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Monday, December 30, 2002
Updated: January 2, 10:34 AM ET
Strange-but-almost true sports stories

By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

So many unbelievable things happened this year that the sports world often was as unrecognizable as Jerry Jones' face.

President Bush gagged on a pretzel while watching a football game. A Russian mobster conspired to fix the Olympics pairs figure skating and ice dancing competitions. Baseball's All-Star Game ended in a tie. Terrell Owens pulled a pen out of his sock and autographed a football in the end zone after a touchdown. Mike Piazza held a press conference to declare he wasn't gay. And then there were the bizarre events.

Jack, could you check the thermostat on Ted Williams?

In fact, so many amazing things happened in 2002 that you may have forgotten these moments, even if you had been able to watch them on the YES network ...

Jan. 1: The country rings in the new year in annual fashion with millions gathering in Times Square to stand in line for Roots Olympic berets.

Mark Cuban
Mark Cuban served up Blizzards as quickly as he lashes out at refs.

Jan. 8: Angered over calls against the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban says NBA director of officials Ed Rush is too incompetent to manage a Dairy Queen. The NBA responds by fining Cuban $500,000, Dairy Queen responds by challenging Cuban to run one of its restaurants for a day and WorldCom responds by appointing Rush its new CEO.

Jan. 19: President Bush gags on a pretzel and passes out briefly when referees overrule Tom Brady's fumble due to the "double-secret probation" tuck rule. Vice president Dick Cheney assumes power from his secure, undisclosed and impenetrable location, believed to be inside the locker room of the Augusta National golf club.

Feb. 3: With Mr. Salty banned as a precaution due to heightened security, the Patriots beat the Rams 20-17 during intermission of a U2 concert in New Orleans.

Feb. 5: Mike Tyson makes a pathetic try for attention during a pre-bout press conference by biting the leg of his opponent, Danny Partridge.

Feb. 8: The 2002 Winter Olympics open in Salt Lake City when the traditional 13,500-mile relay ends with the passing of the final bribe to corrupt IOC officials.

Feb. 11: The Canadian Olympic team, Ralph Nader, and Mark Cuban lodge angry protests after Canadian pairs skaters Jamie Salé and David Pelletier are unable to buy Roots berets.

Feb. 13: French skating judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne admits that she tried to fix the ice dancing competition but could not, because it was already fixed.

Apolo Anton Ohno
Who can forget that wacky short-track race when all the skaters fell down?

Feb. 22: In a surprising result, no one wins a medal in the 1,000-meter short track competition after every skater falls down and fails to cross the finish line.

Feb. 24: The Winter Olympics draw to an emotional close when IOC president Jacque Rogge calls upon "the youth of the world" to gather four years from now in the San Francisco Giants dugout.

March 10: College basketball teams gather together all over the country to anxiously see if their season has earned them their ultimate goal -- an invitation to Liza's wedding.

March 12: A Minnesota sports dealer retrieves a wad of bubblegum chewed by Diamondbacks left fielder Luis Gonzalez and sells it on eBay for $10,000.

By the way, this really happened.

Winona Ryder
Without Winona, the Yankees stumbled in the first round of the playoffs.

March 15: The Yankees release Winona Ryder for stealing Derek Jeter's glove from his locker.

March 29: Maryland routs Indiana to win the Final Four when the Hoosiers fail to successfully run any plays because coach Brian Dennehy's instructions kept getting bleeped out.

April 3: Pitcher Chuck Finley's wife, Tawny Kitaen, beats up Mike Tyson in eight rounds.

April 10: ABC and ESPN pay $2.4 billion for the broadcast rights to the NBA for the next four seasons. In a related move, the YES Network pays $1.2 billion for the right to not broadcast the NBA.

April 24: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones undergoes a successful facelift. Unfortunately, his new face is Michael Jackson's.

May 21: Mike Piazza holds a news conference to announce he is not former NFL linebacker Esera Tualo.

The Year in Review
Check out more of ESPN.com's coverage of the year in sports:

Jeff Merron: Sex & sports
Eric Neel: Sports & culture
Jim Caple: A year Seinfeld could love
Eric Neel: Remembering icons
Darren Rovell: Business trends
Vote: Most memorable moment
Vote: Athlete of the Year
Vote: Team of the year

May 27: With Helio Castroneves and Paul Tracy fighting for the lead, the Indianapolis 500 abruptly ends in the final lap when Ohio State football fans storm the speedway, turn over all the cars and set them ablaze.

May 28: Actress Tatum O'Neal tells Sports Illustrated that Kelly Leak took steroids when he won the 1976 MVP award with the Bad News Bears.

June 5: Ralph Nader writes a letter to NBA commissioner David Stern, complaining about the quality of Blizzards at Dairy Queen ever since Mark Cuban took over as manager.

June 8: Tonya Harding beats Tawny Kitaen to advance to the WBA/Celebrity Boxing unification championship bout against the winner of the Kate Jackson/Ralph Malph fight.

June 14: A South Korean fan sets himself on fire so that his spirit may live on as the 12th man on his country's World Cup soccer team and lead them to ultimate victory.

Incidentally, this really happened.

Rally Monkey
Rally finished third behind Miguel Tejada and Alex Rodriguez in the MVP voting.

June 15: Anaheim Angels fans are mystified when the Rally Monkey suddenly begins speaking Korean.

June 30: Brazil beats Germany in the World Cup final, prompting Ohio State fans to turn over cars and set them on fire.

July 6: Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived, dies. In an odd, related story, after years of milking his father's fame and autograph for a lucrative career in memorabilia sales, John Henry Williams' assets are suddenly frozen.

