“One Shining Moment” is not a great song, but you know that already. It’s not required to be a great song, or even a good song. Technically it’s not even required to be a song at all — the people who wrote it (a guy in a bar) and recorded it (according to canon, only Luther Vandross) needed only to lay out some sweet velvet sheets for some hardcore montage-ing. It’s ambient lighting, blithely stirring background sounds by which to recap the passingly important memories you and your TV made in the past three weeks. It’s “arguably the most famous song in sports,” according to the Wall Street Journal (betraying its anti-“Super Bowl Shuffle” bias AGAIN). But it’s also pretty much “The Touch,” a preservative-stuffed platter of Max Headroom-era cheese, and about 85% of its value derives from the fact that it reminds people of the late ‘80s, which is the sole reason anything gets made anymore anyway.
That said, can we all resolve to try real hard not to kill it?
We have plenty of time to avoid this likely inevitability. Fans of pop-basketball history, get ready for some READING: “One Shining Moment” celebrated its 30th birthday in last year’s tournament, having premiered in 1987 after Indiana’s win over Syracuse (known to us here in Indiana as The Most Recent Actually Positive Memory We Have of Pathetically Overvalued Outdoor Trash Bag Bob Knight). The song’s writer, David Barrett, reports on his website that he composed it on two napkins (which is more or less how Harry Potter happened) to impress a waitress (which is not how Harry Potter happened). Initially, the song was slated to be used after the Super Bowl, but the postgame show ran long and the bit was scrapped. To recap: If some guys commentated on football less in 1987, there would be five Tom Brady versions of “One Shining Moment.” That’s one point for a Good and Just Universe, anyway.
Barrett sang the song from 1987-1993, Teddy Pendergrass took it from 1994-1999 and Barrett returned from 2000-2003 after beating Pendergrass in three rounds of hand-to-hand combat (note: this is an outright lie, but really, how does a renowned R&B singer lose out to a guy you don’t know?). But the version you’re thinking of belongs to Luther Vandross, who in 2003 laid down his definitive take, said to be the last track he ever recorded before his 2005 death. It’s the one shining moment of “One Shining Moment,” so let’s leave it at that. (Jennifer Hudson’s 2010 version, which honored the athletes by repeatedly showing Jennifer Hudson in a studio, has been stricken from the record, and Ne-Yo’s was tailored to specific teams and also by Ne-Yo so nobody cared.)
So, mathly speaking, that’s three singers in 30 years, which, given the hideous insanity with which we churn out things, is ASTONISHING. In the same amount of time there have been five Batmans, so many Supermans and Spider-Men that I had to Google the blander ones (Brandon Roush? Sure whatever) and 38 Donald Trump chiefs of staff. “One Shining Moment” has yet to be subjected to a Disney Channel cover or a Kidz Bop version or a garbage DJ Khaled remix or a prequel or a politically-charged rewrite, which seems actually impossible. It’s been … reasonably … stable?
Obviously, this cannot last. “Moment” is the IP of an organization that sues high schools for the use of the actual non-physical words “March Madness” (pays $39.45 words-using royalties to the NCAA), people who collectively were like MY HEAVENS GASP NO LOUISVILLE/PENN STATE/EVERYONE ELSE, HOW COULD YOU we had no idea, how could we be expected to know everything that goes on in the sports we manage? The song already came up in a custody battle between CBS and TBS; executives had to assure everyone to not worry, “One Shining Moment” would still visit on weekends and every other Wednesday. They even let Barkley make fun of it, to predictable dumb results. But otherwise, it’s been pretty solid, which is why we should come to an agreement to let it go.
This will be easier than you think. It’s not a Lin-Manuel Miranda melody. The napkin-lyrics are hardly poetic. And the sounds couldn’t be more dated if you high-speed dubbed them onto a Maxell cassette. Yes, it is a phenomenally effective and culturally ingrained shortcut for the idea of shared human drama, and if there’s any way we could leave it right there we’d be fine. But there’s probably not. How great would it be if we let this one thing go before its expiration date, before someone truly made us all hate it. Let’s see if we can maybe not ruin this one thing. I’ve even got a replacement lined up.