Images we wouldn't miss

Some we're lucky we got to see — and some we'd rather not have endured

December 27, 2009|By Diane Pucin | Tribune newspapers

So this is what we remember.

Tiger Woods limping, grimacing, gloriously winning the 2008 U.S. Open.

And this. A parade of women claiming they have been intimate with Woods, who is married with two children.

Glorious. Tawdry. That's sports during the last 10 years.

Lance Armstrong wins six Tour de France titles in this decade and doesn't fail a drug test - but almost everybody else in his sport did. Glorious. Tawdry.

Now we are enthralled again. The Indianapolis Colts may be on their way to perfection, quarterbacked by Peyton Manning. Will it happen? We don't know. That's why we watch, in ever increasing numbers, on television, in stadiums. We want to see something, something special, amazing, inspiring.

We still want to believe in perfection.

What follows is an imperfect recounting of some of the best and worst sports moments - the defining moments - of the 2000s.

On Dec. 13, 2007, Sen. George Mitchell unveiled his report on baseball's steroid era, after a 20-month investigation ordered by Commissioner Bud Selig and funded by major league owners.

Mitchell listed dozens of names, among them Roger Clemens, who loudly challenged the report and whose tattered reputation stands as the greatest testament to its accuracy.

Yet Mitchell's triumph was not in looking back but in looking ahead. He urged amnesty for the players he listed, a recommendation Selig resisted but ultimately accepted. He persuaded owners and the players union to adopt all but one of a series of reforms (drug testing still is not outsourced to an independent entity). And because Mitchell carries enormous clout in Washington, Congress got off baseball's back about steroids.

The drug problem cannot be eradicated, in baseball or in any other sport. However, home run totals have returned to mortal levels.

- Bill Shaikin

College basketball
Not long after the final buzzer, after Florida had secured a second straight NCAA basketball title, the fans began chanting, "One more year." It seemed like a bit much to ask.

With championship victories over UCLA in 2006 and Ohio State in 2007, the Gators became the first repeat winners in more than a decade, joining elite company that included the Bruins, Duke and the University of San Francisco.

Even better, they did it with veteran players - Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey - who could have turned pro after the first title. Instead, they put off NBA money for another season together, maturing into one of the best college teams in history.

- Chris Dufresne

College football
The sport's defining moment actually was a series of dramatic snippets that played out over two minutes as college football held its collective breath.

It started on one side of the 50, in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4, 2006, with USC needing 2 yards on fourth-and-2 at the Texas 45 to clinch its second straight national championship. Trojans running back LenDale White, though, got stuffed 2 inches short with 2:09 left. Why wasn't Reggie Bush in the game?

Everyone knew what was coming next. Standing on the sideline, Vince Young, an unstoppable football force at this point, looked at young redshirt quarterback Colt McCoy and said, "You'll be in this position someday. Watch what I do."

What Young did: Down by five, he drove USC crazy as he drove Texas downfield, scoring the title-winning touchdown with 19 seconds left when he raced 8 yards, on fourth down, to the right corner of the end zone.

Final score: 41-38.

- Chris Dufresne

Auto racing
The crash at first glance appeared rather ordinary by NASCAR standards. But when Dale Earnhardt's black No. 3 Chevrolet careened into the wall on the final lap of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18, 2001, it claimed the life of NASCAR's most iconic driver and shook the nation's most popular form of motor racing to its core.

The death of Earnhardt - a fearsome, rugged driver known as "The Intimidator" whose blue-collar roots endeared him to a legion of fans - at 49 and at the height of his popularity triggered an outpouring of grief that drew nationwide attention, including the cover of Time magazine.

In the years to come, Earnhardt's death helped lead to dramatic safety changes. They included stronger head-and- neck restraints and a completely new chassis for the sport, dubbed "The Car of Tomorrow," designed mainly with added safety in mind for other drivers, including Earnhardt's son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's most popular driver today.

- Jim Peltz

The NBA's start of the 21st Century was defined by something that happened in the 20th - Michael Jordan's 1999 departure - and then scarred by the 2004 Auburn Hills riot that haunted the league for years. TV ratings that nose-dived without Jordan went even deeper after the breakup of the Lakers' mini-dynasty that won titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002 but was gone by 2004 when Shaquille O'Neal was traded.

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