Our Year in Sports

Significant Others

While baseball had the intrigue—though not the ratings—of the Mets and Yankees, and the NBA had Shaq's long awaited coronation, the NHL and NFL apparently needed something more to entice their viewers. So they went to the wives.

Who can forget Martin Brodeur's wife: cowboy hat on head, kids in hands, gyrating, twisting and turning every time the Stars got close to the net during the Stanley Cup? ABC's shots of her illustrated how the hockey wife, perched in the enemy's den, lives and dies with every one of her husband's kick-saves—a true testament to the humanity and love in sport.

On the other side of the spectrum was Kurt Warner's wife in the Super Bowl. Sitting in the stands like an ice queen, severe bleached blonde haircut and blue boa, Brenda Warner was featured on the telecast more than the offensive schemes of either team. ABC ran interviews with Warner and his wife that played more like infomercials for born-again Christianity than an example of the connection a wife has with her husband during the biggest game of his life. —Bill Jensen

Pigskins and Piggy Banks

For most sports fans, I assume, we've come to the end of the Year of the Tiger, but from where I sit 2000 also marked the full arrival of the million-dollar coach. My own employer, Oregon State University, was a key player. A year ago, Dennis Erickson returned to college football after several less-than-blissful years in the NFL, to lead the Beavers to their first winning season since 1971. This year, Oregon State won a share of the PAC-10 championship and a bid to the Fiesta Bowl. Under normal circumstances, what follows would be predictable. The coach who turned around a struggling program is offered twice the salary and a lot more prestige by Big Time U. With deep regrets and best wishes, he departs Aggie Town, leaving the deserted AD to find a young coach who is a link or two lower down the football food chain.

Beaver fans were bracing for such an outcome (USC was the tempter in this case); instead, Erickson signed a contract extension that, "with incentives," will pay him approximately $1 million per year. That's about what A-Rod will tip the Rangers' batboy this season, but also several times what OSU's president makes—and for coaching a nonprofit "amateur" sport. Virginia Tech offered a similar deal to keep Frank Beamer, amid reports that Beamer was now one of 10 or 15 coaches around the country who could command seven figures. Oklahoma likewise rewarded Bob Stoops with $1.4 million. Out west, the University of Washington last year broke the million-dollar ceiling with Rick Neuheisel, and OSU's action this season forced the University of Oregon to put Mike Bellotti in Erickson's and Neuheisel's financial neighborhood. Steve Spurrier's $2.1 million at Florida still tops them all.

Such, you say, is the familiar off-season business of college football. But what's new is the schools involved. Ambitious outsiders, not the football elite, have tended to drive up coaches' salaries, but the Virginia Techs and Oregon States have come from even farther outside the core than those before them. We seem to be watching the last desperate efforts of small-market schools for inclusion in the capital-driven super conferences that will survive the intensified commercialization of college sports. These small-town, small-stadium schools will be the crucible in which the presumed benefits of big-time college sports will undergo their most severe testing. Likewise, all the troubling issues inherent in a commercial spectacle staged by institutions of higher learning—with which we've lived for more than a century—will become magnified. The coming years will be varyingly painful and exhilarating to experience—and fascinating to watch. —Michael Oriard

The One-Hit Wonder

When Mets pitcher Bobby Jones took the mound on October 8 to face the San Francisco Giants, I sat very still in my seat at Shea and waited, along with every other spectator, for the ensuing disaster. As his very name implies, Bobby Jones is a baseball everyman, a career .500 pitcher possessed of meager talent, and a modest disposition that allowed him to accept a trip to the minors early in the year when his game was falling apart. And so it came to pass that this incredibly ordinary pitcher took the ball for Game 4 of the divisional playoffs.

As he cruised through the first few innings, displaying his dazzling assortment of off-speed junk, Jones seemed to be inducing the Giants line-up into untimely swings, bad decisions, and utter frustration. Every few innings, the Giants' murderer's row of Bonds, Kent, Burks, and Snow would go down, unbelievably, in order. Those of us who had watched this particular pitcher for the last eight years were dumbstruck. I would hold my breath, and wait for the inevitable damage, because a player like Jones lives on borrowed time, and ultimately has to pay for his mediocre stuff.

It became clear by the sixth that something extraordinary was taking place. Ever more frustrated at their inability to rough Jones up, the Giants hitters became more impatient, and in the process, played right into the pitcher's crafty hands. Something that felt strangely like pride began to swell in me, watching this would-be also-ran ring up batter after batter with outlandish 65 mph curves, mixed in with mighty fastballs in the mid-eighties. He was changing speeds and out-thinking each hitter and it was a wonderful sight to behold. Bobby Jones was pitching with the cojones that only a career journeyman has the right to; with nerves that are case-hardened by failure, and an appreciation that he was bending the rules of the baseball universe.

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