2009 Top Ten Sports Stories

Well 2009 was, or still is for a couple of days. And the way news has gone this year, specifically in the last couple of months, the biggest story of the year will probably happen tomorrow. For now though, as the decade comes to an end, let’s take a look back at the biggest stories — not games, just stories — of 2009.

Urban Meyer is taking a leave of absence from Florida.

#10) Cincinnati Bengals: This deserves to go to the entire organization for everything that has happened this year. The positive: Cincy clinched a playoff birth for just the second time in 19 years and did it rather easily, sitting as the champs of the AFC North at 10-5. But the route there was much more painful than a Monday morning.

It started in October, when the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer died, crushing the Bengal family that she was very much a part of. The team played their Sunday game before attending her Monday funeral. Zimmer coached in the game.

It got worse in December, when their injured wide receiver, Chris Henry, died of injuries sustained a car accident. Henry, 26, had been turning his life around after a rocky college career and beginning of his NFL tenure. Again, the Bengals played on Sunday and attended a funeral the next day.

And the Bengals will continue to play in January, with heavy hearts.

#9) New York Yankees back on top of baseball: They opened a brand spankin’ new $1 billion stadium with seats that cost more than some of the rookies can even afford. But they took advantage, going deep at a pace their predecessors could be proud of and winning at a clip no other team came near after the All-Star break.

New York blew through the playoffs, including a rather easy World Series win. The combination of power, speed and defense culminated in Johnny Damon stealing second and third on the same play in game four of the World Series.

One difference should be noted about this Yankee team, however. They were much less business-like and much more fun. See A.J. Burnett delivering postgame facials after all of the Yanks many late inning wins. And if you thought you had a hold of Burnett, than Nick Swisher was taking his place. Maybe the only team that did it better was the 2009 Mariners, who pioneered the ice cream facial and actually got their manager in his last postgame press conference of the season.

At any rate, all was well in the baseball universe, with number 27 safely in the Bronx.

#8) Pat Summitt, 1,000 wins: Back during the 1974-75 season, Pat Summitt, a graduate assistant who was pursuing a masters in physical education, became the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers women’s basketball team. She was 22.

In 1987 Summitt led Tennessee to its first of eight national championships.

Some 35 years later, Summitt, already considered one of, if not the greatest coach in college basketball history, men’s or women’s, reached a level no one has ever reached in major college basketball: 1,000 wins.

On Feb. 5, 2009, Summitt’s Vols blew out Georgia, 73-43, for the monumental win. The night of the win, the University of Tennessee reward Summitt like they do on the men’s side, making her the first $1 million coach in women’s basketball. Starting in 2011, Summitt will make $1.5 million and if she is still coaching in 2013-2014, she will receive a $1 million bonus to recognize her 40th season.

Only fitting for the coach of what is believed to women’s basketball’s first $1 million player, Candace Parker.

Summitt mind-boggling record: 1,017-194. In 2000 she was named the coach of the century.

#7) Serena Williams tirade at a line judge: It was an instant YouTube classic, as many things are these days. But a woman, specifically a tennis player, berating an official is something different, even today. That it was probably the face of American tennis, Serena Williams begs the question: is it possible to be disappointed, but not surprised at the same time?

That said, what William’s outburst, which cost her quite a bit of cash to go with the negative publicity, certainly touched off one of the debates over what we “think” female athletes are supposed to act like. Yes, this was tennis, so a punishment was obviously likely. But in any American sport, with a male, she would see nothing but an ejection.

The same argument was played out during a brutal women’s soccer game as well. It may very well be a leading argument in athletics throughout the next decade.

#6) Tom Watson on the brink of the British Open: All he needed was an 8-foot putt. That was it and 59-year old Tom Watson would be the British Open champion. It was not to be as he missed the putt and lost in a playoff.

But Watson became something new for golf to hang its hat on. A record-breaking veteran who was much closer to the Senior Open than the British. But on this weekend Watson didn’t play with the best, he led the best. Do you even remember who actually won the British Open? It was Stewart Cink.

Even he realized he was playing second chair to history.

#5) Urban Meyer resigns, then takes leave: This obviously just happened over the weekend, but was there a bigger story in college football this year? No. Not close. A coach decides to take a leave of absence due to stress-induced health problems. In other words, his job is hurting his health.

A sign of weakness in football is probably the best decision Meyer has ever made. Said one of his daughters: “we get our daddy back.”

