Cynics will call 2007 an asterisk kind of year. As in pretty darn s****y. Small wonder, then, that 250 ESPN editors, producers, writers, execs and on-air talents chose the Barry Bonds saga as the No. 1 story of the past 12 months. In a year during which Michael Vick (No. 2) ended up in America's doghouse, an NBA ref (No. 5) was busted in a gambling scandal and A-Rod (No. 10) loved 'em, left 'em and loved 'em again, how could we not pay homage to the soap opera by the Bay? But even as things turned ugly, there were myriad reasons to thank our lucky stars: Peyton and Tony (No. 3), Oden and Durant (No. 18), Adrian Peterson (No. 23), Appalachian State (No. 32). All these and many more are celebrated over the next 39 pages. So if 2007 is crying out for extra punctuation, we'll go with an exclamation point.
THE BEST AND WORST OF BARRY BONDS
What hasn't been said about No. 25? Still, we had to say something insightful about the man who passed Henry Aaron's home run mark and got indicted for perjury in the same year, so we undertook a highly informal survey of his record-setting peers. That's how we came across John Cassidy, who holds the Guinness record for fastest creation of a balloon dog: 6.5 seconds! Cassidy agreed not only to talk about Bonds but to blow him up for us as well.
"I'm very antisteroids, as being a balloon guy I have a natural aversion to anything that comes in a needle. I don't think it's fair to those who've done it honestly. I've been going back and forth with a clown in Germany for my balloon-making record, and I'd be pretty upset if I found out he was using something -- though I'm not sure if that would help with balloon animals. But still
-JOHN CASSIDY, BALLOON KING
MICHAEL VICK'S DOGFIGHTING DILEMMA
Now available: a dog's ultimate revenge doll, the Official Vick's Dog Chew Toy (officialvickdogchewtoy.com, $14.99). A perfect likeness of the disgraced NFLer, who's serving 23 months for his misadventures in pit bull abuse, the toy is not only chewable, it's charitable, with a portion of sales going to animal-health outfits. As McGruff might say, it's a good way for dogs to bite back.
After their landmark Super Bowl XLI win, the Colts' biggest names -- Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy -- weren't ready to give up the spotlight. Some highs -- and lows -- from their victory tour:
LOW: Attends a sweet-16 party in early March, reportedly for a $200K fee. His manager denies it was a sweet 16, calling the event a corporate outing.
HIGH: He hosts Saturday Night Live (pictured) on March 24. The show earns a 5.9 rating and a 15 share, both highs that TV season. Says SNL creator Lorne Michaels, "He's a natural. He can come back anytime."
LOW: In March, Outsports.com protests Dungy's appearance at a fund-raiser for the Indiana Family Institute, a Christian group that has spoken out against equal rights for gay couples.
HIGH: His book, Quiet Strength, becomes a New York Times best-seller on July 29 and has remained on the list for five months. Says Manning: "He gave me a copy. I've read it. It's a special, special deal there."
No school had ever won football and basketball titles in the same year. Until the Gators. We asked two players from those title teams -- QB Chris Leak and forward Corey Brewer -- what they thought of the other's title run.
Brewer: Ohio State was such a big favorite in the BCS. But I was confident in Chris and our guys. We had the speed; OSU had all the hype.
Leak: After watching them win in 2006, I really believed they'd win again. They were just like our team-- lots of veteran guys who knew what they had to do.
Brewer: Our teams made history. It's going to be a long, long time before any other school does what Florida did.
Leak: It might not happen again for 100 years.
The incident that created the longest shadow in the NBA this year will creep into 2008: Ex-ref Tim Donaghy will face a 25-year prison term when he's sentenced on Jan. 25 for betting on games and sharing proprietary information about teams in the league. But we found one judge who was ready -- and oh, so willing -- to dish some justice now. "I'm known for my unusual sentencing anyway," says Judge Extreme Akim, of the reality-TV show Eye for an Eye. "But in this case, I really don't think a fine or jail is enough. I think you need to get Donaghy where it hurts."
This is the book Judge Akim would throw if he could:
• Make Donaghy watch a continuous loop of Shaq's movies.
• Demand he meditate with Phil Jackson to the mantra "I will never gamble again."
• Make him watch every New York Knicks game -- forever.
• Force him to be Mark Cuban's dance partner in front of a sold-out arena crowd.
• Have him referee an NBA game while handcuffed to Pete Rose.
It took George Mitchell almost two years to unravel the secrets of baseball's steroids era (well, some of them, anyway). But you can do it in one afternoon with the Mitchell Report Play-At-Home Game!
