This is an article I did for work and mentioned on my TV segment, in memory of the late Dimebag Darrell Abbott, the revolutionary guitarist from Pantera: Requiem for a guitar god: remembering Dimebag Darrell Abbott (http://www.kuam.com/news/11879.aspx)
I've admittedly been out of the normal loop of knowing the day's top stories, but I was absolutely floored when reading about the tragic and senseless murder of Dimebag Darrell Abbott, best known for his groundbreaking guitar work with Pantera. To a metalhead and musician like myself, he was a true inspiration and I'm literally shaking as I write this. I'm that moved. I haven't been this offset by the loss of a musician since Randy Rhoads died in 1982.
<This is an except from my radio show wherein I recapped the top stories of 2004>
With the year winding down, news sources throughout the country are hurriedly assembling their lists of the top stories, finishes, wins, losses, and moments that made this a truly unforgettable year in sports. And I'm no different.
With Athens fittingly hosting the 2004 Summer Games, we were treated to the usual assortment of performances that defied belief, brought out national pride, and caused international controversy. And the last twelve months from the pro and college ranks have likewise provided us with images, words and memories that won't soon be forgotten.
We witnessed historic comebacks and monumental collapses, cheered at awe-inspiring victories and cried at heartbreaking defeats. We were introduced to some new names that competed at levels beyond themselves, creating moments that will forever be engrained as part of the fabric of American popular culture. We were also forced to too suddenly say goodbye to several people for reasons we'll likely never be able to explain.
In short, it was an amazing year to be a sports fan. So (doing my best Rod Serling impersonation), submitted for your approval, 33 moments in sports that made 2004 memorable - and why.
33. 81-year-old Bill Davidson, the country's most victorious owner. The owner of NBA's Detroit Pistons, the WNBA's Detroit Shock and the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning wins world championships in all three leagues. Another unprecedented string of good fortune for the former Michigan glass salesman (who also owns The Palace at Auburn Hills and Arena League Football's Detroit Fury).
32. A wicked good year for New England! New Englanders globally had lots to celebrate in 2004. And as one myself (Waterbury, CT, baby!), it was almost unheard of to have both UConn basketball teams and the Patriots win their respective championships, with the clincher being the Red Sox sweeping the Cardinals. It's a script even Portland, Maine native Stephen King couldn't conceive. It was such an unbelievable year that most can kindly look past the Celtics' dismal 2004 campaign.
31. Hendrick Motorsports plane crash. Two nieces, a brother and the son of a NASCAR team owner, along with several others, were killed when their small plane crashed into a mountainside while attempting to land en route to a race at Martinsville, Virginia.
30. Maria Sharapova wins Wimbledon. The 18-year-old Russian bombshell defeated Serena Williams dramatically 6-1, 6-4 to become the third-youngest player ever to curtsy. Sharapova's victory proved what many had predicted for months - the decline of the Williams Sister's stranglehold on tennis.
29. Europeans hand the U.S. team its worst loss at Ryder Cup in the 77-year history of the event. No two ways around it, the lads from across the Atlantic have our number, having won 7 of the last 8 Cups, and whupping our guys this time around 18-1/2 to 6-1/2. Ouch.
28. Joe Gibbs returns to D.C. Putting his dominance of the racing circuit aside, Gibbs' return to the Redskin sideline wasn't the success it was planned to be. He'll restore the team to playoff contention by 2007, if he's around that long, but a fourth Super Bowl ring Gibbs won't be wearing anytime soon.
27. Antonio Tarver KO's Roy Jones, Jr. in the 2nd Round. Jones' seemingly unbelievable mortality may function as a fuel for greater things for the most amazing boxer of this generation, or may be a harbinger of the beginning of the end. By losing, he ironically proves his greatness joining Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Fraizer and George Foreman as champions who themselves fell during their historic careers.
26. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is fined $10,000 and penalized 25 points and for swearing. Sure, Little E brought the hit on his bank account upon himself for blurting out one of the Severn Dirty Words on national television after winning at Talladega, but to impose a penalty so stiff on his point total was drastically unfair.
25. Paul Hornung's comments about ND recruiting. The former Fighting Irish great tells a Detroit radio station that his alma mater needs more aggressive recruiting of black athletes and needs to "ease up on academic standards to get them." The former All-American later would apologize for his statements.
24. Kobe Bryant's rape case dismissed. The most televised celebrity trial since O.J. Simpson, the news of Kobe's legal pardon was jubilation for some, condemnation for others.
23. Ricky Williams' retirement from the NFL. When Samson lost his hair, he lost all his power. When Miami's perennial all-star running back showed up this past spring sans dreadlocks, he apparently gave up all ability to make conscious decisions that make any sense to anyone but him. Now having since resigned to the comfortable confines of Northern California to study holistic medicine and partake of all things herbal, his place in the Dolphins' backfield is pretty much rescinded. Which is a damn shame, seeing as how the fins are having the worst season in their history and could use him. Ask Dave Wannstedt. When Jim Brown and Barry Sanders left the NFL and prematurely ended their Hall of Fame careers, people thought, why? Ricky's departure left people wondering, huh?
