As Kentucky sports fanatics, it's easy to get caught up in the moment of what the Big Blue Nation has to offer. The new facilities, constant men's basketball success, the greatest fanbase on earth, you name it, we have it. Sometimes it's hard to look beyond September through March when the Wildcats take over Commonwealth and Rupp, and I don't blame you. For the time being, however, let's take a look at the entire sports landscape.
I recently got in an argument with a buddy of mine about the greatest eras in sports history, ranging from Michael Jordan's electrifying dominance in basketball, Babe Ruth slinging homers out of the park, and Joe Montana's beautiful bombs to Jerry Rice en route to four Super Bowl rings. Each of these eras had their moments, each had their sports legends and Hall of Famers, guys we all look up to in the media and as fans. That got me thinking, however, about the sports world we're living in right now, with all of the former, current, and future stars almost everywhere we look. Are we living in that never-to-be-topped era right now?
In the NFL, we just had to say goodbye to one of the greatest NFL players to ever live in Peyton Manning,
and we'll be saying goodbye to another in Tom Brady
here in a few years. Two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, one of the most storied rivalries in history. Beyond those two, we get to witness guys like JJ Watt, Antonio Brown, Adrian Peterson, and Rob Gronkowsi
dominate their respective positions, each of which being bigger, faster, stronger, and more athletic than their predecessors in the league.
As far as individual moments, we get to witness storybook events like Manning riding off into the sunset as an NFL champion, the greatest catch in football history with Odell Beckham Jr.'s one-handed snag against Dallas, and Malcolm Butler's goal line pick to seal the deal on Tom Brady's fourth Super Bowl ring back in 2014.
In baseball, we've gotten to witness the closing of an era for legendary guys like Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, and Albert Pujols
, and the start of a whole new chapter of Hall of Fame-caliber talent in guys like Kris Bryant, Mike Trout, Manny Machado, and Bryce Harper.
We've gotten to witness iconic moments like the Jose Bautista bat-flip, Derek Jeter's walk-off RBI to end his career, and the Boston Red Sox break "the curse." The stories are writing themselves. We're witnessing greatness, and it's only going to get better as these young guys develop and continue to take the MLB by storm.
In the NBA, we just said goodbye to arguably the greatest scorer to ever step foot on a basketball court in Kobe Bryant,
and one of the greatest power forwards in history in Tim Duncan
. We have LeBron James
dominating the sport like we've never seen before, a guy that has managed to play in six straight NBA Finals, and another one in 2007, where the next-best player on the roster was Larry freaking Hughes. Steph Curry
has completely changed the landscape of shooting in general, especially from behind the arc, where 35 to 40-footers are as "normal" as any other shot attempt. Whether you want to call him the greatest shooter of all time or not really doesn't matter in this argument, because the other guy probably at the top of your list, Ray Allen, is from this era as well.
And as if this era of NBA basketball couldn't get any better, Kentucky basketball has somehow managed to make up nearly 5% of the entire NBA this past season
, and that number doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Quality over quantity, you say?
DeMarcus Cousins is arguably the best big man in the league right now, Anthony Davis is a legitimate MVP candidate, Karl Anthony-Towns was just the fifth unanimous NBA Rookie of the Year since 1984, John Wall ranks among the league's best at point guard, and the list goes on.
Let's completely go off the "professional" grid for a minute and take in the Olympics we just witnessed. Michael Phelps
is without a doubt the the greatest swimmer to ever set foot in a pool, and it'd be tough to argue against naming him the greatest Olympian of all time
. Katie Ledecky
has made a name for herself as the greatest female swimmer in the world, and if/when Phelps hangs up his Speedo for good, she will step in as the greatest swimmer on the planet, as well.
is the fastest human on the face of the earth, and we just had the opportunity to watch him dominate the sport of track and field for twelve consecutive years, where no one could even come close to what he brought to the table and who knows if anyone ever will.
Team USA has dominated in basketball for eras upon eras now, but even with one of the "worst" USA Olympic squads in recent history, they still found a way to pummel each opponent in the playoff bracket on their way to yet another gold medal this year. There's definitely a reason many argue the 2016 Rio Olympics were the greatest of all time.
On the Kentucky basketball side of things, the "greatness" is obvious. We're witnessing a program that has been competitive every single year in the Calipari era. Every. Single. Year.
Even the 2012-13 NIT team was on an upswing with hopes for a tournament run before Nerlens Noel... yeah, you know the rest of that story. That doesn't just happen.
