Chosen few reached the pinnacle in 1991

Phil Jackman

December 31, 1991|By Phil Jackman

I suppose it's only right to start out extolling the virtue of the Twins and Braves, Cal Ripken, the exciting Super Bowl last January, Michael Jordan, the Duke basketball team, the Redskins and those other headline hogs.

But that would be too easy. And, besides, those events, teams and people are the things that will stick in our minds until another 12 months come and go and it's time to reflect once again.

Running the soon to perish 1991 back over the cockles of the mind, these are the folks, feats and festivities that fall into the front row, ready for re-inspection:

* Pat Bradley. In the so-called major sports, they pass out huge hunks of hardware to reward guys who have lousy years, then recover to respectability or better. When talking comeback, you're talking Ms. Bradley.

Her career was over four years ago, no doubt, as she was beset with Graves' Disease (hyperthyroidism). She came back slowly, medication allowing her to begin resembling the golfer who had been a leader on the tour.

Starting the year, Pat had 26 tour wins, four shy of the LPGA Hall of Fame, and she was about to celebrate her 40th birthday. In May, she won a tourney in Florida. No. 27.

She was beaten on the last day at the LPGA Championship in Bethesda, then at the Women's Open, both times by Meg Mallon. Come September, however, she won three times, including back-to-back. Nos. 28-29-30. Bingo!

In addition she captured the Vare Trophy for best average score per round (70.66), the Player of the Year Award and the money-winning title ($475,000).

* Carl Lewis. To know Carl is to question his motives and his sincerity. One thing no one ever questions is his ability and motivation when crunch time arrives during a track and field meet, however.

He figured to medal in the 100 meters at the World Championship in August, but the bronze appeared a pretty good bet. He set a world record in his victory, then headed for the long jump pit. All he did there was get off the four best jumps of his life only to lose to Mike Powell, who ended up beating Bob Beamon's legendary 23-year-old mark with a suborbital flight of 29 feet, 4 1/4 inches.

While on the subject of coming through when everything's on the line, Soviet pole vaulter Sergei Bubka, the greatest of all time, faced his last jump at the championships. The alternatives were the gold medal and sixth place. He was successful.

* Monica Seles. She drives you crazy with the never-ending giggle and the grunts and squeals every time she hits a tennis ball. But what can you say about a 17-year-old who won the Australian, the French and U.S. Opens, then added the Virginia Slims championship for good measure.

OC To be sure, the kid could have used a better set of advisers to

counsel her on how to handle bypassing Wimbledon. But, on court, her year probably surpassed anything put together by predecessors Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and so on.

Monica won the biggies on different surfaces and against competition that runs much deeper than the women's game has had in the past.

* George Foreman. Yes, we've heard, seen and read enough about George to last a couple of lifetimes. Still, the fact is he has virtually carried the sport of boxing on his Bay Bridge shoulders for the past year.

Laughed at and ridiculed for picking on a series of nameless 225-pounders in cities with more than 15,000 population, Foreman joined in the jokes until it was time to put his bloated 260-pound frame in front of heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield.

George was spectacular going 12 rounds that night. He had no chance at the decision, but once or twice during the fight he was no more than a punch away from dispatching the champ to the Land of Morpheus. And the way the heavyweight scrap heap looks right now, Holyfield may soon have to come begging the 42-year-old to get back in the ring with him.

* David Dotson. I once covered a high school game wherein a rollout quarterback, on the worst field imaginable, ran the ball on every play his team had (to avoid fumbling) and ended up scoring all the points as the team won, 50-26. I'd trade that sight for a front-row seat at the game Dotson had.

The California schoolboy rushed for 507 yards in a game and scored eight touchdowns, the shortest being for 24 yards. And get this: David had one of 75 yards called back.

* John Daly. Sure, every once in a while someone ventures out of the weeds to win a major championship in golf but, usually, we've at least heard the name. "Long John" was not only completely unknown, just prior to the PGA Championship, he drove all night (seven hours) and, without rest, a caddy or practice and, as the ninth alternate, he demolished the field.

It was the manner in which Daly prevailed that made for such interest. The "Grip it and rip it" kid tore into the ball as if it was practice and lined up crucial putts for no more than two seconds before rapping them in. Ten seconds after receiving his $230,000 winner's check, John donated $30,000 to a scholarship fund for the two children of a spectator who was killed by lightning at the tournament.

And who will ever forget the clutch, 90-yard punt return Rocket Ismail made in the dying moments of the Orange Bowl only to have some heathen call an illegal block, thus giving Colorado a 10-9 victory and a share of the national championship.

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