22. Maurice Clarett's claims against OSU. The former Buckeye tailback's quest to get paid in the NFL has morphed into a personal crusade to get back at Ohio State for allegedly making him take the fall, after, he claims in 2002 and 2003 head coach Jim Tressel and several team officials, and school boosters gave Clarett benefits deemed inappropriate by the NCAA.
21. ABC's shock sports TV. Was Janet Jackson's Super Bowl nipple slip (aka, "the wardrobe malfunction") and the Monday Night Football open featuring Terrell Owens and Nicole Sheridan a pair of monolithic media blunders or stroke of marketing genius by ABC? They certainly got network-wide exposure of each incident for days after each happened. Pass moral judgment if you want, but methinks it's a very well-crafted campaign. I mean, they've got the perfect alibi: who would expect such ribaldry from Disney?
20. Pittsburgh rookie QB Ben Roethlisburger sets the record for most wins by a starting rookie QB. Big Ben just keeps ringing true for the Steel City. And he while he may be in his first season, his pocket composure shows that he's anything but. #7 set the record for W's for a rook at 10 against Jacksonville, and at the time of this writing, there's no stopping the former Miami of Ohio signalcaller, and he rolls right into the playoffs.
19. Second split NCAA national championship in 7 years. Once again, the BCS, the very system designed to ensure that the nation's top two teams would meet in a definitive championship game let players, coaches, sportswriters and fans down. USC and LSU were forced to share the national championship, as each won decisively in the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, respectively. The system's been tweaked numerous times at the end of each season since its formal implementation in 1997 (in which year Nebraska and Michigan had to split the title), and this year is possibly the worst yet, as five teams finished the season undefeated - USC, Oklahoma, Auburn, Utah, Boise State - with the latter three pleading justifiable cases for why they didn't get a nod for the Orange Bowl.
18. Shaq traded to Miami. The continual drama that was the Lakers' 2003-2004 season was so apropos to the team's Hollywood backdrop that the end result was Phil Jackson's retirement and the trading of Shaquille O'Neal to South Beach. This move officially rung in the undeniable shift in the balance of power to the NBA's Eastern Conference. The Diesel isn't off to what many would consider a Shaq-esque start (20.2 PPG, 11.7 RPG), but the Heat will go deep into the playoffs. Bank on it.
17. The University of Colorado's sexual harassment scandal. Head football coach Gary Barnett was smack-dab in the middle of a dicey controversy initially involving players allegedly taking CU recruits to wild parties in which they interacted with co-eds in a less-than-desirable manner, and lobbing gender-insensitive comments at former Buffaloes placekicker Katie Hnida. Of the latter point, many felt Barnett's verbal salvo was undeniably harsh, but actually truthful. While the issue remains far from over and despite the damage done to morale, the team rallied around its coach and its own damaged program, and still wound up appearing in the Big XII championship game against Oklahoma.
16. UConn wins both men's (3rd overall) and women's (5th overall, 3rd straight) NCAA basketball championships. Not having any real sporting presence since the Hartford Whalers became the Carolina Hurricanes 7 years ago, the Nutmeg State harnessed its collegiate basketball programs to national prowess, and made Storrs into a place many opponents fear visiting. Gino Auriemma and Jim Calhoun may not see eye-to-eye, but they do run the nation's most consistently competitive hoops curriculum outside of Cameron.
15. New England Patriots win 2 world championships in 3 years/run winning streak to 21 games. With free agency basically destroying any concept of a dynasty, 2-in-3 is about a close as we're going to get, and Bill Belichick's never-smile attitude and system of rotating players may not work for your hometown team, but it's the most dominant force in the NFL right now. It works, it's proven. And trust me, it's being emulated.
14. Ken Caminiti found dead at 41. The saddening October 10 news of the untimely passing of one of baseball's most endearing figures and a former NL MVP reminded us how the calls of drugs can override athletic prowess, financial riches and public adoration. Let's hope Cammy's legacy is preserved with memories of a player's player with a cannon right arm from third base and moon shot homers, rather than being denounced by his unfortunate dependencies.
13. Team USA Men's Basketball fails to win gold at 2004 Olympics. They won bronze, so what? Anything less than blowing the rest of the world out by 37 each night en route to gold for a team loaded with NBA all-stars is unacceptable. (That faint snicker you hear in the distance is Argentina's Manu Ginobili)
12. And a child shall lead them. Freddy Adu becomes the youngest player to see time in a Major League Soccer game, youngest player to ever score a goal, and youngest player to participate in an all-star game from any professional sport at 14. He's not league-dominant yet, but expect Adu to accomplish in the 2000's what the great Pele never could in the 1970's - popularize soccer to near-NFL proportions in America.
11. Michelle Wie becomes the youngest player to play in a PGA tour event. The 14-year-old Wie missed the 36-hole cut at the Sony Open by a single stroke, but finished ahead of 47 men.
