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Monday, July 28, 2008
1998: A year that still resonates

By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

Most memorable sports years

It ended with a shot. But no one knew the extent of what that shot really meant until years later.

1998 HIGHLIGHTS

Michigan, Nebraska both win bowl games, share national championship. … John Elway and the Broncos finally win Super Bowl, beat Packers 31-24. … Dale Earnhardt Sr. finally wins Daytona 500. … Dominik Hasek leads Czech Republic to Olympic gold, beating Canada in semifinal shootout and blanking Russia in the final. … Bryce Drew's buzzer-beater leads 13-seed Valparaiso -- coached by dad Homer -- over 4-seed Mississippi. … Tennessee Lady Vols capture third straight title. … Mark O'Meara wins Masters with birdie putt on 72nd hole. … Kerry Wood strikes out 20 Astros. … Tim Duncan wins NBA Rookie of the Year award. … Real Quiet beats out Victory Gallop in the Derby and Preakness, but Victory Gallop edges him out in the Belmont Stakes. … Red Wings win second straight Stanley Cup. … Michael Jordan's shot; Bulls win sixth title of '90s. … 20-year-old Se Ri Pak beats 20-year-old amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn on the second sudden-death hole after an 18-hole playoff to win U.S. Open. … France beats Brazil on home turf to win the World Cup. … Cal Ripken's streak ends at 2,632 games. … Mark McGwire slams 70 home runs as Sammy Sosa slams 66. … Roger Clemens leads AL in wins, ERA and strikeouts. … Yankees win 114 games plus 11 more in playoffs to lay claim to greatest team ever. … Jeff Gordon wins 13 NASCAR races. … Randy Moss explodes with 17 TD catches as a rookie.

It's been 10 years since that shot from Michael Jordan's hand fell through a nylon net in Utah. No other year has had the complexity and impact across sports as 1998 -- from good to bad, beginning to end. Twelve months played out in dramatic fashions that we'd never witnessed before. And it wasn't until years later when we've comprehended what it all meant.

The Good: John Elway began the year by finally winning a Super Bowl, ending what was easily one of the greatest incompletions in sports.
The Bad: Elway without a Lombardi trophy -- had he never won one -- would have become the standard analogy for every future Hall of Fame athlete who failed to win the big one.
The Real: For example, if LeBron, A-Rod or LT2 were to finish their careers without winning the final game of a season, it would be referred to as "doing an Elway."

The Good: Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa saved baseball (and a part of America) with a home run race that mesmerized the entire country.
The Bad: MLB and the media's total disregard for the obvious.
The Real: That home run chase captured the nation in a way no sports event has … ever. The biggest story of 1998? The decade? Try, quite possibly, the century. What began as the honest pursuit of Roger Maris' 37-year-old single-season home run record turned out to be the linchpin of a scandal that years later became the outing of the darkest moment in sports -- BALCO, "Game Of Shadows," Bonds, Congress, Clemens. It all started in 1998 with "The Chase."

The Good: Marion Jones became the world's fastest woman.
The Bad: Marion Jones became the world's fastest woman.
The Real: Marion Jones became the world's fastest woman … and suckered a nation.

The Good: Dale Earnhardt Sr. did in his sport the same thing Elway finally had done in his when he won the Daytona 500.
The Bad: Three years later, No. 3 died in a crash at Daytona, making his 1998 victory the most significant of his career.
The Real: Although Earnhardt's win was one of the feel-good stories of the year, it was Jeff Gordon's domination of the circuit with 13 wins and his popularity that helped NASCAR rise in prominence even further.

The Good: Bryce Drew.
The Bad: Nothing.
The Real: In one of the most-perfectly Hollywood-scripted plays ever seen, Valparaiso University took "one shining moment" to another level with Drew's down-by-one-with-2.6-seconds-left-on-the-run-upset-of-a-No. 4 seed-by-a-No. 13-seed jump shot that became the NCAA's version of the "shot heard 'round the world."

The Good: Chamique Holdsclaw.
The Bad: The death of Flo Jo.
The Real: Nykesha Sales sparked national discussion after breaking the scoring record at her school (UConn) with a controversial "staged" basket she was allowed to score. (She had been injured two points short of the record.) And Se Ri Pak won the women's U.S. Open over amateur Jenny Chuasiriporn after an 18-round playoff and two extra sudden-death holes in what many consider the greatest women's golf battle ever. It also was the match that made a young prodigy named Michelle Wie know she could become a prodigy.

Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire
We were all caught up in the joyous home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire in 1998.

The Good: France in the World Cup.
The Bad: USA in the World Cup.
The Real: France's winning the World Cup on home soil became the international sports story of the year. It had been 20 years since a host team won the most coveted and cherished trophy in all of sports. And because of this amazing tournament, the world discovered Zinedine Zidane … eight years later.

The Good: The sight of the Detroit Red Wings on the ice, circled around wheelchair-riding teammate Vladimir Konstantinov, holding Lord Stanley's Cup one year after a car accident (after celebrating 1997's Stanley Cup win) ended Konstantinov's career and almost his life.
The Bad: The greatest college football coach ever, Eddie Robinson of Grambling State University, retired after spending his career without the national attention and respect he should have been given.
The Real: Rookie pitcher Kerry Wood made the Chicago Cubs believe they could build a World Series-winning franchise around his arm after he struck out 20 in a game. Ten years later, Wood and the Cubs are still waiting.

Now think of the effect of that shot. That last one of Michael Jordan's true career, the end of the Bulls Era. (Note: The previous game -- the flu/food poison game -- is still considered by many as Jordan's greatest performance.) Think of how the NBA is just getting past that, how -- 10 years later -- it finally has found a way to exist after MJ's legacy. Think of how among all the things that happened in 1998, that shot may be that year's most symbolic, lasting moment. The end of Michael Jordan.

As great as 2008 has been, nothing that happens this year will have that type of impact. Unless this is the last year we've seen of the true Tiger Woods.