Monday, December 22, 2008

The year that was -- 11 things that made me smile in 2008

In honour of Listmas (what, that’s not what it’s called. With all the top 10 lists out there I could have sworn…), my own, personal, self-indulgent top 11 (cause we take things that extra step here at OOLF) sports moments of 2008.

You know, dear readers, we do have a comments section! Perhaps you could add a list of your own. Come on, it’s fun!

11 - Laval’s dominance
Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate the favourite. Cheering for an upset is always just a little more fun. But, if you can’t appreciate just how good the Laval Rouge et Or football program is, I’m not sure you are a fan of sport. No, the Rouge et Or didn’t provide fans with much drama in ’08 – they were too good – but standing on the field watching the players hold up yet another Vanier Cup, you knew you were surrounded by excellence. And, that’s what sports is about.

10 - Champions League final
And, this is coming from a Manchester City fan. I can’t think of a worse match-up than the all British Man U/Chelsea. But, the game made up for it -- a tale of two halves with United coming out strong and Chelsea storming back in the second. Chelsea was unlucky not to win it outright on the pitch, but United proved just resourceful enough to claim it on the penalties (with a little help from the pitch and a slip by John Terry). Often the big games fail to live up to the hype, but this was not a case of that.

9 - Carol Huynh wins gold for Canada
It was a looooong time coming with every half-wit humour columnist in the land cracking out the atlas to find Third World countries that had more medals than us Canucks. One of the great things about Olympics is there is always a where-did-that-one-come from medal. This was it for 2008 and it kicked of a second half of the Games that was as good for Canada as any other Olympics. When the lights went out, we had actually exceeded pre-game expectations and it was Huynh that got things going.

8- Belleville forcing game 7 in the OHL Final
Ultimately my Bulls – my hometown, childhood team, Bulls – came one game too short twice. But it was a nice little ride for this junior hockey fan. By storming back from 0-3 in the OHL final, Belleville briefly put itself in the national spotlight and, as anyone that cheers for small town teams will tell you, that doesn’t happen every day and you soak it all up when it does.

7 – The Pats lose!
If Laval taught me how to appreciate a favouritre, the Super Bowl reminded me of how good it feels to watch arrogance fall. It was a good game, but all history will remember is that the Pats got what was coming to them. And my inner, immature child loved every minute of it.

6 - The Men’s 8s do what is expected
Canada’s biggest favourite of the Beijing Games simply went out, pushed the pressure aside, and got the job done. And, in doing so cast off the personal demons from losing in 2004. There is something about the men’s 8s that is compelling. Maybe it’s the speed, or the power or maybe the tradition. But at the start of any Olympics this is one of the top three or four events I’d really like Canada to win.

5 – The Voyageurs Cup
But, mostly the way soccer fans in this country took to it. It had been 16-years since Canada had crowned a pro soccer champion in a legitimate competition. And, it had been far longer than that before anyone cared about who won. That changed in 2008, when the Voyageur’s Cup – paid for and donated to the CSA by the fans of the game – was awarded in front of 20,000 mostly disappointed fans in Toronto. Speaking personally, the day of the final game was the most intense I’ve ever experienced as a sports fan and the feeling at the final whistle was as awful as I can imagine. But, time gives me perspective and I still look back on the day and shake my head at just how far the game has come in such a short time.

4 – DeRo comes home
On the pitch 2008 was mostly a forgettable year for TFC fans, but an early Christmas present – the acquiring of Dwayne DeRosario—restored hope in the masses. DeRo (with apologizes to Jimmy Brennan) is the first Canadian star to come home to play and that matters a great deal to the supporters. Suddenly we feel even more connected to our little soccer club.

3 - Simon Whitfield’s silver
The man was out of this race about 10 times. He never looked comfortable. He often looked old and worn out. But, Simon Whitfield has a killer instinct that is sadly missing in most Canuck athletes. His final kick came up just short of gold, but his silver was, without a doubt, the Canadian performance of the Games.

2 - Usain Bolt goes really, really fast
It took 20-years, but I finally saw something more impressive than what Ben Johnson did in 1988. Officially he stopped the clock at 9.69 seconds, but he had more speed in him. It was scary and awe inspiring. And that was before he went 19.30 in the 200m.

1 - Barnsley!
I was sick the day that Barnsley played Liverpool in the FA Cup, which is how I improbably found myself in front of the tube in the middle of the day watching a soccer game that seemingly was a blowout waiting to happen. It was already 1-0 ‘Pool when I turned it on. But then Luke Steele started to make save after save. And then Stephen Foster got an out-of-the-blue equalizer. Suddenly I was sitting up, on the edge of the couch willing this little Championship team on. If only they could hold on to the draw and force a re-match in Barnsley, I thought. That would be something to see. But then Brian Howard scored in injury time causing me to literally start jumping up and down, giggling at the absurdity of it. Liverpool was out; Barnsley was through….

To play Chelsea. Surely they couldn’t pull another upset, could they?

Really, just watch this. If it doesn’t put a smile on your face you are likely dead and most certainly not a sports fan:

The next time a Big Four fan tries to tell you that no one cares about the FA Cup anymore, kindly tell them to stuff it.

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