10. Ichiro Suzuki breaks George Sisler's 84-year-old record of 257 hits in a season (finished the summer with 262). The soft-spoken phenom from the Land of the Rising Sun added nicely to his already impressive award collection (3 gold gloves, 2001 AL Rookie of the Year, 2001 AL MVP, 4 straight All-Star Games) in a mere 4 years with Seattle. Pundits harped on his "singles-only" approach to getting hits, but consider that he led the AL in batting average (.372), on-base percentage (.414) and was second in stolen bases (36) and you can't help but respect - and fear - the outfielder's obvious talent.
9. The BALCO Laboratories steroids scandal. Now a household name, the pharmaceuticals company currently in the middle of an investigation that looks to shake the foundation of Major League Baseball, highlighted by federal grand jury testimony indicating Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds as having used illegal substances, an assertion to which all three men claim they did unknowingly. The year wound down with BALCO head Victor Conte admitting on national TV that he provided illegal steroids to track star Marion Jones.
8. Swimmer Michael Phelps wins 8 medals at 2004 Olympics. While he didn't break Mark Spitz's 1972 record of 7 golds (thereby missing out on a $1 million bonus from Speedo), the enigmatic Phelps did bag 6 gold, 2 bronze and a world record in the 400m individual medley. Not a bad 2 weeks' work for a 19-year-old who's got at least a pair of foreseeable additional Games ahead of him. His medal 8-medal tally tied him with gymnast Aleksandr Dityatin in the 1980 games in Moscow for the Olympic record.
7. U.S. gymnast Paul Hamm's gold medal debacle in Athens. An understandable dispute from South Korea's Kim Dae-eun over the legitimacy of Hamm's winning performance after a fall on his vault routine and the subsequent margin of his victory (the closest in men's Olympic history) led to months of debate and public scrutiny. After rumors of possibly having to share gold, or worse, having to give it back, Hamm was eventually named the outright champion.
6. A-Rod traded to the Yankees. Appropriately just after Valentine's Day, February 16 will forever be known by many in Red Sox nation as the Day the Biggest Fish in the Market Got Away. As if losing out on Alex Rodriguez, easily the game's best all-around player, wasn't enough, George Steinbrenner's deep pockets, all-star roster and the allure of playing on the world's biggest stage wooed the then-reigning American League MVP to the Bronx.
5. Barry Bonds hits 700th HR, wins 7th MVP. With more MVPs on his mantle than, well, Mantle, Bonds remains in a class all his own. The oldest player to ever win MVP at 40, and his fourth straight season receiving the award, he's got 4 more than any other man in history. And although the steroid headlines will surely detract when he passes Hank Aaron on the all-time list for homeruns, #756, which will be the single largest moment in sports since Roger Maris in 1961, is only realistically two short years away.
4. Lance Armstrong wins historic 6th Tour de France. Marred by the media's doping rumors and amidst the scrutiny of his peers, Armstrong again showed inhuman resolve and character to win an unprecedented sixth straight title to become America's most beloved athlete, and an unstoppable marketing machine. (Oh yeah, and he got Sheryl Crow in the process. Not too shabby.)
3. Pat Tillman killed in Afghanistan. The former Arizona State star and Arizona Cardinal who's selfless and intentionally low-key act of giving up a multi-million dollar lifestyle to enlist in the service of his country redefined bravery, patriotism, commitment, and sacrifice - and taught a nation questioning the purpose of its overseas campaign about true dedication and love. The news of Tillman's tragic death while serving as a member of the elite U.S. Army Rangers reminded us all that sports is merely entertainment, and that real heroism is evident in the character of a man in his finest hour.
2. Basketbrawl: the Pacers/Pistons/Pistons fans fight. I'm quite certain this isn't what NBA commissioner David Stern envisioned when he conceived the marketing campaign "The NBA - It's Fan-tastic!" Quite possibly the most frightening moment ever in sports, creating a backlash by both the Michigan law enforcement community and the national media, a player's tussle starting with a hard (and debatably flagrant) foul by the Pacers' Ron Artest on the Pistons' Ben Wallace led to the unthinkable: professional athletes irresponsibly engaging in fisticuffs with fans (the latter not being too bright themselves). The short-term effects will likely require a total revamp of the NBA's stance on game security, the distribution of alcohol, the proximity between players and fans, and the level of tolerable behavior from both those on the court and outside of it.
1. Boston Red Sox win World Series. The most sought after sports story took place in the most improbable of ways. Boston not only stuck it to the hated Yankees in Herculean fashion, coming back from 3 games down in the ALCS, including a 19-8 shellacking in Game 3, but also silenced the ghosts of generations past that had been reminding them of their lack of success and also gave some final reprieve to those spirits who haven't been able to rest in the 84 years since the Red Sox' last world championship. No longer will the good people of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island have to endure the annual fall lamentation that is the Curse of the Bambino, bringing about the most culturally significant moment for the region since the Boston Tea Party. Gone are the days of the "1918" rallying cry from a nation that got its collective jollies at laughing at their misfortune. The Red Sox win also finally divorces them from their marriage to the Chicago Cubs as the most pathetic sports stories in the nation.