2011: The year that saved the sports world

By Kevin Durso
November 2, 2011

Every now and then, a sports season is full of great moments. Many of those years, like the incredible run baseball had during the ‘80s and ‘90s, the great hockey seasons in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the golden years of basketball in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, and some of the classic gridiron moments of the ‘80s and ‘90s, were all well before many of us, including myself, had any real knowledge or appreciation of sports.

The 2000s in sports were marred by disappointment and controversy. The NHL lost an entire hockey season in 2004-2005 and when the game made so many changes, many fans abandoned the sport they loved because it simply wasn’t the same.

Many times, the same teams would win and the drama that filled the decades before was missing.

The year 2001 was an exciting for sports year and it kicked off the decade with great promise. Arguably the two most popular sports in the nation, baseball and football, both had classic championship matchups. It certainly helped to put a national tragedy farther in the rear-view mirror.

For 10 years, sports fans have been waiting for that year, the one they will never forget. Even in 2001, I didn’t have enough appreciation for sports to understand just how meaningful those moments were but 10 years later, I do, and that’s why 2011 may just be a year that saved the sports world.

The sports world is designed in a special way. Its design is simple: give sports fans, who don’t care what the sport is, something to watch 365 days a year.

Every October to June, the NBA and NHL provide constant action. The NBA Finals this June featured the heavily favored Miami Heat against the talented Dallas Mavericks. Despite having three superstars on their squad, the Heat would see a 2-1 series lead evaporate, as the Mavericks claimed their first NBA title in franchise history. Not one of the six games played was decided by more than 10 points, making each game action-packed and thrilling.

The NHL provided the same punch in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Vancouver Canucks were looking for their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, but would have to get past the history-laden Boston Bruins to do it. Vancouver jumped to a 2-0 series lead with two exciting finishes. Boston tied the series at two after two blowout wins in Boston. In Games 5 and 6, the teams once again traded wins on home ice, before Boston finished off the series with a Game 7 win.

The NFL recently saw a classic Super Bowl as well. The Green Bay Packers entered the 2011 NFL Playoffs as an underdog with a scrappy team. After making their first Super Bowl appearance since 1997, the Packers claimed the title in a battle of wills against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Finally, for great excitement, look no further than the conclusion of the 2011 season in Major League Baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals were 10 ½ games out of the wildcard on Aug. 25. They were relying on other teams to help them get into the postseason. They managed that on the season’s final day. They beat the Phillies in five games in the NLDS after trailing in the series 2-1. They beat the Brewers to win the pennant in six games. They were one strike away from a World Series defeat in Game 6 when a few underdog players helped the dark horse team work its magic in St. Louis. One night later, they cruised to a Game 7 win and another World Series title.

Why does this save the sports world? The real sports fans will be talking about the great NBA Final and Stanley Cup Final that happened in June, not about how the NFL was in the middle of what felt like an endless debate.

They will talk about a great Super Bowl and how close the playoffs were, rather than focus on a lengthy baseball offseason or the grind of 82-game seasons for the NBA and NHL.
And they will talk about a fantastic postseason in baseball, instead of the lockout that recently threatened an entire NBA season.

Every sport’s championship series went at least six games. If you want to treat the Super Bowl like a one-game, winner-take- all series, then you can say three of the four major sports in the United States came down to the one-game series.

That kind of drama is what makes sports great. Yes, there have been many great championship games and series since 2001. What makes 2011 great is that every sport delivered a classic championship series, something unprecedented since the turn of the century.

Still don’t believe me? Check out these numbers. In the NBA, out of a possible 105 games played in the NBA Playoffs, 24 of them were not necessary.

In the NHL, out of the same 105 games, only 16 of them were not necessary.

In baseball, the postseason played all but three of the schedule postseason games.

But how do you judge how good the NFL Playoffs did when every game is an elimination game? Figure it this way; 11 total NFL Playoff games were played in 2011. In those games, the margin of victory combined to be a total of 104 points, an average of 9.45 points per game. Also consider that eight of the 11 games were decided by one score or less.

As a sports fan, I find that not only my sports knowledge grows every year, but so does my appreciation of sports. All sports fans should appreciate the greatness that was in 2011. It had been years since all four major sports delivered such drama and excitement collectively.

For those of you who felt that watching wasn’t worth it anymore, this season is for you. If you thought the only way sports would ever be theatrical again was in the movies, this was for you. If you thought that all the money in the world and owner/player union disputes had taken the drama out of sports, this was for you as well.

Not only has the 2011 year in sports reaffirmed my spirits on the sports world, but it has revitalized a nation. Sports fans ultimately have the most powerful voice. They want to see their sports and they want to see them played right and full of excitement. This year delivered all that and more.

With a nation hooked, all that’s left now is to see where the sports world leads us next. Wherever that is, America will be watching every step of the way.

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Kevin Durso

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