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Tuesday, December 30, 2003
 



WHAT MOMENT FROM 2003 WILL WE STILL REMEMBER IN 2023?


One of the beauties of sports is the way they provide indelible images that we remember decades later.

Jim Valvano looking for someone to hug after N.C. State shocks Houston for the NCAA hoop title. Tom Osborne opting for a failed two-point conversion as mighty Nebraska falls short and Miami (Fla.) wins its first national title. John Riggins bursting through the line to give the Redskins their first Super Bowl crown.

All that happened 20 years ago, but we can still see those images in our mind's eye. So, what will stand the test of time from 2003 in 2023?

How quickly we forget ... | From Dan Shanoff
What will be remembered about 2003 in 2023? Nothing.

Almost two months of the Writers' Bloc, and you old fogeys still don't get it: No one remembers anything beyond what happened last week.

Help me forget ... | From Patrick Hruby
OK, Dan. Let's try what won't be remembered about 2003:

  • Michael Jackson demanding a public apology from Italian soccer team Lazio after the club's fans waved banners referring to his "sex changes."

    Jose Canseco
    Fortunately for Jose Canseco, we'll probably forget his latest stupid comment.
  • Jose Canseco claiming that a combination of steroids and human growth hormone can add "30 years to your life."

  • Jacksonville Jaguars punter Chris Hanson suffering a serious injury after striking his right shin with an ax that had been placed in the team's locker room as part of a motivational stunt by coach Jack Del Rio.

  • ABC figure-skating commentator Terry Gannon noting that skater Maria Petrova had "a necklace stuck in her hair, and they may take points off for that!"

  • University of Arizona basketball player Isaiah Fox being arrested for taking $2.58 worth of snacks from the school's Student Union, months after the team reportedly stole some 80 candy bars from a vending machine in Kansas.

  • The agent for NBA guard Anthony Carter forgetting to exercise a contract option with the Miami Heat, costing his client $4.1 million.

  • Mike Tyson enjoying a stint as Jimmy Kimmel's sidekick, during which he asked actor Michael Vartan of "Alias" if he has ever had sex with Shannen Doherty, then wondered aloud, "Can you imagine Shannen with a big, black buck?"

  • Portland's Qyntel Woods being pulled over for speeding, then handing police two credit cards and his basketball trading card in lieu of a driver's license.

  • The Washington Post misspelling the name of National Spelling Bee winner Sai R. Gunturi as "Guntari" twice in a story.

  • Seattle Mariners manager Bob Melvin needing three attempts to fill out his Opening Day lineup card, once after botching his own signature.

  • Croatian skier Ivica Kostelic telling a magazine that he admired Hitler and that "Nazism was a healthy system for ambitious people."

  • Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jose Acevedo landing on the DL after twisting his ankle celebrating a strikeout.

  • Pete Rose failing to make the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

    As for what will be remembered about the year that was, it's simple:

    O.J. failing to catch the real killers. Again.

    All chasing Lance | From Robert Lipsyte
    When Lance Armstrong won his first Tour de France in 1999, I bought a bicycle, my first since childhood. This year, when he won his fifth, I celebrated with a fast (for me), hard 15 miles, screaming, "Lance Armstrong, Lance Armstrong," to get me up hills that seemed too steep for my quivering thighs. I'm no hard-core cycling fan, and Lance himself has sneered at my personal mileage charts. No matter, he is the only sports hero I've ever had. I keep wondering why?

    Lance Armstrong
    Give him five: Lance Armstrong's achievement was simply amazing.
    Maybe it's because we shared the same cancer, although his was far more advanced. Knowing how tough it was for me to get back from surgery and chemo to an everyday life of sitting and writing, I'm awed by what he did to return to what is arguably the most demanding sport.

    Maybe it's because he is such a consistently honest hardass, even off the bike. Last year, at a Stanford panel his cancer foundation sponsored and I moderated, he was asked how his belief in God had helped him as a patient. No politician, he replied with a bracing directness: "Everyone should believe in something, and I believed in surgery, chemotherapy and my doctors."

    Maybe it's because his success, as with many great athletes, came with such an emotional price. His mother was 17 when he was born. His biological father left two years later. He was abused by a stepfather. In cycling, he has said, he found a way to inflict physical pain on himself that smothered the psychic pain.

