Ranking the top 10 sports stories of the past decade

Did the past decade really go by this fast? Wasn't it just yesterday when the parade celebrating the Ravens' Super Bowl victory rolled through downtown with 200,000 packed in along the route? Maybe it just seems like it because the Ravens teased us last season before falling one game short of a return trip to the biggest dance.

Over the past 10 years, we have seen unbridled joy - remember Michael Phelps cheering on his relay teammates during the 2008 Olympics and Kimmie Meissner skating to a world title - and sadness - John Unitas and Jim McKay dying, Barbaro going down in the Preakness - and triumph - Maryland men's basketball and Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse winning NCAA titles.

One thing the decade of 2000-2009 can boast: It sure was fun. We take a look back at the decade and rank what we consider to be the top stories. We're sure there will be debate about the ranking of the stories, and we might even have forgotten something, so feel free to weigh in at

Will the next decade top this one? Who knows? But the Ravens have reloaded so they can make Super Bowl runs year after year; the Orioles have the right blend of youth and experience to make the next several years interesting in the American League East; and the 2012 Olympics in London will most likely be Phelps' final Games.

Fasten your seat belts.

1. The Ravens win Super Bowl in January 2001
It's not often that an NFL team truly embodies something about its city. But that was certainly the case in 2001, when the Ravens won the Lombardi Trophy and, in the process, healed some of the deep wounds caused by the departure of the beloved Colts. It wasn't the perfect team, just as Baltimore has never been the perfect city, but in the same way you can't have a credible debate about the "best show in the history of television" without mentioning "The Wire," you can't have a debate about the best defenses of all time without bringing up the 2000 Ravens.

The cover of Sports Illustrated said "Baltimore Bullies," and at first it felt like a backhanded compliment, another slight against a city and a franchise that never felt that it had earned the respect of the country at large. But the more you took the phrase out for a walk, the better it seemed to fit. Football, ultimately, is about exerting your will over an opponent, mentally and physically. And few teams in NFL history bullied their opponents the way Ray Lewis, right, and the Ravens did in 2000. It didn't matter, in the end, that Lewis was cast as the villain by the national media, or that Trent Dilfer would be dubbed one of the worst Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks of all time. They belonged to us, however briefly, like family. Because on that night in Tampa, Fla., a decade and a half of hurt was replaced by pure, unbridled joy.

2. Michael Phelps wins a record eight gold medals in Beijing
A small part of Michael Phelps is always going to feel like the awkward teenager with big ears who was told by a teacher, at a young age, that he would never accomplish anything because he couldn't focus on his goals. It was that slight, and so many others filed away over the years, that fueled his quest to become the first man to win eight gold medals in a single Olympics, and become perhaps the greatest Olympian ever. For two weeks in August 2008, the whole world watched as the kid from Rodgers Forge left everyone gasping for air and mumbling in awe. He won races by huge margins, and he won by the length of an eyelash, a fingertip touch at the wall in the 100-meter butterfly that couldn't be seen by the naked eye. But he accomplished the unthinkable, ultimately, because he wasn't afraid to try something that previously seemed impossible. It didn't matter that he wasn't the perfect role model, as a published photo of him holding a bong soon proved. In Beijing, he proved that perfection, in the athletic arena, was possible.

3. Terps men's basketball team wins the 2002 national championship
When it was over, when Juan Dixon fired a basketball toward the heavens, when Johnny Holliday squawked: "The kids have done it! The kids have done it!" and when Gary Williams bit down on his lower lip to fight back tears, it was clear that nothing would ever be the same in College Park. A program that had so often been dismissed as the inferior sibling to the North Carolinas and the Dukes of the college basketball world could again hold its head high. Maybe the scars of Len Bias would never fade completely, but for the first time Maryland basketball could define itself with triumph instead of tragedy. The 2002 Terps weren't the most talented team in the country that season, or even the most talented team Williams had coached, but they understood the concept of team better than any who have passed through College Park, before or since.

4. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis charged in double homicide in Atlanta
Memorable sports moments are not always the things you remember fondly. When word surfaced that Ray Lewis had been charged in a double homicide that occurred the night of the 2000 Super Bowl in Atlanta, it felt like a punch in the stomach to a city that was just beginning to appreciate and embrace one of the great defensive players of his generation. Although Lewis ultimately pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of obstruction of justice, it was clear the incident would always define him in the eyes of many, especially outside Baltimore. Lewis' transformation - from accused thug to spiritual leader and inspirational messenger - feels genuine to some people and false to others. But this much can't be argued: He is the face of the Ravens' franchise, and he will be remembered as such long after he is gone.

