Sports are the great diversion, the place where we can get away from our lives and lose ourselves in the improvisational theater before us. But as hard as we might try, we can never get away from 2001.
Every time our purses, coolers and computer bags are checked at the stadium gate, we'll think of 2001.
Every time an American flag or black ribbon is sewn onto a uniform, we'll think of 2001.
Every time the national anthem is sung, we'll think of 2001.
The week of Sept. 11 when sports stood still allowed Americans to take stock in the things we hold dearest. Heroes were redefined. Athletes laid aside greed to help their fellow men. Patriotism reentered our lives. Games became games.
September 11 provided a long lost perspective.
Unfortunately, perspective gets lost in too many corners of the sports world. The perspective of 9-11 didn't even survive the year.
Fans attacked the playing fields with beer bottles and profanity over official's rulings in Cleveland and New Orleans.
The father of a high school kid in California is suing for $1.5 million because his son got demoted to the junior varsity basketball team.
Randy Moss, who publicly poured his heart out after the death of teammate Korey Springer in August, later showed his selfish heart is only in the game when he feels like it.
Where's the sustain?
When we reflect back on the highs and lows of 2001, logic dictates that the lows won out. You can't have a national tragedy and the death of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt in the same calendar year without classifying the outcome as rotten.
But sports, and our spirit for caring about them, are resilient. For every scandal involving overage pitchers tainting the Little League World Series, there is a cancer survivor winning his third straight Tour de France. For every falsified statement that cost George O'Leary his dream job and reputation, there is an everyman like Ralph Friedgen who emerged as a new coaching giant. For every six-point game by Michael Jordan there's a tongue-wagging scoop layup that reminds us of his good ol' days.
So here, with a clear regional bias, is a top-10 list of the best things that happened in 2001 that give sports momentum to move on in 2002:
10 - LSU upset Tennessee in the SEC championship game, not only sparing us from hearing Rocky Top ad nauseum for a full month but further eroding the farce that is the BCS.
9 - Lefty Driesell.
8 - The Georgia Slam - the PGA Championship, U.S. Amateur, Walker Cup and the Masters - making Bobby Jones' home state the center of the golf universe.
7 - Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning the first race at Daytona after his father's death. Kosher or not, it gave NASCAR fans a happier reason to cry.
6 - Though overshadowed by Earnhardt's death the same day, Clemson's beating North Carolina at Littlejohn. Now that UNC has dipped to their level, maybe the Tigers can finally win in Chapel Hill this year.
5 - Silver Bluff extending South Carolina's longest active winning streak to 30 games with consecutive state championships.
4 - David Greene and Verron Haynes hooking up to cap a rally that beat Tennessee in Knoxville and inspired Larry Munson's unforgettable "hob-nail boot" rant.
3 - Evans' own Todd Green ripping a double off Randy Johnson in his first World Series at bat and getting to catch the first pitch from President Bush in Yankee Stadium.
2 - Charles Howell of Augusta earning PGA Tour rookie of the year without a a full-time card, proving that nice guys can finish first and that Tiger Woods better watch his back.
1 - Tiger Woods fulfilling the greatest achievement in sports history by polishing off an unfathomable sweep of all four major championships, outdueling David Duval and Phil Mickelson at Augusta National.
Your list may differ, which is the beauty of sports. But as long as there are enough good things to keep us coming back, we'll all survive 2001 - even if we can never forget it.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219.
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