Meyer won two national championships in five years, coached Tim Tebow and had Florida as the premiere program in college football. There were years of titanic matchups with Nick Saban and Alabama ahead. Now, everything is uncertain. Now, every coach can sit back and question where their commitments lay, because the best of them did. Health or football.

Sometimes, no, all the time, it is okay to side with your health. Urban Meyer made it okay.

#4) Jimmie Johnson dominates NASCAR — again: Four years in a row. Just let that settle. No one had ever done it before. Until now. Until maybe the most dominant racer in NASCAR history just continued his run, winning his fourth-straight cup championship.

Johnson had seven wins in 2009, including four in the Chase. He led for the final seven Chase races. The 141-point gap between Johnson and Mark Martin was the largest Johnson has ever had in his four championships. This was despite having his worst average finish at 11.1.

The native Californian eclipsed $7 million in earnings for the fourth-straight year and seemingly his only question now is whether his endorsements will begin to take off anytime soon. The AP named Johnson the 2009 male athlete of the year.

#3) The Hand of Thierry Henry: Only in soccer. In any other sport if you cheat in the game, and don’t get caught, it is a 24-hour story at the worst. Thierry Henry will live with the moment he handed a ball to himself, leading the goal that clinched a World Cup birth for France, for the rest of his life.

Even he said the game should be replayed.

And in soccer, this is worse than being on steroids. Far worse. The claims were made that he should have put his hand up and admitted it. Or not gone to the World Cup. In America, there would be not second thought about this (outside soccer). Winning is what matters. Let’s be honest, the commercial where the kid tells his coach that he actually knocked the ball out of bounds, come on.

In addition to all of this, Henry wasn’t exactly the most well-liked player in the first place. He was the target of much racism, the bananas sticking out right now, meaning this is no help to him at all. Well, except maybe in France, where World Cup scandal is becoming the norm. Zenedine Zidane anyone?

#2) Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz — guess: Call it the year of the apology, or the sexual stimulant. This is evidently what happens when you move to L.A., right Manny? Seriously, Alex Rodriguez was already hated all over the country. He admits to steroid use in a revealing but incredibly painful interview with Peter Gammons (who, by the way has left ESPN, a great journalist) and guess what, people forgive. Or at least they don’t hate him as much as Roger Clemens and some guy named Barry.

Those two are disgraced. Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte hoisted a World Series trophy. It’s like your parents always told you, tell the truth and apologize. It actually works in real life.

As far as Manny and Ortiz are concerned, let’s not be surprised. Manny served his 50-game suspension and teams could actually get him out for once. Ortiz hasn’t been able to hit a baseball since Republicans controlled Congress (okay, maybe 2007), so his use seemed unimportant at this point. That, and baseball loves David Ortiz. If you say you don’t like him, you’re lying. He’s a great competitor, teammate and act. Those two, Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar were the best thing to happen to the Boston Red Sox since Babe Ruth. Before he left.

Although only one major league, Ramirez, tested positive for steroids in 2009, it is still clearly on the minds of fans and legislators. The question is, for how long?

#1) Tiger Woods: The most expensive golf swing of Tiger Woods’ life and he didn’t even take it. The night Woods crashed his SUV into a fire hydrant and tree would have been bad enough. But the second his wife, Elin Nordegren, put that wood through the back window, it was over.

This is not Kobe Bryant or even Michael Jordan. This is Tiger Woods, the most marketed and loved athlete ever. Period.

The number one reason Woods was loved was because of his clean cut life, perfect family and different looking face in the game of golf. That was three reasons, but they all melded together to create a perfectly crafted image, with very little look into his private life.

Now everyone knows his private life. They know about all of the women. The word steroids has been whispered (but not even close to proven). And the greatest athlete of the last 15 years, the highest paid athlete ever and the most recognized face in the world, has fallen off of a pedestal that no athlete had ever even reached.

Whether he ever makes even close to that level again, well this is maybe the most uncharted territory there has ever been in sports.

It seems to become the theme more and more each year, the scandals that is. Yes, there are positives, but in this year that saw Twitter become the most dangerous medium we’ve maybe ever seen, allowing video, photography and news to be disseminated in seconds, it is hard to believe the scandals will lesson. People like to take athletes down as opposed to building them up.

So here’s a shout to the Tom Watsons, Jimmie Johnsons, the two University of Puget Sound softball players that carried and injured opponent around the bases after she hit a homerun, a kid in L.A. that, through illness, inspired the USC team and one more with autism that hit three after three after three…

All the way into 2010. Happy New Year.


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