Twists that surprised us in 2004

Phelps, the cicadas among overhyped

From cicadas to Trump, the overhyped of 2004

December 31, 2004|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

We admit it: We were wrong about a lot this year.

Big Media, professional prognosticators, the loud guy at the water cooler: We dissected the Howard Dean phenomenon, only to hear it drowned out by one scream. Weren't mortgage rates supposed to zoom up? Don't even talk to us about exit polls. And, of course, some people are still looking for the weapons of mass destruction.

While we were looking the other way, some news came at us like Curt Schilling's fastball. Who expected that the pitcher and his fellow Boston Red Sox would battle back from the edge of elimination by the usually indomitable Yankees to finally break the Bambino's Curse? Or that Mayor Martin O'Malley would be on his fourth police commissioner, not counting a couple of interim chiefs? Or that The Passion of the Christ would end up third at the box office?

We overstated. We underestimated. While worrying about the big news that wasn't so big, we didn't sweat the small stuff, only to find out it wasn't so small after all.

Here's a highly selective look at the local and national surprises of 2004: the overhyped and the out-of-nowhere. Just to make everybody feel better, we'll throw in a couple of things that turned out, well, pretty much as expected.

The Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction." At the beginning of 2004, the backlash to Janet Jackson's halftime flash was supposed to usher in a new era of television decency. By the end of the year, Nicollette Sheridan was dropping her towel in a pre-Monday Night Football promo.

The cicada invasion. Despite all the buzz, it wasn't that bad. Now we've got 17 years to get hyped up for their next visit.

Moral values. First it was the missed story of the election, supposedly eclipsing the economy, the war in Iraq and terrorism as the reason voters went to the polls. Then we heard that the poll telling us moral values were so important was itself flawed.

I Am Charlotte Simmons. We expected so much from Tom Wolfe. We got so many pages, yet so little satisfaction.

Terrorism fears at the Olympics. The Athens games went off without a security hitch. But the gymnastics judges could have used a little more policing.

Michael Phelps. The feverish anticipation that the swimmer from Rodgers Forge could win eight gold medals turned out to be a non-starter. The still much-decorated Phelps surprised us in ways good (giving up his final relay spot to teammate Ian Crocker) and not good (that drunken-driving arrest in Salisbury).

The 9/11 Commission Report. We expected turgid government-speak; we got gripping narrative that flew off the shelves and garnered a nomination for the National Book Award.

The flu vaccine shortage. Despite last year's problems, 2004's shortage came out of nowhere, discouraging so many high-risk candidates from getting inoculated that there ended up not to be a shortage, after all.

Donald Trump. In early 2004, he reinvented himself as the star of reality television. Now his casinos are in bankruptcy. The second season of The Apprentice didn't live up to the first, and ratings are slipping. Will 2005 bring a firing?

The B&O Railroad Museum. That hole left in the roof by last year's Presidents Day snowstorm looked insurmountable. But the Pratt Street museum not only reopened in 2004, it was reborn better than ever.

Kweisi Mfume's departure from the NAACP. Begged to run for Baltimore mayor in 1999, the former congressman said he had too much work left to do as president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. His abrupt resignation last month leaves many wondering what's next, for the organization and for the once-and-perhaps-future politician.

The Laura factor. With her understated manner and gracious response to the gaffe from Teresa Heinz Kerry about whether she'd ever had a "real job," first lady and former librarian Laura Bush became a surprising asset to her husband's campaign.

Gay marriage. Spurred by a Massachusetts court decision and San Francisco mayor's invitation, thousands of same-sex couples said, "I do." In November, 11 states, both red and blue, ran them from the altar.

The trouble with wonder drugs. The ads told us Vioxx and Celebrex were the answer to pain. Now the news - even Aleve may be risky - brings a headache.

Martha Stewart. You thought that with a prison sentence, the queen was dead? Guess again; her new TV show starts in September. And take a look at her stock price.

And now, the comforting part: A few happenings that threatened not to match the hype, but did, after all.

Google goes public. The founders of the white-hot search engine threatened to tank the stratospheric expectations for their IPO by giving a magazine interview during the "quiet period" and initially pricing the offering high. But they made out in the end, to the tune of more than $1 billion.

Brian Wilson's album "Smile" and Marilynne Robinson's novel Gilead. Giving hope to procrastinators everywhere, Wilson finished the album he started 37 years ago - and won raves. Robinson's long-awaited second novel, published 23 years after her acclaimed Housekeeping, proved that highly anticipated sophomore efforts don't have to slump.

William Donald Schaefer. Yes, the state comptroller is still saying things that make you go "hmm."

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