Moments You Shouldn’t (and Probably Can’t) Forget From 2007

For the average sports fan, 2007 was filled with moments that many of us will easily forget. In five years, it’ll be difficult to pick out which team won the NBA Championship (“Hmm, it’s an odd year … I’ll guess the Spurs”) or which team won the Stanley Cup (wait, a team from California?). What will stick out in our minds are moments that we knew right away were special. Ones where teams and athletes rose above and beyond expectations, ones whose effects will be felt for years to come.

These are my most memorable sports moments of 2007.

Colts win Super Bowl XLI

The Indianapolis Colts defeated the Chicago Bears in what would be Peyton Manning’s coronation into football immortality. Finally proving he can win the big game, Manning’s MVP performance in the Super Bowl will probably not be remembered as much as his victory in the previous game over the New England Patriots. Coming back from an 18-point deficit, Manning finally beat the Patriots when it mattered most, setting up a match-up between Tony Dungy’s Colts and Lovie Smith’s Bears, the first two black coaches to lead a team to the Super Bowl. Oh, and who can forget Devin Hester running back the opening kickoff. Too bad Bears fans couldn’t celebrate much longer.

Pakistan’s cricket coach dies

Bob Woolmer, the cricket legend and coach of the Pakistan national cricket team, was found dead in his hotel room on Sunday, March 18, a day after his team lost to Ireland in one of the most improbable upsets imaginable in the sport. Had the setting been different, perhaps people would have been more inclined to believe that this stressed, elderly man died of a heart attack. But in one of the most crime-filled countries of the world (Jamaica), after disappointing one of the most passionate fan bases in the sport, with speculations of match fixing surrounding his name, it was too easy for the mind to drift to thoughts of murder.

The Jamaican police stated less than a week later that the case was being treated as a homicide, after postmortem tests suggested he had died of asphyxiation. It took the police three months to clean up their mistakes and officially rule that the death was a result of natural causes. Better late than never though, as it finally allowed the cricket world to move on and celebrate the legacy of Woolmer, as opposed to investigating his untimely death.

Federer beats Nadal at Wimbledon

Tennis is familiar to a particular player dominating the sport for a given time. In the late ’70s it was Björn Borg and Jimmy Connors. Then came John McEnroe, and then Ivan Lendl. If only I were alive to see them. When watching Pete Sampras do the same in the 1990s, I could see how it was Sampras vs. everyone else, and you’d expect Sampras to win every time.

Federer has already reached the level of Sampras, not yet in numbers, but in dominance. His only consistent competition over the past few years has been Rafael Nadal, who has defeated Federer in each of the past three French Opens. Until the 2008 Australian Open, where they both lost in the semifinals, either Federer or Nadal had won each of the last 11 Grand Slam titles.

So when the two players met in the 2007 Wimbledon final, there was a lot at stake. Nadal had just beaten Federer in the French Open final, so another win (this time not on clay) would bring the two players even closer. The match did not disappoint, going the distance to the fifth set. Had Nadal not tweaked his knee in the fourth set, perhaps the fifth would have been more contentious, but Federer’s victory still reaffirmed his position atop the men’s game.

Doping strikes Tour de France

We know doping has been a problem in cycling for some time now, but I didn’t think it could get much worse than the 2006 Tour de France. It did.

The day before the 2006 Tour, several of the race favorites, including Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso, were forced to withdraw. The eventual winner, American Floyd Landis, was disqualified this past fall when his positive drug test from during the race was upheld.

I fully expected the riders to get the message in the 2007 Tour, but that was clearly not the case. Allegations and expulsions continued throughout the race, with favorite Alexandre Vinokourov thrown out for being identified as having taken a blood transfusion and Iban Mayo testing positive for Erythropoietin (EPO). Michael Rasmussen, holding the race lead after a thrilling mountain state victory, was forced to withdraw amid speculations of doping after lying to his team on his whereabouts before the Tour.

It’s unfortunate that these incidents detracted from what otherwise was a very exciting Tour. American Levi Leipheimer, originally the central component of Team Discovery Channel, saw his teammate Alberto Contador excel at the mountain stages and take over the yellow jersey in the final week. Coming down to the final time trial, Contador kept his lead and took the Tour victory the following day.

The fact that allegations against Contador soon followed was no surprise. The sport needs to take action to bring the trust back between its athletes and fans. Part of the obligation falls with the riders as well, as they no longer can tolerate their teammates and competitors cheating. Without a culture shift within the sport itself, doping may never go away.

