RECORD BOOKS or bust | THE BEST ROOKIE CLASS ... EVER? | STEVE NASH, MVP (AGAIN) | The number 11.8 | HOME RUN HOWARD | RISING SONS | AMERICA'S PET | HEY, BIG SPENDERS | BUCK O'NEIL | DOUBLE TROUBLE | MUY CALIENTE | VICTORY LAP | BODE BOMBS | NFL PLAYERS J
28. RECORD BOOKS OR BUST
In the world of drug testing, 2006 was nothing short of chaotic, particularly in track and field. Olympic champ Justin Gatlin tied the 100-meter world mark (9.77 seconds) at an IAAF event in May, but the record was taken away two months later after he flunked a test for testosterone; he received an eight-year suspension. In August, word leaked that three-time Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones had tested positive for the blood-booster EPO. But Jones was cleared (sort of) in September, when the test on her B-sample came back clean. Meanwhile, in drug lowlights off the track:
FEB. 10 Skeleton racer Zach Lund was banned from the Olympics after a test revealed finasteride, a steroid-masking agent found in Propecia, a treatment for baldness.
APRIL 28 Mets minor league pitcher Yusaku Iriki became the first player caught under MLB's new steroids policy. His 50-game suspension was baseball's stiffest to date.
MAY 31 Nine cyclists, including many favorites, were banned from the Tour de France after they were linked to a Madrid drug lab. The investigation is ongoing, but all have since been allowed to compete.
OCT. 31 Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman was suspended four games by the NFL for testing positive for the steroid nandrolone. Seven NFL players reportedly have been busted for performance enhancement in 2006.
NOV. 1 Mets pitcher Guillermo Mota tested positive for steroids, admitted his guilt, said he was sorry ... and got a 50-game suspension.
29. THE BEST ROOKIE CLASS ... EVER?
The rules changes got most of the buzz for the new NHL, but fans will be buzzing for years about the league's top '05-06 newbies: Sidney Crosby (Penguins) and Alex Ovechkin (Capitals). Their simultaneous arrivals remind us of a couple of other debut seasons.
1951 | MICKEY MANTLE | 13 HRs | .267 BA
WILLIE MAYS | 20 HRs | .274 BA
1979-80 | LARRY BIRD | 21.3 PPG | .406 3PT%
MAGIC JOHNSON | 18.0 PPG | 7.3 APG
2005-06 | SIDNEY CROSBY | 39 GOALS | 102 PTS
ALEX OVECHKIN | 52 GOALS | 106 PTS
30. STEVE NASH, MVP (AGAIN)
"STEVE'S GREATEST MVP QUALITY IS HOW HE CARES ABOUT YOU. HE MAKES YOU LOOK GOOD. WHEN I PLAYED WITH HIM IN DALLAS, I SAID IF I GOT THE BALL AS MUCH AS OUR STARS DID, I COULD SCORE 20 A NIGHT TOO. EVERYBODY LAUGHED. EXCEPT STEVE." -SUNS GUARD RAJA BELL, WHO'S SCORED AT LEAST 20 SIX TIMES THIS SEASON
31. THE NUMBER 11.8
It took 13 years to top Ross Perot's numbers, but ESPN did it. The Oct. 23 Monday Night Football matchup between the Giants and the Cowboys on ESPN broke a cable-TV record that had stood since November 1993, when Perot and then-veep Al Gore debated NAFTA on CNN's Larry King Live. In its first season on ESPN, MNF broke through when 16.03 million fans (and a record 11.8 million households) watched the Cowboys-Giants game. The Giants won, 36-22.
32. HOME RUN HOWARD
Ryan Howard hit 58 homers this season to lead both the Phillies and MLB. Is he baseball's next big thing?
GREENBERG Ryan Howard is one of two young stars I hope will dominate baseball for the next decade. Dontrelle Willis is the other.
GOLIC We've been waiting for the young stars. We saw LeBron and Carmelo and Dwyane Wade take on basketball, now we're looking for the young baseball players. The shame with Howard is what's going to follow him in the steroids era. The guy hits 58 home runs, and the question on people's minds is: Is he clean?
