The year in review

    The world of sports in 2006 took us on a wild ride. Kobe Bryant etched his name in the record books, while his old pal Shaq won a title with his new sidekick Dwyane Wade. Terrell Owens and Barry Bonds still found a way into the limelight and the USC Trojans were finally dethroned. So, let’s travel through sports in 2006, reliving and revisiting the most exciting moments of the year.

    To kick it off, the three major professional sports teams crowned champion had their own improbable underdog stories.

    Never before had a number-six seed advanced to the Super Bowl prior to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ amazing run in early January. Without a single home game during the postseason, Pittsburgh rolled through playoffs. They firmly knocked the Bengals and their quarterback Carson Palmer out in a first-round drumming, then put the pressure on Peyton Manning en route to a win and finally crashed the Broncos’ party. But the last stop was in Detroit. Ford Field, home of Super Bowl XL, became the closest to home Pittsburgh had enjoyed in the playoffs, filling the stadium with waves of Terrible Towels and getting calls reminiscent of Pennsylvanian home cooking. The Steelers coasted to a 21-10 victory, winning the fifth title in franchise history.

    The NBA champion Miami Heat had their share of critics. Shaq was supposedly too old, Dwyane Wade wasn’t on King James’ level and the Spurs and Mavericks were more complete teams. Well, after their 4-2 series victory over Dallas in the NBA finals, Miami’s finest could rightfully say wrong, wrong and really wrong. With their backs against the wall, down two games and everyone around the country anointing the Mavs NBA royalty, Pat Riley’s squad strapped up their boots and went to work. Down by 13 in the fourth quarter of game three, the Heat fired back, rallying to claim game three and the final four games of the series.

    Floundering during the second half of the season, the St. Louis Cardinals barely made it into October. The Cards may have limped into the playoffs, but once there they proved to everyone they were ready to play ball. St. Louis trounced San Diego in the NLDS and then edged the Mets with a ninth-inning homer from catcher Yadier Molina in game seven of the NLCS. This set up a World Series matchup between the Cardinals and Tigers. The series was uneventful, with the most excitement coming after a "suspicious substance" was discovered on Tigers pitcher Kenny Rodgers in game two. After five games, the series came to a close with the Cards claiming their 10th title.

    Three unexpected underdogs claimed championships in the three major American sports.

    The college football national championship game did not have any underdogs, but showcased the top dogs in one of the most exciting games in college football history.

    It was a star-studded affair when the Trojans and Longhorns hooked up for all the marbles in the Rose Bowl. The top three Heisman candidates were there, Texas QB Vince Young, Trojans QB Matt Leinart and multidimensional talent Reggie Bush. Southern Cal’s Bush may have received the Heisman hardware, but it was Young who looked like the biggest star in Hollywood. The Texas QB passed for 267 yards and rushed for 200 more, including the winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter, to halt hopes of a USC threepeat and bring the national championship back to Austin in a tight 41-38 back-and-forth game.

    The true drama this year came from national sports icons. The most recent coming from everyone’s favorite malcontent NFL wide receiver.

During this last NFL offseason, the Dallas Cowboys took a chance and signed Terrell Owens to a $25 million contract. The combative wideout had already burnt bridges in San Francisco and Philadelphia with his argumentative nature, and many thought Dallas would be next. But, aside from a couple minor issues, like sleeping at meetings and missing practice because he hit the snooze button too often, Owens has been well behaved around the team.

    His major problem occurred on his own time.

    After being rushed to a local hospital, T.O. explained that he overdosed on some pain pills he was taking for a broken hand he suffered a week earlier in a game against Washington. Apparently, the Pro Bowl receiver emptied the entire bottle down his throat, only to be found by publicist Kim Etheredge at his home. The only other concrete part to this is that Etheredge dialed 911. The rest is up to debate, which the media frenzy afterwards took full advantage of. Why did he take the pills? Was T.O. depressed? Unhappy? Did he want to kill himself? With so many versions to the story, nobody will ever know.

    The other drama came from Major League Baseball’s most cantankerous hitter and a pair of journalists.

    As if the steroid debacle wasn’t already enough of a mess, a couple of Bay Area journalists stirred the pot with their book Game of Shadows. With legitimate evidence and telling quotes, authors Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams fueled the talk about Giants star Barry Bonds’ use of banned substances, leading to even more speculation surrounding Bonds’ suspected abuse of steroids. Bonds denied all accounts and suggestions aroused by the book, sticking to his initial plea that he has been clean of performance-enhancing drugs during his 20-year career. For Bonds and his already tarnished image, the release of this book couldn’t have come at a worse time. The slugger currently sits in second place in all-time home runs, needing only 22 more jacks to catch and surpass Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s record of 755 career home runs. But, with the fresh issues triggered by Game of Shadows, more fingers are pointing at Bonds and even more at placing an asterisk next to his name in the record books.

    Shying away from controversy and physical enhancers, the NBA offered up simply the most incredible performance in sports during the last five years.

    It was a spectacle that made jaws drop and people say "wow." It was a performance we will always remember. It was the biggest event in the NBA since M.J. hung it up. It was Kobe Bryant’s night, game and year.

    On a lowly Sunday night, Bryant seized hold of the sports world single-handedly with his sheer domination of the Raptors. He put in bucket after bucket, on his way to a truly sensational performance. Sure, he can be criticized for throwing up 46 shots and ending the game with a meager two assists, but he had 81 points. That is 7 points less then the entire Blazers team averaged last year. Bryant’s incredible total ranks second all-time behind only Wilt Chamberlain’ s historic 100-point game 44 years ago.

    To put this mark in perspective, arguably the best to ever play on the hardwood, Michael Jordan only mustered 69 points in the highest-scoring game of his career. Only four players in NBA history have ever scored more than 70 points in a game.
    This year has seen records broken, underdogs winning it all and more antics from some of the biggest icons in sports. History continues to change and storylines continue to entertain.