5. Cal Ripken Jr.'s retirement after the 2001 season
It doesn't matter how long you live, or how closely you follow baseball, you'll never see another player come along like Cal Ripken Jr. He was the local boy drafted and signed by the local franchise who was coached by his father and turned double plays with his brother. He was the man who became an iconic figure to a city and a region not with sizzle and flash, but by embodying the most basic American value we try to pass on to our children: When someone is paying you to do a job, you show up on time, day after day, and perform your duties with dignity and grace. Of course it had to come to an end eventually, but when Ripken took off his uniform and left Oriole Park at Camden Yards for the final time - a stadium that probably couldn't have existed without his steady presence - it wasn't exactly sadness we felt as much as it was pride. He went into the Hall of Fame five years later with one of the highest vote percentages in history. His Baltimore fans flocked to Cooperstown, N.Y., in record numbers for the ceremony.

6. Barbaro goes down at the 2006 Preakness
Seconds before the race began, the air was filled with nervous laughter. Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby winner who looked like a potential Triple Crown winner, had broken free from the blocks early and had to be reset by jockey Edgar Prado. That nervous laughter turned to panic when the race began and a man's voice could be heard yelling above the din of the crowd: "Barbaro pulled up! Barbaro pulled up!" You could see the fear in the horse's eyes as track veterinarians worked quickly to limit his injuries, and in the days and weeks that followed, it looked like doctors might win the unlikely battle to save his life. But it was not to be. In the end, Barbaro's legacy off the track was as important as his performance on it, as he managed to unite a community of strangers, people from all around the world who gathered together each day online to commiserate and comfort one another during his struggle. A lot of money was raised in his name, money that could eventually help save the next horse who pulls up with a broken leg.

7. Maryland ends Florida State's stranglehold on the ACC football championship in 2001
It had been so long since the Terrapins football team had been to a bowl game, Ralph Friedgen entered his first season as the head coach of his alma mater with modest expectations. All he did was smash them - and set the bar impossibly high for the next 10 years - by winning the Atlantic Coast Conference title and going to the Orange Bowl. Although expectations would change, and the unabashed love for Friedgen wouldn't last forever, that first year made Terps fans believers. College Park was no longer just a basketball campus. Football suddenly mattered again. And that felt good.

8. Johns Hopkins wins the 2005, 2007 NCAA men's lacrosse championships
Johns Hopkins didn't invent the game of lacrosse, it just seems that way sometimes. Especially to its alums. No lacrosse program carries around a weight like that on its shoulders, where lacrosse is the only sport on campus that truly matters. And for a while, the pressure to finally win another national championship - which the school had not done since 1985 - began to feel like an anchor tied to the ankles of the players and coaches. So when Hopkins finally won it all in thrilling fashion, tying the score in the 2005 national championship game against Virginia with 1.3 seconds left and winning it in overtime on a goal by Benson Erwin, it wasn't just a long-awaited victory for the Blue Jays. It was affirmation that Johns Hopkins had reclaimed its rightful position atop the sport, and a barbaric yawp to all who would listen, letting them know that under Dave Pietramala the program was back and here to stay.

9. Ravens fire Brian Billick on Dec. 31, 2007
Even in the best of times, Brian Billick could be a polarizing figure. His detractors thought he was arrogant and smug, and hated his offenses. His defenders loved his arrogance and smugness, and learned to live with his offenses. One thing was true: Billick was never boring. He understood the Shakespearean drama that is often the life of an NFL coach and seemed to enjoy daily jousting with the media right up until the end, when the locker room stopped listening and his defenders found themselves outnumbered by his detractors. His replacement, John Harbaugh, led the Ravens to the AFC championship game in his first season, but even he learned in his second season that Baltimore can be a tough town with high expectations when things aren't going well.

10. Rachel Alexandra becomes the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness in 2009
You can't really call it a Cinderella story, because in this case Cinderella wore horseshoes instead of glass slippers, and instead of dancing with the boys, she simply whipped them. It wasn't exactly a surprise either, considering how much she was favored by coming into the race. But it still made for great theater, the beautiful filly thundering out front on a soggy track, holding off Mine That Bird at the finish to earn a spot in the history books. The Preakness has always had a reputation as the working man's leg of the Triple Crown, but on this day a girl stole the show.

Honorable mentions
•The Terps women's basketball team wins the 2006 national championship in overtime against Duke.

•Hasim Rahman wins the heavyweight title in 2001 by knocking out Lennox Lewis.

•Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro is suspended for steroid use Aug. 1, 2005.

•Kimmie Meissner wins the 2006 world figure skating women's championship.

•The Ravens reach the AFC championship game in John Harbaugh's first season.

•The Orioles lose to the Texas Rangers, 30-3, on Aug. 22, 2007.

•Slots legislation passes in Maryland in 2008, giving hope to the dying horse racing industry.