    But enough about me. Why should Lance Armstrong be the Writers' Bloc Jock of the year?

    That's simple -- nothing else in sports comes close to demanding as much talent, stamina, sacrifice and drive as five straight Tour de France victories.

    Gender equity? | From Melanie Jackson
    In May, Annika Sorenstam became the first woman in 58 years to play on the PGA Tour. The following month, a 19-year-old woman accused Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant of rape.

    That both subjects generated a great amount of debate is no surprise. Bryant is an NBA All-Star whose image had been squeaky clean, even after jumping straight from high school to the pros. As for Sorenstam, playing with the boys is always a controversial topic.

    Kobe Bryant
    The most surprising image of 2003: Kobe Bryant, defendant.
    On the surface, the two stories seemed to have nothing in common. And yet, after courageously standing up to challenge themselves and society, both Sorenstam and Bryant's accuser ended up in a similar spot -- females forced to defend themselves. Instead of applauding both women for putting themselves under a microscope -- while Sorenstam risked professional embarrassment, the alleged rape victim chose the unenviable task of convincing the world that someone as famous and well-liked as Bryant could commit such a crime -- a good majority of society, it seemed, was quick to persecute them.

    I love the debate that sports generate, and the only other time I've ever seen our ESPN.com office in Bristol more divided is when the Yankees and Red Sox play. I was shocked at how many people I knew desperately wanted Sorenstam to miss the cut. In June, I was shocked at how many instantly believed Bryant's accuser was a liar.

    Why were so many people -- men, in particular -- so threatened by the fact that a guy they idolized and might have fancied as their hero really isn't such a great guy? What was so wrong about the possibility that Sorenstam, who said she was playing in the Colonial to challenge herself to play at a higher level, really could be good enough to hang with the guys?

    In 2002, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of Title IX. This year, though we saw Serena Williams, Diana Taurasi and emerging faces such as Abby Wambach dominating courts and fields across the country, I was reminded just how far women still have to go in our male-dominated sports world.

    You should know Damian Costantino | From Jim Caple
    Steve Bartman
    We'll remember Steve Bartman -- even though we probably shouldn't.
    Rightly or wrongly, Steve Bartman will be remembered as the symbol of a sports year that almost delivered the greatest of all moments -- a Cubs-Red Sox World Series -- and then dropped the ball at the last minute.

    But what should be remembered most from our year of sports in a year of war is Damian Costantino. Not for breaking the NCAA-record for longest hitting streak at 60 games. But for what he did during the streak -- serving a two-month tour in Afghanistan in the Army Reserve and also beginning to say good-bye to his father (who died of stomach cancer in September).

    And we were impressed by what Barry Bonds and Brett Favre did?

    No Little matter | From Chuck Hirshberg
    Grady Little. That's what we'll remember from 2003.

    I don't even have to explain to you what I mean, do I? You know exactly what I'm talking about. Grady Little is not a person's name anymore. It's a phrase -- Gradeelittle. Someday in the future, it'll be a bona fide word in a bona fide dictionary: "Gradeelittle [vb]: To overuse a good thing, despite ample, or even excessive, evidence that this good thing has been entirely used-up, while other good things remain on the shelf, unused. As in: 'Sheesh, that was a great Porsche I used to own, but I drove it to death. I wish I'd taken my BMW out for a spin every now and then, just to give that Porsche a rest. Instead, I just GRADEELITTLED that Porsche to death.' "

    Grady Little
    Grady Little put himself in the history books -- and the dictionary -- in one night.
    What was the most memorable thing about Grady's boneheaded eighth inning? Was it the confusion in living rooms all across New England, when an obviously spent Pedro came to the hill? Was it the consternation that followed, when the Yankees started smacking him around and, still, no change was made? Or was it the utter horror that shook Red Sox fans everywhere when, finally, Grady came chugging out of the dugout -- not to remove Pedro as it turned out, but, apparently, to ask him if he'd like a mint?

