By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
NEW YORK YANKEES: Let's hope you paid attention. In 20 years, you're going to want to tell your grandchildren about this Yankee team. They're not only remarkably goodno other franchise has been able to put together this kind of five-year runthey're just plain remarkable. In this era of athlete as scapegoat, they're a bunch of multicultural nice guys who play baseball the way it's supposed to be played. This year, they added on-the-field melodrama to the mix, surviving one of the ugliest September swoons in history, and coming within a hairbreadth of elimination by the Oakland A's. And ifMike Mussina notwithstandingthis Cats-like run is drawing to a close, what better finale than a Subway Series victory over the Mets?
RUNNERS-UP: Four-peat. The Yankees may be gunning for it, but the HOUSTON COMETS have been there and done that. Sheryl Swoopes and Cynthia Cooper have been the WNBA's answer to Michael and Scottie, collecting four rings in the league's first four seasons. This year's model of the NEW YORK METS may not have been particularly amazin', miraculous, or belief-inspiring by the high standards of the franchise, but by taking the National League Pennant, Timo and Co. gave city baseball fans what they've waited for, and feared, for four decades.
VENUS WILLIAMS: Only nine months ago, Venus Williams was back home in Florida, filling her fashion-school sketchbooks, resting her sore wrists, and recharging her motivational batteries. Father Richard blew smoke about possible retirement. The cynics had a field day: It was Jennifer Capriati meets Whitney Houston. But come back she did, and with a court sense to match her formidable athletic gifts. And something more. At Wimbledon, Venus clawed through a minefield draw, entering refuse-to-lose mode every time a match got tight. And at Flushing Meadows against old nemesis Martina Hingis, she played her way out of a hole so big that even Dad had headed for the exit.
RUNNERS-UP: There's nothing heavier than the burden of expectation. Both MARION JONES and CATHY FREEMAN came to Sydney as sure things. Lead-pipe cinches. Faits accomplis. But as others found outjust ask middle-distance master Hicham El Guerroujraces don't always follow a script. Sure, their Olympic victories were met as much by sighs of relief as shouts of joy, but that's the price you pay for greatness
TIGER WOODS: Is golf a sport? It is the way Eldrick Woods plays it. This year, he essentially reinvented the stodgy old game, turning fearsome Pebble Beach into a pitch and putt. But while those longer-than-history drives remain his trademark, he owes his remarkable run of success to a remodeled swing that traded some of his awesome power for consistency, an underrated short game, and remarkable grace under pressure. His only misstep this year? Crossing a Screen Actors Guild picket line to film a Buick commercial.
RUNNERS-UP: What was more improbable? A man coming back from a metastasized-cancer death sentence to win the world's toughest sporting event for the second year in a row? Or a Wyoming farm boy, who used to go by the nickname "Fatso" winning the Olympic gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestlingand doing it by defeating one of the greatest athletes of all time, a man who hadn't lost a match in 13 years? Either way, LANCE ARMSTRONG and RULON GARDNER were the leading men in two of the year's most amazing stories.
ROGER CLEMENS: Don't throw things. That's what your mother told you. But did the Rocket listen? Nooooooo. And for that reason, the winningest active pitcher in baseball might have his legacy defined by two Subway Series moments: a truly scary one that saw Mike Piazza writhing on the ground after taking a fastball in his ear; and a truly comic one that saw Piazza dodging a shard of Louisville Slugger as he trotted down the first-base line. Remember, it's only funny till someone loses an eye.
RUNNERS-UP: Keep your hands to yourself. Mom also told you that. But MARTY MCSORLEY didn't listen. And that's why he lost the fight (with his hands) to Donald Brashear, which led him to seek retribution by bludgeoning the Canuck in the head (with his stick). Later, a Vancouver judge convicted him of assault with a weapon. BOBBY KNIGHT didn't listen either. That's why the Red-Sweatered One got put on warning for strangling one of his players on videotape; and, finally, shown the door when he manhandled another student. Now listen to your mother. Or else.
SUPER BOWL XXXIV: Before the kickoff, it was the Expatriate Bowl, with the refugees from Anaheimor was it Los Angeles?taking on the former Houston Oilers (right?). But then the Rams and Titans hooked up in a game that would be remarkable even if it were played on Monday Nighta rare Super Bowl that lived up to the hype. It seed, it sawed, and it ended the only way it could have, with Tennessee WR Kevin Dyson stretching and twisting at the one-yard line as the horn sounded, 35 inchesor a time outaway from OT. So close and yet so . . . well, you know.
RUNNERS-UP: Sometimes, even in the world of sports, people get what's coming to them. CATHY FREEMAN, Olympic torchbearer, racial pioneer, national symbol, crosses the line and seizes the reflected love of a nation. BOBBY KNIGHT crosses the line in a different way, and, just like that, his chair-throwing days are over.
CLEMENS VS. PIAZZA II: It was one of the strangest moments in World Series history. One future Hall of Famer shatters his bat fouling off a fastball. The other Hall of Famer picks up a chunk of the bat and throws it at, or, um, toward Hall of Famer number one. Benches clear, but only general weirdness breaks out. Piazza survives his second go as a target for Clemens, but fails to fight back. Advantage: Yankees.
RUNNERS-UP: Is it live or is it Memorex? They called it plausibly live coverage, but thanks to an 18-hour time difference, combined with the instant access made possible by the Internet, NBC'S OLYMPIC TELECASTS had all the drama of a Survivor rerun. And speaking of things that shouldn't be taped, let's not forget that Tiger Woods became the world's richest strikebreaker when he CROSSED THE SCREEN ACTORS GUILD PICKET LINE to film a car commercial for the very same Olympics. Shame on you.