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The Top 10 Sports List for 2013 - Wall Street Journal

The Top 10 Sports List for 2013

Dec. 22, 2013

Chris Davis's field-goal return for a touchdown to win the Iron Bowl for Auburn was a rather memorable sports moment from 2013. Associated Press
This is the season for lists, of course—lists upon lists upon lists, lists of lists, best lists, best movies, best books, best restaurants, best cats, best lists of restaurants for bringing a cat, etc. This is my humble Sports Top 10 for 2013. It is neither comprehensive nor scientific nor even 100% persuasive. It is sort of/not completely ranked in order. Some of the selections were breezy-easy and you'll agree immediately. (Alabama-Auburn finish? I mean, come on.) Some of it, however, you'll disagree with, to the point that you pound a fist into your morning pancakes. That's the whole point of lists, right? Plus: cats! OK here we go:

Spurs-Heat Game 6: Everybody around us bailed. That was the best part.

Picked up their smartphones, stuck them in their fancy white jeans and headed for the door. I was at Game 6 in Miami with my friends Dominic and Jamie, season-ticket holders, and the Heat were losing by five, with under 30 seconds left, and though a comeback was possible, the crowd had seen enough, and began streaming for the exits. The section around us vanished. And then the Heat came back. Ray Allen, a three from the corner. Overtime. Heat win. Then win in 7 games, and the whole NBA narrative gets rewritten once more. Think of the summer we would have had if the Heat had lost—another dreary media slog about LeBron James and his failure to deliver, questions about the Heat, blah, blah, blah. I enjoy the San Antonio Spurs very much, but it might have been a merciful thing that Ray hit that shot.

Rafa, Serena, Andy: Tennis continues to deliver stirring story lines, and from 2013 you had your pick: Andy Murray triumphant at Wimbledon, the first men's singles champion from Great Britain in 77 years; Rafael Nadal, returning from a long injury hiatus to complete the year a remarkable 75-7, with two Slam titles; and Serena Williams just being Serena Williams, two Slams herself, unstoppable/best ever when in top form. (Let's save our chat about Roger Federer until next year, shall we?)

Lance on Oprah: By the time Lance Armstrong wound up sitting across from Oprah Winfrey in a Texas hotel room, he'd already been picked apart, condemned, disgraced, removed of his Tour de France jerseys.

All that was left was to hear it from him, and in a memorable, Did you do it, yes-or-no, Joe Friday-style opener, Winfrey got the goods. It did not satisfy everyone, but it ended any remaining illusions. A lie had reached the end of the road.

America's Cup: On the gorgeous and windswept San Francisco harbor, Team Oracle rallied from a 8-1 deficit, stunning New Zealand and giving the nation what it craved: billionaire Larry Ellison triumphant in a catamaran-racing spectacular. It was amazing television theater, and the comeback of comebacks. Made the 2004 Red Sox (down 0-3 to the Yankees) look like they were playing minigolf.

The Red Sox: I know, I know, I know: Everyone's sick of Boston and its self-congratulatory championship overload, but: This was one they weren't supposed to win! The 2012 Red Sox won 69 games, fired their manager and restocked with midlevel players…who improbably coalesced into something hairy and fearsome and ran away with the AL East. In the playoffs there were the comebacks versus Detroit (and Torii Hunter falling headfirst over the wall) and a World Series clincher at Fenway, which hadn't happened since 1918, when most of the current New York Yankee lineup were just teenagers.

Manti Te'o and The Invisible Paramour: This story is still so inexplicable (a college-football star carries on a virtual relationship with a woman who never existed) but also significant for the way it unmasked the endless appetite for sports mythmaking. A complicated story broken by Deadspin. Meanwhile Te'o is playing in the NFL for the Chargers. (Confirmed.)

Women (finally) in green at Augusta: The news that Augusta National would admit female members broke in the summer of 2012, but it didn't seem real until Condoleezza Rice was photographed in a green blazer shortly before the 2013 Masters tournament. You may look at this as a big or small thing, but it was progress. Comically slow progress, to be sure, but helpful for fussy old golf.

Alabama-Auburn: You will never forget where you were when No. 1 Alabama attempted a 57-yard field goal with time expiring, only to have it fall short and into the arms of Auburn's Chris Davis, who ran it back 109 yards for a winning touchdown. Here's where I was: stuck on an Amtrak train from Baltimore with a grouchy 8-month-old. And then my phone blew up with dumbstruck Iron Bowl witnesses. Dominic from Miami: "Best college game I've seen in a long time. Maybe ever."

Sigh. The lesson of the story is: Know what you're doing on field-goal coverage. Also: Stay off Amtrak during the Iron Bowl.

The Super Bowl blackout: Now it can be told: I was washing my hands in the Superdome men's room. The lights went out. I thought some thoughtless dingbat had hit the switch walking out the door. And then I stepped out into the hallway, and it was dark. I went back into the press area and the Journal NFL reporter Kevin Clark was under the desk and yelling into a walkie-talkie about the end of days. OK, no: Kevin was just sitting there, puzzled like everyone else. My dad sent me a text telling me to BE CAREFUL. (Dads!) It was more weird than scary.

The players looked confused. It was bizarre Super Bowl history, to the point that nobody remembers who won Super Bowl XLVII, which, of course, was Beyoncé.

The 2013 Boston Marathon: It might seem strange to include a terror attack on a list of sports moments mostly filled with superlatives and happy memories. (Sports Illustrated put this atop their list of 2013, and I believe this is correct.) What happened on April 15 was a tragedy, impacting many lives. And yet in the minutes and months afterward, the heroism, resilience and generosity showed by Boston and beyond was representative of the very best of what sports is about. A race is about finishing, and in elite cases finishing first, but the best athletic events reveal the heart of a community. Next year there's a Winter Olympics and a World Cup, but the next Boston Marathon will be among the biggest sports moments of 2014. Count on it.

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