1998 Sports in Review
By Randy Horick
DECEMBER 28, 1998: We've finally arrived at the second most favorite time, next to 3-for-1 Happy Hour, for sportswriters end-of-the-year-list-making time.
Sports journalists love these annual retrospectives because they're easy to devise--provided their brains aren't too fogged to remember what actually happened during the past 12 months. Almost as much, pundits relish the gravitas they imagine will enfold them for helping the hoi polloi put the year in perspective.
It might be a lot more fun, of course, to recount all those great sports moments from last year that we DIDN'T get to see. Like the NFL's training seminar for referees on tossing a coin. Or the scrum along Chicago's Waveland Avenue that followed a Sammy Sosa home run--resulting in bite marks on a ballhawk's hand and a lawsuit over the baseball. Or the cool, chutzpah-brimming on the face of Roger Clemens' agent when he informed the Houston Astros that they would have to part with three starters AND pay $27 million next year if they wanted to sign the 34-year-old pitcher.
But that would be kind of unsportsmanlike. So as not to break with a cherished scribblers' tradition, and in keeping with the spirit of the season, here's our own biased assessment of the past year.
We suspected that someone eventually would break Roger Maris' 37-year-old home run record. We just never imagined that two hitters, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, would smash it together.
In this case, the personalities mattered almost as much as the achievement. Whenever McGwire and Sosa shared a field, the atmosphere was magical and electric. Instead of acting like rivals, they rooted for each other--and with such dignity and decency that fans who watched them began behaving better, too. (Consider how differently we'd have felt had the record been surpassed, say, by Albert Belle.)
It was serendipitously fitting that Sosa was in left field in St. Louis on the night that McGwire broke the record, just waiting to run in and jump exuberantly into the big slugger's arms. Instead of drawing more attention to himself, McGwire dedicated his historic home run to the fans of St. Louis, who arguably are the best and most loyal in baseball.
Like Carlton Fisk's famous World Series homer, or Bobby Thompson's "Miracle of Coogan's Bluff," McGwire's big hit will be replayed countless times in years to come. But those who witnessed it that night will remember the game in the way that Shakespeare imagined the veterans of Agincourt would recall their famous battle: "And gentlemen of England, now a-bed, shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here."
Williams broke away on that long score after Texas A&M's rock-ribbed defenders thought they'd stopped him. That symbolizes what makes him special. Just when some folks were certain they'd figured him out, he surprised them.
Some looked at Williams' dreadlocks (he's a fan of Bob Marley) and his pierced tongue and stereotyped him as a street kid with an attitude. Perhaps they felt shamed when they heard him talk.
Williams speaks of his admiration for the great Doak Walker, whom he befriended before Walker's death this year. He talks of his plans, after his looming pro football career ends, to become an elementary school teacher. Listening to him, you appreciate how level and straight he runs, both on and off the field. You appreciate, too, that only a rare football star is also a football hero.
In the books it was just another game. But, for Nashvillians, it may also have carried a message: the team could defeat quality opponents on the road, not simply go down gracefully. Wins like that, which reward viewers for investing two late-night hours in their team, have a way of turning interested observers into fans.
Fiesta: Florida State 23, Tennessee 17
Orange: Florida 31, Syracuse 20
Sugar: Ohio State 24, Texas A&M 17
Rose: UCLA 34, Wisconsin 28
Cotton: Texas 26, Mississippi State 21
Citrus: Michigan 20, Arkansas 13
Gator: Georgia Tech 19, Notre Dame 13
Outback: Penn State 27, Kentucky 23
Independence: Texas Tech 24, Ole Miss 20
Peach: Virginia 20, Georgia 12
Sun: Southern Cal 21, TCU 10
Liberty: Tulane 36, BYU 28
Holiday: Nebraska 27, Arizona 24
Alamo: Kansas State 35, Purdue 21
Micron PC: Miami 24, N.C. State 17
Insight.com: Who cares?
Music City: Virginia Tech 30, Alabama 20
Vikings 34, Oilers 17
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