After the tragedy of September 11, a packed Yankee Stadium became a symbol of patriotism.
1. Sports stand still -- A week without games following the September 11 attacks Full story|
2. Swing king -- San Francisco's Barry Bonds breaks the baseball home run record Full story
3. Second coming -- Michael Jordan returns to the NBA Full story
4. NASCAR in the spotlight -- Car racing endures a season under the microscope Full story
5. Sudden death -- Several football players die during the preseason Full story
6. Four score -- Tiger Woods wins his fourth consecutive major golf tournament Full story
7. Designs on a dynasty -- The Los Angeles Lakers win a second NBA title Full story
8. Trifecta -- America's Lance Armstrong wins a third consecutive Tour de France cycling race Full story
9. Jen again -- Jennifer Capriati wins two Grand Slam events and charges to the top of the women's tennis rankings Full story
10. Fall classic -- The 4-year-old Arizona Diamondbacks topple the New York Yankees in a classic World Series Full story
A sports year like none other
(CNN) -- Sport is always a little self-conscious because it knows that it's really
inconsequential in the overall scheme of things, even though so many people care
about it so much. So after the horrific events of September 11, most of sport
closed down for the week, even as the rest of the entertainment world tried to
When the games did begin again, Americans were able to use sport for what it
does best -- provide us with a healthy escape. But there was one happily
curious reaction, too: Throughout the country, as a way of supporting New York
City in its sadness and travail, all sorts of citizens started rooting for the
Damn Yankees. Even lifelong Red Sox fans started cheering for New York. Oops.
Maybe that made the difference -- the curse transferred -- as the three-time
defending champions lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the last inning of the
seventh game of an absolutely spectacular World Series.
Sport itself had been shocked by the death of one of its most beloved superstars
earlier in the year, when Dale Earnhardt was killed racing on the last lap of
the Daytona 500. There is perhaps no U.S.-born athlete of such stature who died
in the midst of a competition, and the mournful reaction was of such a magnitude
that it served to show many Americans what a powerful cultural institution
NASCAR has become. While Earnhardt's son, Dale Jr., would win the Pepsi 400 in
July at the very track where his father had been killed five months earlier, the
Winston Cup championship again went to Jeff Gordon. By winning his fourth
title, No. 24 underscored the fact that he now stands at the top of the sport
that No. 3 had once ruled with such passion.
Two comebacks, of entirely different natures, also highlighted 2001. Michael
Jordan found he just couldn't stay away -- although after he returned to play
with the worse-than-woebegone Washington Wizards, he must have had second
thoughts. But Jennifer Capriati gave all our hearts a little flutter, when she
capped her long journey back from disillusion and despair and drug use, by
winning two Grand Slam tournaments, the Australian and the French.
The death of popular NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt (in the black car) led to a lengthy investigation of racing safety.
Hail to the repeaters, too. Venus Williams took her second straight
Wimbledon -- and then her second straight U.S. Open. There, she beat her own
sister, Serena, as the women's final made both primetime and the family hour.
And viva Lance Armstrong, who defended his Tour de France crown. And, well, two
cheers for Shaq and Kobe, who put aside their differences again, long enough to
lead the Lakers to a romp in the NBA playoffs.
Raise the Stanley Cup high for Ray Bourque, who went to Colorado to win a
championship, did, and then left the game behind for good. A farewell toast,
too, to Cal Ripken Jr. and to Tony Gwynn and to Mark McGwire, who retired not
long after Barry Bonds broke his home-run record with a bombastic 73 -- more
than enough to give Bonds his fourth National League MVP crown. And look who
pulled down MVP honors in the American League: Ichiro-san, who led the Seattle
Mariners to a perfectly inscrutable regular-season record of 116 wins. Sake for
everyone. And then a round of Slivovice for Goran Ivanisevic, who wild-carded
into Wimbledon, the longest shot ever to win on Centre Court.
It looked as if the Tiger train would never be stopped when Mr. Woods won the
Masters in April. If that didn't make a true calendar Grand Slam, it did leave
him holding all four major titles at once. But the streak stopped there, and
hopes for an actual rivalry in golf were reinstated when The Pretender, David
Duval, finally won his first major at the British Open.
Jennifer Capriati, who was seeded No. 12, became the lowest-seeded player to win a Grand Slam event in the professional era when she upset top-ranked Martina Hingis to win the Australian Open.
Also a first: The Baltimore Ravens somehow managed to win the Super Bowl without
a quarterback. Whatshisname went to Disney World and then found himself on the
street, released. And though it would be a year of red-white-and-blue waving in
the stands, the Ravens started a purple sweep in the big three championships of
football, basketball and baseball. The Lakers and D'backs also dress in shades
of royal purple. But, in the colleges, a rousing cheer for Oklahoma red and Duke
blue -- two perennials blooming again in football and basketball.
And, oh yes, see you in China in 2008. The International Olympic Committee
awarded the 28th Summer Games to Beijing. It was the final act in the too-long
reign of Juan Antonio Samaranch, who passed the torch to Jacques Rogge of
Belgium. It must have been an honest election. After all, the IOC delegates
could have chosen Paris. But first, on to Salt Lake City, where, as 2001 ends,
all corruption charges have been dropped but security has been, alas,
Sports Illustrated senior contributing writer Frank Deford is a regular contributor to CNNSI.com and appears each Wednesday on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. His new novel, The Other Adonis (Sourcebooks Landmark), is available now at bookstores everywhere.
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