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There's an easy way to gauge how important, or remarkable, or special a day or event was.
A year passes, five years, even a decade — and you still remember many of the occasion's details. For instance, I'll never forget learning of the 9/11 attacks from a television in my history teacher's classroom. Most Americans, I'm sure, maintain a lucid memory of that morning now seven-plus years later.
That, of course, was a tragic day. During 2008, however, there were many memorable days — for good reasons — in the sports world. While the economy turned to slush, athletes and teams put together some of the most amazing performances I've seen in my relatively short 25 years on earth.
No, '08 wasn't a normal year in a lot of ways that are transparent to all of us. To me, now just a day into the new 365-day cycle, what stands out is how vividly I remember the year's greatest moments — not just what happened on the television screen in front of me, but what was going on around me.
Sunday, Feb. 3: I'm sitting on the couch facing our 37-inch TV, my cousin J-bo on the adjacent couch to my left. The New York Giants have just shocked the sports world, upsetting the mighty, seemingly indestructible New England Patriots 17-14. And J-bo is giving it to me, letting me know in a clear, voluble tone that he picked New York to win while I made the safe pick. Ah, whatever. It was worth it. Best. Super Bowl. Ever?
Monday, April 7: Guess what? J-bo is right once again. This time, my friend Cosey is in town from Michigan to watch the national title game pitting Kansas and Memphis. And as Kansas brings the ball up the court trailing by three with the clock winding down (5 ... 4 ... 3), J-bo exclaims that the Jayhawks will make a 3-pointer to knot the game. And, sure enough, we watch in amazement as Mario Chalmers hits the shot of his life. It is the second championship game I've watched in 2008 — and both were the best of their kinds I've ever watched.
Sunday, June 15: I'm sitting in the living room of the waterfront community where the Lloyd Family Reunion has just begun. Family members whom I haven't seen for at least three years are streaming in, but my eyes are trained on the small TV about 10 feet in front of me. And I'm not the only one watching. Other Lloyds watch in awe as Tiger Woods calmly, daringly, dramatically sinks about a 15-foot putt to send the U.S. Open to a playoff. I'll always remember how the ball curled around the right edge of the cup before deciding to fall in. It couldn't have been better television for NBC.
Monday, July 7: This time, it's just me. I'm lounging on my aunt and uncle's couch this afternoon, absolutely captured by what I'm watching. One minute, Roger Federer hits the nastiest backhand up the line one can hit to stave off a match point. The next moment, every Federer groundstroke is chased down by the ubiquitous Rafael Nadal. It's the Wimbledon final, and it's the best tennis match — by far — I've ever seen. I wasn't able to watch it live the previous day because I'd been on a hike-gone-bad for the weekend, but I had my aunt DVR it. Then, Sunday afternoon and night, I had to avoid using my laptop or watching our crib's TV. It was brutal not being able to see the Yankees-Red Sox game, but I couldn't risk noticing the result of the match on ESPN's bottom line. I needed the element of surprise to truly enjoy it.
That, to state the obvious, is exactly what I did for about four solid hours on that couch. I won't forget how Federer played a great final three sets, but somehow hit possibly his worst shot of the day to end the match: He plunked an easy forehand into the net. And Nadal went into the stands, with darkness enveloping Centre Court, to celebrate his first Wimbledon title.
NOTE: I was living the outdoorsy, no-TV life in beautiful New Hampshire during the entire Olympics, so I didn't see any of Michael Phelps' eight gold-medal performances or Usain Bolt's three record-breaking runs. But, no doubt, those moments will not be forgotten for as long as those records stand (and that should be a very, very long time). One thing that won't skip my mind is viewing the amazing Sports Illustrated pictures of Phelps' victory by the slightest of margins in the 100-meter butterfly. And I'll always remember that the win was by one hundredth of a second.
Sunday, Dec. 29: Sadly, not all the memorable moments were positive. I'm at a table with my friend Bobby in the middle of Ann Arbor's Buffalo Wild Wings, an almost-empty glass in front of me and hundreds of football fans of all colors around me. Directly to my left stands a kid sports a Bears Brian Urlacher jersey. But at the moment, there is an assortment of cheers and groans. The clock has just wound down on the first 0-16 season in NFL history. And, get this, I got to witness the Lions' ultimate achievement of ineptitude from the state they call home. Only another 0-16 season could make the memory of this afternoon vague.
It's been that kind of year in sports. One full of moments that will be talked about for many years to come. Who knows? The Giants slaying of the Patriots has been called by many the greatest Super Bowl ever. Woods' performance on basically one leg was hailed as the most remarkable, brave display in golf history. And several tennis experts immediately claimed Nadal's five-set victory over Federer the sport's best match on that kind of stage — ever.
I saw most of the year's best moments. And I don't plan on forgetting where I was and what those around me and I were doing when those television screens portrayed such historical scenes.
Now 2009 has an almost-impossible act to follow.