PHOTO CAPTION: Mark McGwire was among the athletes who announced his retirement in 2001.
By ROY BELLAMY
We've seen spills, thrills, and chills. We've seen major moments which changed the facet of sports. We've seen a country stagger but get back up and build some more. A year where one word can make the public stand up and actually know what the hell you're talking about. Bonds, Ichiro, Bourque, Lemeiux, Jordan ... Osama. Memories became reality, reality became ridiculous, and the ridiculous became repugnantly true ...
... The XFL? One game wonder, baby! Where in the Constitution does it say you can't build a sorry-ass football league where you have washed-up and unknown football players play for one year for a cool million dollars? The local alley dog could have played in that league, and would have been better than half that league. Does anyone know what Vince McMahon was trying to pull? The very fact that he thought he could compete with the National Football League is ... downright cocky.
The NHL: the lowest ratings, the most fights ... duh. The NHL got lifted with the return of Mario Lemieux. Mario had a great year, got the Penguins in the playoffs and everything, but couldn't beat New Jersey. It was all about Ray Bourque; after 20-plus years with Boston, he goes to Colorado and ... "Mission: Completed." This year however, we've seen major players switch teams. "That Icky, Sissy Pissy Boy" Brett Hull, as one person put it, landed in Detroit along with Dominik Hasek; Jaromir Jagr went to Washington; Pierre Turgeon went to Dallas, etc. As an experienced hockey fan, I say that the current season has started out slow. Go Panthers. Mike Keenan, I know you hate him, but give the man a chance. I get to say this 'cause he's coaching my team now.
The NFL, who won "Survivor" with the extinct XFL, probably had the best season since their 75th "throwback" year. America rallied around the sport of football in its time of need. What I loved most about the current season are those NFL/United Way commercials, pretty damn funny. Teams that are supposed to lose ... are winning. The Browns, Steelers, and Bears, oh my! Deion Sanders found his inner peace ... and found that he couldn't play baseball or football, and was reduced to ...THE NFL TODAY!?
Fans throwing bottles on the field twice in the same week in different stadiums. Once again, the Super Bowl has been a blowout. They had some good commercials though. And for the first time, the Super Bowl will be played in February. Go Dolphins.
I won't even get into the NBA. The Lakers had the trophy since day 2. The Sixers gave a good effort though, but went out like Barkley. As a Heat fan, end the misery.
Major League Soccer ... sucks! Why do what Major League Baseball is doing and contract two teams, when the MLS will go out of business anyway? And why did it have to be the Miami Fusion, who made their stinking playoffs?
Major League Baseball. Baseball has been the most influential sport this year for obvious reasons. The best World Series, possibly ever, but definitely since 1997 when the Marlins won. The Diamondbacks did the same thing the Marlins did, win as the NL's representative on their final at-bat, off bloopers, with Craig Counsell on their team.
Coincidence? Possibly. Oh yeah, Barry Bonds hits 73. The most doubtful minds pegged Barry as a failure, someone who wouldn't come through in the clutch. Seeing the Giants weren't heading to the playoffs anyway, what the hell, break the home run record, I got nothing to do.
Farewell to Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken Jr., and Mark McGwire. Over 60 years of combined service, all have touched us in a different way. Tony, the best smile in baseball, and in his career, the best contact hitter in baseball. Cal, just played, a lot. Ironman broke the Iron Horse's record of consecutive games played. Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken are the luckiest men on the face of the earth. Mark McGwire, who won a championship with Oakland, ended up a St. Lounatic and broke Roger Maris' home run record. Baseball remains the pillar of the American dream. Go Marlins.
Since September 11, there has been more to life than sports for the average sports fan. I'm not talking about bills either. But once everyone started playing again, the average sports fan has been more involved in sports. The country got socked in the gut like the dude who got shot with a cannonball. But we got up, and we're pissed off.
Apparently so were the athletes, 'cause those who were half stepping went full throttle. Example, the first Mets home game back, the national anthem, which has been taken for granted since World War II, took full prominence. Sung with a full voice by Diana Ross. The seventh-inning stretch went from "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" in that game, to "New York, New York." Sung with a full body by Liza Minelli. Game-winning home run, hit with the powerful swing of Mike Piazza. This against the hated Braves.
The seventh-inning stretch this year had the song "God Bless America." The World Series had added emphasis as, once again, the Yankees won the ALCS. The Yankees did not have their way. Twists and turns, in a very exciting Series. Personally, I think the President had a good changeup.
Example, during the preseason NY Rangers-Philadelphia game. There were six fights in this game. But play was stopped for the President's Address. The game ended at that point, handshakes at center ice. The NFL came back to the delight of fans everywhere. It was like a party as fans were celebrating. In Miami, the fans sang along to the national anthem. Everyone, in unison, I mean you could actually understand the words that came out of their mouth.
Sports will never be the same after 2001. This was the year where a nation pulled together and rallied around sports. This was the year no one will forget, even if they tried, they're going to find it hard.
Reflect upon how the year has affected you as a person, as a patriot, as a sports fan, as a parent, brother, sister, son, or daughter.