By George Ferguson
It's hard to believe that in less than 24 hours the year 2003 will be over. Over the last couple of days, I have tried to reflect on this past year and all of its memorable moments. But as eventful as 2003 was all around the world, I have come to just two realizations:
The first is that I have lost more hair over the last 365 days than I did the year before, which is beginning to scare the you know-what-out of me.
Second, no matter what you may remember, one thing is certain - it was another magical, controversial and very memorable year in the world of sports.
2003 began with great football memories and it will come to a close with a few others. In January, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a franchise steeped in the tradition of losing, finally won the big one. The Miami Hurricanes and Ohio State Buckeyes also played one of the most unforgettable national championship games in recorded history. And I still believe that the pass interference call on Miami was bogus.
And just like that, winter turned to spring, summer turned to fall and football came back into the fold of 2003. This past fall was a rollercoaster on a national and local football scale. The Havre Blue Ponies came close to achieving that coveted state title yet again, but the ride ended in Miles City. And the Big Sandy Pioneers came within 48 minutes of capturing the Class C title, but their dreams were dashed in Drummond.
It kills to me to admit this, but Montana State fans can officially call it a streak as the Bobcats knocked off the Grizzlies in Bozeman to win the Brawl of the Wild for the second straight season. Both teams, however, had less than stellar playoff performances the following week. All was not lost in Montana however, as the Carroll College Fighting Saints proved once again that for the time being they are the crown jewel of football in Montana, after capturing their second straight NAIA national championship.
The year is also ending in college football with the BCS reaching an all-time low by leaving the No. 1-ranked USC Trojans out of the national championship game. The NFL season is coming down to the wire as well, and, on a personal note - Who Cares! After the Minnesota Vikings' colossal collapse in week 17 against the Arizona Cardinals, and the designer steroid scandal that is unfolding, does it really even matter anymore?
When it comes to basketball, it seems that the whole year can be summed up in two words - LeBron and Kobe. LeBron James has burst onto the NBA scene after bursting into the national scene while still in high school, and he has not disappointed. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant has done something to disappoint us all. It is said in most circles that Bryant's pending sexual assault case was the biggest sports story of 2003. And as we learned from the O.J. Simpson trial, it will probably be the biggest story of 2004 as well.
But no matter how controversial 2003 may have been in sports, there were some amazing moments that brought tingles to your spine and goose bumps to your arms.
Horse racing fans were brought to the brink of seeing a rare triple crown once again - this time by a long-shot horse named Funny Cide. Lance Armstrong continued to show us all that a human being can overcome insurmountable odds as he captured his fifth consecutive Tour De France. Annika Sorenstam showed us a little humility at the Colonial and the Skins Game proving that the girls really can play with the boys in golf.
I am still leaving out dozens of great accomplishments and hundreds of great stories in 2003. But for me, this past year was about two things in the world of sports.
The first thing that will forever stand out about this past year is so many coaches falling from grace in so many different ways. Mike Price, Rick Neuheisel and Larry Eustachy showed us that even coaches at institutions of higher learning can act dumber than the most idiotic student. Then there are coaches like Jim Harrick and Dave Bliss, who showed us that some coaches are so driven to win and make money that they will stop at nothing to achieve that fact and have the audacity to lie to our faces to cover it up. All of these guys make people like Bob Knight and Bill Parcells look like the patron saints of the coaching profession.
But when you get right down to the heart of the matter, 2003 will be remembered for one thing more than any other. Baseball. In my lifetime, there has never been more exciting and more controversial baseball season.
Professional baseball got off to a rocky start with a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles dying from the effects of ephedra in spring training. Then Sammy Sosa got busted with the cork in his "batting practice bat." And even Barry Bonds' astounding season has been mired in doubt after his personal trainer's home was raided by the FBI and found to have a stash of performance enhancing drugs.
Still, that all paled in comparison to the postseason ride that all baseball fans were taken on this past October. The Cubs and Red Sox teased us all, coming within a combined 13 outs of playing each other in the world series. But instead, Cub fans like myself were treated to another three-game collapse while developing a hatred for a man named Steve Bartman. Meanwhile, Red Sox fans are still muttering the words "Aaron bleeping Boone" while cheering on the Patriots as they make a run towards another Super Bowl.
Instead of the Cubs and Red Sox, we had to settle for the feel-good Marlins slaying the giant that is the New York Yankees. As much as I hate to admit it, I was happy the Marlins won it all. They were clearly the best baseball team in 2003 and they gave us memories that no baseball fan will ever forget, good or bad.
And the baseball juggernaut hasn't slowed down, either. From steroids to the battle for A-Rod, it seems is if there is no offseason anymore since spring training begins in just over a month.
Every year I look back on the sporting events that shape the past 365 days, and every year I am amazed at just how astonishing the world of sports continues to be. That is why I look forward to the coming year and wish everyone a Happy New Year.
See all of you in 2004.