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A Decade of Excellence

The past decade has provided nothing less than excitement for American sports fanatics both fair-weather and diehard alike.  No matter your favorite team, you cannot deny this previous decade has been a memorable timeline in professional sports.

First, let’s begin with the amazing feat that is the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred racing.  This monumental feat is awarded to the horse that has finished first in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.  Although this may seem as simple as winning three races, its not. First, the horses eligible to compete are very young horses. Second, each race is a different distance which calls for a different training approach, technique, and preparation.  Often, we see a horse complete the first two legs of the crown only to fall short at Belmont where the distance is increased to one and half mile. Regardless of winning or losing, the horses that complete any of these three races are the absolute best of their generation.  All competitors are amongst the highest caliber competition as determined by the G1 rating granted by the Graded Stakes committee.

To place the difficulty of winning the Triple Crown into perspective only thirteen horses have won it in its 99-year history.  Prior to Justify winning in 2018, the world witnessed American Pharaoh winning all three races in 2015. Before this, there was a 37-year drought dating back to 1978 when Affirmed won the Triple Crown.  The 1970s produced two other winners in 1973 (Secretariat) and 1977 (Seattle Slew). Before the 1970s winners we must go back another 25 years to 1948 won by Citation. Seven winners established their legacy at Belmont from 1930-1948, the first ever being Sir Barton in 1919.

1919 also kicked off “the Curse of the Bambino” for the Boston Red Sox when they traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.  Up and to 1919, Boston had accumulated 5 World Series titles and was considered the best franchise of its time. Boston Red Sox ended their franchise’s 86-year title drought in 2004.  Seems a bit silly to think trading one player would be a curse? Well take a trip to Boston and ask any diehard Sox fan their opinion on the matter. Just think about this…86 years without a World Series title.  That’s an entire generation or possibly two of Sox fans have lived a full life without seeing their beloved baseball team win a championship. America’s pastime, baseball, over the past decade, has gifted sports fans other World Series moments that are to be considered once in a lifetime, as well.

Think the Red Sox ending their drought was amazing, guess again.  In 2016 the Chicago Cubs finally put an end to the “Curse of the Billy Goat” defeating the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 to end a 108-year drought.  Yes, you read that correctly, one-hundred-and-eight-years. I’m not from Chicago, but I can only imagine the disappointment of the generations of Cub’s fans who were born into the fandom, lived a full life, and have passed away never to see the cubbies win a title.

The NBA also brought once in a life time Championship moments, as well.  We have the heartbreak history that is the city of Cleveland also known as the “Mistake on the Lake”.  Up and to the 2016 NBA championship by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the city experienced a 52-year championship drought in every professional team sport: Football, Basketball, and Baseball.  To put it in perspective, Chicago was able to witness the White Sox, Blackhawks, Bulls, and the Bears all bring a title to the town in that time. As well as witness the Cubs break their 108-year record drought during this time. Cleveland, on the other hand, went 52 years without a title since the Browns last won in 1964 defeating the Baltimore Colts.  True, fifty-two years doesn’t seem like a long time when compared to the wait of other teams, but, these teams have come so close, so many times, only to be let down in the process. The plays which led to the crushing defeats the Cleveland teams experienced have even been given nicknames: “the Drive”, “the Move”, “the Shot”, “the Fumble”, “the Catch.”  With heartbreak comes triumph, and the Cavaliers delivered it in fashion. Being the only team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit, they defeated the Golden State Warriors in what seemed like what was going to be another sad Cleveland headline.

Last year, NFL fans across the country watched as the defending Super Bowl champion, New England Patriots, faced off against the Philadelphia Eagles.  Although both quarterbacks lead their teams with impressive stats both completing 28 completions on 43 (Foles) and 48 (Brady) attempts. It was Nick Foles who ultimately drove the dagger through the heart of NFL’s evil Empire.  Nearing the end of the first half on a fourth-and-goal situation, the Eagles scored a memorable touchdown later dubbed, the “Philly Special”. The play not only helped to secure the Eagles the momentum for the remainder of the game, but the victory which ended a 57-year drought and first ever Super Bowl Championship title.  Prior to the 1960 AFL-NFL merger Philadelphia had claimed 3 titles in 1948, 1949, and 1960.

Finally, we turn our attention to the excitement that was the 2017-2018 NHL season.  Before the first puck drop, all eyes were on the city of Las Vegas gaining its first ever NHL franchise, the Golden Knights.  Who cares right? Well, in most cases this is the thought shared by many, however, not this go around. This expansion team complete with misfits and throw away players from every other team would soon find themselves locked in devastating tragedy.

On October 1, 2018 the city of Las Vegas experienced one of the most horrific mass shootings in US history.  58 people killed and nearly 851 people injured when shooter, Stephen Paddock, opened fired into a crowd of spectators during the Route 91 Harvest music festival at Mandalay Bay.  The city of Las Vegas now found themselves saddened, grieving, and broken amidst this terrifying tragedy. But then something happened that has proven itself to stand the test of time in American Culture: people began to turn to their sports team to lead them through hard times and to help them believe in greatness.  This once forgotten band of brothers, thrown away by every NHL team began winning and winning. With each win, the citizens of Las Vegas rallied together behind their first ever professional sports team. The momentum of the team and city lead them to the Stanley Cup finals to face off against the Washington Capitals.

Enter the “Great 8”, Alexander Ovechkin, who has been carrying the pressure of surmounting his legacy as one of hockey’s greatest, who can’t win a title for the last decade.  For years, the Washington Captain has been breaking records, collecting hardware worthy of any NHL superstar, and chasing his rival, Sidney Crosby. All of Alex’s triumphs and greatest moments have ended in undoubted heartbreak in the postseason. Ovechkin and the Capitals never advanced past the second round until 2018 when they were able to finally break the curse and defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins advancing the conference finals.  While Las Vegas was living a season to believe in, Washington was also entering its own dream worthy post season. Fate finally pitted both cities against each other in the Stanley Cup Finals. After chasing the cup for 14 seasons of professional hockey, Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals finally broke through to win their franchise’s first Stanley Cup final defeating Las Vegas four games to one.

This past decade or so, in sports, has brought so many unbelievable moments to the country.  Sports allowed a city like Las Vegas to grieve and persevere. A city like Washington D.C. and Cleveland to “believe” in the impossible.  Philadelphia to feel brotherly love once again. Boston and Chicago a chance to finally breathe for the first time in generations. A city such as New York, and really the rest of the country, to recover from the events of 9/11.  Sports is one of only a few things, such as music and the sun rising and setting each day, to stand the test of time. There is no better time than now to pick your local professional team, rally behind them, and see what the next decade brings.

 

~Patrick

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