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Updated Sunday, January 27, 2013 at 06:00 PM

Before retirement hits, Steve Kelley lists 30 favorite moments in sports

By Steve Kelley
Times staff columnist

"Why in the world are you retiring?" my buddy Steve Bunin asked. "You've got the best job in the world."

I told him I've done the job for 40 years, including more than 30 at The Seattle Times. I thought that was good enough proof that I agree with him.

"Thirty years?" Bunin asked. "OK, give me the 30 best games or moments you've witnessed in the last 30 years."

And so I did.

30. Barcelona's scoring machine Lionel Messi had two goals against the Sounders in 2009. It merely was a summer friendly, but I knew I was watching greatness.

29. Defending champion UNLV, heading toward immortality, was upset by Duke 79-77 in the 1991 NCAA semifinal. I can still see the shocked look on the face of the Runnin' Rebels' Anderson Hunt as he walked off the Hoosier Dome's floor.

28. New York Giants place-kicker Jay Feely had three chances to beat the Seahawks in 2005. Kicking into the Seattle din, he missed all three and the Hawks won in overtime 24-21. The Giants were flagged for 11 false-start penalties in the game that firmly re-established the dominance of Seattle's 12th Man.

27. On the final day of 1983, as Seahawks executive Gary Wright helped wipe off the condensation on the press-box windows, the Seahawks mounted a fourth-quarter, 66-yard, five-play drive to beat the Miami Dolphins 27-20.

26. In 1990, USC quarterback Todd Marinovich was caught in a purple avalanche and the fifth-ranked Trojans were swamped by Washington, 31-0. "All I saw was purple," Marinovich told us after the game. "No jerseys. No numbers. Just purple."

25. On a Monday night in late September, Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, who struggled through much of this game, threw a Hail Mary pass to Golden Tate that beat the Green Bay Packers and ended the lockout of NFL officials. For the rest of the season, Wilson gave us encore after encore in a wondrous rookie year.

24. "Let's go tailgating tomorrow," a colleague suggested at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. The next morning we met a group of Norwegians who were camping in the woods at the cross-country skiing venue. We ate bacon and eggs in their tent and then under a bright robin's egg sky, we watched the country's national pastime.

23. Looking as comfortable in the snow as a Norwegian tailgater, Drew Bledsoe threw for 259 yards in Washington State's 42-23 win in the 1992 Apple Cup.

22. With time running out and some 60,000 Superdome fans screaming, Indiana's Keith Smart hit a corner jumper just before the buzzer in the 1987 Final Four championship-game win over Syracuse.

21. In the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedies, the Mariners tied a Major League record, winning their 116th regular-season game 1-0 over Texas. Bret Boone hit a first-inning home run and the celebration with players, including Mike Cameron and Dan Wilson carrying the American flag, was both respectful and joyous.

20. In the sixth and final game of the 1987 NBA playoff series, Houston center Hakeem Olajuwon was unstoppable, scoring 49 points and grabbing 23 rebounds. But the Sonics got 37 points from Tom Chambers and 36 from Dale Ellis and beat the Rockets 128-125 in double overtime to advance to the Western Conference finals.

19. Michael Jordan jab-stepped Utah's Bryon Russell into infamy, rose and drained a foul-line jumper in 1998, giving the Chicago Bulls their sixth and final NBA championship of the Jordan era.

18. The Seahawks were a chip-shot field goal away from losing this wild-card playoff game in 2007 to Dallas. But Tony Romo fumbled the snap, and miraculously the Hawks escaped with a 21-20 win.

17. With three seconds left in the 1989 Final Four championship game, official John Clougherty controversially called a blocking foul on Seton Hall's Gerald Greene that sent Michigan's Rumeal Robinson to the free-throw line. Robinson, a 64 percent free-throw shooter, made both attempts and the Wolverines won the title 80-79.

16. In the deciding game of the Mariners' 2001 ALDS series with Cleveland, Jamie Moyer was overpowering in his 80-mile-an-hour way, allowing one run in six innings in Seattle's 3-1 win.

15. Last August, in the bright sunshine at Safeco Field, Felix Hernandez reminded us how magical baseball can be, tossing a perfect game against Tampa Bay, the best baseball moment in this town since 2001.

