Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene 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.

Best Moment: OK, so we were lucky. Some years, you get Latrell Sprewell, and some years you get a transcendent occurrence.

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."

Best Football Player: Not since Peyton Manning one whole year ago has a football player more deserved the Heisman than Texas' Ricky Williams. It would take you half an hour to write down all the records he holds. He eclipsed the best known of them--Tony Dorsett's career rushing mark--in his last game, on one of the most electrifying touchdown runs of the year.

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.

Best Play: No play better exemplifies the spirit of the NCAA tournament than the long, buzzer-beating shot by Bryce Drew that lifted little Valparaiso over mighty Mississippi. It doesn't matter how often you watch the replay; it's still just as jaw-dropping.

Second-Best Play: John Elway didn't even score when he flipped head over heels against Green Bay in the Super Bowl. But he gained more than a first down. His determination roused his Broncos to win, and he demonstrated why he should be ranked with Joe Montana as the best who ever played.

Best Oiler Moment: Had the Oilers clinched a playoff spot, they'd still be talking about one wow play. Trailing Tampa Bay late in the fourth quarter, Steve McNair rolled right, shook off two tackles, and summoned his 4.5 speed to outrun everyone for a 78-yard, game-winning touchdown. In the entire NFL, the number of other quarterbacks who can make that play is zero.

Best Predator Moment: Anyone who stayed up late enough on Nov. 10 to watch the telecast on Fox Sports saw the plucky Predators blow past San Jose 4-2.

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.

How It Looks From The La-Z-Boy (Bowl Edition)

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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