GREENBERG For better or for worse, there's testing now.
GOLIC Sure. And the public discussion on Howard was largely absent because he's not chasing huge home run records. Still ...
33. RISING SONS
"WE ARE SMALLER, BUT OUR ABILITY, EVEN WITHOUT THE POWER, ALLOWS US TO COMPETE. WE CAN OUTDO THESE GUYS WITH BUNTING, SPEED, BASERUNNING, PITCHING AND DEFENSE."
34. AMERICA'S PET
Just 50 strides out of the gate in the Preakness, Kentucky Derby champ and superhorse-in-themaking Barbaro veered to the right and lost speed. A stumble had shattered his right hind leg. Hopes for an overdue Triple Crown were dashed, but that wasn't what was on everyone's mind. "A great, moaning sigh went up in the stands," says racing historian William Nack, author of the forthcoming Ruffian: A Racetrack Romance. "People draped on the railing 20 feet away were crying and pleading, 'Don't kill him.' " Horses are injured all the time. Why did this one cause such an outpouring of heartfelt emotion? "He is a warrior horse," Nack says. "He looks like he should be bronzed and put in Central Park with a Civil War general on him." It was more than horseplayers who held a virtual bedsidevigil after Barbaro underwent more than five hours of unprecedented surgery the next day. And it wasn't just railbirds who exhaled when, six months later, the cast came off and word came down that the leg-and an accompanying infection in another hoof-was continuing to improve. "People are still rooting for him," Nack says. "Horses on this level become like national pets." -NICOLE BLADES
35. HEY, BIG SPENDERS
Since beating up on the Mets in the 2000 World Series, the Yankees have spent $978,129,386 on player salaries-more than any other team. What has it bought them? The most regular-season wins in the majors (592). And not a single Series title. In 2006, the Yanks again spent more on players than any other MLB team- $194.7 million (62% more than the runner-up Red Sox). This included $15,680,727 for one man, Alex Rodriguez. Once again, The Bombers converted those dollars into an impressive number of regular-season wins (97), only to find that World Series rings weren't for sale, falling in the ALDS to the Tigers. As for A-Rod? MLB's highest-paid player became a symbol of everything that's wrong with New York's star-hoarding strategy: too much cash to wind up 1-for-14 against Detroit. But a funny thing happened in the off-season: Steinbrenner & Co. started dumping salaries, dealing Gary Sheffield ($13 million) and Jaret Wright ($7 million). Yes, they gave $16 million to Andy Pettitte, but the Bronx brain trust finally seems to be learning two lessons of the new MLB-onomics: Payroll and wins may be loosely correlated, but nothing guarantees victory in a short Series. Just don't expect The Boss to say that in public. -PETER KEATING
36. BUCK O'NEIL: 1911-2006
It wasn't until after he'd discovered Ernie Banks, Lou Brock, Lee Smith and Joe Carter that John Jordan (Buck) O'Neil was himself discovered. It wasn't until long after he had played for and managed the Kansas City Monarchs that Buck would introduce a new generation to the glories of the Negro Leagues. It wasn't until he had made sure that the legends who had paved the way for Jackie Robinson had been enshrined in the Hall of Fame that-well, we're still waiting for Cooperstown to call Buck.
When O'Neil died on Oct. 6 at age 94, baseball lost its finest ambassador. He didn't just light up a room; he lit up a time and a place and the heart of anyone he met. As Ken Burns, who made Buck the soul of his 1994 PBS documentary, Baseball, said in his eulogy, "We can see him now, rounding third, heading for home, the cheers echoing off the walls, drowning out our sorrow, the congratulations of your teammates-Jackie and Satchel, Oscar and Josh, Cool Papa and Double Duty-bright in your ears: 'Good job, Buck. Welcome home. Good job.' " -STEVE WULF
37. DOUBLE TROUBLE
"I AM SUCH AN IDIOT." -PHIL MICKELSON, AFTER MAKING DOUBLE BOGEY ON THE 72ND HOLE TO LOSE THE U.S. OPEN BY ONE STROKE
38. MUY CALIENTE
Rafael Nadal is hotter than a clay court in August. The Spanish sensation turned 20 in June, after tying Bjorn Borg's record for teen titles (16) and Guillermo Vilas' 53-match clay court win streak. He also posted four wins over Roger Federer. But if Nadal's hot on the court, he's a hottie off it. Named one of SPIN's 25 Hottest Stars Under 25, he fronted more than 20 international mags-sleeveless and sweat-soaked, of course.