    Nope, none of the above. The most memorable part came when the catastrophe was over. Sure, he'd made a stupid mistake, but who hasn't? We elderly fans could still recall the deciding game of the 1985 National League series, when Tommy Lasorda inexplicably ordered reliever Tom Niedenfuer to pitch to the Cardinals' Jack Clark, instead of walking him in favor of Andy Van Slyke, whose playoff average was .091. Clark hit a gopher ball clear to Uranus. Afterward, Lasorda sat his team down and wept, admitting his mistake and accepting complete responsibility. "I feel like jumping off the nearest bridge. ... Even my wife knows I should've walked him." As Tom Boswell put it, "in the worst moment of his career, Lasorda took the blame and acted like a leader."

    Not Grady. What had he learned from his mistake? "I learned that you need to have a closer," he growled, blaming a bullpen that had, in fact, pitched marvelously for him throughout the postseason. Later he added, "If Grady Little is not back with the Red Sox, he'll be somewhere. I'll be another ghost, fully capable of haunting."

    America had much empathy for Grady Little. But, alas, he opened his mouth and gradeelittled it away.

    That was the most memorable sports moment of 2003.

    The cold truth | From Gerri Hirshey
    2003 was a seismic year for cracks in American Sports Legend. First we learned that Ted Williams was actually frozen in two pieces. Then we found out that there are two substantial cracks in his skull -- now said to be bobbing in a "neurocan." Worse, there's a $100K lien on said "relic." I'm just glad to be living in an age where despite the desecration, folks are still able to pony up $1,899 for a framed splinter of one of Ted's bats.

    All hail King James | From Ralph Wiley
    Twenty years from now, it will be remembered that "21 Grams" is also the weight of a slightly overinflated NFL football of this era -- give or take.

    (Roadus Dogus adds: "Easy. It's Yo-Yo Year 1 in the long, mad, terrible, crunkish rule of LeBron. It's being written and done up right now in the King James jernt. I mean, version.")

    What we missed in '03 | From Eric Neel

    Meet the Bloc
    Here's the full Writers' Bloc roster:

    From Page 2: Jim Caple, Patrick Hruby, Eric Neel, David Schoenfield, Dan Shanoff, Ralph Wiley.

    From ESPN The Magazine: Eric Adelson, Shaun Assael, Luke Cyphers, Alan Grant, Tom Friend, Peter Keating, Tim Keown, Steve Wulf.

    Other hired guns: Gerri Hirshey, Chuck Hirshberg, Melanie Jackson, Robert Lipsyte.

    Kobe wasn't a superstar (though he was still an icon). Vick wasn't bobbing and weaving. USC wasn't in a tussle with Oklahoma. And A-Rod wasn't trying on the red-and-blue.

    2003: The year that wasn't.

    Shall we meat again?
    From Steve Wulf
    She hasn't made any of the many newsmaker lists for 2003, but I, for one, will never forget her. She handled herself with grace amid tremendous turmoil. She shrugged off ridicule and found it within herself to forgive her assailant. In a way, she showed all of us how to be better people.

    Ladies and gentleman, I give you Mandy Block, the 19-year-old girl inside the Italian Sausage that Randall Simon bunted.

    Now we know what's inside a sausage: goodness.

    A dope development | From Shaun Assael
    This was the year when the World Anti-Doping Agency found its voice -- not that everyone was happy about it.

    WADA's chief executive, Dick Pound, managed to get into screaming matches with Manchester United, Major League Baseball, USA Track & Field and the Bush Administration. Not bad for a tax lawyer.

    At the same time, WADA's satellites here and in 23 other countries finally started getting some respect, thanks in part to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's unmasking the designer steroid THG. As Frank Shorter, the founding chairman of USADA, puts it: "The difference between 10 years ago and today is that the good guys have somewhere to go if they want to blow the whistle."

    Think of it as Interpol for the sports world. Maybe soon it will finally succeed in blowing away the cheats.

    We'll always have Paris | From Alan Grant
    Twenty years from now, we'll remember the 2003 contest played between the Bears and Packers on "Monday Night Football." But it won't be the game that we remember. No, it shall be that captivating shot of Paris Hilton sitting in a luxury box wearing Brian Urlacher's jersey. This was the time it became achingly clear, to all who watched that night (especially those viewing from the state of Colorado) that supreme athletic ability, commercial viability, and large sums of loot rarely translate into sound judgment on matters involving the opposite sex.

    Twenty years from now, we shall also remember that is was during that particular telecast when it became painfully clear that crazy wealth and privilege cannot, does not, and will not ever make any young heiress any less of a sleazy opportunist.