For The Love of Sport: A Look Back : Now seems as good a time as any to look back at five of the biggest stories that dominated the sports landscape this year.
It may be a little early for the sort of year-in-review retrospective that journalists have been mailing in from tropical resorts for years. I must say though that in the upcoming weeks the calendar gets busier and busier with NFL teams jockeying for playoff position and the college bowl season in full swing. Now seems as good a time as any to look back at five of the biggest stories that dominated the sports landscape this year. I will preface by saying that some events like the tragic passing of Sean Taylor transcend sport and I will not marginalize the death of a human being by editorializing it. So in no particular order hereís my list. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his step-mother Teresa Earnhardt proved that sometimes it is best not to mix business and family. Some sports fans may not even have been aware of this story but to the millions of die-hard NASCAR fans around the country this was the only story that had their attention starting in February when Dale Jr. demanded a 51% ownership stake in the team that his deceased father founded Dale Earnhardt Incorporated. Imagine the soap opera if Vlad Guerrero demanded 51% ownership of the Angels or he would leave. Now imagine that Angelís owner Arturo Moreno is Vladís stepfather and the name of the team is the Vlad Seniors. While that would give you a rough idea of the drama that unfolded it still doesnít completely capture the melodrama because for the fifth straight year Dale Earnhardt Jr. was hands down the fans most popular driver (receiving 36% of the vote among all drivers) in the sport. Fast forward to May when Earnhardt Jr. announced that negotiations had failed and that he would be leaving DEI at the end of the season. Then in June Dale Jr.ís brief time on the open market ended with his announcement that he would be joining Hendrick Motorsports (Vlad signs for 2008 with the Yankees with half a season still to play). The rest of the year would include public bickering over who would keep Jr.ís old #8 and other fallout including the firing of 22 year-old Kyle Busch whoís greatest crime is that he wasnít named Earnhardt. Barry Bonds may soon learn whether or not the crown of the all-time Homerun King will tarnish if it lands in a federal penitentiary. 2007 began with baseball in the foreground and his off-field legal troubles in the background but by the close of the year his fortunes have dramatically reversed. Bonds started the season with 734 homeruns in pursuit of the single most hallowed record in all of American sports. While Barry only appeared in 126 games and he limped along to a .276 batting average his 28 homeruns (762 career) was more than enough to secure his legacy. However his seemingly permanent grand jury finally returned an indictment in the off-season and now the most prolific hitter since Babe Ruth faces federal charges. This is not Pete Rose being banished well after his career had ended or even a Shoeless Joe being banned in his prime. This is one of the two or three statistically greatest hitters in the history of the game being accused of cheating and lying to the government and quite possibly serving jail time for it. Michael Vick went from being a cultural icon and the face of a franchise to federal inmate in a matter of months. If Barry Bonds is Mercury who in his vanity and greed chose to fly to close to the sun then Michael Vick is Achilles who would be immortal if not for one tragic flaw. Vick hadnít quite lived up to his on the field potential yet and there were rumblings that it was getting to the now or never point of his career but to watch him play was always electric. By the age of 22 he was a pro-bowler, an MVP candidate and the architect of a 27-7 playoff win over the Packers in Green Bay. Teams literally had to rethink the way that they played defense to compensate for his remarkable talents. Michael Vick was the future. I find it disheartening that so much talent would be thrown away and I am a firm believer in second chances. I am sorry for Mike Vick and I do hope that someday he gets another chance on the football field, but nowhere near as sorry as I am for the defenseless animals that were beaten and killed by his doing. Appalachian Stateís stunning 34-32 upset of then #5 ranked Michigan kicked off one of the wildest seasons of college football in recent memory. I will let the numbers speak for themselves on this one. Week 6 #2 USC loses, week 7 #1 LSU and #2 Cal lose, week 8 #2 South Florida loses, week 10 #2 BC loses, week 11 #1 Ohio State loses, week 12 #2 Oregon loses, week 13 #1 LSU and #2 Kansas lose, week 14 #1 Missouri and #2 WVU lose. Eight weeks where either #1 or #2 lost including the last 5 weeks and three different weeks in which #1 and #2 lost including the last two weeks of the season. Wow. The New England Patriots started off their season with embarrassment, a firm scolding, fines and a lost draft pick but they seem to have recovered nicely. If the Patriots stumble down the stretch then this story falls into obscurity but if they become the second team to complete a perfect season after talk of having them forfeit game one for cheating then this becomes one for the ages. But the final chapter in that story has yet to be written. As always I can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and past articles and other notes can be found on the web at http://kyrilmitch.googlepages.com/home.