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The top stories of 2009
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To be completely accurate, it was a very good two years for Lakers star Kobe Bryant.
When the Lakers had put the finishing touches on their NBA Finals triumph over the Magic, it completed one of the more amazing individual runs in basketball history for Bryant.
During that stretch, Bryant won a regular-season MVP, carried the Lakers to the 2008 Finals, was the heart and soul of the United States' gold-medal winning basketball team, shared the All-Star MVP award with former teammate and rival Shaquille O'Neal and helped L.A. return to the Finals, where it won its 15th title with Bryant earning Finals MVP honors.
And for good measure, he won't ever have to hear again about how he hadn't won a title without the aforementioned O'Neal.
Hard to get
|YEAR||EVENT||AVERAGE TIX PRICE|
|2008||Super Bowl XLII: Giants vs. Patriots||$10,917.26|
|2008||Summer Games Basketball||$10,240.74|
|2008||Summer Games Opening Ceremony||$9,255.20|
|2007||Super Bowl XLI: Colts vs. Bears||$8,521.97|
|2008||Summer Games Closing Ceremony||$7,998.43|
|2007||MTV Video Music Awards||$7,766.20|
|2003||Super Bowl XXXVII: Bucs vs. Raiders||$7,748.47|
|2006||World Cup: Japan vs. Brazil||$7,705.68|
"I don't have to hear that criticism, that idiotic criticism anymore," Bryant said. "That's the biggest thing. I don't have to hear that stuff anymore."
9. Roddick makes Federer work for it
That looks like a low-scoring football game, complete with either a safety or a botched extra point. Or it's an offensively robust baseball game, probably pre-Mitchell Report. It could be the final score in the NHL All-Star game or a particularly inept first quarter of an NBA contest.
What it does not look like is the score of the final set of the men's final at Wimbledon. But that's precisely what it was.
Roger Federer defeated Andy Roddick 16-14 in the longest set in Wimbledon history -- 30 tension-filled games played at the highest level of competition.
It was only fitting, given what was at stake. When the match finally ended, 4:16 after it started, with Federer breaking Roddick for the first time all day, the Swiss star had broken the record he shared with Pete Sampras for career Grand Slams with No. 15.
8. Will Favre get the last laugh?
In 2008, Brett Favre's "retirement" only lasted three months. In 2009, Favre remained retired twice as long before deciding to return to the NFL, this time as a member of the Minnesota Vikings.
At this rate, it'll take a few more retirements before Favre is finally able to hang them up for good.
But no matter. Given the level he's been performing at in 2009, it might be a while before the Vikings want Favre to call it quits … at least, and actually mean it.
For the first three-quarters of the season, Favre was performing at an MVP level. After Week 12, the Vikings were 10-1 and Favre was putting up the best numbers of his career — 24 TDs, compared to just three interceptions.
Included among those 10 wins were two highly emotional ones against the team for whom he'd played most of his 18-year career. In those two games against the Packers, Favre had seven TDs and zero interceptions.
Favre and the Vikes have stumbled down the stretch, dropping three of four games while Favre was openly feuding with head coach Brad Childress over the Ol' Gunslinger's propensity to audible out of the plays Childress was calling.
Will the result be a third retirement in as many years? Or will Favre deliver a third stirring victory over his former team in the playoffs? We'll have to wait until 2010 to find out.
7. Come back and see us
When last we saw Lance Armstrong on the national stage, he was doing what he always did — wearing a yellow jersey and sipping champagne during a leisurely ride down the Champs-Elysees.
So when the seven-time Tour de France champion announced he would be coming out of retirement and riding in the 2009 Tour (four years after his final victory), there were very real concerns that Armstrong might damage his legacy with an embarrassing performance.
But given how the cancer survivor has frequently defied the odds throughout his career, we probably shouldn't have worried.
Armstrong didn’t win. And there was that uncomfortable pissing match with teammate and eventual winner Alberto Contador over who was going to be the alpha dog on the Astana team.
But in finishing third at age 37, Armstrong didn't do a thing to damage his reputation. In fact, he enhanced it, no small feat for the greatest cyclist in history.
6. Old Man Watson beats time, but not Cink
Thirty-two years after his legendary "Duel in the Sun" with Jack Nicklaus in the 1977 British Open, Tom Watson returned to Turnberry for one last moment in the sun.
Watson, a five-time British Open champion, was a par putt on No. 18 away from adding a sixth Claret Jug to his collection and becoming golf's oldest major champion — by 11 years!
It was a moment no one even dreamed could happen … right up until that final hole, when Watson's approach shot settled just off the fringe, leaving him two putts away from the greatest win in golf history.
For 71 holes, Watson didn't play like a man just a few months shy of his 60th birthday. Unfortunately, on No. 72, he putted like one. His three-putt effort, which included an 8-footer for the tournament that never had a chance, allowed Stewart Cink to force a four-hole playoff.
Watson never recovered and Cink would win the playoff by six strokes.
Confronted with a somber press corps when he took the podium for his post-round press conference, Watson attempted to lighten the mood.
"This ain't a funeral, you know," Watson said.
No it wasn't. But it did feel like a little bit of us died.
