'9/25 Day' provides ups, downs and everything in between

Arnold Palmer in full swing at the 2015 Master's in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jamie Squire)

By Travis Rowney | @rowtown23

When he was battling cancer, the famous and beloved basketball coach Jimmy Valvano once said, “If you laugh, you think, and you cry…. That’s one heck of a day.” Sunday September 25th was supposed to be an ordinary Sunday, but in the end, it proved to be much more. Filled with every emotion in the book, it turned into a Jim Valvano type day.

Being a typical sports fanatic, my plans for '9/25 Day' included sitting on a couch, watching football, a little bit a baseball, some FedEx Cup golf, and probably some more football. However, it wasn’t a normal Sunday. Emotions went up and down like a roller coaster. A lot happened on Sunday, September 25th 2016. It might not be remembered by the non-sports fan, but it was significant for me because these events affected the very core of my sports soul. Here is a timeline of that roller coaster on Sunday (times are estimated and in Pacific time zone):


Jose Fernadez pitching in Miami on September 8th. (Photo by Marc Serota)

8:00 A.M.: Jose Fernandez’s death.

Unlike some, I actually set my alarm for Sunday mornings in the fall. I wake up and check last minute fantasy reports before the morning slew of football games begin. After that, I cross my fingers and pray. I also check my phone to see the ESPN morning updates, usually consisting of Premier League soccer. However, what I read on the morning of September 25th left me in shock. Miami Marlins’ pitcher Jose Fernandez died in a boating accident early Sunday morning in Miami. No way this happened; it had to be a hoax. I searched my phone making sure that it was real. And to my shock, it was. As an athlete and avid sports fan, I am in awe of young and up and coming talent. Fernandez was one of them. A product of Cuba, Fernandez was a 24-year-old, destined for greatness. The 2013 Rookie of the year was the ace of the Marlins’ pitching staff. There was no doubt that one day he would be a future Cy Young winner and resurrect a suffering franchise. Off the mound, he was charismatic, joyful, and inspirational. Always interacting with fans, and toying with teammates in the dugout. He was loved by his whole team. As manager Don Mattingly would say in tears, “He was like a little leaguer out there.” The Marlins had to cancel Sunday’s game with the Atlanta Braves. The entire baseball world mourned that day, as did I. He was someone who truly enjoyed the game, always having a big grin on his face. It’s hard to believe he was only 24. Even though I am not a Marlins fan, I was saddened. He was a role model with a bright future ahead of him; maybe even a hall of famer. Hearing this news brought tears to my eyes Sunday morning. The whole sports world mourned that morning.   


Odell Beckham and Josh Norman battle in New York. (Photo by Michael Reaves)

10:00 A.M.: Norman and Beckham.

Rivalry games; anything can happen. No football game was more anticipated than the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins. Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham and Redskins cornerback Josh Norman headlined the game. Another example of supreme young talent, and like Fernandez, the next generation of super stars. These two players are the future of football and I couldn’t wait for this matchup. They have history, and it’s not a pretty one. Last year, while Norman was playing for the Carolina Panthers, things got heated between him and Beckham. They trash talked, jawed with each other, bickered like little kids… and the refs constantly had to break them up after plays. When Norman signed with the Redskins in the offseason, all football fans circled two dates: the two times these NFC rivals would meet up. As the game went on, both players traded good plays and of course, some words. At one point, Norman picked up Beckham during a play and tried to carry him to the sidelines. It actually made me laugh at the rivalry these two have. It turned out to be an exciting game. The Redskins closed out the game with a couple late interceptions of Eli Manning, winning 29-27. Frustrated with the loss, Beckham was seen punching a warmup net on the sideling that then fell on his head. Even a couple tears were shed. Amazing what sports can do. It was a fascinating end to an intense football game. Get used to it football fans, this rivalry is just getting started.  


Vin giving thanks. (Photo by Harry How)

1:00: P.M.: Vin Scully, the legendary Los Angeles Dodgers announcer, called his last home game at Chavez Ravine.

