FLASHBACK WEEK: From Gretzky to Big Mac to Isaac Bruce…Here Are My Favorite ’90s Sports Moments

It’s 101 ESPN Flashback Week, and we’re going looking back at the most recent five decades with the excitement-filled 1990s up today.

The 1990s

McGwire hits 62: Mark McGwire entered the 1998 season with expectations of breaking a 37-year-old record held by Roger Maris of 61 home runs in a season. No pressure there, huh? McGwire hit a grand slam on opening day, had 37 at the All-Star Break, and tied Maris with number 61 on September 7. On September 8, with Chicago in town and two out in the 4th inning, McGwire hit Steve Trachsel’s first pitch down the left field line for number 62. Confetti dropped from the upper reaches of the stadium, McGwire circled the bases, and the crowd went wild. Even though Big Mac subsequently admitted to using steroids, that home run provided an indelible moment that, at the time, returned baseball to prominence it had lost with the strike of 1994.

The Rams’ arrival: On January 15, 1995, Rams owner Georgia Frontiere signed an agreement to move her franchise from Los Angeles to St. Louis. After the Cardinals bolted for Phoenix in 1988 and then the league didn’t choose St. Louis in the 1993 expansion process, the future of the NFL looked bleak. But after a 1994 season of rumors and negotiations, the press conference was held in early ’95. Frontiere loved and was 100% committed to her hometown of St. Louis, and would bring us our only Super Bowl title five years later. That was a press conference that gave me chills.

Proehl’s touchdown vs. Tampa Bay: In the 1999 NFC Championship game, I had my family sit in our four seats, and I chose to sit in the auxiliary press box in the north end zone. Midway through the fourth quarter, with Tampa Bay leading the Rams 6-5, I decided to head upstairs to my lucky seat…section 414, row HH, seat 11. I allowed my five-year-old son to sit on my lap. No sooner did I get to the seat than Dre Bly picked off Bucs quarterback Shaun King with just over eight minutes left. On the seventh play after the pick, on a 3rd and 4 from the Tampa 30-yard line, Warner hit Ricky Proehl in the left corner of the end zone for an amazing touchdown and an 11-6 victory that propelled them to the Super Bowl. The Rams held on and pandemonium ensued. It was an incredible moment that for most people in most decades would be impossible to beat.

McGwire hits homer on the night he signed: The Cardinals acquired McGwire from Oakland at the trading deadline, and a month and a half later…on September 16, signed him to a four year, $28 million contract. He cried as he announced a foundation that he was funding to benefit abused and neglected children. In the first inning of that night’s game against the Dodgers, McGwire launched a mammoth homer that hit the dot above the “I” in his name above the scoreboard. The crowd was only 27,000, but they gasped in amazement at what the player that had fallen in love with St. Louis was capable of.

Hull scores 86 to pass Lemieux: The 80’s were an incredible offensive decade in the NHL, led by Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. In ’81-’82 Gretzky scored 92 goals, and lit the lamp 87 times two years later for the top two goal scoring seasons ever. In ’88-’89 Lemieux scored 85, but the last of the 80-goal seasons came in 1990-1991 when it seemed Brett Hull scored every game. Incredibly, there were 22 games in which he DIDN’T score. Hull scored his 50th goal in the Blues’ 49th game, joining Rocket Richard, Mike Bossy, Gretzky and Lemieux in the 50 goals in 50 games club. On March 31 of ’91, Hull was tied with Lemieux for the third most goals in a season, but broke that tie with his 86th tally against North Stars goalie Brian Hayward midway through the second period. The Arena went bananas in an unforgettable scene. Since then, no NHL player has scored more than 76 in a season.

Gretzky trade : On February 27, 1996, the Blues culminated weeks of rumors by sending Craig Johnson, Patrice Tardif, Roman Vopat, a 5th round choice (Peter Hogan) and a 1st round choice (Matt Zultek) in to the rebuilding Kings for the greatest player in history, Wayne Gretzky. It was one of those amazing, unforgettable moments…your team getting a player like that. Gretzky only spent three months wearing the Note, but they were incredible.

That’s a pretty awesome list.  It’s almost impossible to pick a favorite. But I have to and here it is…

Isaac Bruce’s touchdown vs. Minnesota: After becoming a St. Louis football fan in 1971, I had never seen a home NFL playoff game. In 28 years, the Cardinals had never hosted a playoff game (playing in just three) and the Rams had declined from ’95 to ’96 to ’97 to ’98.  1999 was different, as the Rams went 13-3 and earned home field throughout the NFC playoffs.  The first game, on January 16 against Minnesota, saw the Vikings get a field goal out of a game opening, 5:37 drive.  The Rams took over at their own 23, and on the first offensive play in a playoff game in St. Louis, Kurt Warner hit Isaac Bruce on a post route for a 77-yard touchdown.  The Rams would explode for six more touchdowns and a 49-20 lead before Minnesota rallied…but St. Louis won comfortably 49-37.

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