Upset of the century
He came from Palookaville, boxing's colony of lost souls and shattered dreamers. But, in Tokyo, this 45-1 underdog was transformed into a real-life Rocky. James "Buster" Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson in the 10th round and became the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world Feb. 11. But this story of redemption ended in failure. In his first title defense, for which he was paid $19.9 million, a bloated, wobbly Douglas was shelled in three rounds by Evander Holyfield on Oct. 25 in Las Vegas.
It was another chapter in the saga of a fallen star, Pete Rose. On Aug. 9, baseball's all-time hits leader reported to Marion (Ill.) Federal Prison Camp to serve a five-month sentence for filing false income-tax returns. Scheduled for release Jan. 7, Rose plans to relocate to Florida. His entry into Baseball's Hall of Fame remains in jeopardy.
The football team of the 1980s began a new decade with a perfect victory. The San Francisco 49ers won Super Bowl XXIV by routing the Denver Broncos, 55-10, Jan. 28. As usual, the man who led San Francisco was quarterback Joe Montana, who completed 22 of 29 passes for 297 yards and five touchdowns. Montana and San Francisco, four-time Super Bowl champions, were nearly perfect in the 1990 season. Not even an expanded schedule and water-downed playoff format could stop America's reigning sports dynasty from emerging as the favorite to claim Super Bowl XXV in Tampa, Fla.
Shoal Creek showdown
Greg Norman was golf's leading money-winner and Nick Faldo won the Masters and British Open, but the game's biggest figure was Hall W. Thompson. When the founder of Shoal Creek Country Club in Birmingham, Ala., site of the PGA Championship, said the club would not admit black members, it set off a firestorm of controversy that forced the sport to confront lingering racism.
A star falls
Hank Gathers was 6 feet 7, 210 pounds, a strong, agile 23-year-old who was the leader of the Loyola Marymount college basketball team. But, on March 4, Gathers collapsed and died on the court after a thunderous dunk during a West Coast Conference tournament game against Portland. Shocked and and saddened, Gathers' teammates played as if on a mission in the NCAA tournament, reaching the West Region final, where they lost to UNLV.
Pat Riley finally won a Coach of the Year award, and promptly left the Los Angeles Lakers for a broadcast studio. Michael Jordan won a scoring title, but couldn't lift the Chicago Bulls to a championship. The Boston Celtics collapsed in the opening round of the playoffs, hired Dave Gavitt to help Red Auerbach in the front office, courted Duke's Mike Krzyzewski to coach the team, settled on Chris Ford and added young legs to a veteran cast. The Portland Trail Blazers soared in the West. But, in 1990, the NBA belonged to the Detroit Pistons, a bullying bunch led by the effervescent Isiah Thomas. Detroit ousted Portland, 4-1, to .. win a second straight title. Although they made few changes in the off-season, the Pistons kept coach Chuck Daly and are aiming for a three-peat.
It was one of baseball's most weird years. A season that began with a lockout ended with a blowout. The Cincinnati Reds, who led wire-to-wire in the National League West and defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in the playoffs, entered the World Series as a decided underdog against the American League champion Oakland Athletics. But the Reds engineered a four-game sweep, as Chris Sabo hit two home runs, Jose Rijo won two games and the Nasty Boys (Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton and Randy Myers) combined for a win and a save.
Breeders' Cup tragedy
Horse racing's grandest day turned into one of its ugliest. Three horses were killed resulting from the running of the nationally televised Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park in New York. Go for Wand was fighting for the lead with Bayakoa in the Distaff when she snapped her right front ankle and collapsed just past the finish line. Mr. Nickerson perished from an apparent heart attack on the turn during the running of the six-furlong Sprint. Shaker Unit, who fell over Mr. Nickerson, suffered spinal-cord injuries.
In a year featuring eight different Grand Slam men's and women's champions, tennis was dominated by a hard-serving 19-year-old with dark hair and a fresh smile. Pete Sampras, ranked No. 81 at the beginning of the year, climbed all the way to No. 5. Sampras polished off Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and Andre Agassi en route to becoming the youngest U.S. Open men's champion. He closed out the season by beating Brad Gilbert in the Grand Slam Cup final and claiming a $1 million first prize. Not bad for a high school dropout.
In college sports, tradition was out. Demographics were in. And money became the driving force behind the realignment revolution. The rush to create colossal football conferences -- which likely will serve as brokers with the television networks -- began when Notre Dame signed an independent, five-year $32 million television deal with NBC. Penn State joined the Big Ten. Florida State went to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Arkansas ended a 76-year association with the Southwest and entered the Southeastern Conference with South Carolina. Miami slipped into the Big East, which was set to add four football-only members.