Let's get this out of the way: I have never seen an NBA or NFL game in person. I'm not much of a basketball fan, so I never really had interest in watching a game. My daughter has shown a slight interest however, and I have taken her to a few University of Virginia Women's Basketball games. I couldn't tell you anything about the players though, or if any of them have gone on to the WNBA.
I surprised myself with the NFL though. I'm not a huge football fan either, but I grew up right in Buffalo Bills territory. When I was growing up, the Bills held their summer training camps at the State University of Fredonia, just a town over from me. I watched numerous squad practices, saw legends like Jim Kelly and Bruce Smith, but never went to an actual game. Go figure.
Greatest Player (First Game/All-Time): Roger Clemens
|1990 Fleer #627 Roger Clemens (POD)|
Now baseball...baseball is my jam, baby! I've been to numerous games at the Major league level. I've been to 4 different stadiums, not including all the Spring Training games I've attended. I've seen a lot a great players, including a few Hall of Famers! Funny thing is, the first game I ever went to featured the greatest player I ever seen all-time, so the Rocket gets both awards here.
Clemens was my favorite player growing up. I have often been asked how a kid from Western New York ended up a Red Sox fan. I started really getting into baseball in the mid-80's, and Clemens was arguably the best player in baseball. He became the guy I looked for in the box scores of my local paper, and as he played for the Red Sox, they became my team.
My first game was at the old Cleveland Stadium. The Indians were one of the closest teams to my hometown and my dad took me to see the Red Sox play at the "Mistake By The Lake". I don't remember much about the game - I know the Red Sox won, someone hit a home run, and it marked the 20th win of the season for Clemens.
The last fact alone allowed me to go onto Baseball-Reference and figure out the game was on August 30th, 1990. He pitched a complete game, striking out 9 in a 9-2 win. Luis Rivera hit the home run.
Greatest Player (First Game) - Dave Andreychuk
|1991-92 Pro Set Platinum #8 Dave Andreychuk|
Hockey is my second favorite sport. I know my first game was in Buffalo to watch the Sabres play, but I remember nothing! I couldn't tell you the year, who they played, who won - I'm drawing a complete blank. I'm taking an educated guess that Hall of Famer Andreychuk, who played in Buffalo from 1982-1993, was likely the best player from Buffalo at that time.
Greatest Player (All-Time) - Alex Ovechkin
|2006-07 McDonalds Upper Deck |
#50 Alexander Ovechkin
This one was easy, because it is such an obvious choice. I had the special privilege to be in Washington DC on New Years Day in 2015. There, I went to Nationals Park to watch the Washington Capitals take on the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 NHL Winter Classic. It was an amazing game, with Washington's Trevor Brouwer scoring the winning goal with less than 20 seconds left in regulation. Ovechkin earned 1st star with a goal and assist.
|Slapshot and me enjoying the game|
Greatest Player (First Game/All-Time) - John Tavares
|1993 Nastasi MILL Lacrosse #26 John Tavares|
I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't know there was a professional lacrosse league here in America. The Buffalo Bandits joined the Major Indoor Lacrosse League (now the National Lacrosse League) in 1992. I went to one of those games that year and although I don't remember much from that game either, I do recall enjoying it and appreciating the fast-paced action. I had to do a bit of internet research, but finding the best player was easy. John Tavares (not to be confused with his hockey playing nephew with the same name) was a 3-time MVP and currently holds the all-time records for games, goals, assists, and points! I pretty much got to watch the Babe Ruth of indoor lacrosse.
Greatest Athlete (First Show/All-Time) - Hulk Hogan
|1985 Topps WWF #29 Stretched To The Limit!|
I'll let you decide if this counts as a "sport" or not, but I just had to include this one! I was really into WWF wrestling in my youth, and got to see some of the stars live once. The main event was Hulk Hogan vs Kamala, The Ugandan Giant. The one image forever burned in my mind is the sight of the 6'7" 380-pound Kamala leaping over Hogan during the match. Hulk Hogan is of course a legend in the sport and a pop culture icon.
So, yeah, I some some pretty impressive athletes in my time!