• Each player must spend a minimum of $20 million during the game, in ways that defy explanation.
• Players should endeavor to interview multiple active MLBers. If that's not possible, repeated chats with Frank Thomas will be accepted.
• Turns must incorporate ponderous statements of the obvious that could be said in a third of the time used.
• A turn shall not be considered complete without as many questions being raised as are answered.
• A minimum of seven dozen professional athletes must be humiliated before the game can be concluded.
What really happened at that Duke lacrosse team party on March 13, 2006, may never be known. But this much is certain: On April 11, after almost 13 months of speculation and investigation -- fueled by racial and class stereotypes and prosecutorial ambition -- North Carolina attorney general Roy Cooper ended one of the most controversial legal stories in recent history. "We believe these three individuals are innocent of these charges," he said at a packed press conference, citing "a tragic rush to accuse."
SORRY TO SAY
After pleading guilty on Oct. 5 to charges of lying to federal investigators about steroid use, Marion Jones issued a tear-soaked apology to family, friends and fans. And while Jones lost her five Olympic medals, she smoked her competition in the Apology Games.
Marion Jones (2007)
"It is with a great amount of shame that I stand before you and tell you I have betrayed your trust."
Tonya Harding (1994)
"I ask only for your understanding and the opportunity to represent my country with the best figure-skating performance of my life."
-- Pleading with the USOC for an Olympics slot after her ex-husband hired a goon to smash rival skater Nancy Kerrigan's knee with an iron bar.
Mike Tyson (1997)
"I apologize to the world, to my family and to the Nevada State Athletic Commission that has always treated me fairly, [and] to Judge Patricia Gifford, who knows that I am proud to be living up to the terms of my probation."
-- Asking forgiveness after biting Evander Holyfield's ear in a title fight.
Bode Miller (2006)
"Because of the way I made those comments in the 60 Minutes interview, it caused a lot of confusion and pain for all those people, and obviously that's not something I want to do."
-- To family and fans after claiming on TV that it's not easy to "ski when you're wasted"
Who says cheaters never prosper? Sometimes they're even unbeatable. In early September, the NFL busted Bill Belichick and the Pats for videotaping the defensive signals of Jets coaches. For their role in Spygate -- a "calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid long-standing rules," in the words of commish Roger Goodell -- the Pats were ordered to forfeit their 2008 first-round pick and 250 large. Meanwhile, Belichick was hit with the largest smackdown ($500K) against a coach in league history. After the controversy, even mild-mannered Tony Dungy said, "It's a sad day."
Not just for the Pats, but for opponents, too. This team was already loaded with talent after acquiring Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Adalius Thomas. Now, driven by their embarrassing public spanking, Belichick & Co. have scaled new heights. Through 14 games, Tom Brady (pictured) is having the greatest season for a QB in NFL history, throwing for at least three touchdowns in all but three contests, and zero picks in all but five. With 19 scores, Moss has Jerry Rice's single-season receiving TD record (22 in 1987) within grasp.
All of this dominance has put the Patriots on the brink of 16-0, their fourth Super Bowl title -- and maybe the NFL's first-ever asterisk.
How has public perception of Alex Rodriguez been altered by his big season and contract shenanigans?
For an answer, we turned to Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg, the co-hosts of ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike in the Morning. Because we just knew they'd have something to say.
Greeny: A-Rod had one of the greatest seasons ever by a righthanded hitter. But what happened after the season was an embarrassment. There was never a question about whether or not he'd get that money, and yet he and especially Scott Boras handled the situation about as poorly as they could have.
Golic: All that said, A-Rod will, in the not-too-distant future, become the most popular man in baseball as he approaches Barry Bonds' home run record. Hatred for Bonds could not be higher, and A-Rod has positioned himself as the person who will erase the bad associations that are linked to the record.
Greeny: But only once he starts getting close. Until then, he's going to have to earn back the fans' respect. The way he acted this offseason completely removed the goodwill generated by his monster season. If he starts off slowly in 2008, he's going to hear the boos at Yankee Stadium.
Photo credits: 1. James Worrell; 2. James Worrell; 3. NBC Universal/Dana Edelson; 4. Paul Spinelli/Getty Images; 5. Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images; 6. Lars Leetarn; 7. Jacob Thomas; 8. Hiroko Masuike/Getty Images; 9. Drew Hallowell/Getty Images; 10. William Perlman/The Star-Ledger via US Presswire