Bonds breaks Aaron’s record

In one of the most anticipated moments in baseball, Barry Bonds finally connected on his 756th home run on a breezy summer night in San Francisco, earning the title of Major League Baseball’s home run king. Well, “earning” may not be the right word to describe it. As controversy surrounds Bonds and his alleged use of steroids, the one thing that’s clear is public opinion is not in his favor.

Whether that means he doesn’t get into the Hall of Fame (probably), or ends up having the record taken away from him (unlikely), do you even care? The guy put on a show for millions of fans for a long time, and he was exciting to watch. He may have deceived us, he may have cheated, and he may not deserve any of our respect, but he was not alone. Let’s just let history decide how much he should be penalized for potentially doing something that potentially many other players did as well.

Michigan loses to Appalachian State

It just so happened that I wore my blue and maize Michigan shirt that Saturday, Sept. 1. Walking through Quincy market, I see two Michigan students sulking. One of them spots my shirt, walks over, and gives me a hug, “I’m sorry, man.” To tell you the truth, I didn’t even remember the name of the team Michigan was playing. I had considered the season opener against a Division II opponent as more of an exhibition, a good way for the talented duo of Chad Henne and Mike Hart to shake off the rust and for the young defense to get their footing.

The fallout from the loss was tremendous, but nothing compared to what would follow. Michigan’s 0-2 start would be just one of the stories that began a crazy college football season. The rotating carousel of teams occupying the top spots would continue to spin right up until Selection Sunday, but at least no one can complain about lack of entertainment (and lack of parity).

Patriots caught taping signals

Spygate, videogate, cheating … there are many names you can attribute to the actions of Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots during Week 1 of their assault on the 1972 Miami Dolphins. The Patriots were caught videotaping the signals of their opponents during a game, in violation of league rules. How did the league respond? They fined Belichick, fined the team, took away its first round draft pick next year, and destroyed the tapes.

I don’t think many people actually believe that the Patriots were using that video material during the game to try to gain an advantage. It was the New York Jets for crying out loud; they didn’t need it. The real question is how long has this been going on, and has it helped them in the past? Did they use recorded information like this in their previous Super Bowl victories?

The league has also come into question based on its handling of the case, most notably by Philadelphia Eagles supporter Senator Arlen Specter. Upon reviewing the tapes submitted by the Patriots, the league destroyed all of them quickly. If NFL commissioner Roger Godell truly does feel that nothing in the tapes gave the Patriots a distinct competitive advantage, then why not release the tapes? Why not stop the speculation and guessing by the media and show them how silly the tapes really are? It wouldn’t hurt the Jets, who have surely changed their signals by now, and it would level the playing field by giving everyone the same amount of information.

Unless, of course, there was something else in the tapes. The last thing first year commissioner Godell would want to decide is how to punish presumably the greatest team in NFL history. And of course, the easiest way to prevent that from happening is to destroy the tapes right away. But no, Godell would never do that. He’s trustworthy, right?

Rockies win one game playoff

The Colorado Rockies had a magical run at the end of the 2007 Major League Baseball season, and looking back, it’s still hard to fathom what they accomplished. The team finished the regular season on a 13-1 run, just barely enough for a tie with the San Diego Padres for the NL Wild Card spot. The most intriguing part of the story though is how close they came to not making it at all.

The Padres, on a 11-4 run themselves, could have secured the wild card spot in their second to last game of the season. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Padres closer (and all-time MLB saves leader) Trevor Hoffman gave up an RBI triple to blow the save, and the Padres eventually lost.

Hoffman again blew the save in the bottom of the 13th in the run-off game between the Rockies and Padres. Colorado continued their hot streak by sweeping the Phillies, who themselves had completed an improbable comeback just to reach the postseason, erasing a seven game deficit to the New York Mets in only 17 games. A sweep of Arizona left the Rockies a ridiculous 21-1 heading into the World Series. The only downside: sitting on the sidelines for over a week until the American League had a champion, a wait that probably cooled them off enough for the Red Sox.

The Mitchell report is released

Former Senator George Mitchell released the “Mitchell Report” in December, and chaos over the inclusion of Roger Clemens ensued. While most of the media, and Congress, is worried about the “he said/she said” fight between Clemens and his former trainer Brian McNamee, I’m going to choose not to care. I’d rather see Major League Baseball step up and start doing what the report wants it to do, clean up the game and earn the respect back from the fans. Whether or not Clemens took steroids isn’t going to change how clean players are in the game today. Now that we’ve framed the problem, let’s stop worrying about the past.