While I was bored sitting around in my hotel room in Birmingham, Alabama in advance of the PapaJohns.com Bowl between South Carolina and Connecticut, I was trying to figure out something interesting to write about.
After some inspiration from a segment I saw on a remotely popular sports show, I came up with the idea of a story about the top 5 stories that changed sports in this decade.
So here it is, the presumably last entry in my top 5 stories, the top 5 stories that changed the world of sports as we know it in the 2000s.
#5 – Dale Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500; February 18th, 2001.
Sports heroes are not supposed to be killed suddenly in a sport they love. However, it does happen. On Sunday, February 18th, 2001, on the final lap in NASCAR’s season-opener, the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt slammed the outside retaining wall in turn 4. As the field passed by, Earnhardt’s car slid to the infield, as the car he owned driven by Michael Waltrip won the Daytona 500. Rescue workers rushed to Earnhardt’s car, where he was airlifted to a local hospital, and later pronounced dead.
Sometimes it takes tragedy to find a fault in a sport. Following the incident, NASCAR took many steps to ensure driver safety. They began the mandated use of the HANS device, a head-and-neck restraint system. Just recently, the new Car of Tomorrow was introduced to make the car safer.
Unfortunately, it often takes tragedy to show that change is necessary.
#4 – 2008 Summer Olympics – Michael Phelps triumph in Beijing.
The main story entering the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing was Michael Phelps trying for eight gold medals in swimming competition. Phelps won all eight competitions he was entered in, including the closest finish in Olympic history. For one of the first times in a while, the United States had someone to full out support in the celebrated games.
Phelps rose to glory as he won each gold medal, including winning by 1/100th of a second over Milorad Cavic in the 100 meter butterfly. Phelps would go onto to easily claim his eighth medal, passing Mark Spitz record.
Phelps became the poster boy for everything there was to be positive about Olympic competitions, something that was stuggling popularity in the United States. However, his ability to ‘survive’ the pressure came to the front page of newspapers as the photo of him allegedly inhaling into a bong at the University of South Carolina was released.
#3 – Super Bowl XXXVI; St. Louis Rams vs. New England Patriots; February 3rd, 2002.
In a time when the definition of hero was being fixed, the underdog becoming the favorite, and everyone joining together, it was the best time for a new team to jump into the fray in the NFL. Enter the New England Patriots, coached by Bill Belichick, who mostly had been a .500 coach in his career, and Tom Brady, a young quarterback who no one had heard of until the franchise’s long-time quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, suffered a major injury. Oh by the way, they were 14 point underdogs to the mighty Rams. What does that recipe create? A dynasty.
The St. Louis Rams were well on their way to a second Super Bowl, when the Patriots went against the game’s tradition, and chose to be introduced as a team. This was unheard of, as players used this opportunity to realize a dream. The Patriots were not interested in just playing by the rules. They were the new team on the block, and it worked.
So what has it lead to, three Super Bowl titles, becoming the team of the decade, and at the same time becoming the most hated team in football. My opinion, this Belichick coached Patriots’ team with Tom Brady’s impeccable leadership abilities is one of the best teams to ever step on a football field.
#2 – Barry Bonds Breaks the Home Run Record
Hank Aaron set what many thought to be a unbreakable record, hitting 755 home runs in his career. That career mark is something Aaron was very proud of.
Barry Bonds was a great doubles hitter his entire career. Early on in his career, he would easily hit .300, 30 home runs, and 100 runs batted in. He had spent his career with both the Pittsburgh Pirates and the San Francisco Giants.
However, in 2001, Bonds’ body morphed into that of a power hitter. He hit 73 home runs, the most by any player in a single season, and by far the most in his career. Quickly came the questions of his steroid use. Vehemently denying any use of performance-enhancing drugs, Bonds quickly began to close in on Aaron’s record. On August 7, 2007, Bonds broke Aaron’s home-run record.
Aaron did congratulate Bonds’ in a pre-taped video that played over the videoboard, but it was known that Aaron did not support Bonds’ feat due to the alleged steroid use.
Bonds in the end will go down as a player who may have used performance-enhancing drugs to set all of the records he did. My argument always is, steroids do not help you hit the ball, that is a natural ability. Steroids only help you hit the ball farther.
#1 – The Attacks of September 11th, 2001
This is probably the number one story of the decade, not just for sports, but for the entire world. For the first time in about ten years, the United States was on the wrong side of an attack. We were not the aggressor in a violent situation.
Weather often postpones or prohibits a game in many sports, but never had their been a situation where every sport in America was shut down for about an entire week. There was no baseball, no weekend football games, no NASCAR races. This was a time when people needed to reorganize their priorities.
As the country tried to pick up the pieces following a challenge to the fundamental rights of freedom in this country, as well as getting the trust back that it is safe to go out, the time seemed right for the athletes to return to the playing field.
After a brief layoff, the sports world returned. Each and every stadium had ceremonies honoring and remembering the events that occured on that Tuesday. The touching part is that to see athletes that we often see as objects of entertainment, were now people again too. Athletes losing control of emotions during these ceremonies, that were unseen in sports.
But what did these events do, it brought the American people back together, sometimes through sports. After 9/11, one of the greatest Super Bowls were played and the most entertaining World Series in recent memory was played.
No doubt that the events of 9/11, while it was brief, brought a feeling, an emotional attachment to them that had not been seen in some time.
It was a great decade for sports, and hopefully in the 2010s, more great moments that capture the sports world will continue to wow us for the next ten years.
Happy New Year Everybody!!!