'92 had its stars, but Air is still on flight all his own

December 31, 1992|By Scott Ostler | Scott Ostler,San Francisco Chronicle

The year for me?

Bloodied survivors of titanic clashes,

Slam dunks that fall on your nose and eyelashes,

Hurlers whose serves become misses to swings,

These were a few of my favorite things.

But enough elegant poetry. It's time to wrap the year into a neat little ball, crumple it up and sky-hook it into the waste basket of life.

We'll do that by listing the year's most exciting performers.

First, a word about worthies who missed the cut. Very honorable mention ribbons to Tom Kite in the wind, Jerry Rice with the wind, Frankie Cabrera in the clutch, Evander Holyfield in the ring.

Magic Johnson, athletically, I prefer to remember in better times. The Dream Team put me to sleep. Marge Schott doesn't count because she's a bad dream, a bobble-head doll from hell. Mike Tyson was hot -- who else could inspire ticket-scalping outside a courtroom? -- but look for him in the book-review section: "How to Pick Up (And Throw Down) Women."

Arthur Ashe, I couldn't agree more with Sports Illustrated for naming him Sportsman of the Year -- how about Half Century? -- but this particular list is for uniformed personnel only.

Now, a drum roll please, and cue the archer with the flaming arrow as we present the big sports of the year:

11. Charles Barkley. His running patter as Dream Team's designated loose cannon made the Olympics hoops mildly entertaining. But it's Charles amok in the NBA that put him on this list. Great game, bad attitude, now Phoenix's native Sun.

10. Riddick Bowe. A heavyweight champ with personality, integrity and a sense of humor? Weird concept, but let's give it a try for a decade or two.

9. Neon Deion Prime Time Rainman Sanders. Yes, there is a temptation to relegate the Nickname King to the top 10 list of tired lounge acts and overbeaten horses.

After all, the guy came out of a football game for two plays because he lost an earring, causing Jim Brown, wherever he was, to break down and sob.

But returning kicks and loose on the basepaths, Deion is a wonder.

Some say he tried to do too much. Au contraire; Deion under-achieved. He would have been hell on figure skates at the Winter Olympics, and he would give a nice spark to the PGA Tour.

8. Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Jumpin' Jackie Flash had no disease or disability to overcome, no ax to grind, no jive to shuck, no hype to sell, no wolf to bark.

But she overcame those obstacles to re-stake her claim as world's greatest female athlete.

7. Andre Agassi. The single most clutch sports performance of the year was Agassi at Wimbledon. Who carried more baggage into any arena? Lose in the finals and Andre retires the trophy as overhyped choke artist of the half decade.

Somehow he coordinated the flying racket, shirt, hair, earrings and necklaces and guns down top (radar) gun Goran Ivanisevic.

Andre even had Lady Di sighing, although there's almost no truth to the rumor that he is the real cause of the split-up of Charles and Di.

6. Tim Wakefield. Kid comes from out of nowhere with a knuckleball nobody can hit. It's a real-life Walt Disney movie.

As a testimony to Tim and the dreams he inspired, come next spring a million American men will hurt themselves while trying to perfect the knuckleball.

5. Joe/Jose By-the-Bay. An entry. Two guys who didn't do much on the field (yet), but who kept us running out to the driveway for the morning paper.

Some say Joe Montana should of quit while he was ahead. But as he showed Monday night, the mother of all quarterback controversies is still alive and cooking.

As for Jose Canseco, he'll be fine when he grows up. I have 1998 in the office pool.

4. Monica Seles. To spite those prigs who object to her grunt on the grounds that it's not ladylike, I'd like to see Monica develop a resonant belch.

3. Dennis Eckersley. Whiff their ass and glare 'em back to the dugout. When they get you, take it like a man.

Angst-wise, the Vincent Van Gogh of sports.

2. Carl Lewis. The Piquant Flyer. Would have been more popular but his personality got in the way. The only reason Carl marched in the Olympics Opening Ceremonies while chatting on a cellular phone was that they wouldn't let him drive his Maseratti.

Give him his due: The all-time, all-universe anchor leg. King of the long jump. Hey, I'd phone home, too.

1. Michael Jordan. Take a poll of all the athletes in all the sports, ask them which athlete most amazes them, Air wins. His basketball act would get old if he ever took the same shot twice.

Wow. I get to the end of my list of the year's most exciting performers and it occurs to me I've left off Steve Young.

After further review, Steve is No. 1 for '92.

NB But that doesn't mean I think he should start in the playoffs.

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