11 Insane Things That Were True in Sports 10 Years Ago
A lot changes in a decade, and this is especially true in sports.
Only 10 short years later, mention of the rules, story lines and players from 2004 seems akin to discussing the Roman Empire or the Jurassic period. Playoff droughts have turned into dynasties. Heroes have become villains. Suspicions have blossomed into scandals.
And yet, of course, we must be sure to never forget. Today, I'm going to play the Ghost of Christmas Past. Let's turn the clocks back 10 years and take a quick trip to exactly a decade before this very day—August 15, 2004.
Be warned: This might not look a lot like the world you're now used to. What was true in sports 10 years ago may seem absolutely insane to the more enlightened minds of today.
But we won't be long—and I promise, as soon as this slideshow is done, I'll bring you straight back to your iPhones and your extra Wild Card.
Montreal Had a Baseball Team
Oh, how quickly we forget.
Today, the Washington Nationals are the overwhelming favorites to close out the NL East and head back to the playoffs. Ten years ago, the Nationals didn't exist, but the Montreal Expos were en route to a season in which they would finish 67-95, 29 games out of first place.
ESPN's Page 2 called their ballpark the worst in baseball. Statistics called their team one of the worst in baseball, too.
So, like, does anyone really miss the Expos?
In another funny piece of 2004 trivia: The American League Central division finished the year in the following order—Twins, White Sox, Indians, Tigers, Royals. Read that again. Yep—that is the exact reverse order of the standings as they stand now.
The Chicago Cubs Were World Series Contenders
In 2003, the Cubs infamously got within five outs of their first World Series berth since 1945. In 2004, they were considered serious contenders again but fell just short, finishing the season with 89 wins, just a few games out of the Wild Card.
The Cubs did make the playoffs again in 2007 and 2008 but were swept in the first round both times. That's just how things tend to go for the Cubs.
LeBron James Was the NBA Rookie of the Year
Today, LeBron James is the King.
He decides where he plays and how much he makes. Not only that, he decides which players come and play around him. ESPN is obsessed with him. The league runs through him.
But 10 years ago, LeBron James was just a kid, one barely out of high school and still a far cry from the legal drinking age. In 2004, LeBron James was the NBA Rookie of the Year.
These days, it's hard to imagine the most famous athlete on the planet as the new kid on the block.
Baseball Had No Penalty for Steroids
Ignorance is bliss, right?
Ten years ago today, we all believed that Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire really were that good at hitting home runs all by themselves.
Well, call 2004 the end of an era. This year marked the first time that ballplayers were told they would be subject to random testing throughout the year, but no suspensions would be given. Most people naively believed it wasn't that big of a deal.
The next few years, of course, revealed that steroids represented more than a fad—they represented an era. Legends have been forever tainted, and baseball is left with a scar on its past that spans almost an entire generation.
Ah, to return to the days when baseball was pure and everyone involved was good and holy.
High School Players Could Enter the NBA Draft
The one-and-done rule in college basketball has made John Calipari famous and a lot of other people annoyed.
Ten years ago it didn't even exist.
Dwight Howard was selected first overall in the NBA draft in 2004, becoming the last high school player to ever be selected No. 1 before the one-and-done rule was implemented two years later.
And hey, that rule has been really great—basketball stars across the world have been doing their homework and getting great educations.
Remember, it's student-athlete, not athlete-student! And don't you ever forget it!
The Red Sox Were in an 86-Year World Series Drought
Many people forget that before 2004, the Boston Red Sox were carrying the weight of a championship drought only 10 years less embarrassing than the Chicago Cubs.
And even in 2004, the Red Sox seemed absolutely destined to fall short once again.
Facing the Yankees in the ALCS, Boston fell behind 3-0 in the series before going on to become the first MLB team to ever overcome a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series.
That October, the Red Sox finally won the World Series for the first time since Babe Ruth (ever heard of him?) was on their pitching staff.
Today, winning it all seems to be somewhat of a trend. They did it again in 2007 and again last fall.
Those three championships in less than a decade mark the same number that they won in the previous 90 years combined.
Lance Armstrong, American Hero, Was Winner of His Sixth Straight Tour De France
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Ten years ago, Lance Armstrong was fresh off of his sixth of what would be seven consecutive victories at the Tour de France.
A cancer survivor, he was the face of determination and perseverance for millions of Americans. He was a hero. A role model. A beacon of light in a dark world.
Today, Lance Armstrong is a punchline. A liar. A fraud. An embodiment of all that is wrong and deceitful and dishonest on this planet.
Lance Armstrong wasn't supposed to fall as hard as he did. And on this day 10 years ago, it's safe to say that nobody saw it coming.
The Detroit Pistons Were NBA Champions
The Detroit Pistons have now played six consecutive seasons without touching the not-particularly-selective NBA playoffs, a devastating cold stretch following a stretch of eight consecutive playoff appearances, which included six trips to the Conference Finals, two trips to the Finals and and one title.
That title came in 2004, when the Pistons became America's most beloved team, riding impressive team play from a superstar-free lineup all the way to the top.
The only similarity between the 2014 Pistons and the 2004 Pistons is the lack of bona fide superstars.
Other than that, it seems basketball might be the last sport with a realistic chance at bringing another title to the Motor City.
Phil Mickelson Won His First Major
"Best player never to win a major!"
It's a statement that was almost guaranteed to follow the words "Phil" and "Mickelson" in any sentence before the Masters in 2004.
Mickelson had established himself as elite and firmly entrenched his position as second best in the world behind Tiger Woods. Mickelson couldn't seem to catch that elusive major victory that separated the good from the great.
That old Phil is long, long gone now. Ten years later, Mickelson has five major championships and has established himself not as the best to never win a major, but as one of the best ever, period.
College Football Had Two Champions
The college football postseason is still deeply flawed in many, many ways.
However, as we enter a new era with a four team playoff finally being implemented in the upcoming season, it's worth reflecting on just how far it has come in the past ten years.
A decade ago, no team in college football finished undefeated. Three teams finished with one loss. USC got the short end of the stick and didn't get to play for the National Championship, despite being ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll.
The title game, which featured LSU and Oklahoma, would surely push one of those two teams to the top of the poll.
LSU beat Oklahoma. USC beat Michigan in its bowl game. And USC stayed atop the poll.
LSU was the best according to the BCS. USC was the best according to the AP.
And so, thanks to the worst system of deciding a champion in the history of sports, both of them ended up being winners.
I guess it's always good to learn to share, though, right?
Mike Trout Was 13 Years Old
Back when Mickelson was winning his first major and LeBron was beginning his journey in the NBA, where exactly might you find Mike Trout, the greatest player in Major League Baseball, All-Star MVP and owner of two of the most impressive seasons of all time?
Probably swapping sandwiches with some kids in the cafeteria, getting ready for recess and picking his nose.
Yes, MLB's shining star was only 13 years old when the Expos ruled Montreal and Lance Armstrong ruled cycling.
Trout was barely a teenager when the Sox ended their World Series drought and Dwight Howard entered the NBA.
He was three years from eligibility for a driver's license when baseball finally started cracking down on steroids.
A lot can certainly change in 10 years.
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