Amid anguish of pandemic, sports offered memorable moments
Sarah Fuller was a goalkeeper on the Vanderbilt women's football team when a chance for history tapped her on the back.
The Commodores soccer team had lost a kicker to COVID-19 issues, so coach Derek Mason reached out to soccer coach Darren Ambrose to see if Fuller might be a good option.
It turned out that it was her.
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Fuller, a senior citizen, became the first woman to play Missouri in a Power 5 football game with a kick-off on November 28. Two weeks later, she made history again as the first to score with two extra points against Tennessee.
Fuller's uniform was sent to the College Football Hall of Fame. Her gender performance was a glimmer of inspiration amid the darkness of a pandemic.
"All along it was when I can, when I'm good enough to do it," said Fuller. "It wasn't that whether I was a girl or not. I really appreciated that. At the end of the day they treated me like an athlete and that's the best I could ask for."
A pandemic made the 2020 sports year one of the strangest, filled with stoppages, cancellations, infections, and quarantines.
But sport can also inspire in bleak times. And, despite all the difficulties and heartache, 2020 was filled with such moments.
The Kansas City Chiefs created one before the shutdowns began, winning their first Super Bowl title in 50 years behind next quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Another long drought ended when Liverpool won the Premier League for their first English championship in 30 years.
The Los Angeles Dodgers kept up the trend at the end of a pandemic-cut baseball season, claiming their first World Series title since 1988.
"We never stopped," said World Series MVP Corey Seager. "We were ready to go as soon as the bell rang, and as soon as that happened we rolled on."
The NHL and NBA stopped and then started again in the most pandemic fashion: in bubbles.
The Tampa Bay Lightning made the most of their two month stay in Edmonton and won the franchise's second Stanley Cup (in 2004) by beating the Dallas Stars in six games.
The Los Angeles Lakers mourned in 2020 after Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and six others were killed in a helicopter crash.
The Lakers honored the former star and Hall of Famer in the best possible way, winning the franchise's record-breaking 17th championship - the first since Kobe won its fifth in 2009 - by beating the Miami Heat in six games.
"We just wanted to do it for him," said Laker's great man Anthony Davis. "I know he looks down on us, proud of us."
Lewis Hamilton wrote part of his own story in 2020 and drove to his seventh Formula 1 title to reach Michael Schmacher's career brand.
Denny Hamlin kicked off the pre-pandemic NASCAR season by winning the Daytona 500 as the fourth straight driver. Popular driver Chase Elliott crowned the shortened season by winning his first Cup Series championship when he came across the checkered flag from behind in the final race of seven-time champion Jimmy Johnson.
"Sharing a moment like this, Jimmie's last race, to win the championship and lock it up, these are moments that can only be dreamed of and that are a dream." said Elliott, who received a big hug from Johnson after winning the Phoenix Cup. "I just hope I never wake up."
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