I’m a little different about what I consider the best sporting events. Baseball? Blah. Basketball? Meh. Football, the American kind? Doesn’t do much for me. Hockey? I still love it, but the recent constipation in getting the NHL season started tarnishes the world's most-prestigious league.
But so what? There are plenty of other leagues and sports in the world. A combination of travel and straight-up curiosity led me to ask: What makes my list of best sporting events? Well, here they are. Get ready for some surprises.
UEFA Champions League Knockout Stage
You've heard of the FIFA World Cup. It's supposed to be the pinnacle of soccer (sorry, my UK friends – I feel like a poseur being an American who says football unless I'm in your country). I argue that the UEFA Champions League is a higher standard of play. Think about it – national teams get together every now and then, and meaningful matches are rare.
The UEFA Champions League, though, pits the top teams from member leagues against each other. These guys play together week in, week out – they mesh like no national team can. The quality of play puts it on my list of best sporting events.Â By the time you reach the knockout stages, there's all to play for. The teams in best form eliminated the rest in the group stage. And now, you're left with a few rounds where teams play a home-and-away series. The team with the most goals in each advances to the next round, with away goals being a tiebreaker.A curling rock waits for a throw. (Photo credit: markjdos)
A Big Ol' Curling Bonspiel
Curling is cool, and I don't care what anyone says about it. I can say this with the authority of not only someone who's seen the movie Men With Brooms, but someone who has actually tried curling.
That last bit is important. Curling taught me that it's difficult, both in strategy and execution. And I have yet to meet a curling person who isn't friendly and eager to welcome interested people to the sport. That makes me want to see a bonspiel, or curling tournament. The biggest is the Manitoba Curling Association Bonspiel, which is the sport's biggest and oldest – more than 1,000 teams, and the inaugural happened in 1888. But biggest isn't always best ... I hope a curling cognescenti weighs in with a suggestion of the best bonspiel for spectators.Hurling (Photo credit: Steve Burt)
An Irish Hurling Experience
I know, I know ... Irish + hurling = jokes about having too many pints. But no: Hurling is a cool game of Gaelic origin. Played outdoors. With a ball and wooden sticks. And lots of lacrosse-like action ... but the only protective gear players wear is a helmet with a faceguard (a requirement since just 2010).
Here's the really good stuff: The game has a low-key vibe where player egos take a back seat. The jerseys feature no numbers or player names. Players are unpaid, throwing themselves out there for love of the game. I'll make the same appeal to hurling fans that I did to the curlers: Feel free to educate me on the best competitions!Believe it or not, rugby can get physical. (Photo credit: paddynapper)
For the Good of the State
I'd never heard of the State of Origins rugby series. That changed when I went to an Australian's birthday party in Brisbane. He educated me on the appeal of this best-of-three series of matches; they pit players from Queensland and New South Wales. He told me there are also political overtones, with the teams representing the more conservative versus the liberal (respectively). That added fire makes it one of my best sporting events … even if it’s far too overlooked.
Aside from being arguably the highest standard of rugby, I love the idea of players representing their home state/province. More accurately, they play for the state where they first registered for senior rugby. So there's occasional controversy, as you might guess. But the central idea remains intact, and makes this a must-see on my next visit to Australia.
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