Sports & Thanksgiving 2011: Athletes We’re Thankful to Have Witnessed

    Thanksgiving is here, and besides football and family dinners, there’s also that need to be thankful for something, may it be an occurrence through the passing year or just anything great in your life. When you’re a sports fan, you know what you should be thankful for.

    Your sporting idols, your heroes. People who made you stay up in the middle of the night so you can watch them play on different continents. For Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps making the 2008 Olympics so special, so memorable. For making athletics and swimming cooler-talk worthy. For Michael Jordan making the argument of Greatest of All-Time seem unnecessary. For Roger Federer, for being perfect and then being anything but. For Ronaldinho, bringing the fan back in soccer. And Barry Sanders, for making us still remember when the Detroit Lions mattered.

    Roger Federer

    For perfect tennis between 2004-2007, when no one was even close to him, excepts when he faced Rafael Nadal on the clay courts of Paris. Elegance, ice-cool, a shot of arrogance and domination the sport was missing after Pete Sampras, just in a more versatile manner. Yes, having a dominant figure with just the right amount of flaws is essential for a sport like Tennis to thrive. Thrown in an arch-rival, absolutely perfect.

    Throw in shades of humanity, of fragility. Twice crying after an Australian Open final, once after winning and once after losing an epic marathon to Rafael Nadal. For his comeback, after the decline began, to win Grand Slam 14-15 and 16. Even on the clay courts of Paris. For still giving his best at 30, Old for a tennis player, even for a legend.


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    Greece winning the 2004 Euro with their anti-football turned the tide towards a return of classic, beautiful football. Just like after the 1990 World Cup in Italy which disgusted so many. Cruyff’s Barcelona dream team rose after that tournament, just like Rijkaard’s Barcelona, which evolved into Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, rose in 2004.

    All around Ronaldinho, who came from Paris and needed a few months to start showing his magic consistently. A new trick every match. Even better – He won with flair, flash and wowing the fans, not just Barcelona fans. The 3-0 win at the Bernabeu over Real Madrid was his own private concert.

    He won’t be remembered as the greatest ever. His reign and dominance were too short. But Ronaldinho might win most exciting player ever.

    Barry Sanders

    I didn’t understand the NFL the way I do know back when Barry Sanders was slicing through fallen defensive players on his way to the end zone. I did know that I’m watching a special players. Over a decade since he retired, leaving the Detroit Lions to an era of misery, I can say that he’s the best running back I’ve ever seen.

    With a mediocre offensive line you usually don’t get very far. Not as a running back and not as a quarterback. But Barry Sanders was just too good. One of the few Heisman Trophy winners that live up to the hype. Ten straight seasons of over 1000 yards, and one incredible 1997 season in which he averaged 6.1 yards a carry.

    Always knowing where the hole was, always able to find an extra gear, and extra step, an extra move. A special running back, transcendent over his peers. Likely not to be repeated.

    Usain Bolt

    The great thing about athletics is the simplicity. Just running. Who’s fastest, and it’s as simple as that. Usain Bolt took the sprint into another stratosphere in terms of achievements and popularity.

    The smile, the swagger, and the speed. Slowing down in the Beijing Olympics and still destroying the 100 meter record. The pose. The fun. It’s rare to see someone so comfortable on the biggest stage, so unmoved by the pressure and magnitude of the events.

    I’m not sure he’ll ever get to break his own records, if anyone will in the near future. But Bolt made watching the 2008 Olympics and the IAAF championships the next summer something special, something to look forward to, a rarity these days with something as simple as running.

    Michael Jordan

    A popular internet Meme is the “90’s Kid” one, with it’s many variations, talking about how good it was, how better it is than now, growing up in the 1990’s. Well, one of the constant bashing points is having Michael Jordan as your idol. He might not be popular today, especially among players, but after the 1993 NBA Finals, a reporter actually asked him if he is god.

    He took over the sport twice, taking a baseball retirement in between. It’s hard to describe through youtube videos and ESPN Classics to people who weren’t old enough to watch basketball games between 1991-1998. That feeling of dread flowing through the Chicago Bulls’ rivals when Jordan took over in fourth quarters.

    He didn’t always make the last shot, as he famously said in one of his commercials. But there was never a situation in which you felt Jordan wasn’t going to win it all by himself. And he usually did.

    Michael Phelps

    For the anticipation of the 2008 Olympics. Michael Phelps went for it all in Athens, 4 years earlier, but finished with “only” six gold medals, to the joy of Mark Spitz. Four years later, and nothing was stopping him. If you believe in fate, higher powers, whatever, there was something in the Chinese air, and water.

    The Jason Lezak final 50 meters. The incredible, controversial, Milorad Cavic moment. The 2008 Olympics belong to two men – Usain Bolt, and Michael Phelps. For a swimmer to show such supremacy in every race, through a torture-like schedule he took on himself, and to come out of that summer as the biggest star of the Summer Olympic Games.