Veterans fill 2021 sports year with memorable moments
Not even Father Time could get one over on Tom Brady.
Cementing his argument as the NFL’s greatest quarterback, Brady switched teams and kept winning, leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 55.
Brady’s seventh Super Bowl title, at age 43 no less, was one of the best moments of 2021, when a continuing pandemic could not dim the brightest of stars of the sports world.
“It’s hands down one of the greatest accomplishments in sports history,” said Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski, lured out of retirement by Brady to join him in Tampa Bay.
Brady wasn’t the only veteran athlete to steal the spotlight in 2021, the year of the mature.
Phil Mickelson gave the silver-haired set a thrill, becoming the oldest major champion in golf history by winning the PGA Championship at 50. Lefty left some of the world’s best — and younger — golfers in his wake at Kiawah Island, winning his sixth major championship at an age when many players are looking to move up a tee box.
“There’s no reason why I or anybody else can’t do it at a later age,” Mickelson said. ”It just takes a little more work.”
Mickelson’s moment capped an unforgettable golf season that included Hideki Matsuyama becoming the first Asian-born player to win the Masters, Jon Rahm curling in a birdie putt on No. 18 at Torrey Pines to win the U.S. Open and the United States’ dominating win in the Ryder Cup.
Tiger Woods capped the year by reeling off 11 straight birdies with his 12-year-old son, Charlie, in the final round of the PNC Championship — 10 months after shattering his right leg in a car crash.
The Milwaukee Bucks veered back on course behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, winning their first NBA title in 50 years by outlasting the surprising Phoenix Suns in six games. The Atlanta Braves exercised a few demons of their own, beating the Houston Astros in six games for their first World Series title since 1995.
The Tampa Bay Lightning won their second straight Stanley Cup title — this one outside the NHL’s playoff bubble.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics were held a year late but, as always, produced some unforgettable moments.
Texas-born Italian sprinter Marcell Jacobs shocked the world by winning the men’s 100 meters, putting his unlikely name among the sport’s greats: Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt.
Jamaican sprinter Elaine Thompson-Herah electrified the crowd by breaking Florence Griffith Joyner’s 33-year-old 100-meter record and had the second-fastest time ever to win the 200 meters.
American gymnast Simone Biles bowed out of four finals while battling “the twisties,” but overcame the mental block to take bronze in balance beam, regaining a piece of herself in the process. Sunisa Lee filled in nicely for the gymnast widely considered the greatest in history, becoming the fifth straight American woman to win the all-around title.
Helio Castroneves turned back the clock at 46, becoming the fourth four-time Indianapolis 500 champion by schooling one of the sport’s hottest young stars. IndyCar’s “Spiderman” passed 24-year-old Alex Palou with two laps remaining and the energy from the crowd pushed him to the finish line — and 16 feet up the fence at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a familiar celebration.
“I have the strength of a spider; I must have been bitten by a spider,” Castroneves said. “There was so much emotion, so much passion. I saw fans crying. I was crying. I was going to climb and climb and climb and enjoy that moment with them.”
Candace Parker knows the feeling.
The veteran WNBA player returned home to Chicago after 13 seasons in Los Angeles, leading the Sky over the Phoenix Mercury for their first title.
“To do it here at home, it was just supposed to be,” Parker said after a tearful hug with her family.
Two veteran college coaches proved they’re still at the top of their game.
Nick Saban gave the college football season another predictable finish, leading Alabama to its sixth national championship in 12 years with a 52-24 thrashing of Ohio State in the title game.
Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer won her first national championship in 29 years, overcoming a nearly 10-week stint on the road because of the coronavirus and a last-second shot by Arizona’s Aari McDonald. The 54-53 win gave the 67-year-old VanDerveer her third national title in 35 years at Stanford, along with the ones she won in 1990 and 1992.
“This is just an honor to be able to do this for her and with her,” Stanford sophomore Haley Jones said.
The Cardinal’s win came a day after one of the greatest games in men’s Final Four history, when Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs hit a running 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat UCLA. Gonzaga’s bid for the first undefeated season since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers ended in the title game, though, where Baylor pushed the Zags around to win its first national title with an 86-70 runaway.
Even during a pandemic, the stars of the sports world found a way to shine — no matter their age.