Our Year in Sports

The sports year 2000 was bracketed by two comebacks: The Titans' oh-so-close failed one in the Super Bowl, and Mario Lemieux's triumphant one in Pittsburgh. In between, Tiger and Venus dominated in areas where they break new ground with their very presence. And while the Olympics brought athletics to a crescendo, it also revealed a new trend that suggests sports ain't as important as it used to be. Below, some of our thoughts on the past 365 days.


The Fever Breaks

Was 2000 the year big-time sports started to go into the tank? The 12 months just ended saw the general economy, superheated for a decade, finally cool off. Meanwhile in the sports world, jocks still shouted "Show me the money," and they still got it, but for the first time in 10 years the question arose: Just where is the money going to come from?

In the mid '90s, billionaires and networks paid unimaginable sums for franchises and TV rights, but in 2000 the fever seemed to have broken. Neilsen numbers for all the pro leagues went down, down, down—lower than ever, whether for the dull, Michael Jordan-less NBA or for the supposedly revitalized, home-run happy Major League Baseball. The Subway Series registered the lowest World Series ratings ever, and the biggest TV sports bonanza of them all, the Summer Olympics, bombed miserably both aesthetically and financially, despite the $705 million NBC paid to broadcast it. It seems a dead cinch that the next time TV contracts come up, the networks' pockets won't be quite so deep.

Nor was sports' economic cooldown confined solely to television. The sports-apparel business, booming in the '90s, is going bust. Big NFL licensees Starter and Pro Player have gone belly-up, and Logo Athletic recently filed for bankruptcy protection. As for the prices of franchises themselves, no one is talking anymore about buying Manchester United for $1.1 billion, as Rupert Murdoch tried to do only two years ago. In fact, when Molson Breweries recently put the Montreal Canadiens—along with the Yankees the most successful and storied pro team in North America—up for sale, the company expected to get at least $200 million; the highest offer so far: $84 million. With the stadium-building frenzy of the '90s over, franchise prices everywhere have hit a glass ceiling.

Mind you, we're not saying it's the Great Depression all over again; despite the Nasdaq's swoon, it's still impossible to rent or buy a New York apartment for less than a king's ransom, and too often you still have to pay eight bucks to get a stinking vodka tonic in this town. So it is that Alex Rodriguez can still score $252 million for a 10-year contract with the Texas Rangers. But here's the thing: After Rodriguez signed, it was revealed that the deal wasn't really about Rodriguez or even about baseball at all. Seems the Rangers' tycoon owner, Tom Hicks, was just trying to "brand" his real estate and overseas broadcasting businesses. Meanwhile, half the clubs in baseball have given up trying to win a pennant, even with only four teams in a division these days; they simply can't afford the players.

Us? We won't mind if the whole house of cards comes tumbling down soon. Street hockey and playground basketball don't cost a thing—and maybe, just maybe, we'll be able to get back into the Garden for a Knicks game or two. —Mark Winopol


Stroke of Genius

How positively cosmic of Tiger Woods to cap his stratospheric year with yet another otherworldly golf shot. The 220-yard six-iron, out of sand, over trees and over water, at Glen Abbey's unforgiving par-five 18th gave him the Canadian Open and put him over $8 mil for the season—but what timing, what delivery, what ice-blooded composure. The guy's got a one-stroke lead, and really needs only to play it safe by laying up (or at least just going for the fat part of the green) to give him a probable bird, or in any case, a lead-cinch par. Worst happens, they go sudden death extra holes. So what does he do? He air-mails the rock, high-risk, over the drink into the green's thinnest angle of approach, and lo-and-behold, he stone-cold, flat-out sticks it to 18 feet for an automatic wrap—game, set, match. Whereupon he flashes that megabucks grin, the one that says, "Yeah I've done it again, and it's nice, Jim, real nice."

Woods's foil-of-the-moment, a genial New Zealander named Grant Waite, mutters afterwards, "I can't even comprehend what he did there." Later, a handful of pros trot out to drop balls in the very same spot and try their luck, but they can't fathom it either. With less-than-zero pressure, none manage to hit the dance floor. Hey, that's all right—it's a tough shot, and they're not Tiger Woods. —John Stravinsky


Games of Inches

For many of us, 2000 will always be about the Mets and Yankees, and not just because of the World Series. Thanks to emotionally charged incidents like Roger Clemens's beaning of Mike Piazza, the obstruction call against Todd Zeile (with Lee Mazzilli giving pointers to the umpire!), Dwight Gooden's return to Shea, and the home-and-home subway doubleheader, the two teams had the feel of star-crossed combatants all season long.

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