The top stories of 2007
You hate to generalize, but we’re going to do it anyway: 2007 was an ugly year in sports. Michael Vick. Tim Donaghy. The Mitchell Report. Don Imus. Sean Taylor. All bad news. Even the success stories were somehow tainted, whether it was Bonds hitting No. 756 (BALCO) or the Pats going 16-0 (Spygate).
10. Florida beats Ohio State, twice
Two championship games. Two schools. One winner. For the first time in NCAA history, the same two schools met for the national championship of both football and basketball in the same calendar year. And in both cases, Florida emerged triumphant over Ohio State. The Gators’ unprecedented 2007 season began in the BCS title game, where they faced the heavily favored Buckeyes. Ohio State, which had been ranked No. 1 all season long, scored on the opening kickoff, suggesting that Florida might be in for a long game. As it turned out, however, it was the Buckeyes who had a rough night in front of them. After that opening salvo, Florida outscored them 41-7 the rest of the way and claimed the school’s second national championship. And on the subject of second national championships … Just three months later, Florida’s basketball team was cutting down the nets for the second straight year. The Gators benefited from the unexpected return of its entire starting five from the previous season — Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, Lee Humphrey, Al Horford and Taurean Green. Once again, the Buckeyes were waiting for them in the title game. Only this time, the Gators were the favorites, expected to use the experience of their 2006 title run to defeat a talented, but young, Ohio State team. And that’s precisely what happened, as Florida won 84-75, becoming the first team to win back-to-back NCAA tournaments since the 1991-92 Duke Blue Devils.
9. Don Imus vs. Rutgers
The day after Rutgers was routed by Tennessee in the finals of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, shock jock Don Imus decided to add a little insult to that injury. After first describing the Lady Scarlet Knights as "rough girls" because many of them were sporting tattoos, Imus went on to call the team a bunch of "nappy headed hos." His executive producer, Bernard McGuirk, added fuel to the fire, proclaiming the Rutgers-Tennessee matchup to be the "jigaboos vs. the wannabes" — a reference to Spike Lee’s movie "School Daze." The comments were met with almost immediate outrage, after which Imus issued an apology and went on Al Sharpton’s syndicated radio show in an attempt to explain himself. Ultimately, though, Imus’ public relations efforts were not successful. On April 11, NBC announced it would no longer simulcast Imus’ morning show on MSNBC. The next day, CBS Radio cancelled "Imus in the Morning," effective immediately.
8. Redskins’ Sean Taylor murdered
Washington safety Sean Taylor was only at his Florida home on Nov. 26, 2007 because he was recuperating from a knee injury that had sidelined him for the previous two games. It would prove to be a tragic circumstance, as Taylor was fatally shot in the leg by an intruder intent on robbing what he believed to be an empty home. Taylor’s longtime girlfriend, Jackie Garcia, who had hid under some bedding with their 18-month-old daughter during the attack, called 911 and Taylor was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. But Taylor had lost too much blood and died one day later. Taylor, who was leading the NFC in interceptions at the time of his death, would be posthumously selected the Pro Bowl — the first athlete in any sport to be so honored.
7. Spurs win title … with a little help
San Antonio continued its "every other year" approach to the NBA Finals in 2007, winning its third title of the decade (to go with the ones they won in 2003 and 2005). But if Phil Jackson once famously suggested an asterisk should be attached to the championship the Spurs won following the lockout-shortened 1999 season, there might be a few people in the metropolitan Phoenix area who would suggest the ’07 title receive similar treatment. In Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals, the Suns held a late three-point lead and were on the verge of evening the series at 2-2 when San Antonio’s Robert Horry shoved Suns star Steve Nash into the scorer’s table. During the ensuing skirmish, Phoenix’s Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw briefly left the team bench. Although neither joined the melee, NBA commissioner David Stern ruled they had violated the letter of the league rule prohibiting players from leaving the bench during an altercation and both were suspended for Game 5. The undermanned Suns put up a valiant effort, taking a 16-point lead at one point, but the Spurs eventually were able to prevail. San Antonio then closed out the series at home in Game 6, but many pundits believed Phoenix would have advanced were it not for the controversial suspensions.
