Having lived in Arizona my whole life, there are a token few major sports moments that all local sports fans can tick off like the ingredients in our favorite recipe. There’s the Diamondbacks’ 2001 World Series win, made even more significant because they faced and took down the Yankees. There’s the thrilling 2008 Super Bowl, in which a Santonio Holmes non-catch snatched a victory from the Cardinals’ grasp. And there are all the times the Suns devastatingly let championships escape them, both in the 90s and 2000s. So while we’re all frolicking back through history as a way to enjoy sports at a time when there are none, it’s had the opposite effect on me, an Arizona sports fan who’d like nothing more than to forget the entire wretched history of this state’s sports teams.
The NBA recently announced it would make its classic games package, usually available only to NBA League Pass subscribers, free for everyone, it gashed back open the wound of Suns seasons past. Thanks, NBA, for giving me the opportunity to relive the mid-2000s, during which, in basically every season from 2004-09, the Suns were thought to be championship contenders and never made it past game six of the conference finals. What a great opportunity to revisit how NBA referees decided to enforce a rarely thought-about rule restricting players from leaving the bench after Robert Horry smashed Steve Nash into the scorer’s table from like 10 feet away.
Or maybe it would be better to go back past my own memories as a sports fan for the pinnacle of sports fandom for the generation before mine. That would mean rewatching the 1993 Finals, in which Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan, in between holes at the golf courses, sparred in one of the most fun championship series of Jordan’s run. Except as a Suns fan, checking those games out would mean inflicting upon myself the pain of John Paxson’s dagger three-pointer in Game 6 all over again. Even in the best eras of perhaps the most consistently successful local franchise, there is only disappointment.
You’re probably wondering why I’m glossing over the one championship we have as Arizonans. Well, MLB hasn’t opened its vault yet, so I’m unable to watch those games, and we all still have plenty of hope that baseball returns. We’re not missing it yet. On the other hand, though stars from the 2001 squad such as Luis Gonzalez and Randy Johnson remain in the spotlight as advisors for the Diamondbacks, others have tainted the memory.
Many probably think of Curt Schilling’s fall from grace as an ESPN story or a Boston Red Sox story. Of course, it’s both. Schilling is a sports legend for the bloody sock game, and no one will take that away from him. The controversy surrounding his obscene social media habits happened while he was at ESPN, so I understand connecting the dots that way in your memory. But before all that, he was the co-MVP of the 2001 World Series. Tune into a local broadcast these days, and the 2001 team’s manager, Bob Brenly, is calling Latin American players “bush league” and happily adding to baseball fans’ frustration by using the opportunity of calling a baseball game to crap all over the sport’s modern incarnation. I’d more happily move on from 2001, actually.
As for the Cardinals, they’re by far the biggest thing locally. It’s a little easier to make peace with them right now, as their second-year quarterback, Kyler Murray, just jumped up in the MVP odds after the team landed a generational talent to pair with him in DeAndre Hopkins. However, the team’s weird history is mostly celebrated for small blips in which quarterbacks on their last legs got the team oh-so-close to a title before failing.
I’ll never, ever forget the 2008 run, it’s the best sporting memory of my career. But as we recollect NFL history in this bizarre, COVID-19 induced sports hiatus, all that gets talked about is the 2008 Super Bowl, one of the closest margins of victory in the big game’s prolific history. People will bring up the 100-yard interception return by James Harrison, which turned a 14-point swing in Pittsburgh’s favor. They’ll reminisce, especially as Larry Fitzgerald nears the end, the best moment of his career — that incredible catch-and-run as he looked up at the clock and processed what we all knew. There was too much time left. Just enough time for Holmes to tiptoe out of bounds, become maybe the only athlete ever to make the cover of Sports Illustrated with a close-up of their feet,
Lastly, don’t bring up college sports to me. Arizona State hasn’t done a single noteworthy thing in decades in any major sport, except maybe gifting James Harden to Oklahoma City by underachieving and thus masking Harden’s value and allowing him to fall a bit in the draft. I’m optimistic about what Herm Edwards is doing, but, well, all college sports are canceled right now and spring games won’t happen.
I get many reading this won’t think of the Phoenix metroplex as much of anything of a sports town. That would be exactly the right read on us. There’s nothing to celebrate or remember. In a time when sports are not the distraction they typically would be, especially in the athletically fertile spring, the last thing I want to do as a born-and-raised Arizonan is to think about anything that’s happened in the past.