LONGSHOTS: The 2000s decade gets a last blast from the past
by Dave Long
I’ve been trying to do this column for three weeks — but with the Patriots first in the playoffs and then out of them in a blink of an eye they were the bigger priority. Unless of course you’ve already put the first decade of the 21st century in the rear view mirror — which will make a column about the best collective sports decade in sports history a little stale. But since I’m someone who tends to live ahead of his time or behind it, but rarely in it, and I wrote this a while back and I need a little R & R on MLK Day after spending the weekend on the couch watching football, I’m going to run it today.
So here are one man’s thoughts on a random series of best of the bests from what I just said a little earlier was the greatest sports decade these parts have ever enjoyed. The only problem is there’s too much for one column, so I’ll do it in installments over this week and next week.
Most Historic Achievement: You can’t overstate this one as it’s the Red Sox over the Yanks in 2004. Not only did resilient Red Sox Nation and its team get off the mat a year after suffering the most gruesome loss in a team history marred with gruesome losses to end an 86-year drought, but they did it in a way no baseball team had ever done. After going down 0-3 to the Yanks in a truly gruesome I-will-neverfall- for-it-again 19-7 loss, they got off the mat again to win four straight in dramatic fashion — including a Game Seven embarrassment at Yankee Stadium to slay the dragon once and for all.
Best Upset to Prevent an Historic Achievement: The Giants beating the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl for the 2007 season — with the biggest question still being how in the name of Homer Jones did David Tyree hold onto that ball to make the greatest catch in Super Bowl history?
Least Likely Feat of the Decade: I could go to the aforementioned catch — but even more unbelievable was Joe Torre somehow making it as Yankees manager for 11 years before it ended after 2007 given that in the 23 years prior to his appointment in 1996 Boss Steinbrenner had made 27 managerial changes coupled with the fact that he’s already been fired as a manager for the Mets, Cardinals and Braves when his lifetime winning percentage was below .500
Biggest Fall: A tie between Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, Marion Jones and Mark McGwire, all for different reasons. Vick obviously did the worst thing in being the conduit to killing all those dogs and got the punishment he deserved. Jones not only broke the law while trying get an edge to get her stated desire to win five gold medals at the 2000 Olympic games — also she sanctimoniously lectured onlookers that she was not a cheat or a crook. But that’s exactly what she turned out to be, and justifiably wound up in the big house because of it. The other two didn’t break any laws, but Tiger shattered an image that didn’t really exist and his fall was frighteningly quick while he waits for the fallout from his massive business empire. Barry Bonds was the face of the steroid story in baseball, but most people outside of San Francisco, to put it politely, didn’t like him anyway, so the fall wasn’t that far. That wasn’t the case for the back-in-the-news McGwire who was beloved for being the face of the best baseball story of the last 30 years as he and Sammy Sosa raced to break Roger Maris’ single-season home run record. And while that happened in the previous decade his embarrassing performance in front of Congress in the steroid hearings did and it’s what triggered the public’s reaction.
Best Game: Sports Illustrated says it was Boise State beating mighty Oklahoma 43-42 in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, but for me it was Texas upsetting USC 41-38 in a mesmerizing battle for the national title at the Rose Bowl a year earlier. The former certainly was a great game with many memorable players as David slew Goliath, but the latter was not only for the national championship AND had just as many twists and turns but with Vince Young passing for 267 yards and running for another 200 it had the greatest individual clutch performance I’ve ever seen. And it also had Pete Carroll going for it on fourth and two from midfield with the game on the line because he knew he defense couldn’t stop Young — sound familiar?
Best Player: Peyton Manning. I know the AP gave it to Tiger Woods, but they’re wrong. And it has nothing to do with his, how shall I say, oh yes, his “indiscretions.” It’s just that domination by an athlete in an individual sport stands out — ’cause you’ve got no teammates to screw things up. And Tiger didn’t even dominate his sport as Roger Federer did by winning a record 15 grand slam events all during this one decade while Tiger’s march of 14 majors toward Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 began in 1997. But I’ll take Manning, despite only winning it all once, because he is doing to the record books in football what Tiger has done in golf while becoming the first ever to win four MVPs.
Best Baseball Player: Albert Pujols. He won three MVPs, finished in the top five eight times in having the greatest first nine hitting years in baseball HISTORY as he was the leader in all three National League triple crown categories for the ENTIRE decade! Think about that. It hasn’t happened over one full year since 1967 and he had the most homers, runs batted in and highest batting average over a 10-year period — made even more astonishing by the fact he only played in nine of the years.
Best Deja Vu All Over Again Moment: The Celtics winning in 2007. It was like riding a bike after you fall off. Even after a loooooooong wait, it just felt normal seeing the Celtics really good again and the Garden rocking when they starting winning almost every night.
Best Play: Adam V’s kick vs. Oakland. I know, he’s a kicker and guys have made shots at the buzzer, David Oritz had several gamewinning hits, Bill Mueller got the walk-off vs. the Yanks the day of the A-Rod-V-Tek fight and the hit that knocked in Dave Roberts right after THE steal. But his play was for something as significant as the Red Sox did, and doing in a blizzard when he could barely see the goalpost through the snow amps up the degree of difficulty. Forget the greatest kick of all time — when degree of difficulty is included it may be the greatest play of all time!
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.