This is why we watch
February 5, 2008
Ever since I was a kid I have been drawn to the world of athletics. The pageantry, passion, competition, and the way one second of greatness or one play can immortalize a man or a woman into the gallows of sports legend.
I believe this is why we watch year in and year out. It's why we raise our children to be fans of one team as if it were a genetic trait passed through generations of ancestors. Whether you follow pro ball or college, or if you spend your Friday nights picking bubble gum off your shoes from the old rusted bleachers of a local high school, our love of the game is what separates America from the rest of the world. This would be no different for 2007, as it was probably one of the most memorable years in sports. It was a year that gave fans, new and old, plenty of things to talk about around the water cooler every week.
Though shrouded in controversy at times, I think future generations will look back on 2007 as a milestone in sports history.
The year started out in perfect fashion for Peyton Manning, Tony Dungy and the Indianapolis Colts, as the Colts would win their first NFL Championship since moving from Baltimore in 1983. For me this was definitely one of the biggest stories in 2007 and something I will always remember. To see two scholars and gentlemen of the game win their first championship together on the same field was truly inspiring. I was excited for Peyton Manning as he finally answered the question that had hung over his career since college: could he win the big game' It was a season of destiny for Dungy, his Colts and the NFL, as Dungy would become the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl title.
As winter ended and spring began, all the talk and attention was on Barry Bonds and his pursuit of major league immortality (as if Balco hadn't already immortalized him). 'Hammerin' Hank Aaron's home run record had stood since 1976, but he would step a rung down the ladder Aug. 7, 2007. Bonds would send a 435-foot blast to the deepest part of the park and enshrine his name--whether tainted or legitimate--into the record books.
Regardless of how you feel about Bonds, we all must admit what he did was one heck of an accomplishment. However, for me it wasn't the best thing I saw in MLB action last year. I'll have to give that honor to the Boston Red Sox 23-year-old right hander Clay Buchholz. In only his second major league start he threw a no-hitter and later took a job in the bull pen during the playoffs to help Boston win its second World Championship in three years. A performance like that is what sandlot dreams are made of. Buchholz can never throw another pitch in Major League Baseball and forever be enshrined in the hearts of fans for decades to come.
If you're like me, football and baseball has taken a front seat to basketball since the Bull's dynasty ended their run at the turn of the century. For me it had a lot to do with the players like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, John Paxon, Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, just to name a few. I never thought I would find another NBA star who would or could hold my attention like the stars of my childhood and adolescent years.
Then in June during the NBA Playoffs, there he was, Lebron James, "The King." James, without a doubt earned his throne during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons. Lebron would lead the Cleveland Cavaliers with 48 points, scoring 29 of the Cavaliers' last 30 points and 25 straight through two overtimes. His performance was, in a word, "Jordan-esque." He is on his way to being one of the greatest of all time, and single handedly responsible for me watching the NBA once again.
Everyone who knows me -- or at least has ever had a conversation with me -- knows my love for college football; it is the greatest sport of our time. So of course I wasn't going to let you leave without sharing my favorite moment from this past year in NCAA action.
It is almost hard to narrow down the choice. I mean so many great things happened during the season. There were huge upsets, from Appalachian State beating No. 5 Michigan in "The Big House" opening weekend or Stanford upsetting USC at the Rose Bowl. There were emotional moments as well, like the very first home game for the Virginia Tech Hokies after the shooting that took place on the VT campus. There were individual milestones as the Florida Gators' Tim Tebo would become the first sophomore in NCAA history to win the Heisman Trophy. Even as great as all these moments were, nothing touched my sports soul or commanded my attention like the season the Indiana Hoosiers had.
Terry Hoeppner was the Hoosiers' head coach from 2005 to 2006 and breathed new life into a struggling football program. During his first season with the Hoosiers, Hoeppner was diagnosed with brain cancer, but stayed on the sideline until the end of the 2006 season when he would start to lose his battle with this terrible disease. On June 19, shortly after announcing he would go on medical leave for the 2007 season, Coach Hoeppner died of brain cancer. Carrying on his legacy, interim head coach Bill Lynch and the 2007 Hoosier players would dedicate their performance that season to the memory of coach Hoeppner.
The Hoosiers would go on to a 7-5 record, ending their regular season with a win over in-state rival, Purdue University 27-24. The Hoosiers would also play in their first bowl game since 1993, all in the memory of a man who resurrected a failing program and gave a team of kids something to play for. Even though Indiana would go on to lose to Oklahoma State in the Insight Bowl, the images of coach Hoeppner's wife on the sidelines of the final regular season game against Purdue, pointing toward the heavens in absolute joy as her husband's Hoosiers did what no one thought they could was unforgettable. That, to me, transcended the absolute meaning of sports: "inspiration."
Whether you agree with these moments or you don't, it really doesn't matter-- that's the beauty of competition in the name of sports. Maybe you thought Brett Favre and his record-breaking season was the biggest story. Maybe the University of Florida being the first team to become National Champions in two major sports in the same year was the biggest story. It all boils down to what you get from living and breathing sports.
What will happen this year' Who will be forever enshrined into the folklore of sports' Who will win the Super Bowl, the World Series, and The Stanley Cup' These questions I can't answer, so the best solution is to make yourself comfortable and get ready for 2008. With sports you never know what's going to happen, and you definitely don't want to miss the events leading up to that next pivotal moment in sports history.