The Pittsburgh Steelers made history when they won last February's National Football League Super Bowl game played in Tampa, Florida. Their 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals gave the Steelers a record sixth Super Bowl championship, one more than the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers have won in the 43 seasons the game has been played.
Pittsburgh had finished the regular season with the second best record in the AFC at 12-4 while the Cardinals squeaked into the post-season from the NFC at 9-7.
The Cardinals looked on the verge of winning their first Super Bowl title when Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger organized a drive capped by a touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes to win the game in the waning seconds.
Steelers' coach Mike Tomlin said after the win that his team was prepared for whatever the Cardinals threw at them.
"So many times, football teams get caught up with the game not unfolding the way they envisioned it unfolding," Tomlin said. "Or the way the media tells them it is going to unfold leading to the football game. We go into games with no preconceived notions."
Gators clinch another title
In U.S. college football, the University of Florida Gators won the title for the second year in a row and the fourth since 1996 when they beat Oklahoma in the Bowl Championship Series game January 9.
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow completed 18 of 30 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns in the 24-14 victory. The Gators were 13-1 for the season, with only a loss to Mississippi preventing them from going undefeated.
Carolina wins another NCAA crown
In college basketball, the University of North Carolina won its fifth NCAA men's Division One title by beating Michigan State, 89-72, in Detroit. The win was UNC Coach Roy Williams' second national crown in five seasons at the university he attended as a student.
"Winning the second national championship for our Alma Mater is even sweeter," Williams said. "They [the players] have been on a magical run and, as I said last night, they took me for a fantastic ride."
U Conn trounces Louisville in Women's NCAA finals
In women's college basketball, the University of Connecticut went undefeated (39-0) and won the NCAA title with a 76-54 win over Louisville. The victory gave Huskies' coach Geno Auriemma his sixth national title and his fifth since 2000.
Auriemma said he was glad he did not have to face the disappointment of losing after his team played so well during the regular season and the tournament.
"These kids deserve it, even if I don't, which I don't care if I do or not. But all I kept thinking about was 'Man, I do not want to get up tomorrow morning with that feeling,'" he said.
Meanwhile, Pat Summit, the University of Tennessee women's coach, won her 1,000th victory in 2009. In 35 seasons in Knoxville, Summit has amassed 1,005 wins, eight national titles and 14 Southeast Conference titles.
Lakers capture 15th title
In National Basketball Association play, the Los Angeles Lakers captured their 15th title in 2009, beating the Orlando Magic in the best-of-seven finals in five games. The Lakers' win gave Coach Phil Jackson his 10th NBA title, including four with Los Angeles and six with the Chicago Bulls. Jackson said his players deserved all the credit.
"I've always felt as a coach that you have to push your team," Jackson said. "And they pushed themselves and I really feel strongly that this is about them. However, having won 10 championships is a remarkable accomplishment, there's no doubt about it."
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant took home his fourth NBA crown and was voted the finals Most Valuable Player. Bryant said winning his first title without former teammate Shaquille O'Neal was a great relief.
"It felt like a big-ole monkey was off my back," Bryant said. "It just felt so good to be able to have this moment. You know for this moment to finally be here and to reflect back on the series and the season and everything that you've been through, - it's top of the list, man."
Basketball Hall of Fame inducts Jordan
One of the men who contributed to Phil Jackson reaching his milestone - former Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan - was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.
Jordan said at his induction ceremony that he loves basketball, and his love for the game propelled him to his amazing career achievements.
"I don't look at this moment as the defining end to my relationship with the game of basketball," Jordan said. "It is simply a continuation of something I started a long time ago. One day you might look up and see me playing the game at 50, because limits like fears are often just an illusion."
In other honors, Cleveland Cavaliers guard LeBron James was named the regular season Most Valuable Player for 2009.
Yankees win world series
In Major League Baseball, the year started poorly for Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees. Before spring training, Rodriguez admitted to using steroids while he played with the Texas Rangers in 2001-2003. Then a hip injury hindered the Yankees' third baseman, but later he would emerge as one of the team's leaders.
The Yankees won their 27th World Series title in November with a four games to two win over the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies. The title came in the first year of the Yankees' new $1.6 billion ballpark.
Japan's Hideki Matsui was voted the Series' Most Valuable Player after he hit .615 (8 for 13) with three home runs and eight runs batted in (RBI), including a World Series record-tying 6-RBI performance in Game 6. He then became a free agent, and after seven years with the Yankees signed with the Los Angeles Angels.
The Yankees' cross-town rivals, the New York Mets, also opened a new ballpark in 2009, the $900 million Citi Field.
Buehrle pitches perfect game
Elsewhere in the Major Leagues, Chicago White Sox left-handed pitcher Mark Buehrle threw the 18th perfect game in Major League history against the Tampa Bay Rays on July 23. Buehrle threw 116 pitches and had six strike outs in the 5-0 victory, the first perfect game since Randy Johnson threw one for Arizona in 2004.
The Chicago left hander said that he had a tough time grasping the significance of his achievement.
"Any time your name gets up there with some of the greats in the game, it obviously means a lot," Buehrle admitted. "I think it's another thing when you sit back and retire and you see how many perfect games have been thrown in history and your name is in there, I think that's when I will sit back and kind of be surprised."
Penguins win NHL title
The Pittsburgh Penguins won the National (ice) Hockey League title by beating perennial favorites the Detroit Red Wings in seven games. Sidney Crosby led the Penguins with 15 playoff goals, even though he had to sit out most of the deciding game with a knee injury. It was the Penguins' third Stanley Cup and their first since 1992.
In U.S. auto racing, stock car driver Jimmie Johnson won the NASCAR Sprint Car Championship for a record fourth straight year. At the Indy 500 race in May, Helio Castroneves of Brazil took the checkered flag for the third time in his career, just weeks after a jury had cleared him of U.S. tax evasion charges.
No triple crown winner
In U.S. horse racing, there was no Triple Crown winner - again. Jockey Calvin Borel rode two of the three Triple Crown champions, but missed a personal Triple Crown at the Belmont.
Aboard 50-1 long shot "Mine That Bird," Borel won the Kentucky Derby May second.
Tom Dirkin shared the amazement of others watching the race as Borel rode to victory.
"Mine That Bird has come now to take the lead as they come down to the finish. And a spectacular upset! Mine That Bird has won the Kentucky Derby. An impossible result here!" the announcer exclaimed.
Borel then made the unprecedented move of changing mounts to ride "Rachel Alexandra" to the Preakness title two weeks later. However, in June's Belmont Stakes, Borel missed a personal Triple Crown when "Summer Bird" won the New York race.
Tragedy also marked the past year in U.S. sports, as 22-year-old Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart died in a car crash April 9, just hours after he threw six scoreless innings against the Oakland A's.
Former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair was killed in a bizarre murder-suicide in July. The 36-year-old McNair was found dead in his apartment next to the body of his alleged mistress.
Former Detroit Pistons coach Chuck Daly also died in 2009. The 78-year-old Daly led Detroit to two NBA titles and coached the 1992 U.S. Olympic men's "Dream Team" in Barcelona.
Other deaths of note in 2009 included Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, former Boston Red Sox outfielder Dom DiMaggio and Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas.
The past year brought the first decade of the new millennium to a close with several long-time champions reasserting themselves. As the so-called 20-aughts (years with zeros) end, the Yankees, Lakers, Steelers and other perennial powers hope to continue their tradition of winning.