Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Top 10 Most Asterisk-Worthy Achievements In Sports History

So the New England Patriots, the Cheatriots, are now 18-0*, AFC Champions*, and in Super Bowl XLII.

But can we really believe anything they've done from 2001 onward is legit? They cheated. They got caught. They admitted it. Not "confessed"; that suggests that they feel guilty for it. They don't. They basically said, "Yeah, we did it, whaddaya gonna do about it, huh? Huh?" They were fined. Big deal.

So, at the very least, this past season goes by the boards, including the record-breaking seasons Tom Brady and Randy Moss had.

So what are the most "asterisk-worthy" achievements in sports history? I nominate these:

10. Pennsylvania State University: 1982 College Football National Champions. They finished 11-1 and beat Number 1 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Sounds legit, right?

Except Southern Methodist University finished 11-0-1. Penn State lost a game, SMU didn't. Of course, SMU got there thanks to recruiting violations, but are we really supposed to believe Ol' Ratface Paterno (Saint Joseph to some) has really been clean all these decades?

9. University of Notre Dame: 1966 College Football National Champions. They were undefeated, with a tie. So was Michigan State. And Notre Dame "played for the tie" when they played each other in one of those occasional Games of the Century.

So why was Notre Dame bumped from Number 2 to Number 1? Because they were Notre Freakin' Dame, that's why.

8. Norm Cash: 1961 American League batting title. Cash batted .361, 70 points higher than he'd ever batted before, or would after. Stormin' Norman later admitted he'd used a corked bat that season. That confession is enough to put it on the list.

7. Los Angeles Lakers: 2000 Western Conference Champions (and, by extension, 2000, 2001 and 2002 NBA Champions). Few teams have been robbed as much as were the Portland Trail Blazers in that Game 7. True, the Blazers did put themselves in that position by starting the collapse, but the referees could've stopped it by doing their jobs and treating Shaquille O'Neal like any other player. Would the Blazers have beaten the Indiana Pacers in the Finals? Would they then have beaten the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Nets in the next two Finals? Who knows.

What we do know is that this one helped start a dubious dynasty for the Fakers, even if it didn't start one for the Fail Blazers, who soon became the Jail Blazers. And we know that Kobe Bryant's never won a title without Shaq, and Shaq never wins a title without that officiating. And, without that officiating, Los Angeles hasn't won a World Championship in anything since the Lakers and Dodgers both won in 1988. (No, you can't count the WNBA's Sparks, and the Whatever They're Calling Themselves This Season Angels of Anaheim haven't played a home game in the City of Los Angeles since 1965.)

6. Lance Armstrong: 7 straight Tours de France. Sadly, steroids may have been necessary as part of his cancer treatment. But once you've recovered, there's no excuse. That other cyclists may also have been using them keeps this one from getting too high on the list.

5. Any major women's singles tennis title from the 1993 French Open through at least the 1994 U.S. Open: Steffi Graf in the '93 French, Wimbledon and U.S. Opens and the '94 Australian; Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario in the '94 French and U.S.; and Conchita Martinez at Wimbledon in '94.

It's likely that Monica Seles would have at least been in the Finals in each of these. Before April 30, 1993, when she was stabbed by a deranged German fan, wanting to insure wins for Graf, Seles had won the previous 2 U.S. Opens, the previous 3 French Opens and the previous 3 Australian Opens. Although she never won Wimbledon, she had reached the previous year's Final. In other words, she had won 7 of the preceding 9 majors, and 8 of the preceding 11. She was 19 years, 5 months old.

After the stabbing, her physical injury healed, but she was emotionally scarred. It took 2 years for her to compete again, and she won only 1 more major, the '96 Australian, and only reached 3 other major Finals, though she continued to win WTA singles events until a 2003 foot injury.

Although tennis is a sport where competitors, especially women, tend to burn out sooner than in the "major league" sports, Seles was essentially done at 25, and not due to a major injury. But the b@$+@rd who stabbed her, who for psychological reasons was denied any sort of punishment, got what he wanted: Seles was knocked out... for psychological reasons. Not that she was crazy, but because she didn't think she could both win and be safe anymore.

This was a damn shame, and who's to say that Monica would've stopped with the '94 U.S.? She could have gone on even longer, much as Martina Navratilova did.

4. Brigham Young University: 1984 College Football National Champions. Yes, they were undefeated. But they played in the Western Athletic Conference. Had they played one of the champions of the conferences with the bowl tie-ins, such as Number 2 Washington or Number 3 Oklahoma, Robbie Bosco and company would have been shredded.