July 9: Baseball's All-Star Game abruptly ends in a tie when American League manager Joe Torre somehow runs out of Yankees.

July 20: Tiger Woods' attempt at the grand slam ends during the third round of the British Open when a sudden tornado scoops him up along with his little dog Toto and drops him into a strange world -- 28th place, right behind Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr and Jack Haley.

August 15: In an open challenge to one of golf's longest-standing traditions, National Council of Women's Organizations president Martha Burk demands that Phil Mickelson be allowed to finally win a major.

August 16: Augusta National president Hootie Johnson angrily responds to Burk's demand by declaring that the 2003 Masters will be broadcast on the YES network.

August 30: Baseball narrowly avoids a strike in an historic, unprecedented move when the players and owners both make a rational decision at the same time.

Sept. 2: On the final day of the U.S. Open, fans witness an amazing, dramatic and tear-jerking afternoon when concessionaires lower beer prices to $7 a cup.

Sept. 3: Just days after arresting Allen Iverson on four felony counts, Philadelphia police suddenly drop all charges, explaining that they mistakenly thought Iverson played for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Sept. 11: Johnny Unitas dies at age 69. John Henry Williams buys another refrigerator.

Sept. 17: After Patrick Ewing announces his retirement, the Gold Club in Atlanta honors the great center by presenting him with a rocking chair for his lap dances.

Sept. 23: Vikings receiver Randy Moss spends the night in jail after being arrested for driving with too large a hood ornament.

Andy Rooney
A grumpy, old, know-it-all? Andy Rooney should have been a sports writer.

Sept. 28: Mike Piazza announces that he is not a member of Augusta National.

Sept. 29: America loses the Ryder Cup when U.S. captain Curtis Strange foolishly slots Tiger Woods to golf in 2005 "just in case he's needed."

Oct. 10: Andy Rooney tells a newspaper reporter that senile, woefully out-of-touch old men shouldn't be allowed on the set of nationally-televised news shows. Larry King declines comment, saying that he has to prepare for an interview with Liza Minelli.

Oct. 12: Seattle manager Lou Piniella asks the Mariners to let him out of his contract a year early so that he can manage a team close to Ken Griffey Jr.'s family.

Oct. 14: Terrell Owens celebrates a touchdown by pulling a Sharpie out of his sock and refinancing his mortgage.

Oct. 20: Martha Burk steps up the rhetoric in her campaign against Hootie Johnson, demanding that in addition to women members, Augusta National must also allow U.N. weapons inspectors.

Oct. 21: Hootie Johnson responds by asking Burk, "If I told you you had a great body, would you hold it against me?"

Oct. 24: Michael Jackson inexplicably dangles his infant son from the fourth-floor window of his hotel but tragedy is averted when San Francisco Giants first baseman J.T. Snow rescues the child.

Oct. 26: The Giants blow a 5-0 lead in Game 6 of the World Series after manager Dusty Baker douses starter Russ Ortiz with champagne during a pitching change in the seventh inning.

Nov. 5: Martha Burks demands that the NFL allow the Dallas Cowboys into the endzone.

Nov. 6: Hootie Johnson responds by changing his name to Goober.

Nov. 7: Charles Barkley promises to kiss Mike Piazza if Yao Ming scores 19 points against the Lakers.

Nov. 8: Michael Jordan announces he is retiring. No one notices.

Nov. 15: A New York Times editorial writer demands that Tiger Woods introduce him to Jesper Parnevik's latest nanny.

Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire
'Sheed, how's your glaucoma doing?

Nov. 18: The Red Sox hire Dusty Baker's three-year-old son, Darren, to be their general manager.

Nov. 22: Federal drug enforcement officers are overwhelmed when Portland Trail Blazers Rasheed Wallace and Damon Stoudamire pick up University of Arizona tight end Justin Levasseur and five New Yorks Mets hitchhiking on the side of the road.

Nov. 23: The United Nations passes a resolution demanding that Ohio State remove all goalposts from its stadium.

Nov. 25: Terrell Owens celebrates his touchdown by pulling a Sharpie out of his sock and signing the bill that creates the Department of Homeland Security.

Nov. 26: In a secret meeting with Bud Selig and Pete Rose, Martha Burk demands that the commissioner allow Rose into the Hall of Fame. After the meeting, Rose swipes a wad of gum from under Selig's desk and auctions it on eBay.

Dec. 1: Falcons quarterback Michael Vick rushes for 196 yards, passes for 372 yards, then flies around the world backward, reversing the earth's rotation and stopping Lex Luthor's plan to set off a massive earthquake in California.

Dec. 5: During Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party, Senate majority leader Trent Lott tells the audience that the country would be better off if it still had the Negro Leagues.

Dec. 7: Atlanta's attempt to re-sign veteran Tom Glavine fails when the team can't convince the Florida Marlins to pay his salary.

Dec. 12: In the first-ever nationally televised high school game, prep star LeBron James leads St. Vincent-St. Mary over Carver high school's Salami, Coolidge and coach Ken Reeves.

Dec. 15: Mike Piazza announces on "60 Minutes" that he is not running for president in 2004.

Dec. 18: Superior court judge Kevin McCarthy issues a verdict in the Barry Bonds' home-run ball trial, ruling that in the best interests of everyone, Patrick Hayashi and Alex Popov should be stripped naked, covered in molasses and tied to anthills.

Dec. 21: U.N. weapons inspectors discover Jerry Jones' old face hidden in Iraq.

Dec. 28: In a landmark day for sports, not a single player on the Portland Trail Blazers is arrested.

Dec. 31: The year finally comes to an end with New Yorkers gathering by the millions to watch Terrell Owens pull a Sharpie out of his sock and sign the Times Square ball.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.