The top stories of 2002

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 Raiders cornerback
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.