This article offers a snapshot of 2001 sports, a year that saw thrilling World Series and Super Bowl finishes, drama in the Final Four and Stanley Cup Finals and greatness in college football and the NBA.
The year 2001 in the United States was marred by the most tragic event in the history of our nation, the terrorist attacks of September 11. It was perhaps appropriate that the two best moments of what was a good year in 2001 sports, had some sort of linkage to that awful day.
In the aftermath of the devastation of New York, the Yankees became a focal point, something the city could share light-hearted enjoyment together with amidst the suffering. The Yanks would win their fourth straight pennant, including taking out the 116-win Seattle Mariners in a 2001 American League Championship Series that wasn’t the showdown everyone expected.
A bid for a fourth straight World Series title came up just short against the Arizona Diamondbacks, but the Yanks and Diamondbacks gave the public an outstanding Series that wasn’t settled until the ninth inning of the seventh game. Sports had served its most important role in New York, in bringing a community together in a healthy way.
We shouldn’t overlook the Arizona Diamondbacks here–their World Series title was one part of a great sports year, that included the University of Arizona basketball team making the final of the NCAA Tournament. Click here to read all about the dynamics in the desert that sports year, including a game-by-game look at the 2001 World Series.
The Super Bowl was no less dramatic. The St. Louis Rams were the heavy favorite. They were led by MVP quarterback Kurt Warner, and running back Marshall Faulk, one of the best all-purpose backs to ever play the game. The offense, designed by head coach Mike Martz was dubbed “The Greatest Show On Turf” and they rolled to a 14-2 record, a blowout playoff win over the Green Bay Packers and a tough NFC Championship Game win over the up-and-coming Philadelphia Eagles of Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb.
St. Louis came to the Super Bowl a 14-point favorite, set to win its second title in three years and lay claim to a mini-dynasty. The opponent was the unheralded New England Patriots, with its still relatively unaccomplished coach in Bill Belichick and an unproven quarterback in Tom Brady.
New England won a 20-17 thriller and in this year of the worst attack ever on the American homeland, perhaps it was appropriate that the sports calendar with a championship won by a team named “Patriots.” Click here to read about the 2001 New England Patriots.
Springtime brought plenty of excitement in the world of college basketball and hockey. The Duke Blue Devils won their third national championship in 11 years, giving head coach Mike Krzyzewski a unique place in history. Read more about the 2001 Duke Blue Devils.
And the Stanley Cup playoffs provided some tremendous drama. A true showdown between the two best teams is rare in this upset-laden sport. So rare in fact, that it’s only happened one time in the last 24 years. 2001 was the year, and it was two accomplished franchises looking to carve out a place in history, as the Colorado Avalanche faced the New Jersey Devils. Even better, the series went the full seven games before the Avalanche finally won. Read more about the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals.
The NBA Finals and the college football season made history in their own way. It wasn’t about a dramatic finish in the race for the championship. Each sport made history on the other end of the spectrum–through one team showing historic greatness.
Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers steamrolled through the NBA playoffs, losing just one game. In college football, the 2001 Miami Hurricanes had a roster that reads like a Who’s Who of the NFL Hall of Fame–or at least the Pro Bowl. The Hurricanes blasted through to a national title and a decisive rout in the championship game.
Each sport found its excitement, drama and controversy in the race to go opposite the powerhouse. The 2001 NBA playoffs produced seven-game series in both Eastern Conference semi-finals and the Eastern Conference Finals, and had two notable controversies develop, as Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers ultimately played their way into the Finals opposite Shaq and Kobe.
College football’s race for #2 at the end of the regular season was nothing short of wild. Nebraska seemed to be on a collision course with Miami, but then the Cornhuskers were humiliated by Colorado, 62-36 on Thanksgiving weekend. Nebraska was then in the Big 12, and the conference was split into divisions. The result gave Colorado the North Division title at Nebraska’s expense.
What happened then was that four successive teams–Oklahoma, Florida, Tennessee and Texas–all failed in chances to win and secure the #2 spot. Colorado had lost twice and the BCS system ranked Nebraska ahead of both them and Oregon and let the Cornhuskers circle around and back their way into a date with Miami. Fortunately, the Hurricanes crushed them and brought some measure of justice.
Another milestone was reached in 2001, and in normal circumstances, it would have led this discussion. Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs for the San Francisco Giants and broke the single-season record that had been set by Mark McGwire just three years earlier. Of course what we suspected then, and know now regarding PED use has led both achievements to be forever asterisked.