Finishes not fantastic here in '97

December 28, 1997|By John Eisenberg

There was an unmistakable theme running through the year in sports around here.

It was a year of good starts and bad endings.

We were up to our necks in both in 1997.

The Orioles, Ravens and Maryland basketball team all followed the same script, and now they can all share the same New Year's resolution for 1998.

They should all strive to peak a little later, for crying out loud.

The Orioles peaked in June with that sweep of the Braves that gave them a 45-19 record, the best in the major leagues. A trip to the World Series seemed more than just a possibility at that point. It seemed almost inevitable.

Wrong. After going wire-to-wire in first place for the first time in franchise history, the Orioles ran headlong into a bad ending in October, when the Indians surprised them in a bizarre American League Championship Series.

So much for the Orioles' first trip to the Series since 1983.

Maybe Peter Angelos will hire minority owner Barry Levinson to write a better ending next season.

The Ravens didn't promise nearly as much in their second season, but they did win three of their first four games to legitimize the P word -- playoffs -- as a conversation point.

Their good start included a road victory over the Giants made possible by the local Immaculate Reception -- a fumbled snap that lineman Leo Goeas unknowingly kicked to Vinny Testaverde, keeping a key drive alive.

Anything seemed possible at that point, but the Ravens also soiled their good start with a bad ending. Not just any bad ending, either. This one was long, withering and semi-catastrophic, a football-style "Titanic," complete with a 1-7-1 record from late September through November.

A loss in Cincinnati on the last Sunday of the season completed the Ravens' fall to last place in the AFC Central.

Gary Williams' Terps might have started the best of all during the year, winning 17 of their first 19 games to rise from obscurity to No. 5 in the national polls, with one of the wins coming after falling 22 points behind at North Carolina.

The Terps seemed to have the kind of magical chemistry that could carry them a long way, but they faded badly, losing seven of their last 10 games in the regular season, then losing in an upset to College of Charleston in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Talk about a bad ending.

Not everyone followed that same script, of course; there were good endings, too. Coppin State's basketball team started strong and ended sensationally, beating South Carolina in one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history, then falling one shot shy of reaching the Sweet 16.

A 4-year-old horse named Skip Away -- owned by a Highlandtown native, Carolyn Hine, and trained by her husband, Sonny -- ended an average year with a huge victory in the $4.4 million Breeders' Cup Classic.

And Maryland's football team never started, period, losing at home to Ohio University after new coach Ron Vanderlinden had predicted that the Terps were on the verge of "rising up and taking over" the ACC. They finished 2-9. That's a bad start and a bad ending.

Still, there were bad endings everywhere. It wasn't just a local phenomenon; you could find them all over the national landscape this year.

How about the major-league baseball season? After a relatively upbeat regular season, there was a forgettable World Series between the Marlins and Indians, followed by the disgusting sight of Marlins owner H. Wayne Huizenga breaking up the Series winners and selling them off as if they were rusted parts on a used car, all because he couldn't get the taxpayers of South Florida to build him a free stadium.

That's the definition of a bad ending, folks.

So was the conclusion of the year's biggest fight, between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. Now that was a bad ending with some teeth.

Other things that ended badly in 1997: Marv Albert's career; the Bandits' future in Baltimore; Davey Johnson's reign; Silver Charm's Triple Crown run; Bill Parcells' career with the Patriots and his first year with the Jets; Randy Myers' association with the Orioles; Jerry Rice's comeback.

And, of course, Latrell Sprewell's career as a role model.

Some athletes were immune. Tiger Woods, whose runaway victory at the Masters was the event of the year. Michael Jordan, who won his fifth NBA title and proved that he might care more than anyone else about winning. Mike Mussina, whose 1997 finished with a playoff performance for the ages. Barry Sanders and Martina Hingis, who were simply awesome.

Brady Anderson, who didn't end his year by leaving town.

Still, all in all, this will go down as the Year of the Lousy Ending.

But who knows, with El Nino scheduled to blow in, maybe things will get better in '98.

Pub Date: 12/28/97

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