Bourque didn't need much. He had a family, money, and a solid gold hall-of-fame career. But the one thing he still needed was a skate around the rink. This skate, which finally took place in 2001 with the Colorado Avalanche, was different from the millions of other he'd taken since he first stepped on the ice nearly 40 years ago. During this skate, Bourque didn't carry a hockey stick he carried the Stanley Cup. And when he lifted the Cup for the first time, he lifted the hearts of true hockey fans everywhere. Now Bourque didn't need a thing. And to prove it, he retired.
The numbers speak for themselves—a league-leading .350 batting average, 242 hits, 56 stolen bases, 127 runs scored. And that's as a rookie! As he had in Japan, Ichiro Suzuki became an overnight sensation in Seattle in 2001 and led the Mariners to a record-tying 116 regular season wins. He was an obvious choice for A.L. Rookie of the Year (and should have been a unanimous choice) and became the first rookie since Boston's Fred Lynn in 1975 to win a league MVP award. Domo arigato Ichiro.
It's been a long 11 years since this teenage tennis phenom became the youngest woman ever to earn a top-ten ranking. Capriati, who was the most successful 14-year-old to play the game but was all but forgotten three years ago, won the first two Grand Slam titles of her career and by the end of the year had secured a three-week reign as the world's #1 ranked player. The best news for her is that at age 24 she still has plenty of great tennis ahead of her.
Some people will never like Barry Bonds. And that's just fine with him. Bonds certainly doesn't need our love, but he'd really prefer to not have our hate. In 2001 Bonds had what many are calling the best offensive season ever. With the spotlight firmly on him, he broke Mark McGwire's single-season home run record of 70 and kept right on going. And like Hank Aaron did decades earlier, Bonds prevailed amidst a scary amount of hate mail and death threats.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.
After his dad was killed in a last-lap crash at the 2001 Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. did what his father would have wanted him to do. He got right back into his car. It was obvious that nothing would ever be the same, but the 26-year-old had to move on. Four months later the NASCAR circuit returned to Daytona for the first time since the tragedy. With Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip watching his back in second place, Earnhardt Jr.'s #8 car powered across the finish line for his third career Winston Cup victory. "Y'all know who that's for, guys," he said after the race. Dad would approve.
All in all, the 2000-01 NFL season was rather disappointing for the St. Louis Rams. The defending Super Bowl champs lost the division title to the upstart New Orleans Saints, and were then ousted from the NFC playoffs by those same Saints. But for star running back Marshall Faulk, the season was record-breaking. Faulk, the league MVP and main cog in the Rams' high-powered offense, scored an NFL-record 26 touchdowns, breaking Emmitt Smith's previous mark of 25. Now consider that an injury forced him to miss two full games!
CURT SCHILLING & RANDY JOHNSON
It took a two-headed monster to finally slay those Yankees. After two dominating wins by Arizona pitchers Schilling and Johnson, the Yankees looked beat. But three straight wins in New York meant that a return to Arizona and a meeting with the two-headed monster were the only things that stood between the Yankees and their 27th world championship. But the Diamondbacks' monstrous 1-2 punch shut them down and the franchise was rewarded with its first world title.
The Bronx, N.Y., pitcher made a name for himself by pitching the first perfect game in the Little League World Series since 1957. His mastery on the mound was quickly replaced, however, by the details of a devious age-shaving scandal. Move over Rosie Ruiz, the poster child for cheating in sports goes by a new name.
A superstar college basketball star opting not to cash in on NBA riches and, instead, stay for his senior year has gone the way of low-top sneakers and tight basketball shorts. Battier was a hard-working student of the game who became the leader of the Duke Blue Devils. His reward for all that work? A national championship.
Armstrong continues to amaze. His first victory in the Tour de France after battling for his life against cancer was inspirational. But afterward they said he hadn't faced the world's best. His second victory seemed too easy. Afterward they said he was probably on performance-enhancing drugs. His third victory left them searching for words. Afterward they were speechless.