Memorable Sporting Events Last Forever

Connect Sports Marketplace is fast-approaching (Aug. 22-24), and on the back page “Talking Meetings” column in Connect’s September/October issue, we asked planners and suppliers to name the most memorable sporting events they’ve attended. It got me thinking about what my answer would be. I’ve been fortunate to go to some amazing events, but not nearly as many as Elite Tournaments’ President Michael Libber. He has been to multiple World Cups, a Super Bowl, NCAA Final Fours and the Kentucky Derby. His choice was obviously more difficult than most (he chose the 2006 World Cup, by the way), and while I haven’t been able to cross those puppies off my bucket list (save for a World Cup, which was awesome even though I was too young to fully comprehend it), I have been able to see some special events. Like Al Hutchinson, vice president of convention sales and marketing for the Virginia Beach CVB, I thought long and hard about selecting the 2012 SEC Championship college football game between my alma mater, the University of Georgia, and Alabama. The game was an all-time classic, and while it had a gut-wrenching ending for Georgia fans, I watched the game from the sidelines, and I can appreciate how memorable an experience like that is. But that isn’t my most memorable. Not even close, actually. When I closed my eyes and thought about the question every sports fan has pondered, all I could see was the 1992 Nebraska-Colorado college football game, played on Halloween. I turned 9 that month, and as any parent knows, a 9-year-old passing on trick-or-treating for anything short of meeting Santa Claus was not normal. My dad, the University of Nebraska’s women’s gymnastics head coach, had two tickets to every game, and he found two more for my mom and brother. We decided I would watch the game with mom, and my brother would sit with my dad. Nebraska entered the game ranked eighth, tied with Colorado, a main rival. The previous year the two teams tied, and there was no love lost between them. I was pumped. The forecast called for freezing rain. I didn’t care. My mom most likely did, but the things we do for our kids, right? The hype of the game was all-encompassing. I was a kid in a candy store with 75,000 of my closest friends. Mom and I sat in the upper level, but on the lowest row. I heard things. Things 10-year-olds shouldn’t hear. Things mothers don’t want their kids to repeat. And man did I love it. I still remember some of the more colorful lines, actually. The game was tight after the first quarter, but at the half, the good guys were up three scores. The game became a party in the second half for Nebraska fans. I remember drinking hot chocolate and eating Runza’s (my mom’s favorite) while we celebrated for the next 90 minutes en route to Nebraska winning 52-7. I now have a child of my own, a career, bills and all the things the real world demands, yet I can vividly remember so much about that night more than 20 years ago. This is the power of a great sporting event. They aren’t just games to attendees or participants; they’re experiences. The great ones will stick in the minds of those in the stands the rest of their lives, but so will the bad ones. Making a memorable experience—not just an event—is what every planner strives for. Falling short of making an event so good a grown man will remember it more than 20 years later is perhaps too lofty a goal, but maybe it isn’t. Maybe striving for that form of perfection is what every planner should do. Falling short is expected, but trying to ensure every attendee and participant leaves the complex with a true memory is worth it, don’t you think?   (AP Photo/David Longstreath)