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.