There have been many times when the games we love were overshadowed by an event that was tragic and unexpected. Probably more than you would think. I have come up with a list of 15, and surprisingly left out a number of others. Preseason football games were wiped out for one reason or another. Regular season NFL schedules have been adjusted due to conflicts with playoff baseball games. We’ll declare them part of my “Honorable Mention” list.
I am excluding strikes and lockouts. Since I was not born until 1977, I am not including WWII or JFK’s assassination. The NFL played that Sunday (immediately following JFK’s death), but games were not televised due to assassination coverage. Some college games were postponed a day earlier. As I stated, not everything made the list. You might recall another game. This article is already very long. As the kids say, don’t at me. My decision was to only list events from the past 35 years, and I decided to list them in chronological order.
Here they are:
1. Giants-Athletics World Series (Earthquake,10/89)
Allow me to set the scene. It was a Tuesday night. I went to return my Hulk Hogan VHS tape at Video Visions. The World Series had shifted sites for game 3, and San Francisco was minutes away from hosting Oakland. At least that’s what was scheduled to happen. You could imagine my surprise when I found Roseanne on ABC after returning home. This made no sense. What happened to the World Series? Soon I discovered that an earthquake had caused a delay. Well, surely they would start momentarily. Everything seemed fine. People quickly realized that there was extensive damage, and the game was postponed. San Francisco would finally host the game more than one week later. A 49ers game was moved to Stanford Stadium. Since I mentioned Hulk Hogan, a WWF show scheduled for October 20 was also postponed. It took place on October 25. The Canadian Earthquake debuted on television a short time later, but his attack on the Ultimate Warrior actually happened on October 2.
2. NBA Playoffs (L.A. Riots, 4/92)
The suddenly underdog Lakers were playing their first season in more than a decade without Magic Johnson. I liked several players on the team, and told my neighbor we had to somehow get them into the postseason instead of those boring Rockets. An improbable late-season run culminated with an overtime victory in game 82. I found out about their win from Steve Somers after midnight. WFAN didn’t have an update anchor overnight back then. Flashes were recorded, and the host came on when they ended to report late scores. The Lakers then won a thrilling third game against Portland to stay alive. A fantastic watch on youtube. Ernie Johnson had studio duties, but Fred Hickman was preparing to go on as host of Inside The NBA. Announcer Pete Van Wieren, who called the action with analyst Hubie Brown, said that the Lakers would be back in their home building for a fourth game in that series.
It didn’t happen. Riots had already started outside, and game 4 ended up getting moved to Las Vegas. Although game 4 was already scheduled to be in May and finally took place on May 3, the rioting began on April 29. It was already happening during game 3. Fires were set after officers accused of police brutality were acquitted. Similarly, a Clippers contest scheduled for the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena was also postponed. Game 4 of their series was played in Anaheim.
3. NBA Finals (Pursuing O.J. Simpson, 6/94)
This is the only example on my list where a sporting event took place as planned. However, NBC either split the screen or completely removed it. I could go off in a million different directions about how ridiculous it was for this to be covered instead of a Knicks-Rockets NBA Finals game. Today, the contest would be moved to an alternate channel. In fact, it could easily be shown on ESPN because ABC has replaced NBC. Even if basketball was still on NBC, one of their cable channels could show the game. Years later, WNBA fans had to suffer. NBC aired coverage of the John F. Kennedy Jr. plane crash. This injustice for basketball fans didn’t get quite as much attention. Anyway, basketball fanatics in New York listened to Rockets-Knicks on WFAN. Houston won in 7, but the Knicks prevailed on this night to take a 3-2 series lead.
4. NHL Playoffs (Columbine, 4/99)
An unspeakable tragedy occurred in Colorado 21 years ago. It took the lives of 15 people and injured more than 20 others. Sadly, school shootings have become almost commonplace in subsequent years. This was at a time when communication was just starting to take off on computers. Teenagers were away at college and messaging people. It really scared a generation of kids, and also scarred them. Although the Rockies and Nuggets had their original schedules adjusted, the major change in sports was with Colorado’s NHL team. The Avalanche were preparing to open up at home against the Sharks. That first round pairing was delayed, and it opened in San Jose. The Avalanche won twice in California to start it off. This series had been changed to a 2-3-1-1 series instead of the typical 2-2-1-1-1 format. Colorado came home and lost a pair before winning the final two games and advancing. Round two was the same story. Six games were played between Detroit and the Avalanche. There were five road wins. Once again, only game 5 was won by the home team. Colorado eventually fell to Dallas in 7.
5. Various (September 11, 9/01)
We all know what happened in 2001. I certainly don’t need to tell people in New York about the terrorist attacks. As it relates to sports, football games were postponed for one week. Similar story with baseball. Week 18 was added to the NFL season for Week 2 games. 2002 had our first February Super Bowl. Shea Stadium was used as a staging area for volunteers and supplies. Personally, I had just started working in New Jersey. My boss called and told me to stay home. In the days and weeks that followed, I drove to and from work. That George Washington Bridge view was forever changed. As years went by, I could see the tribute beams. I had never experienced anything like this. It would be many more years until things were so strange again. Unfortunately, that time is now.