39. BODE BOMBS
Pre-Olympic hype transformed Bode Miller from World Cup champ to can't-miss Olympic-medal machine. So in Torino, Olympic watchers were mad when Miller lost and madder still when he had fun doing it. But after one overloaded RV, a Playboy playmate and an 0-5 record on the hill, Bode was still talking smack: "I got to party and socialize at an Olympic level. I just want to go out and rock. And man, I rocked here." You gotta admire his ... friends.
40. NFL PLAYERS JUICE TOO?
In August, Representative Tom Davis (R-Va.) wondered in The Charlotte Observer, "Is this the tip of the iceberg?" He was asking about Dr. James Shortt, who had supplied six NFL players with performance enhancers and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute anabolic steroids and human growth hormone. The NFL, while denying the case was proof of a larger problem, vowed to toughen its testing policies. A week after Davis asked his question, Redskins tackle Jon Jansen suggested that as many as 20% of NFL players were using. And in October, two stars, Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman and Lions defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, were suspended for four games each for violating the league's substance abuse policy. So the answer to Davis' question may simply be ... yes.
41. VICTORY LAP
Jimmie Johnson had been on quite a streak before he fell off the roof of a golf cart and broke his wrist at a charity event in December. First he won the Daytona 500 and then the Brickyard 400, propelling him to his first Nextel Cup championship. We caught up with NASCAR's hottest driver during his postseason victory tour to find out how he celebrated the night he won the Cup:
"We got back to the hotel in Miami, and a big group of friends were on their way out to celebrate. They pulled me out of my rental car, broke the windshield and dragged me into the lobby. I ended up with my crew chief, Chad Knaus, and some friends spraying me and my wife with champagne as a wakeup call."
42. CATCHER TO CATCHER
With a .347 BA, the Twins' Joe Mauer became the first catcher to win the AL batting title. We asked Yankees legend Yogi Berra to dig Mauer's feat out of the dirt:
"He hits the ball all over, like Rod Carew. He can pull it when he wants to, and he's got a pretty good eye. The kid's a great athlete. He was an All-America football player in high school. Winning a batting title as a catcher is hard. There were guys who hit .300-Ernie Lombardi did it a few times; so did Bill Dickey. But you're up and down, all day, every day. You feel it in your back and your knees, especially when you get older. But Mauer's young, he's not feeling that yet."
43. CANES WIN THE CUP!
Carolina's seven-game series win over Edmonton in the Stanley Cup Finals was Mission Improbable, especially after coach Peter Laviolette replaced No. 1 stopper Martin Gerber with rookie Cam Ward. Center Eric Staal recalls hearing the surprising news:
"Really jarring, definitely unexpected. Cam didn't play much during the year, but once he got in the net he had so much confidence it filtered through the whole team. We won that first series against Montreal and just kept rolling."
44. CAMPAIGN COACH
IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL'S GAME OF THE YEAR, ON NOV. 18, NO. 1 OHIO STATE EDGED NO. 2 MICHIGAN 42-39, IGNITING THE ANNUAL BCS BONFIRE: WITH MAIZE-AND-BLUE FANS CRYING REMATCH AND LOTS OF OTHER FOLKS SAYING NO WAY. AMONG THE LATTER WAS FLORIDA COACH URBAN MEYER, WHO STARTED HIS MONTHLONG PITCH FOR VOTES EARLY AND REPEATED IT OFTEN:
Nov. 4 "I THINK A TEAM MAKING IT THROUGH THE SEC WITH ONE LOSS IS AS GOOD AS ANY TEAM PROBABLY IN AMERICA."
