Top 10 Sports Moments of 2008
#10 - Pacquiao Pounds De La Hoya (12/6/08)
By no means was this the best fight of 2008 -- not even close. In fact, it wasn't even really a fight so much as a beat down by Pacquiao. Why, then, does it make my list? How about the fact that it likely ended the career of the most marketable fighter boxing has ever seen. Or the surprising dominance of Pacquiao, who was supposed to be the weaker fighter due to his naturally smaller size. Or the fact that it cemented Pacquaio's place as the best active pound-for-pound fighter in the business. All of these reasons factored into my decision to include this fight on the list, but the thing that sealed the deal is that this fight opened the door for the possible return of Floyd Mayweather, Jr., who would like to test Pacquiao's claim to that pound-for-pound crown.
#9 - Davidson's March Madness Run (3/20 - 3/30/08)
It's not unprecedented for a small school to make a big run in the NCAA Tournament, but the 10th seeded Davidson Wildcats, led by Guard Stephen Curry, didn't just make a run -- they nearly knocked off the eventual champions in the Elite Eight. Davidson took out Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin on the way to facing Kansas in the Midwest Regional Final, and ended up losing by a slim 59-57 margin. That was enough to get Davidson in my top 10 -- but to be fair, I should split the #9 spot and give the National Championship game some credit as well. Kansas ended up taking out Memphis in overtime after trailing by 9 points with just 2:12 left to go. The finish of regulation was remarkable, with Memphis choking by missing four of five free throws to end regulation. I'm giving Davidson the headline, but really this spot belongs equally to that great championship game.
#8 - The 50th Daytona 500 (2/17/08)
The finish of the Daytona 500 is always pretty interesting, but this year's Daytona 500 probably wouldn't have made my list if it hadn't been the 50th running of the sport's biggest race. Ryan Newman ended up getting the win with an assist from teammate Kurt Busch, giving team owner Roger Penske his long sought first restrictor plate victory. The fact that the "new car" (a.k.a. the Car of Tomorrow) made its Daytona debut in this race also spiced things up somewhat. Really, though, it's the nostalgia involved with a major anniversary that gets this year's relatively pedestrian running of the race on my Top 10 list.
#7 - Celtics win the NBA Championship (6/17/08)
The Finals matchup between the Celtics and Lakers was a dream come true for the NBA, but notice that I didn't put the series itself on the list -- this spot goes exclusively to the Celtics for winning the banner. I didn't start to pay attention to the NBA until after the Celtics were already in a serious decline from the championship era, and before last summer the team hadn't hoisted a trophy since 1986, and hadn't won a conference crown since 1987. The extreme makeover that brought Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in to join Paul Pierce made Danny Ainge look like a genius (and Kevin McHale look very, very bad). It was a notable return to form for the Yankees of the NBA (17 championships -- wow).
#6 - Jimmie Johnson/Lewis Hamilton Championships
I'm cheating by putting both racers togethers in one slot, but I couldn't pick which one I preferred. Johnson made history by doing the unthinkable and winning his third straight NASCAR championship, something that seemed unthinkable in the modern era with so many competitive teams. Hamilton, on the other hand, won his first Formula 1 Championship in just his second year in the sport, becoming the youngest driver to pull that off. Hamilton narrowly pulled off the win over Ferrari's Felipe Massa in the championship, winning by just one point after a last lap pass netted him a fifth place finish in the Brazilian Grand Prix. The motorsports world might look very different in 2009, but 2008 brought two brilliant and historic championship runs.
#5 - Rays win the Pennant (10/19/08)
The World Series proved to be a bit of a dud, but the Rays 4-3 series victory over the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS was anything but. After narrowly losing the first game of the series, Tampa Bay clobbered Red Sox pitching in Games 2-4, scoring 9, 9, and 13 runs respectively in those games. That was enough to give the Rays a 3-1 series lead and seemed to indicate that the Rays had figured out how to score enough runs off of Boston to make it to the World Series. The veteran Sox wouldn't quit, though, and undoubtedly had visions of a 2004-like comeback flashing through their minds as they won games 5 and 6. In the end, the Rays would ride series MVP Matt Garza and rookie David Price to the game 7 win. And just like that, the Rays threw off the shackles of the first 10 years of team history. No longer are the Rays a laughingstalk. Hopefully they can continue terrorizing the Yankees and Red Sox for years to come.
#4 - Michael Phelps / Usain Bolt
The Olympics deserve a spot on this list, and without question the stars of the Beijing Olympics were these two guys. Phelps, of course, set the record for excellence by striking Gold in 8 different events. Bolt won "only" three medals, but his 9.69 second 100 m time (while showboating at the end!) broke his own World Record and inspired praise (for the sheer brilliance of his achievment), criticism (for his showboating), and concern (about the possibility that Bolt's time was aided by performance-enhancing drugs -- something for which there is no evidence). If I had to pick just one single event to put on this list, it probably would have been Phelps' 100m Butterfly victory over Milorad Cavic by just 1/100th of a second -- it was the most exciting 50 seconds of the Olympics for me since I was rooting hard for Phelps to break the medals record. Bolt's achievment is nothing to sneeze at, but I couldn't get overly excited for a 10 second event.
#3 - U.S. Open Golf Championship (6/12 - 6/16/08)
By far the most exciting golf event of the year. In case you've somehow managed to forget, this was the great battle between an injured Tiger Woods (who would submit to season-ending surgery a couple of days after winning the event) and the surprising Rocco Mediate. Woods' improbable victory probably would have been enough to get the event on this list by itself (how on earth do you win a golf tournament with a double stress fracture of the tibia and an ACL injury!?!), but the way it was done made it even more special. The unheralded Mediate finished the Fourth Round in a tie with Woods, requiring a Fifth Round the next day. The two golfers were still tied after the extra 18 holes, so in the end it came down to a playoff hole that was won by Woods. Mediate proved to be a popular foil to Woods, and I suspect many were rooting for David rather than Goliath in this battle. Woods victory over the field despite his injuries simply shows how very much better he is than everyone else in his sport. That's not exactly a revelation, but last year's U.S. Open served as yet another amazing reminder.
#2 - Wimbledon Men's Final (7/6/08)
An instant classic, this battle between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer is now considered by most pundits I've read to be the best Tennis match ever played. The event took all day to complete, as rain delayed the proceedings several times. In the end, Nadal would win by the unbelievable score of 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7. Nadal had been nipping at Federer's heels for some time, and this unbelievable match was the culmination of that fight. Federer had been invincible on the Wimbledon grass. While they likely will never duplicate the 2008 Wimbledon final, I hope they have a few more great bouts before Federer hangs 'em up.
#1 - Super Bowl XLII (2/3/08)
The Super Bowl is the undisputed King of sporting events in the United States. Nearly half of the people in the United States watch at least part of the game every year, a mark that nothing else comes close to. But really, the Super Bowl is popular in spite of itself. The game is usually a long, boring dud with bad halftime entertainment and far too many commercials (which usually are nowhere near as entertaining as they are expected to be by the fans, some of whom tune in solely to watch them). That's what makes last year's Super Bowl the #1 event of the year -- not only was it an "event" in the sense that everybody was watching, it was a great game that saw a tremendous upset. The New York Giants 17-14 win over the previously undefeated New England Patriots denied Bill Belichick's squad perfection, and created the legend of Eli Manning. The Giants final drive, notable for Manning's evasion of a seemingly sure-thing sack and David Tyree's circus catch off his helmet, was astounding sports theater. For once, the Big Game lived up to the hype, setting a new bar for greatness. It easily deserves the #1 spot on my list this year.