'07 pieces

Scrapbook of a year

Sun reporters offer glimpses of some of the memorable events

and personalities they covered during the past 12 months

December 30, 2007

Last hurrah

With his wild beard, love for beer and passionate gesticulations from the upper deck, Wild Bill Hagy taught a generation of Baltimoreans what it meant to be a fan.

Hagy, who died in August at 68, was the face of a rowdy Memorial Stadium crowd that helped propel the Orioles to improbable comebacks in the late 1970s and early 1980s. When he stood and began forming with his arms the letters "O-R-I-O-L-E-S," thousands knew it was time to deliver some magic.

Hagy was a cabdriver by day but rarely missed a game by night, until he stormed out to protest a new rule preventing fans from bringing beer to the park. The Dundalk native returned to Camden Yards in later years as a quieter presence. But he never stopped loving his Budweiser and his Orioles.

-- Childs Walker

Goodbye to Bluefield

He didn't hit tape-measure homers or dominate with a 100 mph fastball, but George McGonagle made the Bluefield Orioles hum as the one-man front office for Baltimore's Rookie-level team.

Sharing his office with grass seed bags, rolls of tickets, ragged uniforms and a cranky printer that spit out player bios and statistics, McGonagle helped wrangle money and material to make Bowen Field the kind of place for kids and seniors and those in between. Some nights, he pitched and caught, as both ticket seller and ticket taker.

At season's end in August, McGonagle, 65, took his name off the active roster. The Baby Birds are searching for just their third general manager in the half-century they have had a handshake deal with Baltimore.

"There are days, and there are long days," McGonagle said of the job and his pending retirement. "I know there'll be some missing, but I'll get used to it."

-- Candus Thomson

Prized journalist

"Yo."

With that greeting, delivered in a deep, booming voice, David Halberstam began another wide-ranging telephone call. Halberstam, who could have excelled at almost anything -- teaching, broadcasting, fishing -- thankfully settled on journalism.

He shared the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the Vietnam War while at The New York Times, and his definitive account of the buildup to the conflict, The Best and the Brightest, cemented his reputation as a tireless researcher with a keen eye for politics.

Yet one-third of his 21 books were about sports, and he was an avid striped bass and bone fish angler. Many conversations, including one with The Sun in April two weeks before his death, centered on sports.

Halberstam's first sports book, The Breaks of the Game, captured the NBA of the late 1970s, delving into workplace culture, racial tensions, the fate of 1960s counterculture, the nature of modern stardom and dozens of other subjects. He followed with memorable books about the 1984 Olympic rowing team, the 1949 American League pennant race and the ever-inscrutable Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots.

Sadly, left unfinished at the time of his death in a car accident at 73 was a book on the 1958 NFL championship game between the Colts and New York Giants.

-- Childs Walker and Candus Thomson

NFL players in trouble

Against a backdrop of criminal mischief and after a series of "black eyes" for his league, new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote a tougher, more punitive personal conduct policy for players and club employees in April.

Adam "Pacman" Jones, a first-round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2005, was the poster child of the crackdown. For a string of arrests, including a shooting at a Las Vegas strip club that injured three and paralyzed one man, Jones was suspended for the 2007 season by Goodell.

Jones was far from the only player caught in Goodell's net. The Cincinnati Bengals' Chris Henry and former Chicago Bear Tank Johnson also drew suspensions, and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick went to federal prison after a sordid dogfighting scandal.

Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid's home was described by a Philadelphia-area judge as a "drug emporium" after Reid's two sons, Garrett and Britt, were sentenced to prison terms for traffic, drug and weapon charges.

-- Ken Murray

Distractions at Duke

It was April and the sun was shining on the lacrosse practice field adjacent to Cameron Indoor Stadium on the Duke campus.

It was the day after North Carolina's attorney general had dismissed sexual assault and kidnapping charges against three former Duke players.

But the remaining team members weren't ready to move on. It was, they said, like trying to shake a recurring nightmare. They couldn't believe it was over.

After practice, they sat on the metal bleachers and talked about what a surreal experience it had been: a woman's accusation of being sexually assaulted at a team party, and the players' eventual vindication when her story was determined to be false.

"It was like watching a movie through somebody else's eyes," said Matt Danowski, the coach's son. "You're thinking, `That's my friend in the back of a squad car.'"

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