Nov. 16 "THE MORE I THINK ABOUT IT ... I THINK WE TAKE THE TOP EIGHT, GO PLAY A MINI TOURNAMENT AND SEE WHO WINS."
Nov. 19 "A REMATCH WOULD BE UNFAIR TO OHIO STATE, AND IT WOULD BE UNFAIR TO THE COUNTRY. HOW DO YOU TELL OHIO STATE THEY HAVE TO GO BEAT THE SAME TEAM TWICE? THEY [MICHIGAN] HAD THEIR CHANCE."
Dec. 2 "WE DESERVE A SHOT. I THINK THE COUNTRY WANTS TO SEE THE SEC CHAMPION AGAINST THE BIG TEN CHAMPION."
Dec. 3 "IT'S WELL DESERVED, AND I'M PROUD OF IT." [AFTER LEARNING THAT UF WOULD PLAY OSU FOR THE NATIONAL TITLE.]
45. RECORD RUN
With two kickoffs taken to the house against the Rams on Dec. 11, Bears rookie Devin Hester set an NFL record with six touchdown returns in a season. It was a month earlier, however, that Hester pulled off what may be the most remarkable play of the season. When Giant Jay Feely missed a 52- yard field goal, Hester, waiting in the end zone, returned it 108 yards for six. That tied the record set by teammate Nathan Vasher just one year earlier. Here's how Hester did it, in his words:
"The wind shortened the kick, so the ball fell right in my hands ... I tried to lull them to sleep by taking those first two steps, and their defenders started walking off the field. I heard Brian Urlacher going, 'C'mon, c'mon!' ... There were a lot of heavy dudes out there, so I knew they'd have a hard time getting from sideline to sideline to catch me ... Urlacher had the first block, then Alfonso Boone cleaned somebody out. After that, I was one-on-one with the center, so I slowed up to find a blocker. That's when Charles Tillman and Hunter Hillenmeyer came out of nowhere and crushed him ... After that, it was smooth sailing."
46. BEND IT
With rumors swirling that soccer god David Beckham may leave Europe for a stint in MLS, we gotta ask: Will his star shine as brightly on this side of the pond?
GREENBERG Here's the reality, Golic. My wife knows Beckham as well as she knows any athlete. Beckham has crossed over in this country. He's a star, and not just a sports star. He's at the parties, he's in the fashion magazines, he was invited to Tom Cruise's wedding.
GOLIC Yeah, but he's not famous in the way that U.S. soccer needs him to be. He's known more for walking the red carpet than for the game he plays. Is he going to help soccer in this country? No. Soccer's not going to become big here, even with him playing for an American team.
GREENBERG He can become a superstar in this country, but yeah, I don't think it'll have any impact on soccer's popularity here. The people who are into David Beckham are not the people who are into soccer, or any sport for that matter.
GOLIC Soccer is the biggest sport in the world outside the United States. God knows where it is on the list in the U.S. I don't care who comes over-it's not going to make soccer more popular.
47. AGELESS WONDERS
Martina Navratilova opted for a tear-free retirement party at the 2006 U.S. Open, teaming with Bob Bryan to win mixed doubles. Navratilova's 59th Grand Slam title wasn't the most memorable of her 32-year career, but it set the 49-year-old in special standing, among the geezer greats.
40 | MICHAEL JORDAN The only 40-year-old to score 40-plus points in a game.
41 | GORDIE HOWE The six-time NHL MVP had his highest-scoring season (103 points) in 1969.
43 | GEORGE BLANDA The Oakland Raider accounted for all his team's points as QB and kicker in the 1970 AFC championship game.
44 | NOLAN RYAN In 1991, the Texas Ranger threw a record seventh no-hitter against Toronto.
45 | GEORGE FOREMAN Won the heavyweight boxing title in 1994, becoming the oldest title-holder.
52 | HARRY GANT The oldest driver to win a NASCAR race, the 1992 Champion SparkPlug 400.
60 | OSCAR SWAHN Won two riflery gold medals at the 1908 Olympics.
