Maple Leafs and sent Detroit to the Cup Finals), and again a week short of 4 years to the day later when Tony Leswick won the Cup for Detroit with a game winner 4:29 into OT against the Montreal Canadians.
So there you have it. The exhilaration of game seven. No matter how many times it is played, the feelings, the emotions, the anticipation, and the excitement will remain the same. Any time there is a game seven, regardless of the sport or the participants, sit down and watch it. It has been, is still, and will always be the ultimate sports experience. And you don’t even need to leave your house to be a part of it.