He has been calling baseball games longer than most people can remember.  And His Voice, oh my, that unmistakable, remarkable voice. Calm, relaxed, but exciting, all at the same time. Some of the greatest games of all time have been told through his words. His warm personality, loyalty, and love he inspired make him truly unique. As an aspiring broadcaster, I rank him as one of the top sports broadcasters of all time. Announcing is hard work, and takes a lot of dedication. Scully has been dedicated for over 40 years. He announced at the beginning of the season that 2016 would be his last year announcing Dodger games. Sunday was his last home game. The Dodgers had honored him all year, and on Sunday, gave him a lasting memory. With Dodgers down 3-2 in the bottom of the 9th, rookie Corey Seager hit a game tying home run. The next inning with the score tied, Charlie Culberson clubbed a walk off home run. The Dodgers had not only won the game, but had clinched the NL West. Now that’s a storybook ending for Vin Scully, a legend in broadcasting. While I am a dedicated San Francisco Giants fan, it was hard to be bitter. It just felt right.   


Rory at the FedEx in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo Kevin C. Cox)

4:00 P.M.: Rory McIlroy wins the FedEx Cup.

It had been a quiet year for super star professional golfer McIlroy. The #2 player in the world had trouble finding the winner’s circle. His critics were numerous. “He’s overrated, he’ll never be a legend, he’s a flash in the pan.” He shut them up in a good way. He picked a good time to play his best golf of the year. In the FedEx Cup Playoffs, he came back on the final day and won the BMW Championship, the third leg of the 4 playoff tournaments. On Sunday, at the Tour Championship, in the final leg of the playoffs, McIlroy came from behind again and finished in a three way tie for first. Thanks to an eagle hole out on the 16th hole, he had the chance to win the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup if he could win the three-man playoff. McIlroy birdied the 4th playoff hole, and won the tournament and the FedEx Cup. I’m not surprised he won. While his results this year were a little subpar, he was always hanging around the top. He has the consistency factor; not an easy thing to have, especially in golf. That’s what separates the good golfers from the very best. It helps to have ice in his veins as well. Two trophies and $11 million in one day. I was happy to see him win and prove why he is one of the best.


7:00 P.M.:  The sports world loses a legendary sportsman.

On Sunday night, Arnold Palmer passed away at the age of 87. Growing up as an avid junior golfer, I always used to emulate Mr. Palmer. Even though he was a little before my time, he was always the King. I loved watching old footage of his tournaments. His swing, his personality, his commercials. Everything about him was so captivating. He’s the athlete you wanted be like. Every golfer knows his swing. It’s unlike any other, an aggressive slash, full of emotion and strength. In the 1960s, he burst onto the scene with his fit body, combed hair, and unique swing. What he lacked in talent and grace, he seemed to make up with pure will. The “working man’s” champion. Arnie transformed professional golf, making it cool, popularizing it as a television event. Not only was he transfixing to watch, but sociably, the nicest guy you will ever meet. He would talk with fans and sign autographs for hours. He had great loyalty to the game, and to his “army.” Palmer had the biggest fan base in golf known as “Arnie’s Army.” He was always the person to watch at every tournament. Thousands fans gathered around Palmer. He never had “personal” space, but didn’t want it. He embraced the attention. He had a great career in terms of wins, with 7 major championships, but his impact carried much farther. He was an ambassador of the game, who changed its popularity and perception forever. He was the King for a reason. So many golfers wanted to be like him, including me. Hearing this news sparked tears in my eyes. I wish I could have met him in person just one time. I guarantee I would have had a memorable story.

In 12 hours, I cried, laughed, thought, and cried again. It’s hard to explain the feelings on that Sunday. It was an emotionally draining day. I cried for the role models that lost their lives. I laughed at the behavior of rivals. And I was happy to see great talents make their mark. These are only a few of my memories of that day. And it all happened on the same Sunday. September 25, 2016; “9/25 Day... One heck of a day.”