A glorious year outside the sidelines   

Updated: January 2, 2009, 1:37 PM ET

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So everybody is forcing us to ask the same question as December winds down: Is this the best sports year ever? There were all the stories and people you're sick and tired of hearing and rehearing about: the Giants beating the Patriots, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, the Tampa Bay Rays.

Great moments, games, performances, whatever. We can't judge the worth of an entire year on man's greatest accomplishments over the course of that year. The true measure of a sports year can be found not in the headlines but in the scribbles along the margins.

By that definition, the criteria doesn't come down to how many gold medals a swimmer wore in Beijing. Instead, it comes down to this: Did the year have a guy who went from catching the winning touchdown in one of the greatest Super Bowls to shooting himself in the leg at a nightclub and then telling the staff at the hospital that his name was Harris Smith and he was shot outside an Applebee's, even though every single person in the hospital waiting room recognized him?

That's a good year.

Did the year have a guy whose chronic misbehavior earned him serial suspensions, including one in which he was suspended for getting into a fight with one of his bodyguards -- one of the people hired exclusively for the purpose of keeping him out of trouble?

That, my friends, is a great year.

This Year's List

This year's most entertaining loser: Former Lions coach Rod Marinelli, who never failed to amuse us with his enduring ability to hide his sense of humor.

Proof the economy is in historically bad shape: Even Isiah Thomas managed to lose his job.

And with that, the prison system kicked off a new marketing campaign -- Come On In And Love Yourself: Marion Jones, after her six-month prison term for lying, told Oprah, "I truly believe that the reason I made the awful mistake and a few thereafter was because I didn't love myself enough to tell the truth."

Because losing isn't a family value: Michigan offensive lineman Justin Boren announced he was transferring from the University of Michigan because he felt new coach Rich Rodriguez represented a decline of family values in the program.

It's either karma or proof that referees read the paper: Vacaville Christian, a high school in Northern California, repeatedly ran up ridiculous scores during the season -- including a 92-0 win over Woodland Christian -- but lost in the section championship when its apparent game-winning kickoff return on the game's final play was nullified because of an inadvertent whistle.

The most overhyped airplane ride since Charles Lindbergh: From Hattiesburg, Miss., to Green Bay, Wis., in a private jet, starring Brett Favre.

If it were anyone else, there might be a shred of pity to be found somewhere, but it's Bill Belichick, so there isn't: Thanks to the beauty of the divisional format, the Chargers made the playoffs at 8-8, but the Patriots missed at 11-5.

Because there's never a bad time to combine vagueness with obviousness: The two trendiest football catchphrases concerned running, either "in space" or "behind the pads."

If you add in a case of amnesia, you'll have about 20 years of story lines from "Guiding Light": Roger Clemens.

Taking the fun out of pun: Following one of the Yankees' major signings, a headline in my small local paper read, "CC him go to the bank -- a lot."

Funny thing is, it looked a lot like Geno Auriemma: Tennessee basketball coach Pat Summitt dislocated her shoulder warding off a raccoon on her back deck.

The only guy happier than Norv Turner to see the Chargers beat the Broncos to win the AFC West: Ed Hochuli, famously downgraded for missing a call that helped the Broncos beat the Chargers the first time around this season.

Remember that part about the decided strategic advantage? Charlie Weis led the resurgent Notre Dame Fighting Irish to their first bowl win in the past 10 tries as he triumphantly brought the historic program back to glory.

Brevity, accuracy, profundity -- I smell a movie deal: After his Washington team lost to Washington State to fall to 0-10 on the season, Tyrone Willingham gave the following speech to his team: "Let's go home."

Just because it's never happened to you shouldn't be an excuse; after all, Rod Marinelli knows the tie rule inside and out: Donovan McNabb, surprised by a tie.

Faced with no other choice, Luther Campbell returned his lifetime booster pass: University of Miami football coach Randy Shannon suspended five players before his team's Emerald Bowl game against Cal.

Worst idea, maybe ever: The commercial about Chris Paul's pits.

A few weeks later, the Slovakians had a game-winning goal nullified by an inadvertent whistle: The Bulgarian women's hockey team lost an Olympic qualifier to Slovakia 82-0.

And yet somehow nobody has a problem with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's forehead: The little girl who sang the Chinese national anthem during the Olympic opening ceremonies was deemed not cute enough to represent the country, so a cuter stand-in was employed to lip synch.

Remember when his biggest problem was being photographed hanging out with his girlfriend while wearing a protective boot? Tom Brady.

The Washington Post decided not to cover Ralph Nader's presidential campaign because he had no chance of winning: Which prompted Nader to ask, "Then why are you covering the Nationals?"

The message is clear -- don't go stomping on our 8-inch by 14-inch piece of cotton: Titans LenDale White and Keith Bullock set the stage for a huge grudge match in the AFC Championship Game by jumping up and down on a Terrible Towel after beating the Steelers.

Drop your pants, get the job: Mike Singletary.

Teammate of the year: Stephon Marbury.

Even seventh-grade girls made that little claw-swiping motion with their hands and growled the catfight sound when they heard this: Amid his post-retirement/pre-return drama with the Packers, Brett Favre said Green Bay wanted to protect his legacy and make him a backup, to which he asked, "How does that protect my legacy if I'm a backup?"

With his ear to a glass on the other side of the wall, he swore he heard something about plans to invade Iran: Terrell Owens complained that Tony Romo and Jason Witten were holding secret meetings designed to get Witten more passes in the Cowboys' offense.

And finally, he would have gone more high-tech, but someone in the office was using the laptop to put together a PowerPoint showing how the Raiders got screwed by the Immaculate Reception: In announcing his decision to fire Lane Kiffin "with cause" -- a euphemism for "without money" -- Al Davis used an overhead projector to show a letter he sent to Kiffin detailing the coach's mistakes.

ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown co-wrote Josh Hamilton's autobiography, "Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back," which is available on Amazon.com. Sound off to Tim here.


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