Winners Take All

The Seventh Annual Village Voice Sportswriters Poll

 They say that sports year 1998 was the best ever. Was it? Below, some views from the Voice on the year gone by.

Chicken Soup for the Sporting Soul

Call it the Year of the Happy Ending. Not Walt Disney, not Frank Capra, not even Steven-Fucking-Spielberg and the whole rest of DreamWorks could have scripted a more relentlessly upbeat sports year than we had in 1998. Take baseball's home run race. It was as perfectly choreographed as a very special episode of 7th Heaven. One guy gets the record. The other cops the MVP and, despite Brant Brown's best efforts, a trip to the playoffs. Then everyone shakes hands, smiles for the camera, and riffs on a 20-year-old Saturday Night Live routine. No stress-induced baldness . . . nothing. And even McGwire's Milwaukee non-homer became a trivia question, rather than the Botch Heard 'Round the World. Need further evidence that Allah is a baseball fan?

And how about those Yankees. Forget that a 700-pound piece of the Stadium fell and didn't squish anyone. Or that David Wells pitched a perfect game for every lawsuit he settled. Or that Chuck Knoblauch/Tino Martinez/Andy Pettitte each atoned for his playoff Bucknerism with a moment of World Series heroics. Or that they won— count 'em— 125 games. Just remember this as the year that Derek Jeter dumped Mariah Carey. It's the very definition of a happy ending.

Bill Parcells celebrated the year of the Teletubbie by pulling off his own miracle— building the best Jets team since Jimmy Hoffa took up permanent residence in the Meadowlands. While Leon Hess is still around to see it. And let's not forget Michael Jordan, sport's ultimate purveyor of happy endings. The Steal. The Shot. The Sweat on Jerry Krause's brow. It was way more entertaining than Space Jam.

Where exactly does happy end and psychotically cheerful begin? When even career-threatening knee-injury stories end with a smile. Remember Nykesha Sales, the UConnbasketball star? Blew out her knee, a point shy of the school scoring record. No problem. Her coach huddles up with his buddy on the other bench, Nykesha gets the opening tip-off, sinks an uncontested layup, and hobbles off with the record. And then there's Picabo Street, who managed to squeeze one great run between 1997's torn ACL and 1998's shattered femur, and turned it into Olympic gold. Surgery. Rehab. And a big shot of insulin.

Even the year's down moments came complete with silver linings. The Giants reclaimed their self-respect, if not a playoff spot, by out-Elwaying the then unbeaten Broncos. The Knicks were bounced by Reggie Miller and the hated Pacers, but they haven't lost a game since. Thanks to childhood pal and fellow cancer victim, Eric Davis, Darryl Strawberry should have a cameo in his own TV movie. And last rites notwithstanding, the ailing Joe DiMaggio decided that he too wants to party like it's 1999.

1998. If it wasn't the best sports year ever, it sure was the sunniest. Now if you'll excuse us while we go finish reading the Starr Report.

—Allen St. John

Presidential Jocularity

How tired are locker-room phone calls from the president? Let's hear it for Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, who knows how to do it the right way. When the Czechs beat Russia and won the Olympic hockey gold medal and all of Prague turned out to celebrate, Havel— one of whose first official acts as Czech president was to invite Lou Reed to perform at a state function— invited the team to his villa in the capital. There, Havel, who was recovering from intestinal surgery, and the Czech players spent much of the day getting tipsy on champagne, cigarettes, and who knows what else. Meanwhile, American columnists were still whining about how the U.S. hockey team had trashed an Olympic village room the week before. Ah well, we just don't get it. Maybe someday our jock culture might be as cool as Czech jock culture, but I doubt it. As Dominik Hasek said recently after an easy time shutting down the Rangers yet again: "The first period I could have had a cigar and a glass of wine." Hard to picture Bill Parcells saying something like that. . . . —Mark Winopol

The Nixed Home Opener

Was it the awesome Marcus Camby smashing the boards for his first New York Knick rebound? Was it Charlie Ward flying into the lap of that derivatives trader, crushing his cell phone into pieces the size of cats' toes? Was it the pageantry of the Knick City Dancers high-stepping to Black Sabbath's "War Pigs"? Was it that look Soon-yi gave Woody— a glance that meant "Maybe you should spend a little more time on your next movie"? Was it the smoky ghosts of DeBusschere and Auerbach and Russell and Reed from Boston battles past? No. Our vote for the most memorable moment from the Knicks' 1998-99 home opener could only go to coach Jeff Van Gundy. "Maugham," he said, flapping a tattered Penguin against his palm during the postgame interview. "Of Human Bondage— it's all here." Then how he turned away, anguish rolling from his pores like sweat, a hunch in his shoulders that even in victory seemed to say, "You cannot love me more than I hate myself." —Brian Parks

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