Barring a calamity of epic proportions, or Tiger hitting another fire hydrant, this will be our last blog of the year. Even bloggers give their nubby little fingers a rest. It’s the holidays, dammit, and I need to soak my hands in hot water.
And oh, what a year it was. Can you believe it’s almost 2010? Where’s my flying car?
Here are my Top Ten sports stories of the year, worldwide.
1) Tiger Woods hits a fire hydrant and tree, and all hell breaks loose.
I was hosting a show the day after Thanksgiving when the news broke. Little did we know at the time how many layers this story would have. Topping off a decade in which our major sports icons were deconstructed, this was one of the biggest of them all. The top story of 2010 might be how Tiger rebounds from all of this.
2) Tom Watson nearly wins The Open Championship at age 59.
Who would have thought golf would take the top two spots? This story would have been #1 except for Tiger’s loose zipper, and the ensuing hilarity. Watson just missed a par putt to win on 18, and had he done so, would have gone down as one of the biggest stories of all time. Instead, he lost to Stuart Cink, young enough to be his son.
3 ) Usain Bolt’s insane 100 and 200 meter times.
His performance at the World Track Championship in Berlin was one of the greatest ever. World record 19.19 in the 200 meters, world record 9.58 in the 100 meters. And he’s just hitting his peak. On top of that he’s a true showman. But if this decade has taught us anything, it has taught us to wait for the other shoe to drop. God, I hope not.
4) ARod’s steroid mea culpa.
Yeah, we suspected it, but it was still a huge story when it happened. This was Bud Selig’s fair-haired boy who was supposed to break that evil Barry Bonds’ tainted records in a few years. A perfect cherry-topper to the steroid era. However, if Tiger wonders how long it will take for him to go through the news cycle, he should look at ARod. How many even remember that spring circus? How many in New York care, now that he’s had a good postseason and has a ring.
( By the way, does anyone remember Manny was suspended 50 games this year ? )
5) The Yankees buy a World Series.
I don’t blame the Yankees for taking advantage of the rules. Baseball’s revenues have gone up five-fold since Selig became commissioner. Do you think Bud or the owners want to change the way things are done? Brace yourself for another decade of the Yankees, Red Sox and six or seven other teams battling each year for a title, with the occasional intruder who will make like TCU and become a BCS-buster, creating the illusion of parity in baseball. It’s time to either create a salary cap along with a salary ceiling, or simply relegate half the teams to a lower division, a la British soccer. P.S. the Yankees were handed a luxury tax bill of 25.6 million dollars. It is to laugh.
6) The Steelers beat the upset-minded Cardinals.
The Steelers became the first NFL team to win six Super Bowls, beating the upstart Cardinals 27-23 in a game marked by great defensive plays ( James Harrison’s record 99 yard interception return for a touchdown. Just for giggles, check out the British radio call of that play ), and a great fourth quarter. Arizona, down 20-7, takes the lead with 16 unanswered points including a bomb from Kurt Warner to Larry Fitzgerald, and then Ben Roethlisberger’s perfect strike to Santonio Holmes to win it with 35 seconds to go. It was the “Austere Bowl” because of the recession, but a game rich in drama.
7) Federer wins 15th Grand Slam
You could argue that he’s been helped by Rafael Nadal’s knee injury, but you could also argue that regardless, Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player of all time. He claimed a record 15th Grand Slam title this year. He beat Andy Roddick in a Wimbledon final that almost matched the unbelievable final vs. Nadal the year before. The most complete player over a sustained period of time I’ve ever seen.
8. Thierry Henry’s hand ball.
Our readers of Irish heritage are loving this placement, while the French are probably dismissively poo-pooh’ing my judgement. It was one of the biggest rip-offs in sports history, up there with the Tuck Rule and the USSR’s bogus basketball win over the US in the 1972 Olympics. Henry touched the ball not once, but twice, before passing it to French teammate William Gallas for the overtime goal that put France into the 2010 World Cup and ousted Ireland. No call from the referees. Even Henry agreed a replay would have been the fairest solution. FIFA did not. Now watch France win the Cup, thanks to “Le Hand of God.”
9) Mark Ingram wins the Heisman by a hair over Stanford’s Toby Gerhart.
There were five worthy finalists for one of the most prestigious awards in sports, and the final vote was the closest ever. Ingram became, remarkably, the first Alabama player to ever win the honor. His emotions on stage were real, as he fought back tears. He might have been thinking about the gravity of the achievement, or about his dad, former NFL receiver Mark Ingram, Sr. The elder Ingram is about to begin a seven year sentence for bank fraud and money laundering.
10) Michael Phelps and the bong seen round the world.
Dude, seriously, can’t a guy take a hit in privacy anymore? It was ridiculous that South Carolina cops even considered bringing charges. Note to self: never to bring my hookah to Charleston. Again, if Tiger — or on a smaller scale, Tim Lincecum — is wondering how long it will take to go through the news cycle and emerge fairly clean, just look at Phelps. He lost the Kellogg’s endorsement, that’s about it, and the whole incident is well down the road and barely a dot in our rear-view mirror. Phelps has been on the down-low most of the year but is gearing up for 2012 in London.
