1999 has much to live up to highs, lows of '98

January 01, 1999|By Claire Smith and PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

What a challenge 1999 faces. Not only must it try to carve out a place in history while already overshadowed by the coming millennium. In sports, 1999 must also try to step out of the overwhelming shadow cast by the audacious year of 1998.

Just recall once more the names, from Hall of Fame inductees to fresh-faced newcomers, who, along with the highs and lows, the glory and the body blows they produced, made '98 one for the books: Larry Bird. P.J. Carlesimo. The Chicago Bulls. Roger Clemens. Jimmy Connors. Randall Cunningham. Detroit Red Wings. The Denver Broncos. Dale Earnhardt. El Duque. John Elway. Patrick Ewing. Doug Flutie. Irving Fryar. Juan Gonzalez. Ken Griffey Jr. Dominik Hasek. Chamique Holdsclaw. Billy Hunter.

Allen Iverson. Marion Jones. Michael Jordan. Eric Lindros. Bob Knight. Michelle Kwan. Don King. Ryan Leaf. Jeff Lurie. Roger Maris. Casey Martin. Tommy McDonald. Mark McGwire. Anthony Munoz. Mark O'Meara. New York Yankees. Se Ri Pak. Bill Parcells. Real Quiet. Cal Ripken. Ray Rhodes. Scott Rolen. Babe Ruth.

Pete Sampras. Curt Schilling. Francie Larrieu Smith. Michelle Smith. Tubby Smith. Sammy Sosa. Latrell Sprewell. George Steinbrenner. David Stern.

The U.S. women's hockey team. Valparaiso. Ricky Williams. Kerry Woods.

Each in his own way contributed to a mighty 365-day season.

Winners carrying streaks into the New Year will include:

Roger Maris. Yes, big Mark McGwire and the wondrous Sammy Sosa shattered his 37-year-old home run record. Yet the poignancy of Maris' story that was too seldom told in the torturous season of '61 was a major theme this year. It helped rehabilitate a hero's unfairly tarnished image and, along with McGwire and Sosa, put a happy face back on baseball.

Pete Sampras, No. 1 in men's tennis for six years and counting.

The incredible sprinter, Marion Jones, 35-for-35 in 1998, a hero to fill the void left by the sad departure of FloJo.

Jeff Gordon, the youngest man ever to win three consecutive titles in NASCAR may just yet win the hearts of the sport he dominates.

Losers?

The NBA, which on Oct. 13 took the unprecedented step of canceling regular-season games because of a lockout. Now, a whole season is in danger of being lost.

Referees, umpires and game officials.

Boxing. With mascots like Don King and Mike Tyson and state boards that decide that ear-munching assures good gates, it's no wonder the world is turning to professional wrestling in search of integrity and good taste.

Hockey. The U.S. women had to save the sport's face in the Olympics by winning the first-ever gold medal awarded female athletes.

What will 1999 bring in the way of uplift, disappointments, parity and parody?

The year will stand tall if it produces not only big victories, but also the small. Victories such as that being won, daily, by John Daly.

Trying to play at the professional level while rehabilitating from alcoholism, Daly reminded all that at the core of every athlete, under the muscle and brawn, the hype and the hoopla, is an often fragile human being.

This is the element within our heroes we all can relate to.

Pub Date: 1/01/99

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