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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 carry on.

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, heightened.

Sports Illustrated senior contributing writer Frank Deford is a regular contributor to 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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