It may have been the most dramatic moment ever in the history of sports...
After it happened I just stared at the screen. My emotions were stuck somewhere between shock, disappointment and sheer amazement. The combination of the three emotions resulted in a sort of apathetic numbness, I didn't know whether to keep watching or turn off the TV. I don't remember the final minutes of injury time, I'm sure they happened, but I don't have any memory of them. I remember the ball hitting the back of the net to put City up 3 to 2, then next thing I know the pitch is filled with Manchester City fans crying tears of celebration.
What had happened was far too dramatic to have been real, right? There has never been a movie made about sports that has dared to script such a dramatic finish. Why hasn't there been? Because it would be too unbelievable for the audience to accept. No episode of Friday Night Lights, neither The Natural or Any Given Sunday, not even the third installment of Major League dared to create something so unrealistic, something that just couldn't actually happen. But on May 13, 2012, in real life, it did.
When the day started all Manchester City needed to do was beat lowly QPR on their home pitch to clinch the title. Man City only gave away two points at home all season and now they were playing one of the worst teams in the top division, victory was all but assured. Not only would Manchester United need a miracle to overtake Man City, they would need a miracle and a victory over Sunderland. Beating Sunderland isn't too much of an obstacle, but miracles tend to be pretty rare.
Even though QPR would be fighting hard to avoid relegation they still had one very substantial thing working against them: Their players are significantly worse than Manchester City's players at playing soccer.
Hope is not a feeling I had early Sunday morning, we have no chance.
I would like to share with you the emotional roller-coaster I, a loyal Manchester United supporter, went through during the last day of the 2011/12 season.
I put on the Manchester City game and watch the Manchester United game in the small box of the picture-in-picture function on my TV, I decide to rotate which games are on the bigger portion of the screen.
Rooney Scores! Hope sneaks his foot in the door, but gets no further.
Who is Zabaleta and why has he done this to me? Man City barely puts one across the goal line but now lead QPR by 1. I shove Hope's foot out the door and chase him off my lawn.
A magical man in a blond Mohawk and QPR jersey somehow gets the ball in a good area and fires one past the keeper. It was around this time that I remembered something about soccer: Even the worst of teams can eke out a draw or even a victory if the ball just bounces their way on one or two lucky occasions. I ran to my front door and opened it wide. I put on another pot of coffee for the guest I had just invited into my living room: Hope.
Joey Barton did something every Manchester United supporter (and some Man City supporters) have dreamt of doing: He elbowed Carlos Tevez in the head. Barton was sent off with a red card leaving QPR to fend off powerful Man City with just 10 men. Just for good measure he decided to knee Sergio Aguero on his way out, possibly figuring if he's going to get kicked out he might as well get his money's worth.
Down to 10 men there is no way that QPR can defend against Man City for 35 more minutes. I get up and give an exaggerated stretch and yawn to let Hope know that I'm getting a little tired and maybe it would be rude of him to stay much longer. In response Hope doesn't quite leave, but he does start to gather his belongings and puts his jacket on.
Jamie Mackie somehow heads the ball into the back of the Man City goal. Could a miracle really happen? All that needs to happen now is that QPR manages to stop Man City from scoring twice in the next 25 minutes and Man United holds on to their one goal lead on Sunderland. Hope is gone, I kicked him out and invited over a friend I hadn't seen in weeks: Belief. We're going to win this thing!
Manchester United fans are singing and celebrating. The commentator ominously suggests it might be too early for them to be doing so.
An announcement is made by the commentators of the Manchester United game that Man City has scored to tie it at 2. The Manchester United game ends with the good guys winning but there is still a couple minutes left in the Man City game. I flip back to the Man City game.
After conceding the goal QPR gets the ball at midfield and boots it down field for Man City to bring back to their end. I start to get this familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach. It was the same feeling I got just before Dominik Hašek stopped Brendan Shanahan in a shootout to eliminate Team Canada from the 1998 Olympics, the same feeling I have before the start of every Toronto F.C season, and it was even the same feeling I had before I watched the final episode of The Sopranos. It is the feeling of impending disappointment.
It's easy to say you knew something was going to happen after the fact, but when Man City brought the ball up the pitch in injury time of a 2-2 game I knew exactly what was going to happen.
When Aguero's shot hit the back of the net my feet lifted off the floor and I drifted away from reality. I floated through a parallel dimension that consists only of my prior sports related failures and disappointments. As hoards of jubilant Man City supporters rushed the field I re-lived prior experiences like when Chris Bosh signed with the Miami Heat, the cancelling of the 2004 NHL season, or when Ticketmaster revealed to me that there were no tickets to UFC 129 that cost less than $200. It would be hours until I would come back to this world.
This might sound odd coming from a diehard Man U supporter, but I'm not that sad.
Manchester United has won the league title in four of the last six years. If you win every year it stops being a cause to celebrate, stops giving you something to strive for. This defeat gives every Man U supporter across the globe a reason to want to win the title next year more than ever.
A new season is only three months away.