Everybody loves lists, but sometimes all a list does is start a debate. That’s not a bad thing—debating—but it’s not always a good thing either. Therefore, I’m not numbering my list of the most memorable sports stories of the decade.
To me, each of these five stories was terribly memorable. Some were more emotionally significant to me than others, but all five helped define the decade in sport.
My Five Most Memorable American Sports Stories of the Decade
It wouldn’t be correct to simply categorize the story of Pat Tillman as Pat Tillman’s death, because Tillman had to make a difficult choice before his death on April 22, 2004, in Afghanistan. The former Arizona State football player, who was suiting up for the Arizona Cardinals in 2001, decided to enlist in the Army and end his football career in May of 2002.
By enlisting, Tillman showed Americans what real courage and bravery was. His death, due to friendly fire, also showed the nation how useless and needless war could be.
Superdome Re-Opens for Football
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was different from September 11th in the sense that Americans had nobody to blame but ourselves. We couldn’t look for terrorists hiding in caves to blame. We couldn’t even really blame the Bush Administration, although we tried hard to do so.
The neglect regarding the citizens of New Orleans, mostly poor and black, is what led to the levees failing to keep the waters from the Gulf of Mexico, deluging one of the oldest and most important cities in the United States. That neglect started way before Dubbya took office.
When the New Orleans Saints re-opened the Superdome for football on Sept. 25, 2006, it was a sign that the City of New Orleans and its people wouldn’t just fall into a dark abyss and become forgotten, and that, yes, there was still hope and happiness in the Dirty South.
The Red Sox Break the Curse of the Bambino
When the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920, the Curse of the Bambino was born. For 86 years the proud Boston Red Sox couldn’t win a championship. Previously, in the years up to Ruth’s selling, the Red Sox had won five world championships, including the first one in 1903.
Then, in 2004, trailing the rival New York Yankees 3-0 in the ALCS, the Boston Red Sox found something somewhere to win four games in a row and catapult themselves into the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Red Sox swept the Cardinals in the series to not only break the Curse of the Bambino, but also to begin a new chapter in baseball lore.
Lance Armstrong Wins Six Tour De France championships
Some records will never be broken. One is Lance Armstrong's record in the Tour de France. Armstrong won the world’s most important bicycle race from 1999 to 2005. That’s seven straight championships. He did it after fighting and winning a battle against testicular cancer.
By winning so many Tour de France titles not only did Armstrong go down as history’s greatest bicycler, but also became the most hated American in France. Or so it seems.
How else to explain an Aug. 23, 2005, article in Le Equipe entitled “le mensonge Armstrong”—The Armstrong Lie? No matter. What Armstrong did was amazing, and no testing has proven the allegations of steroid use against him.
Michael Phelps Wins Eight Gold Medals in Swimming
Yes, it was just swimming, but as someone pointed out to me on the eve of Michael Phelps' eighth gold medal victory, “Just swimming, yes, but practically every nation on this planet has swimmers.”
That’s true, which is why Phelps dominating the way he did in the 2008 Olympics in this age where the best training methods and medicines are available to more than just Americans, was absolutely incredible.
With the nation involved in two wars, neither of which appeared to be going anywhere, and the economy slowly moving into a recession, Phelps carried the red, white, and blue and gave us Americans back some respect.