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2008 in sports, highs and lows

Rafael Nadal, right, is congratulated by Roger Federer after their epic Wimbledon final. Nadal ended Federer’s five-year reign as champion.

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Rafael Nadal, right, is congratulated by Roger Federer after their epic Wimbledon final. Nadal ended Federer’s five-year reign as champion.

Times staff writer Tom Jones looks at the best and worst of sports and sports television in 2008.

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Best game

The best game wasn't technically a game, but a match — our pick for the greatest match in the history of tennis. Officially, the 2008 Wimbledon men's final lasted a finals record 4 hours, 48 minutes, but that doesn't count the two long rain delays. The two best players in the world — Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer — continued to slug it out until it was so dark that spectators could barely see as Nadal held on for a 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (8-10), 9-7 victory.

Best upset

The Patriots went into Super Bowl XLII considered by some as the best team in the history of the game. They were 18-0 and heavy favorites to become only the second team in NFL history to have a perfect season. But the New York Giants pulled off the upset 17-14 in one of the more thrilling Super Bowls ever played.

Best team

In one of the better Stanley Cup finals in recent memory, the veteran Detroit Red Wings took on the kids of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Led by superstar Sidney Crosby, the Penguins managed to hang with the Red Wings awhile, but the Wings eventually showed why Detroit remains "Hockeytown'' with a six-game victory to win their fourth Cup in the past 11 seasons.

Most surprising team

Doesn't matter what Joe Maddon's T-shirt read or what Scott Kazmir said in spring training or what even the most die-hard Rays fan thought, no one — no one! — expected the Tampa Bay Rays to get to the World Series.

Best athlete

This is a no-brainer. Swimmer Michael Phelps turned the Summer Olympics into his own personal miniseries, winning a record eight gold medals.

Best coach

Tampa was the site for another title in the amazing career of Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt. At the St. Pete Times Forum, the greatest women's basketball coach of all time — heck, some might argue the greatest coach of any sport — won her eighth national title as her Volunteers knocked off Stanford 64-48.

Worst news

Maybe it's not your cup of tea, but the Arena Football League announced that it was shutting down the 2009 season with hopes of returning in 2010. Hard to believe, but it will be the first year since 1986 without the Arena league.

Worst coverage

Local tennis fans were given a raw deal when Ch. 10 decided to show Dr. Phil and the local news instead of the U.S. Open final between Roger Federer and Andy Murray.

Worst sendoff

American women's softball players cried when they were given a double-whammy at the Olympics. Not only did Japan pull off a huge upset of the Americans in the gold-medal game but softball (for now) is being eliminated as an Olympic sport. Ironically, it is being eliminated partly because the United States had become too dominant.

Worst beating

Oscar De La Hoya was hit so hard and so often by Manny Pacquiao that he might have landed all the way into retirement. Pacquiao, the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, beat De La Hoya so badly for eight rounds that De La Hoya couldn't answer the bell for the ninth.

Worst place to be a sports fan

Seattle. The Mariners lost 101 games, the Seahawks fell apart and the NBA team moved to Oklahoma City. On top of the that, the Washington football team went 0-12 and Washington State went 2-11, and one of those wins was against Washington. A close second might be Chicago, especially after the early exits by the White Sox and those poor Cubbies in the baseball playoffs.

Best guts

Athletes are tough nuts, but who might have thought a golfer would show the most grit of all? Tiger Woods could barely stand on what amounted to a broken leg, but he winced through the pain to win a memorable U.S. Open in a 19-hole playoff over Rocco Mediate.

Biggest goodbye

We hate to see her go as Annika Sorenstam retired as, perhaps, the greatest female golfer ever. Runner-up goodbye: Yankee Stadium.

Best revenge

After losing three straight Ryder Cups, the Americans stormed back to beat the Europeans with Anthony Kim and Boo Weekley and without Tiger Woods.

Best feel-good story

Red Sox lefty Jon Lester tossed a no-hitter against the Royals in May — less than two years after being diagnosed with cancer.

Best 'young' athlete

Evan Longoria, all of 22 for most of the baseball season, won AL rookie of the year and sparked the Rays' amazing run from worst to first.

Best 'old' athlete

Dara Torres, the old lady of swimming at age 41, won two silver medals at the Beijing Olympics.

Best comeback

Kansas trailed Memphis by nine points with only 2:12 left in the NCAA men's basketball final, but mounted a comeback and sent the game to overtime on Mario Chalmers’ 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left. The Jayhawks then outscored Memphis 12-5 and took home the national title with a 75-68 victory.

Best place to be a sports fan

Boston. The Patriots did not complete the perfect season, but they remain a force in the NFL. The Celtics returned to glory with an NBA title, the Red Sox came within a hit or two of going back to the World Series and now the Bruins look like a team that could get to the Stanley Cup.

Top 3 candidates if we were handing out sports TV Emmy Awards
sports shows ESPN's College GameDay Pardon the Interruption (ESPN) HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel
sports coverage NBC's Beijing Olympics HBO's Boxing After Dark NASCAR on Fox
announcing teams Jim Lampley/Max Kellerman/Lennox Lewis/Larry Merchant (HBO Boxing) Al Michaels/John Madden (NBC's Sunday Night Football) Brent Musberger/Kirk Herbstreit (ABC/ESPN college football)
sideline reporters Doris Burke (ESPN) Peter Gammons (ESPN) Ken Rosenthal (Fox)
studio show hosts Bob Costas (NBC's Football Night in America) Bob Ley (ESPN's Outside the Lines) John Saunders (ESPN's Sports Reporters)
studio analysts Mike Lupica (ESPN's Sports Reporters) Charles Barkley (NBA on TNT) Kirk Herbstreit (ESPN's College GameDay)
sports specials 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games Highlights Show (NBC) The Greatest Game Ever Played (ESPN) De La Hoya-Pacquiao 24/7 (HBO)

2008 in sports, highs and lows 12/30/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 30, 2008 11:00pm]
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