LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — In a year where good days seem in short supply, sports delivered one.
The NFL roared back to life, even if the roar was from fans who weren’t in the stadiums. Baseball saw a no-hitter. The NBA and NHL playoffs continued. Men’s tennis and women’s golf got first-time major champions. And one school reached the AP Top 25 for the first time since World War II.
Put simply, Sunday was special.
Sept. 13, 2020, will go down as a day like none other; of course, it should be no shock that there’s never been such a menagerie of NFL games, NBA and NHL playoff games and a no-hitter on the same day, with everything else just being superfluous garnish atop that mix.
“Three months ago, there was nothing,” Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m thankful that there’s something now.”
Sunday had much more than that. It brought a little of everything.
At this point, nobody needs to be told why everything in 2020 is different. Racial injustice remains a massive problem. The coronavirus pandemic continues. Sports — the escape the world has from everything — were on hold for much of this year, with all corners of the globe trying to find their way to whatever the new normal will be in a world that includes COVID-19.
But on Sunday, even if from afar and not at the stadium or arena, there was so much to cheer again.
There were 12 NFL games, including a winning debut for the now-Las Vegas Raiders, who topped Carolina — and a big rally for Ron Rivera, whose Washington club came from 17 points down to beat Philadelphia. Rivera, who revealed last month that he’s fighting cancer, needed a precautionary IV at halftime. Washington, in its first game since scrapping a nickname out of touch with the times, outscored Philly 27-0 the rest of the way.
“This is just the beginning of who we can become,” Rivera said.
Denver became the first team in NBA history to force its way into four consecutive Game 7’s; the Nuggets rallied from 19 points down in the second half and ran past the Clippers to force a deciding game in their Western Conference semifinal series. In the NHL, Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders combined for no goals in the first 1,887 seconds of their Eastern Conference title-series game and then three in the next 27 seconds — tying for the third-fastest three-goal barrage in Stanley Cup playoff history.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper arrived for his postgame news conference, however, with one thing on his mind: “What’s the score of the Bucs game?” he asked.
Oh, that. For the first time since Jan. 1, 2000 — when he was a senior at Michigan — Tom Brady played a game in something other than a New England Patriots helmet. Brady’s Tampa Bay debut didn’t go as planned; Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints prevailed 34-23 in the matchup of over-40s.
Brady is a legend; Alec Mills is a journeyman pitcher who entered Sunday with a career record of 38-46 at the MLB, minor league and fall league levels of baseball.
Only one of them threw strikes Sunday.
Mills — whose only other complete game as a professional was a seven-inning effort in the Carolina League 5 1/2 years ago — pitched a no-hitter for the Chicago Cubs in Milwaukee, blanking the Brewers 12-0.
“I know how much comes along with that,” Cubs manager David Ross said after the second no-hitter of the season. “That’s history. You get to make history. That’s a special day for us, a special day for Alec Mills. That was fun to be a part of, fun to watch.”
It was a special day for Mirim Lee, who won her first LPGA major by claiming the ANA Inspiration — chipping in for eagle on the 72nd hole just to get into a playoff. It was a special day for Dominic Thiem, who rallied from two sets down against Alexander Zverev and won the U.S. Open men’s title in a classic five-setter at a strangely empty Arthur Ashe Stadium.
For the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, it wasn’t a day like no other. It was just a day like none other since Nov. 1, 1943 — the last time, before Sunday, that the AP Top 25 poll came out and they were on the list. It was a Top 20 back then during World War II, including such schools as Arkansas-Monticello, Colorado College, Iowa Pre-Flight and Del Monte Pre-Flight.
They went to Iowa State on Saturday and won 31-14, just the program’s second all-time win in 22 tries against Big 12 competition. The Cajuns were ranked No. 19 Sunday.
“Achieving this national ranking has ignited our fan base and alumni,” Louisiana-Lafayette athletic director Bryan Maggard said. “The notoriety not only highlights the accomplishments of our program … but puts our university in the national spotlight as well.”
The reigning WNBA champion Washington Mystics got a last-day-of-the-season win to clinch the last remaining playoff spot in their league, meaning they’ll have the chance at back-to-back titles.
“This is a sports junkie’s heaven right now,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault said. “You could sit in front of your TV and watch a lot of different stuff. Thinking back to last April when there was nothing on. We were all searching for what we would do to entertain ourselves. Fun to be part of getting sports to go again.”
Indeed, sports are going again.
Differently than before, sure, but definitely going again.
AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg, AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno, and AP Sports Writers Jake Seiner and John Marshall contributed to this report.
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