The top Bay Area sports stories of 2009.
1) Tim Lincecum wins Cy Young, again.
Lincecum is making a bid to be the greatest San Francisco Giants pitcher ever. He needs a few more good years to match Marichal, but he’s already passed him in one category — two Cy’s. He might want to kick down a little cake to the two baseball writers who left Chris Carpenter off their ballots. Now comes the balloon payment for the Giants. Arbitration will be more like an abattoir, unless the Giants lock him up long-term.
2) Jonathan Sanchez’ no-hitter.
Sanchez throws the first Giants no-hitter in more than three decades. Sanchez was dominant, but as with any no-hitter, needed some breaks. He enjoyed a fairly generous strike zone, and Aaron Rowand made a terrific catch at the center field wall. After the final punchout, some real emotion from the usually stoic Sanchez. He was hugged in the dugout by his father, who could be heard to say “Dios es grande, Papi.” Sanchez continues to show flashes of greatness. Will he put it all together in 2010?
3) Toby Gerhart finishes second in the Heisman, the closest vote ever.
The kid is right out of a Chip Hilton book. Great student, carrying 21 units and carrying Stanford’s hopes on his back. An incredible four-game stretch against USC, Oregon, Cal, and Notre Dame that nearly got him the school’s second Heisman. On top of all that, a terrific baseball player. That, by the way, is one of the reasons he chose Stanford — they let him play on the diamond as well as the gridiron.
4) Giants win a surprising 88 games.
Absent of success from just about every other major sports team, this will have to do. I figured the G’s would win 80 at best, and if they cart out the same lineup next year, they probably won’t break 80. It was all about great pitching and thrilling baseball into September in 2009. At least better than the previous five years. Now, will they build on that ? Early Hot Stove returns aren’t encouraging, but there have been several Brian Sabean press conferences right around New Year’s, so stay tuned..
5) Tim LIncecum’s pot bust.
Not our little Timmy! Awwww, he’s all grown up. They’re so cute at this age. Geez, a skater dude-looking 25-year-old with long hair and a wool cap. I never figured him to be the tokin’ type. True, it was not a great moment for parents whose young kids look up to Lincecum. He came correct at the Cy Young news conference, although there was still a touch of rebelliion. Lincecum showed up resembling Yoko Ono — hair longer than ever. Let that “Freak” flag fly !
6) Randy Johnson’s 300th win.
Smart Giants pitchers who were young enough to be his son were hanging around Johnson in the dugout like he was the Oracle of Delphi this season. The Giants’ $8 million investment ultimately didn’t pay off because Johnson wasn’t available down the stretch — one reason they fell behind the Rockies — but remember that rainy night in May when he won #300 in Washington D.C. We may never see that again.
7) The Sharks win the President’s Trophy, then flame out in first round.
The Sharks might as well systematically pull out the finger-nails of their fans. This was the ultimate torture, perhaps the worst flame-out since the 2001 Seattle Mariners won 116 games then lost the ALCS. Fans wanted to use the President’s Trophy as an ash tray. You have to respect the Sharks, though, they continue to make the Stanley Cup their goal. To that end, they acquired Dany Heatley in the offseason. Nice move, but wake me when they make the Stanley Cup finals.
8. Stanford beats Oregon and USC on the way to the Sun Bowl.
Coach Jim Harbaugh is a bit loony, but he has delivered. The Cardinal finished 8-4 and will take on Oklahoma in the Sun Bowl. Along the way Harbaugh managed to tweak USC coach Pete Carroll, again. The Cardinal not only whipped the Trojans on their own field, they went for two after scoring a touchdown that put them up 48-21. In most cases really bad sportsmanship, but this came against SC, so it was OK by me. ( Is my Bruin slip showing ? ) Oh yeah, the two-point try failed.
9) Tom Cable’s alleged assault.
It turned into the cop-drama thriller of the summer. Did Randy Hanson break his jaw with a Chevy Chase-like fall into the file cabinet, or was he propelled by Cable? The Napa County District Attorney, after a long investigation, said no charges would be filed. Incredulity was stretched to its limit. Cable remains coach, the Raiders continue to lose more than win, and Hanson is BACK WITH THE TEAM. That’s a gigantic hatchet to bury.
10) The President’s Cup
A spiffed-up, reconfigured Harding Park was shown off to the world in an event that doesn’t carry the weight of the Ryder Cup but was entertaining nonetheless. The US led by Tiger and Phil smoked the International team. Tiger probably wasn’t philandering in San Francisco; Elin was by his side. They stood right in front of me next to the 15th green on Day Two. I didn’t say “down in front.” I did get a very good look at what Tiger was leaving behind. Tsk, tsk.
Dishonorable mention: the continuing Warriors drama, Monta and Curry, Monta and Nelly, Randolph and Nelly, pneumonia and Nelly, Stack Jack traded. Oracle was where it’s at in 2007, but is now basketball Siberia.
And now, on to 2010. What are we going to call the next decade?