A TRAGIC FINAL LAP
NASCAR's Winston Cup series didn't just lose a seven-time champion when Dale Earnhardt, 49, died in a last-lap crash at the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18—auto racing lost its heart and soul. That's no exaggeration. The outpouring of emotion that followed Earnhardt's tragic death spanned two generations of families, struggling to comprehend life without Big E. Earnhardt's death also changed NASCAR forever by convincing organizers that head-and-neck restraint systems should be mandatory for drivers.
RAY BOURQUE HOISTS LORD STANLEY
After 22 seasons and an NHL-record 21 playoff appearances, Ray Bourque finally put the exclamation point on his hall-of-fame career. After Colorado's 3-1 win over New Jersey in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, all eyes were on Bourque as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman handed the Stanley Cup to Avalanche captain Joe Sakic. When Sakic received it, instead of the traditional captain's first skate around the rink with the Cup, the classy Sakic handed it immediately to Bourque. He raised it overhead, kissed it, and took a lap with his teammates trailing behind. Tears flowed from Colorado to Boston to his hometown of Montreal. It was the perfect ending to a perfect career.
All year long, he said the record didn't matter. He said it when he hit #39 before the all-star break. And again when he hit #50, #60, and #70. But when Barry Bonds smacked a Chan Ho Park fastball into the right field bleachers of Pac Bell Park for #71, the jubilation he showed and the flood of emotions he felt proved to everyone that it did matter. The record stood at 71 for all of an hour, as Bonds launched #72 two innings later. It was a bittersweet night for Bonds, as the Giants' 11-10 loss to the Dodgers knocked them from playoff contention, but it's one night he won't soon forget.
WORLD SERIES GAMES 4 & 5
Here we've combined two almost identical moments into one. On consecutive nights in October, a pair of battle-worn N.Y. Yankees veterans named Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius each hit game-tying, two-run home runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a World Series game. The Yankees won both games in extra innings. How unlikely? How impossible? Consider that of the almost 600 World Series games played since 1903, only one player had ever hit a two-run, two-out home run to save his team (Tom Tresh of the 1964 N.Y. Yankees). These two Yankees did it on back-to-back nights in the Bronx this year.
His playing career ended better than even he might have hoped. After sinking his final shot to earn his team a sixth NBA championship, Michael Jordan walked off the court as a player and moved into the next phase of his amazing career-executive. But the battles of the boardroom didn't give him the same rush that his on-court duels did. The official announcement of his long-rumored return came via fax on Sept. 25. And despite questions about his motives for returning to the game at age 38, Jordan was home again.
A WILD (CARD) WIMBLEDON FINAL
Rain forced the men's singles final to be postponed from Sunday to Monday. So instead of the usual club members watching the final, thousands of Croatian and Australian tennis fans camped overnight for tickets to the Centre Court match-up between Goran Ivanisevic and Patrick Rafter. The raucous crowd helped make Ivanisevic's amazing five-set victory more memorable. Ivanisevic, who had not won a tournament all year and had reached the Wimbledon finals three times previous, was a ranked as a wild card before the tournament began. He used his blistering serve to fight off Rafter and claim his first Wimbledon title.
UPSET IN THE JUNGLE
Hasim Rahman, a heavyweight who was once knocked out of the ring by unknown Oleg Maskaev, was not viewed a credible threat by champion Lennox Lewis. Rahman, a shopworn fighter from Baltimore, made the most of his big shot. His short and sharp right hand found its way to the champion's historically suspect chin. The chin found its way to the mat—along with the rest of Lewis' body—and he didn't get up until it was too late. Rahman pulled the upset of the year on April 22, and he was the new heavyweight champion of the world.
WORLD SERIES GAME 7
It was the match-up everyone wanted: Curt Schilling, the Arizona workhorse, pitching on three days rest for the second time during the series, against his idol, Roger Clemens, the future hall-of-famer and the man Schilling credits with saving his career. It was the first match-up of 20-game winners in a World Series Game 7 since 1985 when John Tudor (St. Louis) faced Bret Saberhagen (Kansas City). And it didn't disappoint. The two battled into the seventh inning, tied 1-1, and finally rookie Alfonso Soriano's solo blast off Schilling in the eighth gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead. If the Diamondbacks were to win, it would have to be off Yankees ace closer Mariano Rivera, a daunting task indeed. But after two hits, an error, and a hit batter, Arizona had tied the score. And when slugger Luis Gonzalez blooped a single to left-centerfield, the Diamondbacks had won the best game of one of the best World Series in baseball history.
KING LANCE III
After the beginning stages of this year's race, it looked like his run might be over. Even if it was, he would still be one of the greatest sports stories in history. But cyclist Lance Armstrong was far from done. The 2001 Tour de France was entering the mountains and Armstrong was entering his area of expertise. His man rival, Jan Ullrich, might have thought that he had Armstrong beat this year. After all, Armstrong was behind the pack and looking winded. Ullrich must have done a double take when Armstrong stood up in his bike's pedals and powered his way up L'Alpe d'Huez on his way to the yellow jersey and his third straight Tour de France title.
On the final day of the 2001 Masters, Tiger Woods ditched his two biggest rivals, David Duval and Phil Mickelson, on the par-3 16th, methodically parred 17 and calmly sank an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole to ensure his sixth major title. In doing so, the 25-year-old phenom became the first golfer in the history of the sport to hold titles of all four majors (Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, PGA Championship) at the same time. His four titles came in a span of 294 days, but because they didn't occur in the same calendar year, his accomplishment can not be considered an official Grand Slam. But who cares?