Twenty for Twenty
The 20 Greatest Acts of Sport Since 1992
From the Print Edition:
Jeremy Irons, March/April 2013
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Dallas led the league in parties in the locker room, but all was forgiven. “Super Bowls act as a big headache pill for the city of Dallas,” said cornerback Kevin Smith. “No matter how we behaved, the people would forgive us. Why? Because we gave them Super Bowls.”
6. New England
Tom Brady Driving
New England won three titles in four years, eaking out each by three points. They lost to the Giants by three in 2007 and by four in 2011. They have thus played in more thrilling Super Bowls than any other team.
As Brady drove toward a second Super Bowl victory against Carolina, a Pats’ defender, slumped in exhaustion, bellowed, “We’re not losing because we have Tom Brady.” The game deadlocked at 29 with 1:08 remaining, Brady played the drive of two years before—when, against 14-point favorite St. Louis, he completed five passes for 53 yards before Adam Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard field goal with 0:07 remaining for a 20–17 victory. Now he mixed slants to Troy Brown and Deion Branch to reach the 23-yard line. Vinatieri booted a 41-yarder for a 32–29 victory.
By 2004 New England had won a record 21 straight games and opposed Philadelphia. First they dunked the Colts 20–3. Against Philly, Brady hit 23 of 33 for 236 yards and was not intercepted in his third straight Super Bowl. While Ravens’ coach John Harbaugh insists that the Pat’s three championships have been “stained” due to “Spygate,” the lasting image of this New England team is Brady, driving naturally.
7. Maddux and Martinez
Strong Arms in Cheating Times
“Home runs were once special,” Reggie Jackson said in a sonorous voice. He described taking his daughter to the Hall of Fame and pointing proudly to his 1993 bronze plaque reading: “563 home runs rank sixth on the all-time list.” He returned years later. He then ranked thirteenth, behind five pharmaceutically enhanced imposters who used performance enhancing drugs: Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmiero and Alex Rodriguez. Jackson was suspended by the Yankees, his employer, for claiming, truthfully, that Rodriguez’s home run totals were tainted.
All told, 21 of the last 80 MVP and Cy Young Award winners tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. Against this quarter-century backdrop of cheating, highest praise goes to Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez. In 2000 Martinez posted an ERA of 1.74, 2.84 times better than the league average of 4.91—the best ratio since 1900. His career mark of 219–100 (.687) is second only to Whitey Ford (.690) among 200-game winners since 1900. Like Martinez, Greg Maddux was a tour de force of surgical precision. He won 15 or more in a record 17 consecutive years. Will any active pitcher match his four consecutive Cy Young Awards, from 1992 through 1995 or his 355 career wins?
The Last Hoops Trifecta
In this millennium of basketball parity, Los Angeles was the exception, running off three titles from 2000 through 2002. For those fond of insisting that Kobe Bryant is Jordan’s equal, I offer these title years as Exhibit A. The indomitable Laker was Shaquille O’Neal, who won all three finals MVPs and eliminated the Pacers, the Sixers and the Nets, who couldn’t stop him with a tuna net and a pistol.
The Lakers lured Phil Jackson out of retirement. The Zen Master believed that O’Neal could play a more complete game, especially with rebounding and defense. O’Neal posted an MVP season. Los Angeles steamrolled playoff opponents at a 15–1 clip in 2001. In 2002 O’Neal averaged 36 points and 12 rebounds against a tag team of Nets centers totaling 47 fouls on Shaq. Los Angeles won the last trifecta, even if Indiana, Philadelphia and New Jersey weren’t historic opponents.
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