Sport in 2005 was pretty much like every other year:
There were wins and losses, failures and redemptions, heroes and weasels, comings and goings, and random acts of generosity and sportsmanship undercut and then overshadowed by selfishness and petty jealousies.
What made 2005 different was the nagging feeling that, in a few high-profile instances, a drug screen, a Wonderlic test or even Judge Judy could have cleared up the confusion about which was which.
Baseball finally swore off the juice, thanks to tough love administered by Congress. But not before Jose Canseco became a best-selling author; Barry Bonds docked in the safe harbor of the disabled list; Mark McGwire testified like some fidgety Mafia don; Rafael Palmeiro fibbed like one, and a tough-talking baseball lifer took a swing at the question still on everyone's mind:
"Where do you go back, stop and say, 'OK, when did he start using steroids?"' said Frank Robinson, a Hall of Fame player now managing the Washington Nationals. "To eliminate all that, and get the players' attention, you wipe the whole thing out."
Like that's going to happen.
Win or loss?
Lance Armstrong rolled to a seventh straight Tour de France title, then scolded cynics, saying, "I'm sorry for you." Armstrong wound up pedaling even faster afterward, trying to keep a French newspaper's doping allegations from overtaking him.
Redemption or failure?
Everybody wondered, too, what T.O. was ingesting to make him ornery all over again. Turns out it was nothing more than bad advice furnished by his agent, Drew Rosenhaus.
Despite signing a seven-year contract in 2004, Owens lobbied defiantly at every turn for more money and even more attention. In the Eagles locker room, he became the envy of every player who resented how management played hardball at contract time with everyone but Donovan McNabb. To the rest of us, he was the same old backstabbing, blabbermouthing, franchise-killing, me-first T.O.
Hero or weasel?
Baseball held its breath waiting for the first player to fail a steroid test. Not long after being busted, Alex "Who, Me?" Sanchez was claimed off waivers by the San Francisco Giants, then given a ringing endorsement from new manager Felipe Alou: "It's not like he murdered somebody or stole Mona Lisa."
No. And thankfully, not every achievement required a debate to appreciate.
Chicago swept the Houston Astros in the World Series, changing their Sox from black to white. With few bona fide superstars and a wacky Latin wizard named Ozzie Guillen pulling the levers, this team pitched like few before it and redeemed a franchise -- a la the Boston Red Sox a year earlier -- whose most memorable previous appearance in the Fall Classic, in 1919, involved taking a dive.
The Indianapolis Colts delayed what might be America's longest-running cocktail party — the 1972 Miami Dolphins' annual champagne toast — but only for 14 weeks. Tony Dungy, Peyton Manning & Co., and a reworked defense were perfect in record only up to that point. But all that seemed so meaningless when the news came that Dungy's 18-year-old son had died in an apparent suicide, a devastating blow that understandably took the NFL's resident family man out of the equation for the foreseeable future.
The sweetest moment involved one of sport's most noted curmudgeons. Bill Belichick, who grew up more interested in poring over his father's game plans than playing with the other 5-year-olds in the neighborhood, had his dad on the sideline one last time to see Tom Brady bring those schemes to life.
They embraced after the Patriots beat Philadelphia to win their second straight Super Bowl and third in four years. Nine months later, Steve Belichick, a coach, assistant or scout with the U.S. Naval Academy football program for over 50 years, died at 86.
Almost as sweet was seeing Roy Williams get the win that validated all the others. As the clock ran down on North Carolina's NCAA championship victory over Illinois, the Tar Heel player-turned-coach by way of Kansas walked up the sideline, adjusting his glasses. And why not? After 17 seasons, 16 tournament appearances, five Final Fours and losses in two previous title games, it was one scene Williams wanted to see for himself.
The best move, remarkably, was made by a horse. (Worst move: Any member of the Minnesota Vikings who boarded the "Love Boat" cruise expecting to go sightseeing.)
Upset by 50-1 shot Giacomo in the Kentucky Derby, Afleet Alex was chasing vindication at the Preakness when he stumbled at the top of the stretch. The colt's knees scraped the racetrack and his nose was close enough to disaster to stick out his tongue and lap up a mouthful.
"Four to 6 inches at 40 miles per hour," jockey Jeremy Rose marveled afterward, "and that's way too close for comfort."
Thoroughbred racing was left without a Triple Crown winner for the 27th straight year. But Afleet Alex won the Belmont, retired and went to stud after banking $2.8 million and raising almost as much for a charity honoring 8-year-old cancer victim Alexandra Scott.