No one goes to Final Fours in four out of five years, two championship appearances, and one title. No one sends guys to the league and impacts not just individual lives, but entire families and communities, like John Calipari and UK basketball. Without UK, guys like Eric Bledsoe, John Wall, Skal Labissiere, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist wouldn't have the happy endings to their less-than-favorable life stories. This is bigger than basketball. This is life changing stuff, and we're all here to witness it.
Chris Carter said it best at the Celebrity Softball Game, guys like Coach Cal just don't come around that often in life, and when you manage to cross paths with him, it's for a reason.
Strictly basketball-wise, the most decorated college basketball athlete ever, Anthony Davis, helped lead the winningest program in NCAA history to their 8th title. He's a once-in-a-lifetime talent, and it's sometimes hard to grasp that. What he did at Kentucky will quite possibly never be topped. Beyond Davis, look at John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins
, the energy they managed to bring a thirsty fanbase. Aaron Harrison's
late game heroics in three consecutive games en route to a Final Four. Arguably the greatest team in NCAA history led by Towns, Cauley-Stein, Booker, Lyles, and the Harrison twins, 38 straight wins. One loss in an entire season. No one can ever say they accomplished that, ever. And we were there to watch it unfold.
UK football is a little different narrative, but Randall Cobb
single-handedly willing the Wildcats to the finish line week in, week out in his tenure was something special to witness. That's a guy that will make an impact on Kentucky football forever. What we're witnessing right now with Mark Stoops as head coach is right on the cusp of something special, whether you like it or not. There are five-star recruits sniffing around the program and ACTUALLY SIGNING
with the Wildcats. Four-star athletes are committing left and right, it's not out of the norm anymore. Do you guys realize not even five years ago UK was signing high two, low three-star talent over teams like Kent State and Toledo? Several analysts argued that when Mark Stoops took over as coach, the roster Joker Phillips left him with was the worst in Power Five college football. Yes, the worst, like OVC level-quality. Now just three years later, those same analysts are calling for UK to win seven, eight games this season. Turnarounds like that just don't happen every day. If recruiting success, positive coaching turnover, and new and improved facilities can translate to wins on the field this year, momentum for UK football will be headed towards success they haven't seen in who knows how long.
Beyond UK football, we get to witness the Alabama football dynasty
, where every year they manage to somehow put the best well-rounded roster in America out on the field, and no one has even come close. We see the entire SEC in a league of their own in terms of overall talent and success compared to the rest of the nation, and UK being a part of that is something to marvel in its own right. As far as individual moments, in just the past few years college football has had the Iron Bowl game-winning kickoff return, the blocked Florida State kick against Georgia Tech for the upset victory, and Michigan State's blocked/muffed punt against Michigan for the win, among countless others.
Outside of the "main" sports, we have Tiger Woods
in golf, Serena Williams
in tennis, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby
in hockey, Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi
in soccer, etc. Hell, we just watched the first Triple Crown in American Pharoah since 1978.
Some of the greatest athletes in history all making their massive marks on the sports world, all at the same time. It's unbelievable.
What about coaches? When Bill Belichick
hangs up his cutoff-sleeve sweatshirts and calls it a career, he'll be remembered as one of the greatest coaches of any major sport in history. Four rings, six Super Bowl appearances. Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich
, two guys that completely revolutionized professional basketball. Many consider Nick Saban
the greatest college football coach in history for what he's doing at Alabama. John Calipari, Tom Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino
, etc. The list goes on and on.
In fact, we can get off the courts and fields and start talking about the guys on the sidelines and up in press row with the analysts and media members. Stuart Scott, Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas, Scott Van Pelt.
Then on a local level for UK sports with Tom Leach and our very own Matt Jones
. Talent in the media like this isn't always a surplus, but we're getting it right now. Olympic coverage was legendary, Sunday and Monday Night Football is consistently great, college color commentary for not just the headline games, but the random Tuesday and Saturday afternoon time slots are almost always impressive. There's literally lasting talent everywhere you look.
It's easy to get caught up in the hype of Kentucky athletics alone. In fact, it's impossible not to. What the entire UK athletic department has accomplished not just now, but in its entirety, is second to none
. But take a step back and look at the big picture. We are witnessing an era of sports that truly sets the gold standard, one that we may never get to appreciate again. In almost every major sport, we have the privilege of watching some of the greatest athletes to play their respective sports, compete not just at the top of their games, but at the top of the record books. This era is legendary.
So next time you see a jaw-dropping moment on the television or in person, a one-handed grab, a buzzer beater, or a gatorade bath at the end of a huge game, embrace it. Sit back and appreciate it. It's easy to get caught up in rivalries and the wins and losses, but the entire landscape of our current sports era is just living, breathing greatness
God bless the University of Kentucky and God bless sports.
Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR