1. Archive

Follow the Leader

Published Sep. 28, 2005

There was grace and disgrace, life and death, crime and punishment, winning and losing. These are constants in sports.

And in the first year of the 21st century, little was as constant in sports as Tiger Woods. Almost every time he picked up a club, anticipation rose that a record was about to tumble.

Most stories in 2000 were snapshots of a moment in time, to be filed away _ and to begin to fade in our memories _ as new moments arrived to replace them. But Tiger Woods was an album of excellence.

He is No. 1 in our Top 10 Stories of the Year.

1. WOODS ON FIRE: It has been 52 years since a player has been as hot as the Tiger. He started it with a winning streak that began in 1999 and, on Feb. 7, stretched it to six in a row, rallying from seven strokes down with seven holes to play and winning the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. It made him the first player since Ben Hogan in 1948 to win six consecutive tour events, second only to Byron Nelson's 1945 streak of 11.

Back at Pebble Beach on June 18, he won the 100th U.S. Open by 15 strokes. By shooting a final-round 4-under 67, Woods cruised to a 12-stroke win, the biggest margin of victory in major championship history.

The only question was whether he would break the tournament's four-round record of 272. He needed a birdie on No. 18. He didn't get it -- and Tampa Bay-area viewers didn't get a chance to see the miss. WFLA-Ch. 8 pre-empted the finish to show a waterspout moving across the bay.

Then it was off to St. Andrews, Scotland. On July 23 the 24-year-old Woods became the youngest player to complete a Grand Slam, winning the British Open by eight strokes to join Jack Nicklaus, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan and Gary Player, each of whom swept the U.S. Open, Masters, PGA and British Open.

There was more. On Aug. 8, Woods birdied the last two holes at Louisville's Valhalla Golf Club, then defeated Bob May in a three-hole aggregate playoff to capture the PGA Championship. He became the first player since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win three major championships in one year and the first to win the U.S. and British opens and the PGA Championship in the same season.

Not surprisingly, Woods won the Jack Nicklaus Trophy as the U.S. PGA Tour's player of the year for the third time in four years after his nine tour wins and $9.18-million in prize money.

2. SEPT. 10 / BACK HOME AGAIN . . .: In Indiana, basketball is king and Bob Knight ruled the college game as coach of the Hoosiers. Then he stepped over the line once too often.

In three tumultuous decades he had won three national championships. But he was at least as well known for repeated run-ins with fans, officials, the media, his own players and the university.

The end came after an encounter with 19-year-old freshman Kent Harvey, who called to him: "Hey, what's up, Knight?" The coach grabbed the student's arm and lectured him about his lack of respect.

That, IU president Myles Brand said at a news conference announcing Knight's dismissal, was the final example of a "pattern of unacceptable behavior." He said Knight was "defiant and hostile," had shown a "continued unwillingness" to work within guidelines of the athletic department and had violated the school's "zero-tolerance" conduct policy instituted in the spring.

Fans and students chose up sides. Brand and his wife received death threats. So did Harvey, who withdrew from the university.

3. JAN. 23 / ONE WIN FROM SUPER BOWL XXXIV: The St. Louis Rams were 14{-point favorites, and explosive. No way the Bucs could stop the league's No. 1 offense. They did -- until Kurt Warner threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Proehl with 4:44 remaining, giving the Rams an 11-6 victory. Tampa Bay intercepted Warner three times, but the offense got only two Martin Gramatica field goals.

Two incomplete passes to Bert Emanuel doomed a Bucs comeback. The second, in the end zone with 34 seconds to play, ended it. But the controversial crusher came 14 seconds earlier when a 13-yard pass to Emanuel made it third and 10 at the St. Louis 22-yard line. The Bucs called timeout -- and during it, instant replay official Jerry Markbreit signaled to referee Bill Carollo that the play should be reviewed.

Carollo reversed the call on the field after determining the tip of the ball hit the ground after Emanuel caught it. Instead it was third-and-23. Two incompletions later it was over. Two months later the NFL changed the rule.

A week before the loss to the Rams, Shaun King became the first rookie quarterback in 23 seasons to win a playoff game as the Bucs beat Washington 14-13. Tampa Bay trailed 13-0 with barely 18 minutes to play. But the defense forced two Washington turnovers; each led to a Tampa Bay touchdown. The 'Skins botched a potential game-winning field goal when center Dan Turk bounced the snap to holder Brad Johnson.

4: JAN. 4 / WEINKE, WARRICK AND A CROWN: A year earlier, FSU quarterback Chris Weinke had stood on the sideline, his neck in a brace after surgery, and watched Tennessee win the national championship 23-16 in the Fiesta Bowl. This time, in the Sugar Bowl, he could do something about it.

He did -- along with Peter Warrick. They led an FSU offense that defeated Virginia Tech 46-29 and gave the Seminoles their second national championship and their first perfect season. Wienke passed for 329 yards and four touchdowns. Warrick caught two touchdown passes (64 and 42 yards) and returned a punt 59 yards for another touchdown.

5. APRIL 12 / NOW THROW HIM THE DAMN BALL: Three days before the NFL draft, the Bucs made their biggest trade ever, sending two first-round picks to the Jets for Keyshawn Johnson. They picked up the two remaining years on his contract with the Jets and extended it for six seasons, a contract worth as much as $56-million with incentives, making him the highest-paid receiver in the NFL.

The trade for the 6-foot-4 two-time Pro Bowl receiver was going to give Shaun King the big, go-to receiver the Bucs lacked. It was going to open up a passing offense that had ranked 30th -- next-to-last -- in the league in 1999. Today it ranks 26th.

6. APRIL 3 / NO MAGIC. NO MATTER: Florida was playing for its first national basketball championship. The Gators never had a chance.

Michigan State had won its first NCAA basketball championship in 1979, the classic showdown between Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Indiana State's Larry Bird. The uptempo Spartans won their second one 89-76 with Magic wearing a green MSU sweatshirt in the RCA Dome stands in Indianapolis.

Senior Mateen Cleaves, MVP of the Final Four, scored 18 points despite playing the final 12 minutes on a badly turned ankle. FSU's Udonis Haslem led all scorers with 27.

7. OCT. 30 / VENUS, IF YOU WILL ... : The year began with 19-year-old Venus Williams pulling out of the Australian Open because of tendinitis in her left wrist, and still seeking her first Grand Slam title in six years as a professional. It ended with her as Wimbledon, U.S. Open and Olympic champion and Sports Illustrated's "Sportswoman of the Year."

And with her sister Serena, the Wimbledon and Olympics doubles champion.

And suddenly older than her 20 years. No long the boasting winner, she displayed at the Olympics the maturity of a champion who knew how to act like one. "I guess I've graduated to a different level where I can be like some of the greats," Venus said.

8. OCT. 26 / END OF THE LINE: It was the first Subway Series since the New York Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. That was the Yankees' 17th world championship. This, in five games over the New York Mets, was their 26th. It also was their third in a row and fourth in five years -- and perhaps one of their most satisfying, considering how they staggered into the post-season. Three games were decided by one run; the other two by two runs. And it was great theater, never more than when Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens hurled the barrel of a broken bat in Mets catcher Mike Piazza's direction.

9. SEPT. 22 / AND SHE'S ONLY JUST BEGUN: Brooke Bennett of Valrico dipped a toe into Olympic glory with one gold medal in the 1996 Atlanta Games. In Sydney she dived in head first and emerged with the 400-meter freestyle gold and, five days later, with the 800-meter freestyle gold as well in an Olympic-Record 8 minutes, 19.67 seconds, establishing herself as heir apparent to Janet Evans as the world's premiere woman swimmer.

"I remember watching Janet Evans compete in the '88 Olympic Games," Bennett said. "At that time, I was 8 and thought, "Gosh, that would be so amazing to do that.' Now I'm here, I've been to two Olympic Games, won three gold medals, set an Olympic record. . . . It is so overwhelming."

10: DEC. 11 / I'LL TAKE THE EXPOS AND THE TWINS AND ... : Records are meant to be broken and someday this one, too, will fall -- the wailing of baseball's owners notwithstanding. The Texas Rangers signed shortstop Alex Rodriguez to a $252-million, 10-year contract (that's $155,555.55 per game).

"This amount of money spread out over 10 years could probably buy three franchises or so at the bottom end of market value," said Sandy Alderson, an executive vice president in baseball's commissioner's office. Tom Hicks bought the entire Rangers franchise, the ballpark and land in the area, for $250-million three years ago.