As fireworks erupted, we stood with tears of pride as Baltimore's blue-eyed home-run hitter took his last lap around the bases. Cal Ripken Jr. retired from baseball in the autumn of 2001, after 21 seasons and 3,001 games.

With his charming combination of athletic ability and old-school work ethic, he seemed like one of the last genuine role models.

A year later, we lost another great one when we buried Baltimore Colts legend John Unitas. The Hall of Fame quarterback with the golden arm died of a heart attack at 69.

Baltimore might have been without a solid sports hero for a couple of years, but at the 2004 Olympics, a teen-age swimming phenom with crazy long arms and big ears splashed onto the scene. The kid from Rodgers Forge, Michael Phelps, won gold there, but nothing compared to what he'd bring home from Beijing in 2008 - a record eight gold medals - enough to earn him the title of history's greatest Olympian and, of course, Maryland's reigning hometown hero.