I have witnessed precious few truly exciting sports moments live and in person. In fact, I can only think of three. I saw Jimmy Connors start his legendary run at the 1991 U.S Open against Patrick McEnroe. I saw the Newark Bears win the Atlantic League championship last year (hey, it was exciting to me). And I saw Shawn Bates score that penalty shot goal against the Leafs in Game 4 of the 2001-2002 playoffs:
I would have to fill you in on far too many personal details to explain how much that playoff game--and most of that season--meant to me, but I will tell you that I have never felt quite like I felt when Bates capped off that ridiculous third period with that goal. With that one goal and the subsequent eruption it caused in the Coliseum, Bates made all those years of frustration that came with being an Islanders fan seem worth it.
So, even though it was inevitable, the official news of the Islanders severing their ties with Bates still leaves me a little sad. Sure, there were far too many times we saw a mouthguard-chewing Bates after flubbing a scoring attempt, but who cares? If the only goal Bates ever scored was on that penalty shot, he would still be one of my favorite Islanders.
The Reverend and I shared an elevator at the Coliseum with Bates last year, and I was standing right next to him. It occurred to me that I should thank him in some way, but after he didn't hear me say, "Hey, Shawn," I decided not to push the matter. I'm sure I would've embarrassed myself, so it's probably for the best.
But consider this my thank you to Shawn Bates. Good luck wherever life takes you.