2009 A Year For The Horses
Despite the recession, some displays of sports extravagance in 2009 were very costly for an already financially stressed public.
The most prominent excesses came in the form of three new arenas opened this year, costing a total of $3.7 billion. These are the second Yankee Stadium ($1.5 billion) and the Mets' Citi Field ($1 billion) in New York City plus Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas ($1.2 billion).
These stadiums will cost taxpayers in New York and Texas hundreds of millions of dollars for their share of the outlay at a time when Main Street is suffering greatly and schools and infrastructure need help.
At least the Yankees eased the financial pain just a bit for New Yorkers by running away with the American League pennant and then whipping the Philadelphia Phillies in the Word Series in six games for the team's Major League record 27th WS title.
The Mets, picked by some to win the National League pennant, never came close and rarely filled their new home, while the Cowboys had a so-so season that may carry them to the NFL playoffs.
At least the taxpayers of Chicago were saved some big sports expenses when the Windy City, one of the three finalist sites for the 1916 Olympic Games, was rejected by the International Olympic Committee despite last minute efforts by President and Mrs. Obama. Rio de Janeiro won those Olympics.
Some coaches reached milestones in glorious careers this year.
A long and celebrated football coaching career will end New Year's Day when Bobby Bowden leads Florida State for the last time in the Gator Bowl against West Virginia, the team he coached prior to moving to Florida State in 1976. The 80-year-old Bowden has a 388-129-4 mark in 44 years as a head college coach.
Only the 83-year-old Joe Paterno of Penn State, who shows no signs of retiring, has won more games as a head coach with his mark of 393-129-3. Penn State will also play New Year's Day in the Capital One Bowl against LSU.
Pat Summit, the longtime University of Tennessee women's basketball coach, became the first coach of either a men's or a women's program to win 1,000 games. Last month, Jim Boeheim of Syracuse University became the eighth coach in Division I men's college basketball history to win 800 games.
Syracuse and the University of Connecticut staged the longest and one of the best games in the 75-year history of college basketball at Madison Square Garden last March. It took them six overtime periods before Syracuse won that Big East Conference quarterfinal contest, 127-117. That was Boeheim's 796th victory as the Syracuse coach.
Two athletes, thought to be has-beens, gave wonderful performances that had the world rooting for them.
Tom Watson returned to the site of his greatest golfing triumph at Turnberry in Scotland and nearly won the British Open for the sixth time. But for a bogey 5 on the 72nd and final hole of regulation, Watson would have won. He ended up losing in a playoff to Stewart Cink.
Lance Armstrong, winner of a record seven Tour de France bicycle races, returned to this grueling endurance chase after three years and finished third while threatening to win.
The city of Pittsburgh was delighted as the Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII and the Penguins surprised most people by winning the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, the Steelers are not nearly as successful this season.
Florida defeated Oklahoma in the Bowl Championship Series title game last January for the BCS version of the major college football national championship. But after 11 years of this BCS hocus pocus title game, most fans still want a playoff for the national crown.
Texas, Alabama, Boise State, Texas Christian and Cincinnati ended the 2009 regular season undefeated and untied. BCS members, in their collective but questionable wisdom, felt that only Alabama and Texas were worthy of their version of a national championship. Thus the Crimson Tide and Longhorns will meet in the Rose Bowl, Jan. 7, to decide that suspect title.
Notre Dame made news when it fired football coach Charlie Weis and hired Brian Kelly away from undefeated Cincinnati.
Playoff tournaments, a preferable method for establishing champions, proved to be a boon for the University of North Carolina as the Tar Heels won the NCAA men's basketball championship for the second time under coach Roy Williams and the NCAA women's soccer title for the 20th time and third time in the last four years.
The University of Connecticut won the NCAA women's major college basketball championship for the sixth time.
The most disappointing failures in sports this year came in the form of abhorrent behavior by three of the most prominent athletes in the world and a growing soccer scandal.
Tiger Woods, who sold the world on a phony persona of the handsome, devoted father and husband, was the leading disappointment in this group when he was exposed last month for committing adultery with numerous women for years.
The world's No. 1 golfer then went into hiding as his marriage seemed doomed. He gave no indication when he would return to the PGA Tour following a year in which he won six PGA Tour events, the FedEx Cup and the Australian Masters.
But Tiger did not win any of the four majors in 2009, as Angel Cabrera of Argentina won the Masters, Lucas Glover took the U.S. Open, Stewart Cink won the British Open and Y.E.Yang beat out Tiger for the PGA Championship.
In another case of bad conduct, Michael Phelps, who won a record eight swimming gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, was disgraced when a picture was made public that showed him inhaling from a marijuana pipe. Suspended by USA Swimming for three months, he came back to competition last summer, and the previously unbeatable Phelps was defeated more than once in world class races.
Serena Williams misbehaved at the U.S. Open tennis tournament when she loudly berated and cursed at a lines person who called a foot fault on her while she was losing to Kim Clijsters of Belgium in the semifinals. Serena was penalized a point that was the match point. Clijsters went on to win that fourth major of the year.
Serena won the Australian Open and the Wimbledon title for a total of 11 major championships. But her misconduct marred a big season as she was fined $82,000 for her tirade. She should have received a more severe penalty, such as a suspension.
The world of soccer (international football) was once again shaken as German authorities arrested a number of players, coaches and referees in a wide match-fixing scandal. Shortly after, an Italian soccer official was sentenced to jail for similar illegal actions.
Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer in the final of the Australian Open men's tennis championship. Then the Spaniard, ranked No. 1 in the tennis world, was upset in an early round of the French Open and became sidelined by injuries.
Federer took advantage and won the French Open and the All England at Wimbledon to set a record of 15 major titles, breaking Pete Sampras' mark by one. But in the biggest upset in major sports for 2009, Federer lost in the five-set final of the U.S. Open to a 20-year-old Argentine, the 6-foot, 6-inch Juan del Potro.
Eun-Hee Ji became the third South Korean in the last five years to win the United States Golf Association Women's Open Championship when she sank a 20-foot birdie putt on the 72nd and final hole at Saucon Valley in Pennsylvania.
There were so many scoundrels and failures among the once mighty that picking athlete of the year was not easy.
So I selected not one but two athletes of the year. They are both of the female persuasion and absolutely free of character flaws.
Rachel Alexandra, a 3-year-old filly, and Zenyatta, a 5-year-old mare, are my athletes of the year. Each of these magnificent horses went undefeated in eight races this year.
Rachel Alexandra won three races against the big boys, including the Preakness and the Woodward Stakes. Zenyatta beat the men when she won the Breeders Cup Classic in her final race of the year. She was retired after that triumph as the winner of all 14 races in her career.
Although there were many more notable accomplishments and unfortunate failures during the year, I will add just one more happy deed to my 2009 list.
My good friend of more than half a century, John Derr, who ends this, his 92nd year, hale and hearty in Pinehurst, has been a proficient golfer since his childhood in Gaston County.
After all those years of beating golf balls all over the world, Derr got his first hole-in-one last Sept. 3 when he aced the 11th hole at Mid South while playing with his daughter, Cricket Gentry. Hearing about this long awaited feat of skill, Arnold Palmer wrote congratulations to his old friend, Derr, but concluded the letter by asking, "What took you so long?"
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His e-mail is email@example.com
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