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The top sporting events the Tampa Bay region has shown off

Sports fans are used to turning on the television and seeing other cities around the country and world hosting a premier sporting event — New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and so forth. But how cool is it when the country is watching us because the Tampa Bay area is hosting a premier event? Last weekend we had the PGA Tour and March Madness. Today it's the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. We've also had Super Bowls, a Stanley Cup final and the World Series. Here's a look back at our list, in order, of the most significant sporting events hosted by the Tampa Bay area.

1. Game 7 of 2004 Stanley Cup final (June 7, 2004): Super Bowl Sunday is practically a national holiday, so listing anything ahead of the Big Game seems illogical. But we're going to show a little hometown bias. The Lightning's 2-1 victory against the Flames to win the Cup is the greatest moment in local sports history that took place locally. Plus, look at it this way: There have been 45 Super Bowls but only 15 Game 7s in the Stanley Cup final.

2. Super Bowl XXV (Jan. 27, 1991): This was a closely contested game that featured one of the most famous plays in Super Bowl history: Bills kicker Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal as time expired to give the Giants and Bill Parcells a 20-19 victory. But the game was about more than football. The United States was embroiled in the first Gulf War, and Whitney Houston, right, backed by the Florida Orchestra, produced goose bumps and tears with a powerful rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. It is one of the great Super Bowl moments.

3. Game 1 of 2008 World Series (Oct. 22, 2008): The Super Bowl has become the premier event in this country, but the World Series still holds a magical place in the pyramid of American sports. It's still hard to believe that in 2008 the country tuned in to see Tropicana Field. It hardly matters that the Rays lost that game to the Phillies 3-2, or that they went on to lose the Series in five games. The World Series was here.

4. Super Bowl XLIII (Feb. 1, 2009): The best Super Bowl ever? The Steelers beat the Cardinals 27-23 with a gutsy two-minute drive that ended with MVP Santonio Holmes making a tip-toe catch in the corner of the end zone with 35 seconds left. Throw in a halftime show by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and you have one of the best sporting events of all time.

5. NCAA Tournament (March 21, 2008): It's always a big deal when the NCAA Tournament comes to town, as it did last week. But we didn't know how special the 2008 tournament games at the St. Pete Times Forum were until the end of perhaps the wildest day in tournament history. Two No. 13 seeds upset No. 4 seeds: San Diego beat UConn, and Sienna knocked off Vanderbilt. And two No. 12 seeds shocked No. 5 seeds: Western Kentucky beat Drake, and Villanova upset Clemson. No site had seen such a day before, and no one has since.

6. 1979 NFC Championship Game (Jan. 6, 1980): Conference championship games are for true football fans. The Bucs have hosted seven playoff games but only one NFC Championship Game. In this one, the Bucs, two years removed from their 0-26 start, hosted the Rams. They lost 9-0, but that remains one of the fondest memories for Bucs fans who have been here from the beginning.

7. Game 7 of 2008 American League Championship Series (Oct. 19, 2008): Almost as good as playing in the World Series is the moment you realize you're going to the World Series. Baseball fans across the nation had to be stunned when the little old Rays held on in Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS to beat the mighty Red Sox and get to the Fall Classic.

8. 1999 NCAA Tournament final (March 29, 1999): Tropicana Field hosted the 1999 Final Four, in which UConn took on Mike Krzyzewski's Duke in the title game. The Huskies and coach Jim Calhoun won their first national title with a 77-74 victory. Connecticut was a 9 ½-point underdog, making this one of the biggest upsets in NCAA title-game history.

9. Super Bowl XVIII (Jan. 22, 1984): The Raiders dusted the Redskins 38-9 in a game marked by two sensational plays. The first was Jack Squirek's interception return to give the Raiders a 21-3 lead just before halftime. The second was Marcus Allen's scintillating change-of-direction 74-yard TD run that secured the MVP award for him. It was not a particularly interesting game, but it always will hold a special spot in the history of Tampa Bay area sports because it was our first Super Bowl.

10. 2011 Outback Bowl (Jan. 1, 2011): Tampa has hosted the Outback Bowl (formerly the Hall of Fame Bowl) since 1986. And for a game generally played on New Year's Day amid all the other Jan. 1 bowl games, it's usually one of the better matchups. Last bowl season, the Outback was the most intriguing game aside from the BCS Championship because it featured legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno taking on Urban Meyer in his final game (we think) at Florida. The Gators won 37-24.

11. Super Bowl XXXV (Jan. 28, 2001): This is the worst of the four Super Bowls that have been played in the Tampa Bay area. The Ravens crushed the Giants 34-7. The only interesting part locally was that former Bucs quarterback Trent Dilfer was the winning QB, but he didn't have a spectacular day. Linebacker Ray Lewis was the MVP in a game that had no memorable moments for those outside of Ravens fans. Still, it's a Super Bowl.

12. 2008 NCAA women's Final Four (April 6, 2008): Held at the St. Pete Times Forum, this Final Four featured three of the most storied programs in women's basketball: Tennessee, UConn and Stanford. In the semifinals, Stanford knocked off UConn, a loss that turned out to be UConn's last until Dec. 30, 2010, as Geno Auriemma's team set a Division I record with 90 consecutive victories. Pat Summitt's Vols went on to beat Stanford in the final for her eighth national title.

13. 2003 Chrysler Championship (Nov. 2, 2003): This is the tournament now known as the Transitions Championship, played at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor, and it's considered one of the best on the PGA Tour. That reputation has been built partly by the 2003 tournament, when Retief Goosen shot a final-day 1-under 70 to hold off Vijay Singh, the tour's leading money winner that season, by three shots. That seemed to be the first time folks noticed Innisbrook's Copperhead course is among the most challenging on the tour.

14. 2005 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (April 3, 2005): No sporting event shows off how beautiful St. Petersburg is more than the Grand Prix. The course winds through downtown St. Petersburg, and viewers around the world can see the backdrop of palm trees and the bay. When the weather is right, the race looks like a Chamber of Commerce video. We pick the 2005 race to highlight because it was won by St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon, but every Grand Prix is a good one for showing off the Tampa Bay area.

15. 1986 Eckerd Open (Sept. 21, 1986): The Tampa Bay area hosted a stop on the WTA tour from 1971 to 1990. The tournament was decent and attracted big names. Its champions included Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Monica Seles. But the 1986 final at Bardmoor Country Club in Largo was noteworthy because it featured a rare-at-the-time matchup between two black women. With temperatures on the court soaring to nearly 100 degrees, Lori McNeil wore out close friend Zina Garrison 2-6, 7-5, 6-2.

The top sporting events the Tampa Bay region has shown off 03/26/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 26, 2011 11:09pm]
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