By Jay Busbee
Many years from now, when sports fans scroll through the list of 2020 champions — maybe for a school project, maybe because they’re bored at work, maybe because they want to learn more about President Brady’s first job — they’ll see a whole lot of familiar names.
They’ll see that the Los Angeles Lakers won, and the Los Angeles Dodgers too. They’ll see that Alabama once again ended up atop a college football playoff that once again included Clemson and Ohio State. They’ll see that the Tampa Bay Lightning breezed to the Stanley Cup without facing a single Game 7. They’ll see that Dustin Johnson, the world’s no. 1 golfer, won the world’s no. 1 golf tournament in Augusta. They’ll see that Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic won Grand Slams just like they’d done a combined 36 times before. They’ll see that the Seattle Storm ended a whole one-season-long championship drought. They’ll see that Tom Brady once again was the NFL’s last man standing.
They’ll see all this, and they’ll say, huh … seems like 2020 was a pretty by-the-numbers sports year. Try not to laugh at them when they do.
You were there. You remember the cancellations, piling one on top of another in those traumatic first days after March 11. OK, we’ll lock down for a couple of weeks, but then we’ll be OK by the Masters, right? We can figure a way to play the NCAA tournament, can’t we? At least we’ll be able to play Wimbledon, right?
You remember the plans, the hopes, the bubbles. The fear that if sports pushed forward, we’d be looking at unimaginable tragedy. The relief that everything went as well as it could, all things considered. The understanding that while sports aren’t everything … they do help, if only a little bit.
So why was 2020 such, to use an NCAA tournament term, a chalk year? (Sadly, that’s about all we can take from 2020 for the unplayed NCAA tournament.) Start with stability. Put simply: it’s easier to be a good team if you’re already a good team. The Dodgers and Lightning, among others, have a long recent pedigree of winning, while the Lakers and Buccaneers benefitted from the addition of significant new talent. (We’ll just overlook the statistical improbability of three championship-level teams coming from Tampa, a city not known for a championship pedigree.)
More than that, though, you needed leadership, both on the field and off. Tom Brady is the most visible example here — he raised Tampa Bay from a forgotten squad to a champion — but he’s not the only one. LeBron James, Sue Bird, Clayton Kershaw, Nick Saban … at a time when we needed the best to be the best, the best stepped up.
The heart of it all, though, is resilience. Players rose to the challenge of an unfamiliar situation, and fans learned to accept that something is always better than nothing. Sports didn’t really “return to normal,” we all just adjusted.
Remember the joy of watching pseudo-sports like marble racing, or the first sports back, like Korean baseball? The roar of NASCAR engines that burst through eight long weeks of nationwide silence? The fake cheers that went from discordant to mildly annoying to utterly normal? Remember it all, because years from now, nobody’s going to believe we took such strange roads to end up in such familiar locations.