To stand near the finish line in Beijing and see Usain Bolt run as no one had before.
To hover near the first tee of the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National, seeing the world’s best golfers wave their arms like cheerleaders.
To be in Vancouver when the Canadian hockey team won gold, or in Mile High Stadium when the press box shook as John Elway led a fourth-quarter drive. To be in the Metrodome for the extra innings of Game 163, or in Boston and New York during the 2004 ALCS, or in Lambeau Field as Brett Favre beat the Packers.
To be alive in Minnesota for Kirby in Game 6, and Jack in Game 7.
There are sights and sounds that stay with you, and many are attached to victory. Strangely, the most epic experience of one Minnesota sportswriter’s career occurred not in a local venue and not in a game that would decide a league championship, but in New Orleans in January 2010.
Vikings fans may want to forget, but there are so many reasons to remember that NFC Championship Game.
It provided Brett Favre’s last big moment, led to the end of Brad Childress’ head coaching career, and rewrote the league’s overtime rules. It became the clearest recent example of the Vikings building what appeared to be the NFL’s best team and failing to win, or even reach, a Super Bowl.
The Saints’ 31-28 victory over the Vikings on Jan. 24, 2010, contained a dozen one-episode dramas.
The Saints’ alleged bounty on Favre, which led to his ankle swelling like a softball, which led to him throwing the interception that led to overtime …
Which was prompted by the Vikings being penalized for 12 men in the huddle as they were driving for the potential winning field goal …
Which led to the last overtime game in the NFL in which one team lost by a field goal without touching the ball, which meant that Favre’s last pass in a playoff game would be a soul-crushing interception.
What elevated the game from traditional Minnesota tragedy to lasting epic was the atmosphere.
Minnesotans feel tortured because the Vikings have lost four Super Bowls. The Saints never before had made it to a Super Bowl. They were a few years removed from Hurricane Katrina destroying much of the city. The NFC title game took place in the Superdome, where people whose homes had flooded gathered for relief, and received little.
The citizens of America’s greatest party city were ready for sporting Mardi Gras.
The crowd was incredibly loud, but not in some manufactured, organized way. It felt spontaneous, like the roar when a rock star takes the stage.
In the Superdome that day, when they played the popular song “Stand Up and Get Crunk,’’ not only did everyone in the stands sway in unison, but every player on the Saints sideline as well.
To be there was to fear that the building was going to collapse. Then the Vikings did.
Remember, the Vikings dominated from the line of scrimmage, outgaining New Orleans 475-257. Favre threw two interceptions but somehow avoided being sacked even as the Saints brutalized him. The Vikings had five turnovers and yet looked primed to win the game in the last minute.
They started their final drive on their 21 with 2:37 remaining. Chester Taylor ran for 14 yards to the Saints 33 with 1:06 remaining.
Two runs gained nothing. Childress called timeout with 19 seconds remaining. As the Vikings huddled, there was a commotion on the sideline, then a flag on the field.
The Vikings were penalized 5 yards for having 12 men in the huddle. Now at the limits of kicker Ryan Longwell’s range, they called a pass play.
Favre dropped back, saw an opening, began to run on his grotesquely swollen ankle, then fired a pass toward the middle of the field. Tracy Porter intercepted, the Saints won in overtime, and the noise? You had to have been there to believe it.