14. In the 1980s, I saw a dozen NBA Finals games between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. A dozen Magic Johnson versus Larry Bird games. I wanted a dozen more.

13. Mario Bailey, mocking Desmond Howard, posed Heisman-like in the end zone as the Huskies beat Michigan 34-14 in the 1992 Rose Bowl to win a share of the national title.

12. The Sooner Schooner rumbled on the field prematurely and symbolically tipped over. It was just one bad moment in Oklahoma's frustrating night. Playing almost a perfect game, Washington, led by quarterback Hugh Millen, won the 1985 Orange Bowl 28-17. The win should have given the Huskies the national championship. It went instead to Brigham Young.

11. At the end of the 1996 opening ceremony, Muhammad Ali, a specter in all white, standing next to the cauldron, stunned the crowd and lit the Olympic flame to open the Atlanta Games.

10. Mookie Wilson's dribbler trickled through first baseman Bill Buckner's glove, scoring Ray Knight and giving the New York Mets a Game 6 win. Two days later the Mets won the deciding game of the 1986 World Series.

9. With the score tied 52-52, Derrick Wittenburg's desperation jumper fell short, but Lorenzo Charles read the shot's arc, grabbed the air ball and dunked the game-winning field goal. North Carolina State beat the heavily favored Phi Slamma Jammas of Houston in the 1983 title game and coach Jim Valvano ran around the floor looking for someone to hug.

8. In a jaw-dropping sprint, Tyus Edney dribbled the length of the floor in the final 4.8 seconds and scored at the rim over Derek Grimm to stun Missouri 75-74 in the second round of the 1995 NCAA tournament. UCLA eventually won the final Final Four played at the Kingdome.

7. The Sonics and Utah Jazz, two teams playing at their absolute best, gave us a classic seventh game of a dramatic 1996 Western Conference finals. It was Gary Payton vs. John Stockton and Shawn Kemp against Karl Malone. Kemp had 26 points and 14 rebounds in Seattle's 90-86 series-clinching win that still gives me chills.

6. In a hold-your-breath moment, Michael Phelps beat Milorad Cavic by one hundredth of a second in the 100 butterfly to win the seventh of his unprecedented eight gold medals in the Beijing Olympics. Even every sportswriter was cheering for Phelps.

5. Dodger Kirk Gibson painfully limped to home plate to face Oakland's Dennis Eckersley in the ninth inning of the first game of the 1989 World Series. I don't know how, but he slammed the game-winning home run and as he hobbled around the bases, broadcaster Jack Buck put words to our feelings, saying, "I do not believe what I just saw."

4. Edgar Martinez doubled down the left-field line. From first base, Ken Griffey Jr. expertly cut the edges of second and third and slid home into a delirious celebration as the Mariners came from a 2-0 series deficit to beat the New York Yankees 3 games to 2 in the 1995 American League Divisional Series.

3. All morning, Seattle was in a state of nervous anticipation as it waited for the first pitch of this one-game playoff with California for the 1995 AL West title. But Randy Johnson calmed the city's fears, pitching a complete-game three-hitter in the M's 9-1 win.

2. Michael Johnson hit some gear I've never seen from a human as he rounded the turn en route to setting a world record and winning the gold medal in the 1996 Olympic 200 meters. I thought it was the most thrilling performance I'd ever seen, until ...

1. Usain Bolt easily pulled past the world's fastest humans and was heading for a world record in the 100 meters, when he raised his hands and celebrated his 2008 gold medal about 10 meters before the finish line. Sitting about 15 rows from the track, I thought he'd blown his chance at the world record. And then I looked up at the scoreboard. And then I heard the roar inside the Beijing Bird's Nest. He did it.

It's been a pretty cool gig.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com


ELAINE THOMPSON / AP
Ken Griffey Jr. smiles from beneath a pile of Mariners who mobbed him after he scored the series-winning run against the Yankees.




HARLEY SOLTES / THE SEATTLE TIMES, 1985
The Sooner Schooner drives through Huskies defenders and officials after a field-goal attempt by Oklahoma in the 1985 Orange Bowl.




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