After a forgettable 2020, when almost all sports were COVID-halted, and fans were kept away even when the pro sports leagues resumed play (except for the Canadian Football League, which missed an entire season), a shadow of the status quo in the world of sports presented itself to fans in 2021.
And, looking back, it wasn’t that bad a year. So let’s do a quick recap:
— Athlete of the year: Damian Warner of London, Ont., laid claim to the title of world’s greatest athlete by winning the decathlon at the Tokyo Olympics, setting a points record by exceeding the 9,000 mark.
Toronto swimmer Penny Oleksiak won three more medals to become the most decorated Canadian Olympian ever, with seven medals.
— Canadian baseball fans saw the emergence of a superstar in Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., who covered first base for the Toronto Blue Jays and created terror for opposing pitchers.
Guerrero, only 22, belted 48 home runs and … well, Jays’ fans can hardly wait for the 2022 season.
As spectacular as he was at the plate, Guerrero took a back seat in Major League Baseball headlines to Shohei Ohtani, the Japanese phenom who crushed 46 home runs and also posted a 9-2 pitching record with a 3.18 ERA for the Angels.
His pitching/hitting performance was unprecedented in the modern era. Long-suffering Atlanta Braves fans celebrated in early November as the team won its first World Series in 26 years.
— Speaking of long-suffering: How ‘bout those Montreal Canadiens?
Their fans were ecstatic as the team made July’s Stanley Cup final (losing, however, to Tampa Bay) for the first time since winning it all in 1993, but languishing among the NHL’s worst teams as the current season got underway.
— Still with hockey, the flashy Oiler, Connor McDavid, continued to prove he’s in a class by himself, scoring highlight-reel goals almost on a weekly basis.
— If 2021 proved one thing, it was that age isn’t much of a deterrent to success.
Tom Brady at age 43 led Tampa Bay Bucs to the Super Bowl in February, and 50-year-old Phil Mickelson became the oldest golfer ever to win a major title, taking the PGA championship at Kiawah Island in May.
— The biggest golf story of the year, however, was Tiger Woods’ car crash in February, which resulted in injuries so serious that the competitive career of the greatest golfer of all time is likely over.
What isn’t over, though, is the continued ascension of Canadian golf stars on the PGA Tour, with Corey Conners (34th) and Mackenzie Hughes (39th) both among the world’s top 40 players. Brooke Henderson is No. 10 in the world among women.
— One of the most uplifting sports stories with a Canadian perspective was that of Leylah-Annie Fernandez, only 19, who burst upon the pro tennis scene by making it all the way to the final of the U.S. Open. She didn’t win it, but man, what a future awaits.
• Headline at theonion.com: “Baker Mayfield Struggling To Tune Out Booing Progressive Fans On Commercial Set”
• Headline at fark.com: “Angry pro snooker player says amateurs shouldn’t be allowed in tournaments because: A) it lowers the standards of the game; B) fewer people want to watch amateurs play; C) he lost.”
• Reader Todd J., reacting to a story on yahoosports.com about coach Lincoln Riley leaving Oklahoma and signing with USC Trojans: “Riley didn’t build a damn thing (at Oklahoma). He was handed the keys to a Mercedes, kept up with oil changes for a couple of years, then drove it off a cliff.”
• Columnist Norman Chad, on Twitter: “Here’s the thing about Ravens coach John Harbaugh: I root against him even when he’s ordering lunch at Popeyes.”
• Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg: “Tampa Bay receiver, Antonio Brown’s, in-house chef accused him of buying a fake vaccine card. They suspected the vaccine card was fake when it claimed to declare Brown immunized by Aaron Rodgers.”
• RJ Currie of sportsdeke.com: “Why the NHL handed Brendan Lemieux a five (for biting) game suspension: 5. To show incisive leadership; 4. His action left a bad taste; 3. To put more teeth into the rules; 2. That’s the molar of the story; 1. It was a gnashional disgrace.”
• Headline at Fark.com: “Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy tests positive for COVID-19, blames the officials.”
• Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times, who called this snippet ‘Tooth and Consequences’: “The NHL suspended Kings winger Brendan Lemieux for biting the hand of the Senators’ Brady Tkachuk, drawing blood. Just Tkachuk’s luck — getting in a skirmish with a hockey player who actually has teeth.”
• Fox’s Joe Buck, on Packers QB Aaron Rodgers getting a pregame injection on his injured toe: “So Aaron is telling us he’s had that toe immunized.”
• Another headline at fark.com: “Brady-Belichick Super Bowl looking more and more likely. For whom would you root? Besides giant meteor, I mean.”
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by Bruce Penton