2009 has been a great year for sport, and a great year for me. While it may have started off slowly – stuck at home working a job I hated – by mid year I quit my job and hit the road again, and have enjoyed an amazing six months of travel and world class sport.
So here it is, my list of my most memorable sport and travel events of 2009. Some were highlights, others less so. But when sport and travel is involved, can ya really lose?
2009 Australian Open Grand Slam Final – Federer V Nadal
My first big sporting event of the year – as it is most years, is the Australian Open tennis. Thanks to a good friend with a spare ticket, I was able to go to the mens final which featured the two best players in the world slugging it out over five sets.
2009 NBL Grand Final Series – Tigers V Dragons
A small event on a world scale – or even an Australian sport scale – but a big one for me, with my Melbourne Tigers going against the cross town rivals in a five game final series. While the Tigers ultimately lost in five, the crowd support over the nine days showed that basketball in Melbourne could be a success, despite the champion Dragons not entering a team in the new league.
2009 AFL Grand Final
With the Saints winning all of their games before I left the country, I felt sure they could win their first premiership since 1966, and when they made the Grand Final, I had to find somewhere to watch it. Luckily enough I was in New York – where you can find anything – and I managed to find an Australian bar full of my countrymen watching the game. While the Saints also lost (I sense a pattern), the atmosphere of being in a bar in New York filled with other Aussies (and at least one scared New Yorker) was an event in itself.
Live College Football – Tennessee Volunteers @ Neyland Stadium
College Football is crazy. While I’d never even watched a college football game on TV before, I knew one of the things I had to do while in the US was go to an NCAA game, and while staying with friends near Knoxville, Tennessee, I had the chance to see the “Vols” who’s fans are among the most devoted and passionate in the country. No kidding. Sitting in Neyland stadium with 100,000 odd other people was an incredible experience. It didn’t matter at all that we were two rows from the back or that the Vols destroyed the opposition 63-7.
Major League Baseball at Wrigley Field.
I went along to an Atlanta Braves baseball game a few months prior, however nothing can compare to the history of seeing the Chicago Cubs at the second oldest stadium in Major League Baseball. The seats aren’t very comfortable. The seating is restricted, and the back wall is covered in Ivy – and I wouldn’t have it any other way, and neither would any of the legion of other Cubs fans who love the stadium almost as much as their team. Wrigleyville – the area just outside of the stadium full of bars that the fans flow into after the game – was another rare experience.
New York Knicks @ Madison Square Garden
Ok, so it was only a pre season game, but it was my first NBA experience, and it still had everything. The big crowd, the over the top introductions, and Knicks fans booing one of their own players. The Knicks are a team on the rise, and a trip back to the most famous basketball stadium in the world will be a bigger ticket item if they land LeBron James in the summer.
NBA Road Trip – Nine Games in Seven Cities
Starting with two games in Toronto and finishing with an unplanned road trip to Portland, November of this year was this NBA fan’s dream. I got to see my Raptors twice in Toronto, two Australians, Nathan Jawaii and David Andersen, go head to head in Minnesota as well as Australia’s most successful NBA player, Andrew Bogut twice in Milwaukee. I was treated to rookie Brandon Jennings lighting it up for 55 points, Dirk Nowitzki and Brandon Roy hit buzzer beating game winners, and the home of the legendary Chicago Bulls. It just doesn’t get any better. Oh, and I also met Chicago Bulls star Derek Rose.
Hockey Night in Canada
Arriving in Canada, I knew that (Ice) Hockey was a big deal and that I would have to learn all about it or risk not having anything to talk about. I think I still managed to underestimate how big it is though. It is everything. So I soon picked a side, and went about watching them at the local bar every other night. It’s a tough life isn’t it? Within a week I decided I had to go see the game in person, so went along to the Bell Centre in Montreal to watch my newly adopted “Canadiens” defeat the New York Islanders with a golden goal in the extra period. The atmosphere was as good as any sporting arena I’ve ever been in.
Cheer for the Anthem
My second NHL game came in Chicago to watch the Blackhawks fans, who have one of the strangest traditions I’ve ever seen. While most stadiums request the fans to be silent during the national anthem, the fans in Chicago cheer as loud as possible, and the result is quite unique experience, and it works. The atmosphere is amazing. Below, is possibly the best ever rendition, from the 1991 All Star game. While the current version isn't quite as crazy, it is still pretty incedible.
McKale Centre – Home of the Arizona Wildcats
While there was no game on at the time I visited the campus of the University of Arizona, just getting to walk on to the court of this NCAA Division One champion was very exciting for me. It also made me realise just how good the facilities are for sport in the US. This was the sort of stadium teams in Australia could only dream about, and in the US college system, it was only average.
I like to watch sport
I love watching sport, but occasionally I am compelled to try some of my own. There were two such occasions while travelling this year. The first was, after arriving in Los Angeles, and staying on Santa Monica, I decided that I had to go for a run along Santa Monica beach – and yes, I did have the theme to Baywatch in my head the whole time. My only other sporting activity for the past six months, was getting on the back of a horse for the first time ever – at the age of 29 – while I was in Tennessee. I’m far from a cowboy, but it was fun, and something I might do again some time in the future.
With 2009 done and dusted, I now look forward to the events of 2010.