The 2000s were quite a decade in sports. Baseball was rocked by steroid allegations. Small market teams became increasingly marginalized. Tiger Woods revolutionized golf by introducing fitness, something long missing in the game. Women’s sports saw tremendous gains through personalities like Sheryl Swoopes, Mia Hamm and the Williams sisters. And increasingly, lesser-known sports were able to find their way into primetime, as the Internet and the ever-expanding coverage of ESPN allowed fans to enjoy any sport at virtually any time.
Let’s go year by year and revisit some unforgettable moments:
2000: The Year of Tiger
What a decade it has been for Tiger Woods. While he may have experienced a fall from grace, there is no doubt this decade – especially the year 2000 – saw him emerge as the greatest golfer to play the sport. Woods had a near-flawless year – he won nine tournaments, including the last three majors of the year, and tied or set 27 PGA tour records, including a 15-stroke win at the U.S. Open. He followed up in 2001 by capturing the Masters, making him the first golfer to hold all four major titles at the same time.
Honorable Mention: Subway World Series
2001: Cy Young Duel in the Desert
Emotions ran high in 2001, as the Arizona Diamondbacks took on the New York Yankees in the World Series. Arizona reached its first World Series in its fourth year of existence, while the Yankees were playing for more than just their 27th title – they were playing to help heal a city scarred by the events of 9/11. The Diamondbacks dominated the first two games in Arizona; the Yankees won three memorable contests in the Bronx. Arizona took Game 6, and the series came down to the marquee matchup of Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling. The game lived up to the hype, and after five scoreless innings, the Yankees were ahead 2-1 going into the bottom of the eighth. Joe Torre turned to Mariano Rivera, who struck out the side in the eighth but ran into serious trouble in the ninth. After a throwing error, a hit batter and a two-run double by Tony Womack, Luis Gonzalez fisted a broken-bat single into shallow left center to win the game and hand the series to Arizona.
Honorable Mention: 2001 All-Williams U.S. Open Final
2002: The Serena Slam
Since they burst onto the scene in the late 1990s, Serena and Venus Williams have redefined women’s tennis, adding power and sheer athleticism to the game. After skipping the 2002 Australian Open, Serena and Venus met in every Grand Slam final from the 2002 French Open to the 2003 Australian Open. Serena lost one set at the French before rolling through Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. After defeating her sister at the Australian Open, she became the fifth woman of all time to hold all four Grand Slam titles at once, as well as the first black man or woman to do so.
Honorable Mention: Brazil’s fifth World Cup title
2003: Brett Favre’s Game After His Father’s Death
Before Brett Favre began his retirement saga, he was without a doubt the NFL’s most beloved quarterback. This Monday Night Football game against the Oakland Raiders cemented that legacy. The day after his father’s death, Favre decided to play the game because, according to Favre, he “knew that [his] dad would have wanted him to.” He passed for 399 yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone, handing the Packers a 41-7 win. The performance was a tribute to the man who inspired Favre to originally pick up a football, and it nabbed Favre offensive player of the week and ESPY honors.
Honorable Mention: New Jersey Devils win the Stanley Cup in seven games.
2004: A World Series 86 Years in the Making
It is a painful memory for Yankee fans, but the 2004 Red Sox were magical. In the greatest comeback in sports history, the Red Sox crawled back from a 3-0 deficit in the American League Championship Series after being three outs away from a Yankees sweep. The Sox took advantage of a shaky performance by Mariano Rivera to win Game 4 and played 14 innings in Game 5 before David Ortiz came up with the game-winning hit. Curt Schilling then pitched seven innings in a bloody sock, winning Game 6. Game 7 was a formality, with Boston winning 10-3. The Red Sox then swept the Cardinals in the World Series, breaking “The Curse of The Bambino.”
Honorable Mention: UConn’s Twin National Championships
2005: Seven for Seven
There are not enough superlatives to describe Lance Armstrong. After he received the news that he had testicular cancer, no one would have thought twice if Armstrong decided to give up his cycling career. Yet the cyclist wouldn’t let cancer beat him. Out of pure determination, Armstrong overcame the disease and began training again. By 1998, he became the world’s premier cyclist. By 2005, when he had won his seventh Tour de France in a row, he was the world’s premier athlete. While it was not his closest tour victory (a four-minute, 40-second lead over Ivan Basso), it was arguably his most important, as it forever sealed Armstrong’s place as a legend and a hero.
Honorable Mention: Tiger’s Chip into the 16th hole at the Masters
2006: “Can I Call You J-Mac”
Feb. 15, 2006 – Greece Athena v. Spencerport High for the division title. Sounds like a meaningless high school basketball game, right? Guess again. The most memorable moments in sports often happen in the tiniest of venues. With four minutes left to play, Greece Athena held a large lead, so Head Coach Jim Johnson allowed Jason McElwain, the team manager who was diagnosed with autism at the age of four, to play. After missing his first two shots, McElwain caught fire, hitting six treys and a jump shot to score the final 20 points of the game. President Bush eloquently summed up McElwain’s game as “the story of a young man who found his touch on the basketball court, which, in turn, touched the hearts of citizens all around the country.”
Honorable Mention: America’s New Team – the New Orleans Saints
2007: The Helmet Catch
The Super Bowl didn’t take place until 2008, but it was the official conclusion of the 2007 season. Super Bowl XLII will go down as one of the best Super Bowls of all time. In one of the biggest upsets of all time, the New York Giants defeated Bill Belichick’s perfect Patriots. With 7:45 left in the game, the Patriots began a drive that ate up almost five minutes, resulting in a 6-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Randy Moss. The Giants got the ball at their own 17 with 2:39 to play. After moving the ball to their own 44 and facing a crucial 3rd and 5, Eli Manning broke free of a tackle and threw the ball to a leaping David Tyree, who trapped the ball against his helmet despite considerable pressure from Rodney Harrison. Tyree fell on top of Harrison, but he completed the reception. We all know what happened from there.
Honorable Mention: Jon Lester’s No-Hitter
2008: The Phever
This was arguably one of the more exciting years in sports history. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer played the highest quality tennis match of all time. The world fell in love with Rocco Mediate, as he took a one-legged Tiger Woods to the limit. Yet 2008 in sports was defined by one man and three syllables: Michael Phelps. Phelps became the most decorated gold medalist of all time, dominating the competition in six events, edging out Milorad Cavic by one one-hundredth of a second and needing the help of Jason Lezak to secure his eight medals. In total, Phelps has won 14 gold and 16 total medals in his career.
Honorable Mentions: Nadal-Federer Wimbledon Final, Tiger vs. Rocco
2009: Tom Watson at Turnberry
This was one of those stories that made you question the legitimacy of golf as a sport while also proving that it is probably the world’s greatest game. The year was 1977, and the world’s two best golfers – Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus – lit up Turnberry, matching each other stroke for stroke, until Nicklaus finally cracked on the 17th green, handing “The Duel in the Sun” to Watson. Fast-forward 32 years, and 59-year-old Tom Watson was beating up on the much younger competition (including Tiger Woods) and went into the final round with a one-stroke lead. Watson birdied the 17th, as he did 32 years earlier, to go to the final hole leading Stewart Cink. All he needed was an up and down, and Watson would have become the oldest major winner, but he bogied the hole and ultimately lost the four-hole playoff. Still, for the first time in 12 years, someone else with the initials T.W. captivated the world on the golf course.
Honorable Mention: Mark Buehrle’s Perfect Game”