6. Dolphins-Chargers (Wildfires, 10/03)
A scheduled game between Miami and San Diego was moved to Arizona. This game was televised by ABC on a Monday night. Wildfires in California forced the move. Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego was used as an evacuation site. The Dolphins won 26-10. Neither team reached the postseason that year. Miami went 10-6. San Diego finished tied for last. The Chargers and Raiders each lost 12 of their 16 games.
7. New Orleans Saints (Hurricane Katrina, 8/05)
Although numerous hurricanes have impacted sports and most notably the NFL, few if any hurricanes that hit the United States drew national coverage like Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans played no regular season games at their usual home in 2005. It sustained significant damage, and also was used as a shelter for those who did not evacuate. The Louisiana Superdome closed for about a year. It finally reopened when the Saints hosted Atlanta in 2006. New Orleans was victorious in an emotional game that was televised nationally on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. I chose to only use one spot on my list for a hurricane. People from this area obviously remember Hurricane Sandy. It also caused extensive damage. The local sports postponement was an NBA game between the Knicks and Nets.
8. SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament (Tornado, 3/08)
The third of four scheduled games on March 14, 2008 at the Georgia Dome was in overtime when the building was struck by a tornado. Alabama and Mississippi State completed their overtime following a delay, but remaining games for this tournament were played at Georgia Tech’s home court. The Kentucky game against Georgia was postponed to March 15, and the Bulldogs prevailed. Georgia then won another Saturday game hours later before defeating Arkansas on Sunday. The Bulldogs captured their conference tournament to earn an unlikely NCAA Tournament bid in unique and bizarre fashion. Georgia was given a 14 seed. They entered SEC Tournament action with a 13-16 record before the amazing run. Xavier ended Georgia’s season when they met in their first round game on March 20.
9. Minnesota NFL (Snowstorm: Roof, 12/10)
Brett Favre’s record streak of consecutive starts ended when he was inactive for the Giants-Vikings game in 2010. Snow caused the teams to play at Detroit’s Ford Field. The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome’s roof collapsed. One week later, Minnesota played an outdoor contest against Chicago at TCF Bank Stadium. Favre sustained a concussion. That was his last NFL game.
10. Vikings-Eagles (Blizzard, 12/10)
Maybe this team was cursed. After having two games moved following their stadium’s roof collapse, the Vikings headed to Philadelphia for their game against the Eagles. Mayor Michael Nutter declared a snow emergency for Philadelphia. The December 2010 North American blizzard caused a rare Tuesday NFL clash. This was the 20th Tuesday game in NFL history, but the first since 1946. When they finally played, new Vikings quarterback Joe Webb ran for a touchdown to help Minnesota upset Philadelphia.
11. Numerous (Boston Marathon Bombings, 4/13)
The Red Sox, Bruins, and Celtics all had their schedules impacted by the Boston Marathon Bombings (and subsequent manhunt) in 2013. When baseball finally returned to Fenway Park, David Ortiz made a passionate speech. It was memorable, and also profane. On April 28, a Senators-Bruins game was played after all other NHL regular season contests were completed. This game needed to be played for seeding. Playoff pairings were not finalized until after Ottawa upset Boston. The Celtics only played 81 games, which might have been important if you made an NBA futures wager. Kansas City played a doubleheader at Fenway Park on April 21. That Sunday doubleheader was scheduled because of a postponement two days earlier.
12. Jets-Bills (Snow, 11/14)
Ford Field hosted an unexpected football game on a Monday, again. In the fall of 2014, an extreme weather event moved the Jets-Bills game to Detroit. This happened four years after the Giants and Vikings were moved from Minnesota to Michigan. Both nights featured a Ravens road win. Baltimore beat the Saints in New Orleans on this night. Houston fell at home against Baltimore in the scheduled 2010 ESPN game. Baltimore beat Houston 34-28 in overtime, and apparently the magic number was 34. Ironically, the Ravens defeated New Orleans by a score of 34-27. As for the Jets, they lost 38-3. Both New York teams being involved in these games that were moved to Detroit is another coincidence.
13. White Sox-Orioles (Unrest, 4/15)
In 2015, Baltimore hosted the first ever Major League Baseball game played with no fans. This was because of civil unrest in Baltimore. The White Sox were defeated by a score of 8-2.
14. Clippers-Lakers (Calabasas Helicopter Crash, 1/20)
News of Kobe Bryant’s death broke just before the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl. It made for an awkward atmosphere. The next scheduled Lakers game was against the Clippers, and that game was postponed. Players didn’t feel like playing their NBA games. Kyrie Irving chose not to play for Brooklyn. Even announcer Mike Breen talked about how he didn’t feel like working.
15. Everything (COVID-19, 3/20)
The actual sports postponements in this country didn’t start until March. We can only speculate on when things will return to normal. It goes well beyond sports. Still, seeing events that had taken place annually for decades get postponed or canceled has been shocking. At this time, we can’t put final numbers on deaths or postponements. Life is changing by the day. Sports will be appreciated like never before when they finally return.