6. You da Manning
It’s a tough reputation to shake: A world beater during the regular season. Just plain beaten when the game matters most. That’s the label Peyton Manning had been saddled with, going all the way back to his All-American career at the University of Tennessee. And eight years into his pro career, that perception was all but set in concrete thanks to his 80-48 record during the regular season … and his 3-6 mark in the playoffs. But that all changed in 2007. Manning’s reclamation project actually began in the AFC title game against his longtime nemesis, the New England Patriots. The Pats appeared to have their fourth Super Bowl trip of the decade well in hand after taking a 21-3 lead. But the Colts would stage the biggest rally in conference title history, culminating in an 80-yard game-winning drive in the game’s final minute that put Manning into the Super Bowl for the first time in his career. Once there, Manning overcame some early nerves (not to mention an early deficit) to lead the Colts past the Bears, earn Super Bowl MVP honors and shed his reputation for coming up short in the big games. Forever.
5. The NBA’s worst nightmare
Perhaps more than any other major U.S. sport, the NBA lends itself to conspiracy theories — the most prominent of which involve the fixing of games (whether for personal profit or the financial benefit of the league) by officials. Which makes Tim Donaghy David Stern’s worst nightmare. In July 2007, it was revealed that Donaghy, a 13-year veteran official, was the target of an FBI investigation. Donaghy was alleged to have wagered thousands of dollars on NBA games during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons — including games which he officiated. Donaghy was also involved in a gambling ring in which he provided his co-conspirators with classified information he received in his capacity as an official in exchange for payment. On Aug. 15, Donaghy pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitting wagering information through interstate commerce. And despite Stern’s insistence that Donaghy was a "rogue official," it’s unlikely the commish has enjoyed a restful night of sleep since.
4. Mitchell Report names names
After a 21-month investigation commissioned by MLB commissioner Bud Selig, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell released his report detailing the results of that inquiry on Dec. 13. And even with almost two years to prepare for this moment, the revelation of the extent to which steroids had spread throughout the game was still shocking. The 409-page report implicated 89 current and former MLB players, including superstars such as Roger Clemens, Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte, Miguel Tejada, Gary Sheffield and Eric Gagne. Selig would proclaim the report "a call to action" then added, "And I will act."
3. Under cloud of Spygate, Pats go 16-0
It’s difficult to believe, but we got all the way until 2007 before encountering a "-gate" controversy in the world of sports. Of course, when we finally did, it was a doozy. One day after the New England Patriots defeated the New York Jets in the season-opener for both teams, the Jets accused the Patriots of filming their defensive signals from an on-field location — a violation of NFL rules. And seeing as how Jets head coach Eric Mangini was once an assistant in New England under Bill Belichick, it certainly seemed like the Jets might have had a pretty good idea this practice was taking place. It took just a few days for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to issue penalties. Belichick was fined $500,000, the largest fine ever imposed on a coach. The Patriots organization was fined an additional $250,000 and the team was stripped of its 2008 first-round draft pick. But if you thought Spygate was going to be a distraction for the Patriots on the field, well, you couldn’t have been more wrong. If anything, the controversy seemed to spur New England on, as it became the first team in NFL history to go 16-0 in the regular season, setting several league offensive records along the way.
2. Bonds passes Aaron
When Barry Bonds set the single-season home run record back in 2001, it was under only the slightest suspicion that he might not exactly be playing by the rules. But when Bonds mounted his assault on Hank Aaron’s career home run mark, the suspicions that the Giants slugger might have benefited from some artificial assistance had been given considerable weight from his involvement in the BALCO investigation. So MLB was understandably conflicted when Bonds finally passed Aaron on Aug. 7, hitting No. 756 off of Washington’s Mike Bacsik. Aaron himself refused to attend any game where Bonds might have a chance to break the record and commissioner Bud Selig wasn’t in attendance, either. Not that Bonds cared. "This record is not tainted at all. At all. Period," Bonds insisted after the historic homer. Sorry, Barry. But history is going to get the final word on that one.
1. Michael Vick was Bad Newz
Michael Vick — for all his on-field success and off-the-field endorsements — was no stranger to controversy prior to 2007. But what transpired this year wasn’t a civil lawsuit alleging Vick (aka Ron Mexico) had passed along a case of genital herpes to an unsuspecting partner. Nor was it Vick having to surrender a water bottle with a hidden compartment to security personnel at Miami International Airport. No, this was something altogether different. On April 25, while executing a search warrant as part of a drug investigation of Vick’s cousin, Davon Boddie, authorities discovered evidence of unlawful dog fighting activities at a property owned by Vick in southeastern Virginia. Vick and three others would be charged with felony counts of operating an unlawful interstate dog fighting venture known as "Bad Newz Kennels." Vick himself was accused of financing the operation, directly participating in dog fights and executions (the gruesome details surrounding which galvanized public sentiment against Vick) and handling thousands of dollars in gambling activities related to the fights. Vick would ultimately plead guilty and was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison — a somewhat satisfying conclusion to the ultimate Bad Newz story of 2007.