(Even better charitable move: How quickly pro leagues, college conferences and players opened their hearts and wallets to aid relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. The NCAA even relaxed its "extra-benefits" rules so displaced student-athletes could accept free pizzas without listing each ingredient in triplicate.)
Speaking of which, the three best drives all were made by women.
Annika Sorenstam hit a tee shot at the Skins Game past Fred Funk and then pulled a pink skirt from her bag so her male playing partner could slip it on. Sorenstam dominated women's golf again; how much longer that will last is anybody's guess, though, now that long-hitting phenom Michelle Wie finally turned pro and is old enough to drive herself to the bank.
Danica Patrick already knows that route. She overcame a stalled car in the pits and a spinout on the track before running low on gas and finishing fourth in one of the most stirring rookie runs ever at the Indianapolis 500. Winless at season's end but good enough for the IRL's rookie of the year honors, Patrick remained the circuit's only recognizable star in -- and especially out -- of uniform.
Attracting attention was rarely a problem for NASCAR drivers, even if former bad boy Tony Stewart usually had a good reason for ducking cameras. This year, though, he kept his cool and capped his best season with a second Nextel Cup championship.
Stewart battled eventual Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon and third-place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the season opener before fading to seventh. Neither of the sport's glamor boys knew it at the moment, but that was one of the last times either would see Stewart in the rearview mirror all season.
The best shot was provided by -- who else? -- Tiger Woods. He clawed his way back atop the golf world after painstakingly re-engineering his swing, winning another green jacket at Augusta with a delicate chip from behind the 16th green that went something like this:
"I was just trying to throw the ball up there ... let it feed down ... hopefully have a makable putt. ... it looked pretty good ... looked, like, really good ... looked, like, how could it not go in? ... how did it not go in? ... all of a sudden, it went in.
"So it was," Woods summed up, "pretty sweet."
Then just for good measure, and with impeccable timing, he waited for Jack Nicklaus' retirement parade at St. Andrews to pass by and blistered the Old Course to capture his second major of the year. About to turn 30, the one-time prodigy can only hope to be remembered the way fellow British Open winner Nick Faldo suggested we commemorate Nicklaus.
"They should make him out of gold," Faldo said, "and stick a little Jack on every tee box."
The administration at Notre Dame considered gold-plating rookie
coach Charlie Weis for making the Irish relevant again. Instead, they doubled Weis' five-year contract just a few months into his tenure. Had Penn State offered the same deal to suddenly rejuvenated Joe Paterno, who'd bet against the 79-year-old coach signing? And those weren't college football's only "old-school" programs waking up echoes.
The dynasty Pete Carroll built at Southern California cruised to another national championship at the start of 2005, through another undefeated regular season by the end, and into position to pull off a three-peat against Texas at the Rose Bowl to kick off 2006. The Trojans even made room in the backfield for Reggie Bush to shoehorn in his Heisman Trophy, next to the one quarterback Matt Leinart won the previous season.
"This is a program that's flying," Carroll said -- and that was last January.
Repeating was still possible for Larry Brown and the Detroit Pistons when they arrived in San Antonio for the NBA Finals. Instead, it was the Spurs and Tim Duncan, America's most reluctant superstar, who walked off with the hardware. Duncan played so meekly in stretches that on the eve of Game 7, the NBA's promotional tag line for the series, "Where Legends Are Born," began to sound like a dare.
A very workmanlike 25 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two blocks later, Duncan had his third Finals MVP and joined some legendary company -- Jordan, Magic Johnson and Shaquille O'Neal.
"Some people talked about Tim like a dog," said former Spurs great David Robinson, who partnered Duncan through two San Antonio titles. "The way that man has performed over the years, I don't understand that."
The NHL resurfaced, too, after sacrificing a season to greed. Judging by attendance figures, fans weren't the least bit bitter. There was plenty to like after some rules changes -- especially shootouts -- opened up the game and rookies Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin launched what could become a decade-long Bird-Magic rivalry on ice.
(Good luck finding any of it, though, since the NHL moved most of its regular-season games to new TV partner OLN.)
Even more difficult was finding someone in tennis who could beat Roger Federer. The precision Swiss instrument went 81-4 on the season, successfully defended his Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles and held onto the sport's top ranking.
"You're going to win a lot of tournaments," David Nalbandian told Federer after denying him a third consecutive Tennis Masters Cup triumph, "so let me keep this one."
Keeping his place as the best quote in sport was no problem for Mike Tyson.
"You're smart too late and old too soon," Tyson said after his latest comeback effort was cut short in June by a pug named Kevin McBride. "I just got caught up in that suction cup. I feel like Rip Van Winkle right now."
By Jim Litke, AP Sports Columnist
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)