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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thankful Sports Fan

Like so many other areas of public discourse in America, the world of sports is too often filled with negativity and criticism.  I want to take a break from that.  In this season of giving thanks, I want to take a few moments to talk about the things in sports that I am thankful for in the past year.

Fenway Park tribute to Derek Jeter
1.  Derick Jeter.  I know, I know.  Many of you were tired of hearing about Derek Jeter by the time this baseball season ended.  I, however, am wholeheartedly thankful that I got to grow up as a sports fan during Derek Jeter's career.  I am also thankful that baseball fans had the opportunity to show their appreciation for Derek as he made his farewell tour.  As the year drew to a close, many media members and elitist bloggers took great pains to tell the world that Derek Jeter's numbers did not deserve to be compared to the all-time greats.  They told the world that any decent shortstop who played for the Yankees during Jeter's era would have a dazzling collection of World Series rings.  Those people may be entirely correct, but they are missing the point.  Life is hard.  Sports are supposed to be a fun distraction from the rest of life.  And, Derek Jeter provided a ton of fun.  From his flip play in Oakland to the home run that earned him the name Mr. November to the RBI in his final at-bat, Jeter had a flair for the dramatic.  And, Jeter did it all with a smile on his face.  No athlete has ever seemed to understand how blessed his life was the way that Derek Jeter did.  And Jeter never brought shame to his fans by showing up in a PED report or in a tabloid scandal.  Whether his stats are worthy of all-time great status or not, I am thankful that I got to come of age and grow into adulthood during Derek Jeter's career.

2.  Rory McIlroy.  Sport at its highest level is always a joy to behold.  During a thirty-day span this summer, Rory McIlroy treated the world to one of the finest exhibitions of golf the world has ever seen.  On July 20, 2014, Rory won the Open Championship at the Old Course at St. Andrews.  McIlroy followed that up with a win at the World Golf Championship at Bridgestone Country Club in Akron, OH before capping off August with a victory at the PGA Championship at Valhalla.  Rory then finished off the year as an integral part of the victorious European team at the 2014 Ryder Cup.  I am thankful that I got to witness this level of golfing greatness.

Sisters at fight night in Vegas
3.  Boxing.  Boxing is one of the oldest forms of sport known to mankind.  Yet, the sweet science is a recent addition to my sports viewing repertoire.  Over the past few years, I have been watching HBO and Showtime coverage of mid-level prize fights, and in the last twelve months, I started regularly buying PPV events.  In May, I had the amazing opportunity to attend a world championship fight between Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana.  I devoted an entire post to the experience of fight night in Vegas.  I am truly thankful for the opportunity to attend this fight in person, and I am thankful for the extra perspective I have now while watching fights on TV.

4.  World Cup in a Friendly Time Zone.  A few years ago, it was inconceivable that I would have soccer included in any twelve-month sports retrospective.  Perhaps every World Cup has been as great as the 2014 edition, but this year's event in Brazil took place during the daylight hours here in the United States.  That allowed co-workers to gather in break rooms, friends to gather in barrooms and families to gather in living rooms to watch the beautiful game.  For many of us, it was a chance to learn and bond.  For others, it was a chance to finally share their passion with sports fans who were previously oblivious to the finer points of a corner kick.  I am thankful that the 2014 World Cup was played in a time zone that allowed for such learning and camaraderie.

(Terry Renna/AP)
5.  Resurgence of Dale Jr.  For the past decade, the sport's most popular driver was by no means one of its most successful drivers.  Not even close.  But, in 2014 Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s results on the track began to match his popularity.  His Nationwide teams were also strong all year long and finished the season with Chase Elliott winning the series championship.  Sure, the legend of Dale, Sr. plays a factor in Junior's popularity, but Junior is beloved unlike any driver because, despite his wealth and fame, he acts like one of us.  When Junior joined Twitter, he didn't flood his timeline with shots of his celebrity friends.  He tweeted about rooting for the Redskins and how his friends were doing at the local dirt track.  When Junior wins a race, he doesn't talk about sipping Cristal in a club that the rest of us can't afford to enter.  No, he talks about drinking beer at Whiskey River.  One of the most personal posts I've ever written for this blog was after a Junior victory in 2012.  I am thankful that the celebrations were not few and far between for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his fans this season.

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