92 | FAUJA SINGH Singh, who started running marathons at age 89, clocked the 90-plus age group's world record of 5:40 in the Toronto Marathon.
48. LOWDOWN DIRTY SHAME
Think Miami Vice tanked this year? It was a blockbuster compared to the fortunes of Miami's football team. The Canes went 1-5 against ranked teams and dropped from the Top 25 for the first time since 1999. And that was just on the field.
JULY21 Willie Cooper and roommate and fellow safety Brandon Meriweather confront a man in their front yard. Cooper is shot in the buttocks; Meriweather fires three shots with a registered pistol at the still-unknown assailant.
OCT. 14 "It was horrible, a complete embarrassment." -Florida governor Jeb Bush, after a brawl between Miami and Florida International that resulted in 31 player suspensions and national shame
NOV. 7 Defensive end Bryan Pata is shot and killed while walking away from a parking-lot dispute.
NOV. 24 "We can and will do better for our student-athletes and our community. We need a new start." -Miami president Donna Shalala, after firing coach Larry Coker
49. NEW ARMS
Justin Verlander was the first starting pitcher in 25 years to win the AL's top rookie award. But the Tigers flamethrower wasn't the only freshman to turn heads and break bats in 2006. Here are 10 who had better ERAs than Verlander's 3.63, although none came close to his 17 wins.
Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox - 0.92 ERA, 35 saves
Cla Meredith, Padres - 1.07 ERA, 16 holds
Joel Zumaya, Tigers - 1.94 ERA, 10.5 K's/9 IPs
Takashi Saito, Dodgers - 2.07 ERA, 24 saves
Francisco Liriano, Twins - 2.16 ERA, 12-3
Jered Weaver, Angels - 2.56 ERA, 11-2
Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers - 2.59 ERA, 11.4 K's/9 IPs
Anibal Sanchez, Marlins - 2.83 ERA, no-hitter
Josh Johnson, Marlins - 3.10 ERA, 12-7
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals - 3.12 ERA, four postseason saves
50. GREAT WHITE WAY
Since capping a perfect snowboard season that included Olympic and Winter X gold medals, 20-year-old Shaun White has been in high demand in Hollywood. For proof, peep his day planner:
FEB. 12 Wins Olympic halfpipe gold medal.
FEB. 13 Flies from Torino to NYC aboard an NBC jet. Shoots Rolling Stone cover.
FEB. 14 Appears on Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel and Ellen.
FEB. 21 Gets cuddly with Lindsay Lohan at NYC's Bungalow 8.
FEB. 22 Hangs with supermodels Jennifer Ohlsson and Jessica Van Der Steen at Heat-Knicks game in NYC.
FEB. 25 Flies back to Torino for closing ceremonies aboard NBC's jet.
FEB. 28 Finally meets ice skater Sasha Cohen at his private LA bash. Parties with Pam Anderson and Tony Hawk.
MARCH 5 Reunites with Cohen at Esquire Oscar dinner at the Abbey. Later, attends Elton John's AIDS Foundation party and a People soiree.
MARCH 8 Bowls with supermodel Petra Nemcova and Stephon Marbury at Knicks Cheering for Children Benefit in NYC.
OCT. 25 Lunches with supermodel Heidi Klum at Orso in Beverly Hills.
NOV. 29 Becomes an ambassador for Motorola's MOTO RED, a campaign raising money to fight AIDS in Africa.
51. HIT THE BRAKES
"I KNOW PEOPLE SAY THAT I HAVE BEEN SELFISH. I AGREE WITH THAT. WHY SHOULD I EVER GIFT ANYTHING TO ANYONE WHEN WE ARE ON THE TRACK? TO BE HONEST, IF THE OTHER DRIVERS CRITICIZE ME, THEN IT MEANS I'VE DONE THINGS THE RIGHT WAY." -F1 DRIVER MICHAEL SCHUMACHER, WHO RETIRED AT SEASON'S END WITH 91 WINS, SEVEN WORLD TITLES AND ONE REPUTATION FOR, UM, BRUSQUENESS
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