Federer, Tiger, Lance, et al confirm 21st century as sport's greatest

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This is the greatest century ever for sports.

Sure, the 20th century had Babe Ruth, Jim Thorpe, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan, but it took, like, 100 years for all that greatness to emerge.

We're not even a decade into the 21st century and look what's happened:

• Michael Phelps swims to a record eight gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics.

• Lance Armstrong wins the Tour de France for a record seven straight years, ending in 2005.

• Tiger Woods captures 14 major championships in golf, 12 coming since 2000.• Federer topples Sampras record with 15 Grand Slam tennis titles.

• Sisters Serena and Venus Williams combine for an astonishing 18 Grand Slam singles titles. • Brothers Peyton and Eli Manning lead their teams to Super Bowl victories in back-to-back seasons. • Walter Ray Williams Jr. becomes bowling's all-time winner, surpassing Earl Anthony with 45 titles. • B*rry Bonds sets the mark for single-season and career home runs.

(Home-run numbers alone define the 21st century's dominance over the 20th century. The 1900s had 60, 61* and 70*; since 2000 we've already had 73*. The 1900s had 714 and 755; since 2000, we've had 762*.)

Granted, the 21st century has had some setbacks -- the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics winning titles, lighting a fire under Boston's provincial, overheated fandemonium; performance-enhancing drugs here and there; sports talk radio; Ticketmaster; instant replay as an officiating tool; Versus, and Mark Cuban -- but, overall, it has largely validated ESPN's 1979 decision to operate a 24/7 sports network.

Now, I know some of you are saying: "Declaring the 21st century as the greatest ever in sports is a no-brainer. There have only been two centuries in all of recorded time -- the 20th and 21st -- in which professional sports really existed!"

You kids today, you kill me.

You all believe if it happened before SportsCenter, it didn't happen at all. Well, let me give you some brief highlights from the 4th century, which only happens to be the second-greatest sports century of all-time:

• Agapios Johnson is the first gladiator to kill 13 straight opponents on the road; all bled to death. • In a pre-Olympic competition, an unknown javelin thrower throws the javelin from the Colosseum to the Tiber River. • Medousa Jones becomes the first woman to win the Triple Crown of chariot racing (Hippodrome of Olympia Derby, Circus Maximus Stakes and Arco Arena Cup).

Here in 2009, the question is: Why are we in the midst of such an athletically prolific century?

It's called evolution, my friends. As the species evolves -- and we get bigger, faster, stronger -- our games reach a higher level.

(You think David Tyree makes that catch in Super Bowl III?)

Nutrition and medicine are better. Training techniques are more refined. Wheaties help. And, frankly, I think ESPN HD makes things look better even if they aren't better.

In any case, less than 10 years in the making, this is a century of endless possibilities.

I just received word of an extraordinarily gifted 4-year-old physical phenom in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, by the name of Cy Borg. He's a two-sport star at Wildhorse Trail Pre-K, and I believe he one day will win more baseball games than any major league pitcher in history and also will win titles at Wimbledon and the French Open.

(Aw, man, I almost forgot that the 21st century already has given us the greatest gift of them all -- in 2005 the NHL canceled its entire season.)

Q: So now that you've cashed at a World Series of Poker event, how fast did any or all of your ex-wives try to claim your winnings? (Brad Theurer; Gaithersburg, Md.)

A: Thank you for allowing me to tell readers that, one week after writing about my latest World Series failure, I cashed for the first time ever: In the $1,500 buy-in stud/8 event, with 467 entries and 48 players finishing "in the money," I came in 32nd, worth $3,288. It helped that I played with a blindfold on.

Q: My son points out that you are way overdue for a knock on Major League Soccer. I've theorized that you've come to your senses and now appreciate MLS. Well? (Ron Gannon; Hayward, Calif.)

A: Actually, I've been busy with my proposal that MLS should go to a sudden-death format from the start of the game -- first team to score, wins.

Q: Before there were golf courses with tiny, finely manicured blades of grass to be plucked and tossed, how could people tell which direction the wind was blowing? (Ron Rajecki; Fairview Park, Ohio)

A: Pay the man, Shirley.

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