Recalling our favorite sports memories of 2009

  • Army Sgt. James Norris, one of three wounded soldiers who served in Iraq and visited the Ravens' minicamp in June, smiles as he talks with the players after practice. "There was a time when I didn't know if I was going to be back home," said Norris, a Ravens fan who survived 11 attacks. "And to be around you all now, it's truly a blessing."
Army Sgt. James Norris, one of three wounded soldiers who served… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
December 30, 2009|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Baltimore Sun reporter

Why do we love watching sports? And what did we love the most in 2009?

Those are two questions each of us would answer differently. But the answer to the second question helps explain the answer to the first.

We love watching sports because they are a Rorschach inkblot test for our emotions. And we file away certain memories from any given year based on what we love about the games we watch and play.

Maybe you love watching the Ravens each Sunday because wearing a purple jersey and nervously chewing your nails - or on your remote - gives a sense of belonging. Maybe knowing that thousands of fans are doing the same gives you a connection to a city, or a region, and maybe it stirs a sense of civic pride in your otherwise cynical heart.

Then again, maybe you like watching sports because it means time spent with family, a tradition we pass down from one generation to the next. Maybe it's an excuse for fathers and sons to exchange phone calls and conversations that help bridge the distance between them, or maybe it's the unspoken bond forged by squeezing in 18 holes on a warm spring day with a friend, a spouse, a son or daughter, or a stranger.

Maybe you like underdogs, or maybe you prefer to watch a group of exceptional athletes chase the imperfect goal of a perfect season. No matter what your reasons are for loving sports, 2009 offered something for you. Before we flip the calendar and put the first decade of the millennium in our rearview mirrors, we asked each of our writers to recall a favorite image, moment or memory from the past 12 months.

Some are big moments, others quite small. But each vignette helps answer the question with personal resonance. They are a reflection of why we love the games we watch, play and write about. And they are our favorite mental snapshots of 2009.

For wounded servicemen, this was as good as it got
It was a hot day in June, and the Ravens had invited three wounded servicemen from the war in Iraq to attend their minicamp at the Castle in Owings Mills.

Sgt. James Norris of the Army's 104th Cavalry survived 11 attacks from rocket-propelled grenades and IEDs. Cpl. Matt Jordan of the 4th Infantry Division saw his leg shredded by a roadside bomb. Spec. Charles Wood of the 10th Mountain Division suffered from combat-related seizures.

But all three were smiling. All were huge Ravens fans. And this was their first time at an NFL practice. Life didn't get any better.

When practice was over, coach John Harbaugh invited the soldiers onto the field. The team surrounded them and broke into thunderous applause. The three were stunned - and moved.

"There was a time when I didn't know if I was going to be back home," Norris said, eyes getting misty. "And to be around you all now, it's truly a blessing."

Harbaugh asked the servicemen for a cheer to close out practice. They were stumped for a moment.

Then Norris said quietly: "God bless America."

And that's how practice ended, with the Ravens and soldiers in a huddle, hands held high in the middle and everyone shouting: "One, two, three ... God bless America!"

It was a wonderful moment. I don't think I'll ever forget it.

-- Kevin Cowherd

Topping the untoppable
The most memorable "moment" for me in 2009 actually includes two moments that I cannot separate. They both involve Fallston's girls athletes. While it seemed the first one could not be topped, the second one might just have surpassed it.

First, the basketball team kept sailing through a dream season, heading into the playoffs undefeated. Just about everyone figured that run would end once the Cougars met powerhouse Paint Branch in the Class 3A state title game. The Cougars, especially Jess Harlee, had a different idea. Harlee put on a 28-point show and hit two free throws with 3.3 seconds left for a 65-62 victory and a 28-0 season.

In the spring, the girls lacrosse team had a 17-2 season going when they met Maryland's most successful team, 15-time state champion Mount Hebron, in the state final. It looked like an uphill battle in three feet of snow -- until it started. The Cougars made the upset look easy, running up a 10-goal lead in 17 minutes and routing the Vikings, 16-1, on five goals from Jenn Ward and a stunning defensive effort led by McKenzie Hannahs.

Three people shared in both titles -- Hannahs, Monica Fischer and coach Mike McTeague, who said: "They believe they're going to win -- if they play hard, they're going to win. To believe that is half the battle, especially against legendary teams like the ones we played."

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