It's hard to believe, but there was a time when Jimmie Johnson didn't have the whole Chase for the Cup thing wired.
In two of the first three seasons after NASCAR adopted the 10-race "Chase" format to determine its champion, Johnson was running away with the title during the regular season, only to stumble during the stretch run and allow someone else (Kurt Busch in 2004 and Tony Stewart in 2005) to claim the Cup.
Clearly, Johnson, his crew chief Chad Knaus and the rest of the No. 48 team have figured something out.
Johnson won a fourth straight Sprint Cup title in 2009, breaking a tie with Cale Yarborough for most consecutive Cup titles. And if it hadn't been for the historic implications of that championship, it may very well have been the most anticlimactic title of the entire year.
Instead? It solidifies Johnson's place as the top driver of his generation, while putting him in the running for the greatest of all time.
4. Yanks spend their way to the top
At the start of the 2009, the New York Yankees were facing the unpleasant (at least for them) prospect of the decade ending with only one World Series title to their credit.
OK, so that wouldn't exactly qualify as the second coming of the Curse of the Bambino and they probably wouldn't be shedding any tears for the Bombers in Kansas City or Pittsburgh.
But given the billion or two the Yankees have handed out in player salary during the aughts, having just that one World Series trophy to show for it would have arguably qualified as one of the bigger upsets of the last 10 years.
Of course, it didn't happen.
The $423.5 million in offseason acquisitions (CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett) joined forces with the biggest contract in baseball (Alex Rodriguez's 10-year $275 million deal) and the four holdovers from the Yanks' last title (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte) to beat the defending champion Phillies in six games and claim their 27th championship.
Hey, sometimes you get what you pay for.
3. One for the other thumb
When the Steelers won the Super Bowl in just Ben Roethlisberger's second season in the league, it was in spite of their quarterback's play, rather than because of it.
The same could not be said of Pittsburgh's win in Super Bowl XLIII.
The surprising Arizona Cardinals had just taken a 23-20 lead with 2:37 left in the game, thanks to a 64-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Warner to Larry Fitzgerald.
Faced with the unpleasant prospect of being on the wrong end of one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history, Roethlisberger and wide receiver Santonio Holmes went to work. The two would hook up four times for 71 yards on the game's penultimate possession, including a 6-yard TD pass with 27 seconds remaining that would prove to be the game-winner.
In doing so, the Steelers became the first team in franchise history to win a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
2. Still no bottom to MLB steroids scandal
After almost 10 years of bad news involving MLB and steroids, there was the hope heading into the decade's final 365 days (however naïve) that the worst was over. From BALCO to the congressional hearings to the Mitchell Report, everyone who was going to get busted had been busted, right?
With one leaked report, Alex Rodriguez went from the man who was going to save the all-time home run record from that cheater Barry Bonds to … well, Barry Bonds.
At least A-Rod's induction into the fraternity of baseball cheats came courtesy of a positive test in 2003, which was supposed to remain anonymous and came before baseball had actually outlawed the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Manny Ramirez can't say that.
In 2009, Manny being Manny involved the use of human chorionic gonadotropin, a women's fertility drug. Assuming that Ramirez is not presently with child, it's likely he was taking hCG for its other use — helping steroid users coming off a cycle jump start their natural testosterone production.
Ramirez was hit with a 50-game suspension for a first-time violation of the league's steroid policy. And when he returned, well, let's just say that .269 average certainly seemed to suggest that something was different.
Oh well, we can always hope steroids won't be the story of the next decade. Because they certainly were the story of this one.
1. The fall of Tiger
In a year dominated by sex scandals both tragic (Steve McNair's apparent murder at the hands of his mistress) and at least somewhat comic (really, Rick Pitino, the booth at your favorite Italian restaurant in Louisville?), the biggest of the year — and the decade — was saved for last.
One day before Thanksgiving, word leaked that the National Enquirer was going to publish a story claiming Tiger Woods was having an affair with a New York City nightclub manager named Rachel Uchitel.
Given both the source of the report and the subject's impeccable record (both professionally and personally), the story could have very well ended there … if not for what happened next.
Woods was involved in a single-car accident in the early-morning hours on the day after Thanksgiving. While leaving his Isleworth, Fla. home, Woods' Cadillac Escalade collided with a hedge, a fire hydrant and finally a tree … all within the span of a few hundred feet.
The media firestorm that ensued included, but was by no means limited to:
- Speculation that, contrary to the official stance of Woods and his representation, Tiger's wife had used a golf club for a purpose other than rescuing her unconscious husband from the Escalade.
- A parade of women numbering in the double digits claiming to have had affairs of varying lengths with Woods.
- A panicked voice mail from someone sounding an awful lot like Woods to one of those women in which he asked her to take her name off her cell phone because his wife had seen her name appear on his phone.
- Rumors that photos of Woods either naked or engaged in sexual intercourse were in existence and therefore available for publication.
- A New York Times report that a Canadian sports doctor who had previously treated Woods was under investigation by the FBI for allegedly providing human growth hormone to athletes.
- Several of Woods' sponsors severing ties with the superstar golfer.
- Woods announcing on his Web site that he would be taking an indefinite leave of absence from the sport that made him the first billionaire athlete.
It just goes to show: You never know what the future will bring.