In fact, in the bowl game their WAC Title tied them into, they played Michigan, who was just 6-5 and probably shouldn't even have been in a bowl that year, and only won 24-17. If Washington had just beaten UCLA to win the Pac-10 -- the Bruins were Pac-10 Champs at 6-1 in the league, even though they were 6-5 overall going into the bowls -- who would've picked BYU over U-Dub? Not me.

3. University of Colorado: 1990 College Football National Champions. They finished 11-1-1. Since they started waiting until after the bowl games to award the National Championship, no team that ended with more than 1 non-winning game had ever been awarded it (and hardly any had before it). And one of those 11 wins was the dubious "Fifth Down Game" against Missouri.

Besides, Georgia Tech went 11-0-1. They didn't lose. Was the Big Eight then that much better than the Atlantic Coast Conference? Even though that was the last year before Florida State joined the ACC, the answer was No.

2. New York Giants (baseball): 1951 National League Pennant. Even if Bobby Thomson didn't specifically benefit from knowing that Ralph Branca was going to throw him a fastball -- come on, it was Ralph Branca, he only had a fastball -- the Giants' amazing stretch run was due to the sign-stealing.

This gets really high on the list because it decided a Pennant and because, for the most part, the secret was kept for half a century.

1. Barry Bonds: 73 home runs in a season, and 762 in a career. The worst part is, he didn't need steroids. Had he just stayed clean, he probably would've ended up with around 600 homers, 4th all-time (among clean players, anyway) and would be an easy choice for the Hall. Now, he may not get in at all.

Dishonorable Mention, as they're somewhat connected: Mark McGwire hitting 70, 65 and 58 in a season, and 583 in his career; Sammy Sosa hitting 66, 63 and 60 in a season, and 604 in his career; and Rafael Palmeiro hitting 569 home runs, and collecting over 3,000 hits. All invalid due to steroids.

As for Roger Clemens, if there is a revelation of a positive test, then his post-Boston achievements should also be wiped from the books.

Not that any of these will be wiped from the books. Or will even receive an asterisk.

And here's five achievements that often get the asterisk treatment, but shouldn't (in chronological order):

1. Cincinnati Reds: 1975 World Champions. No, Ed Armbrister did not interfere with Carlton Fisk in Game 3. And even if he did, all Fisk had to do was tag him out to remove all doubt as to him being out. Then Fisk's home run would've won Game 6 and the Series, and then think how many times we'd have seen that clip replayed. Got it replayed, and we all know why... 'Scuse me, while I roll my eyes.

2. New York Yankees: 1978 World Champions. After Reggie Jackson's "hip-check," the Los Angeles Dodgers were still winning, and had a better chance to win the game, and the World Series, than did the Yankees. That the Dodgers didn't is partly because of Tommy Lasorda's meltdown; and partly because the Yankees, as they were the year before, were just... better.

3. Houston Rockets: 1994 and 1995 NBA Champions. The point is that Michael Jordan wasn't around in '94, and that he wasn't "all the way back" in '95.

So if he wasn't "retired," but just hurt, would you still put the asterisk on it? The Rockets were a very good team in '94, and with the addition of Clyde Drexler, they were a great team in '95, sweeping the Shaq-Penny Orlando Magic. Do the '94 Knicks and '95 Magic get asterisks for beating the Bulls, as both had to in the Playoffs? They shouldn't, and neither should the Rockets.

4. New York Yankees: 1996 American League Champions (and, by definition, 1996 World Champions): The Baltimore Orioles had Armando Benitez on the mound. And Derek Jeter's home run only tied the game. After that, the Orioles had an equal chance to win that game. And the O's dropped all three games at home in that ALCS.

To blame a 12-year-old kid (okay, he was almost 13) for your team losing the Pennant to a team that already beat you for the Division Title is the sourest of grapes. Besides, I have a feeling the Atlanta Braves would've beaten the O's anyway. They very nearly beat the Yankees, and might have swept the O's.

5. Dallas Stars: 1999 Stanley Cup Champions. Even if Brett Hull's winning goal had been waved off, the game would still have been tied. And if the Sabres had managed to win it, they still had to play a Game 7 in Dallas.

The goal should have been waved off, but that's no reason to say the Stars were unfairly awarded the Cup. Just because a team is from Dallas doesn't mean they're completely unworthy...

Okay, maybe they're mostly unworthy. But you still gotta love Mark Cuban and his Mavericks, and as a New Jerseyan, I simply cannot take Penn State over SMU in '82.

Disagree with any of these? Got any better suggestions? Send 'em in, and I may revise this list.

No comments: