The Year in Sports

Light-hearted recap up of the most notable athletic happenings of 2002 for a men's lifestyle magazine (like Maxim but with fewer readers).

HED: The Year in Sports

by Dave Gerardi

Last year had it all: unlikely champions, gutsy heroes, juicy crime stories and the Olympics. Okay, so the Olympics weren't that great. Sure the ice skating was fraught with scandal, but that's not really a sport, is it? Any event that prompts dirty old men to drop their issue of Barely Legal to watch can't be put in the same class as football and baseball. There are other so-called sports we can omit from consideration. Soccer, for one. Loved by the world, unwatched in the U.S. Golf is another. If it is indeed a sport, how come no one breaks a sweat? Those aberrations aside, Dave Gerardi takes Stun readers through the highlights and lowlights of 2002.

Biggest surprise

Last year was an amazing year for upstarts. The New Jersey Nets shook up the basketball world to reach the finals and no one picked the Anaheim Angels to notch their first World Series. The most underrated underdogs, however, were the New England Patriots. Quietly dispatching all comers in the playoffs, Las Vegas picked the Pats to get slaughtered in the Super Bowl by the high-octane St. Louis Rams (as a sports writer, I am required by law to use the hyphenated word 'high-octane' to describe the Rams). Coach Bill Belichick's blitzing schemes harried QB Kurt Warner all game, stifling the air attack. Neophyte passer Tom Brady showed Montana-like poise in the win, although his subsequent rejection of actress Tara Reid's advances marked the end of a 30-year stretch in which fans lived vicariously through their favorite athletes.

Biggest disappointment

The Rangers, both New York (hockey) and Texas (baseball). What a joke. The Blue Shirts' roster looks like a rotisserie hockey league team. What do they have to show for it? Nada. On the diamond, Texas followed several playoff appearances with an equally uninspired season. This is a team that boasts Alex Rodriguez, Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro. That's why coach Jerry Narron was dumped for Buck Showalter.

Best trade

There are a couple of notable trades that stand apart from the pack. The Anaheim Angels got rid of dead weight in Mo Vaughn for New York Mets pitcher Kevin Appier. To be sure, Appier's no ace and he struggled in the World Series, but he was a solid addition to the pitching staff during the season. Finding that last link in the chain to put together a winning team is often more important than a blockbuster deal.

For sheer impact, no deal beats Jason Kidd to the New Jersey Nets for Stephon Marbury. Starbury is younger, but assists count for something in the NBA and Kidd is a machine in that stat category. The Nets reached the league championship series riding Kidd's shoulders. To paraphrase the comic book store guy from The Simpsons: "Best. Trade. Ever."

What about RB Ricky Williams and QB Drew Bledsoe finding new life with the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills, respectively? The postseason will determine how successful these deals were.

Worst trade

This is a no-brainer. The New York Knicks traded their pick (power forward Nene Hilario) in the NBA draft and perennial trainer's table occupant Marcus Camby to the Denver Nuggets for Antonio McDyess. That's fair. Sure. McDyess has some great performances on his résumé, but he only played 15 games this past season due to knee surgery. Hilario would have been a good building block for a franchise well past its prime. Instead, they swapped injury riddled forwards. When Camby got hurt as soon as the ink dried on the contract, the Knicks looked like Nostradamus. A few months later, however, McDyess went down with another knee injury during a preseason game and will most likely miss the whole season. As it stands, Camby will be back on the court before McDyess. Plus, the Nuggets have Hilario off the bench. Absolute disaster for the Knicks who have shown the front office acumen of a retarded monkey.

Best coach

Although Byron Scott did a great job with the Nets, Jason Kidd deserves more credit for that team's success. Atlanta Braves helmer Bobby Cox is a good pick, too. The Braves are old and depleted, but Cox still kept them on top of their division. There's also Paul Maurice behind the bench of hockey's Carolina Hurricanes. They reached the NHL finals in 2002 only to lose to the Detroit Red Wings. The 'Canes players cut their teeth with Maurice, and it showed.

The nod, however, has to go to Bill Parcells disciple Bill Belichick. Stocking the Patriots with overachievers and castaways, benching Drew Bledsoe in favor of untested Tom Brady and blitzing the pants off opposing offensive lines propelled these underdogs to a Super Bowl win (something not even Parcells accomplished during his time with the Pats).

Biggest impact player

Shaq. It makes no difference that the Lakers played well while he was injured last year. When it came to dismantling the Nets in the finals, he was huge. Now that he hits free throws too, he's nearly unstoppable. His Achilles Heel? Aim for the toe.

Cup hog retires

After leading the Detroit Red Wings to the Stanley Cup championship, nine-time Cup-winner coach Scotty Bowman retired to give someone else a chance for a change.

Hockey fan killed

An errant puck flew over the glass killing a young girl at a Columbus Blue Jackets game prompting everyone to ask, "Are they a minor league team or something?" Terrible as the event was, it did serve to remind the hockey world that, yes, Columbus is indeed a professional NHL team.

Bonds loses

Not to turn the contest into the Anaheim Angels versus Barry Bonds, but, seriously, it's hard to root for a team with such egotists as Bonds, Jeff Kent and Kenny Lofton. It wasn't a pretty series, and the pitching generally stunk until the later innings, but the Angels stepped it up in Games 6 and 7 to complete their Cinderella season.

Baseball barons

The Yankees, never content to sit still, made several mid-season moves--such as the acquisition of Raul Mondesi--to push their payroll past the GDP of many South American countries.

Trouble signs

Not one to pass up an opportunity to be fined by the NFL, San Francisco WR Terrell Owens concealed a Sharpie pen marker in his sock during a game against the Seahawks. After his next touchdown, he ran to a luxury box and signed an autograph for a friend.

Sweeter than Sweetness

Emmitt Smith broke Walter Payton's rushing record in late October. Considering the typically short careers of running backs--their bodies take more punishment than any other position--it is a remarkable achievement. If you were to hand the ball off to one person, however, Barry Sanders is still a better back.

Crime spree

What's a year in sports without a felony or two? Jason Williams allegedly tipped a limo driver with the working end of a shotgun at his New Jersey home. Randy Moss gave a traffic cop a taste of his rosy personality by dragging her half a city block in Minneapolis. Allen Iverson was charged with breaking into his cousin's home looking for his wife brandishing a gun. Stories were changed; charges were dropped. Raise your hand if you think Iverson's cousin is now a millionaire. Okay, now put on some deodorant, fer crissakes.

Anna Kournikova

Can Anna please treat tennis matches more seriously than just another photo shoot? I'm only asking that she squeeze in a few volleys between modeling gigs. She's in danger of becoming a footnote in the sports world. I'm not saying she's bad for tennis; I'm saying she's bad at tennis. Can she win a major tournament for once? Just once? She still has many years of tennis in her, assuming the sport can hold her interest for much longer. With the Penthouse flap regarding a mis-identified set of breasts, Anna made more headlines in the courthouse than on the hardcourt. Wherever her but goes, the press is sure to follow, ignoring genuine athletes. Take this paragraph, for example. I've spent so much time talking about Anna's body, there's no room to discuss the Williams' sisters' dominance of the sport and Pete Sampras' gutsy U.S. Open win.

Dream Team nightmare

The U.S. basketball team had a bit of a wake up call this summer. And then did what most of us do: hang up and hit the snooze button. After an ugly loss in the World Championships to Argentina, Paul Pierce and the rest of the NBA's finest played just as badly against Yugoslavia. It was the first time the U.S. team lost in international play since the Dream Team was first assembled in 1992. Of course, one man's tears is another's joy. This was a defining moment for Argentinian basketball. Unfortunately, everyone in the country was outside playing soccer, missing the roundball festivities.

WWF becomes WWE

I'm still not sure this wasn't an Onion story. The satirical weekly newspaper has made headlines having a handful of its satirical parodies picked up by naďve editors as genuine news articles. This one, as hard as it is to believe, is the real deal. The World Wildlife Fund has spent a nice portion of the funds raised to protect Mother Earth on court battles over the three letters Vince McMahon uses for his roving theatrical company--er, I mean, professional wrestling organization. It's finally paid off. McMahon's acting troupe--check that, highly trained athletes--have changed their name to World Wrestling Entertainment invalidating a myriad tattoos across the country. A conversation overheard at a recent motorcycle convention: Joe (in a sarcastic voice): "Nice tattoo, man. Save the animals?" Frank: "No, dude, it's a wrestling tat." Joe: "It's WWE, man. E!" Frank: "I know, dude. Look, they changed their name. I gotta change the 'F' to a..." Joe (shouting to the assembled bikers): "Phht! Frank's gone sissy on us!" Frank: "No, I just gotta get some cash to..." Joe: "Loser."

Game 6

Down three games to two in the World Series, the Angels looked apathetic through six innings. In the seventh, Anaheim first baseman Scott Spiezio worked an 8-pitch at-bat loft a three-run home run and spark the team back to life. The Angles went on to beat the Giants, coming back from a 5-0 deficit. The look on Barry Bonds' face in the dugout after the loss? Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

God's team

After the O'Leary disaster (the Georgia Tech coach took some creative license with his résumé), Notre Dame looked sunk. Enter Michigan State's Tyrone Willingham. After dispensing with the horribly unproductive option offense, Willingham led Notre Dame back to glory with impressive wins against Florida State and Michigan. The Irish faltered against another Catholic school, Boston College, so we can only assume God liked the Eagles better that day.

Loserville, U.S.A.

It's hard to tell who rightly claims this zip code as their own. The hapless Cincinnati Bengals have lost more football games in the 90s than any other. After showing sparks in 2001, the orange and black lost their first seven games of 2002. The New York Jets, meanwhile, show no signs of having shaken their trademark inconsistency. Win their first game, lose the next four, beat an awful Vikings team, lose to an equally bad Browns squad, crush the 6-1 Chargers. Same old Jets.

Bobblehead madness

It's hard to find a stadium or arena that did not take part in this misguided collectible phenomenon. These player replicas with huge, bobbing noggins are a currency in and of themselves. They ought to come with their own eBay account, judging by how many of these things change hands the morning after the giveaway. Looking ahead to 2003, let's hope bobbleheads go the way of Pokémon.

Best action figure

A tie between Brett Favre and Shaquille O'Neal by McFarlane Toys. These hyper-realistic sculpts capture every wrinkle, blemish and emotion. No desk should be without one.

Air Bench?

Michael Jordan has a new role on the upstart Washington Wizards: coming off the bench. That's right, His Airness is now gunning for the NBA's 6th Man Award. The season opener against Toronto was a rough start--Air Tongue missed a dunk. But he's subsequently shown why he's still the greatest. He may not be what he was, but not many players could stick their egos in the back seat long enough to ride the pine. No one loves the game more than Jordan.

Dave Gerardi, writer/filmmaker for hire