Between the French figure skating judge, the refs from Game 6 of the Western Conference finals and whoever came up with the NFL's "tuck" rule, officials were a big part of the story in 2002.
10. Cup is a quarter full
Four years after finishing dead last in the World Cup in France, expectations were not particularly high for the United States heading into the 2002 Cup co-hosted by South Korea and Japan.
That changed quickly, as the U.S. stunned Portugal, one of the pre-tournament favorites, in its opening game, 3-2. A 1-1 draw with host South Korea allowed the Americans to advance beyond pool play.
Once there, they met their old rivals, Mexico. Team USA's 2-0 victory not only established itself as the dominant power in CONCACAF, but it also put the Americans in the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time since 1930.
Even though the United States lost to Germany, 1-0 (aided in part by a controversial non-call on an apparent hand ball), they gained a fair amount of respect.
9. Blast from the past
Heading into the 2002 U.S. Open, Pete Sampras was considered far more likely to retire following the tournament than win an unprecedented 14th Grand Slam championship.
Sampras hadn't won a tournament of any kind since Wimbledon in 2000. And earlier that summer, he was unceremoniously bounced from the All-England Club, losing to a clay-court specialist in the second round.
But Flushing Meadows has a way of bringing out the best in former champions (see Connors, Jimmy). And Sampras managed one last run for the ages.
When that run improbably landed him in the finals, Andre Agassi was waiting for him there. In the 34th meeting between the old rivals, Sampras prevailed in four sets, giving him a 20-14 career edge over Agassi (including a 4-1 mark in Slam finals) and a 14th major championship.
8. It's all about the U
2002 began with the University of Miami beating Nebraska in the Rose Bowl, 37-14, to put the finishing touches on a 12-0 season and the school's fifth national championship — the program's first title since it exploded onto the national scene during the 1980s.
The year ended with the Hurricanes riding a 34-game winning streak and heading back to the BCS title game.
And in between, Ken Dorsey, Willis McGahee, Kellen Winslow II and company solidified their status as one of college football's all-time great teams.
7. Sibling rivalry, times three
Venus and Serena Williams may very well be the dominant tennis players of their generation, but when they've faced each other, the end result has been less than scintillating competition.
Which made for three largely anticlimactic Grand Slam finals in 2002.
After missing the Australian Open because of injury, Serena faced — and defeated — her older sister in the finals of the three remaining majors. In fact, Serena didn't drop a set to Venus while winning the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles.
Serena was the first woman to win three Grand Slams in a single season since Martina Hingis did it in 1997 and, by virtue of that run, became the first African-American woman to finish a season ranked No. 1 in the world.
6. Caminiti admits to steroid use
Long before BALCO, long before the Mitchell Report and long before either of Jose Canseco's tell-all books, there was Ken Caminiti.
The 1996 NL MVP winner came clean in a
Sports Illustrated cover story in May 2002, admitting to using steroids during not only his MVP season, but for several years after.
Caminiti also estimated that 50 percent of major-league players were using performance-enhancing drugs — the opening salvo in a scandal that would ultimately define the decade in sports.
5. Safe at home
During the 2002 season, the San Francisco Giants occasionally turned to manager Dusty Baker's son, Darren, for batboy duties. The three-and-a-half-year-old was seen as something of a good-luck charm; the team was 7-0 when Darren was serving as the team's batboy heading into Game 5 of the World Series vs. the Angels.
As it turned out, Darren needed a little luck — and some quick thinking by J.T. Snow — to avoid disaster.
Snow and David Bell were on base when Kenny Lofton hit a triple to right-center field. Snow had crossed the plate and Bell was well on his way to doing the same when Snow noticed Darren had rushed onto the field prematurely to gather Lofton's bat. Snow grabbed the toddler by the jacket and carried him to safety.
The Giants would win the game — running Darren's winning streak to 8-0 — but would ultimately fall to the Angels in seven games.
4. Dream Team was a nightmare
After an "embarrassing" third-place finish in the 1988 Olympics, the United States men's basketball program made the decision to allow professional players to represent their countries in international competition.
The so-called "Dream Team" made its debut at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, where it was even more dominant than USBA's wildest imaginations.
Little did they know, 10 years later, the pros would turn in a performance far more humiliating than anything the collegians had managed.
It began with a loss to Argentina in the group stage — the first time ever American professionals had lost in international play. Yugoslavia then knocked the United States out of the medal running in the quarterfinals. Finally, just to rub it in, Spain handed the U.S. a third loss in the fifth-place game.
3. Judge dread
The 2002 Winter Olympics saw the youngest figure skating gold medalist ever (the United States' Sarah Hughes) and American speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno become a superstar.
But the biggest story of the Salt Lake City Games involved a good old-fashioned judging controversy.
Canadian pairs skaters Jamie Salé and David Pelletier appeared to have won gold, thanks to their clean long program and a minor misstep from their biggest rivals, Russia's Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze. But when the judges announced their scores, Salé and Pelletier inexplicably finished in second place.
One day later, French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne admitted she had been pressured into awarding the long program to the Russians in exchange for a first-place vote for France's Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat in the ice dancing competition.
Le Gougne's vote was discounted, the long program was declared a tie and the Canadians and Russians ended up sharing the gold.
2. Big Shot Rob's biggest shot
You don’t get a nickname like "Big Shot" without making a decent-sized basket or two in your career.
But if Robert Horry didn't already have that moniker prior to Game 4 of the Western Conference finals against the Sacramento Kings, the L.A. Lakers forward would have earned it based on his performance in that game alone.
The Lakers already trailed in the best-of-7 series 2-1 and were down by as many as 24 points in Game 4 before rallying to cut the Kings' lead to 99-97 with 11 seconds to play.
On the game's final possession, Horry's more-heralded teammates Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant missed back-to-back layups. After Bryant's miss, Sacramento center Vlade Divac knocked the ball out toward the 3-point line in an attempt to run out the clock.
Unfortunately, the ball landed in Horry's hands … and shortly thereafter landed in the basket. Horry's 3-pointer gave the Lakers the 100-99 lead. L.A. would go on to win the series in seven games, then sweep the New Jersey Nets in the NBA Finals for their third consecutive title.
1. What the tuck?
Adam Vinatieri made two game-winning field goals in the postseason, and the
Patriots started their journey to Team of the Decade status with a stunning upset of the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
But none of it would have been possible were it not for an official's interpretation of an obscure piece of NFL legislation — the infamous "tuck" rule.
New England trailed Oakland 13-10 with less than two minutes remaining in an AFC divisional playoff game when
Charles Woodson sacked Patriots quarterback
Tom Brady and appeared to force a fumble that was recovered by Oakland teammate Greg Biekert.
But ultimately, officials ruled that even though Brady had both hands on the ball at the time Woodson hit him, he had not "tucked" the ball away following an aborted pass attempt. Possession returned to the Patriots, Brady got them in field-goal range with a 13-yard pass to David Patten and Vinatieri sent the game into overtime with a 45-yard field goal.
Another Vinatieri field goal in OT allowed the Patriots to advance to the AFC title game and set the stage for another, even bigger field goal — the last-second one that gave New England the first of three titles this decade.