December 22, 2009
2000s: Top 10 Flops
By Jacob Luft,
The decade that brought us Battlefield Earth, Balloon Boy, Octomom and "Depraved Reality Show" as a legitimate TV genre (think: Kid Nation) wasn't without its flops between the white lines. In case you missed any of these while watching reruns of Temptation Island or riding your Segway, here are the top 10 sports flops of the decade.
1 The Dukies
Duke basketball hasn't been a flop in the record books -- the Blue Devils won the NCAA tournament in 2001 and made the Final Four in 2004. But the Blue Devils have been a flop on the court in the most literal sense possible. This is the decade in which the word "flop" became synonymous with Duke hoopsters' overzealous attempts to draw offensive fouls. The technique drew national ire first with Shane Battier in the early part of the decade, then J.J. Redick came along with his "offensive flop," in which he kicks his legs out on a jump shot. But even Redick had to make way for the master, Greg Paulus (pictured).
2 2004 USA Basketball team
Since the rule change allowing NBA players to participate in the Olympics, only one American team has failed to win the gold medal. That would be the 2004 squad. Young stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade mostly sat on the bench and watched as veterans such as Tim Duncan, Stephon Marbury and Allen Iverson failed to find any sort of cohesion under coach Larry Brown. (Then again, have Marbury's teams ever won anything?) Team USA was blown out by Puerto Rico in the opener and barely made it out of Athens with a bronze medal.
3 Barry Zito
How much would pay for a soft-tossing left-handed pitcher with a declining strikeout rate? If you said "$126 million," then you must work for the San Francisco Giants, who paid former Oakland ace Zito that princely sum as a free agent after the 2006 season. The former Cy Young winner with the Athletics has gone 31-43 in three seasons with the Giants and has failed to post an ERA below 4.00. That's not much of a return for what was then the largest pitching contract in baseball history. On the bright side, he does own these adorable stuffed animals!
4 Monday Night Football announcers
If there was anything to be learned from the Dennis Miller era on Monday Night Football, it's that NFL fans don't reach for the thesaurus as often as they reach for the chips -- or the remote control. Football is just taken too seriously at all levels for an experiment like this to have worked. The brainy comedian lasted two seasons, but before he left he did get to mutter this immortal line: "There's no such thing as minor groin surgery." The best thing that can be said about Miller is that by the time another "outside-the-box" MNF hire, Tony Kornheiser, was through, we were reaching for the Advil and not the thesaurus.
5 Charlie Weis
As an assistant with the New England Patriots, Weis helped win three Super Bowls. But in five seasons as the Notre Dame head coach, Weis posted a record of 35-27. Even though his .565 winning percentage was eerily similar to that of his two predecessors -- Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham (both .583) -- Weis received exponentially more grief than perhaps any other coach in school history for his mediocrity. Truth be told, he did some of this to himself by talking such a big game upon taking over the program, saying a 6-5 record "is just not good enough."
6 Darko Milicic
If the Detroit Pistons could go back in time, just like the title character of Donnie Darko did in the underrated 2001 sci-fi psychological thriller, they would undoubtedly take back selecting Milicic with the No. 2 pick of the 2003 draft. The three players drafted immediately after Milicic: Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. All you have to know about Milicic now is that he's buried on the New York Knicks' bench. In fact, he announced recently that he plans to return to Europe next season. For a guy who has never averaged more than 8.0 points or 6.1 rebounds a season, that's probably for the best.
7 Steve Spurrier
The guy who opened the door to the Ron Zook era at Florida (see below) didn't fare better himself with the Washington Redskins. Spurrier coached two seasons, 2002-03, posting a 12-20 record before quitting in the middle of his record five-year, $25 million contract. For some perspective, consider that during his 12 seasons as head coach of the Gators, Spurrier lost a total of 27 games. In Washington, he gave NFL hopes to many a former Gators legend, including quarterbacks Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel, but couldn't get the college success of his Fun'N'Gun offense to translate to the NFL.
8 Ron Zook
Succeeding a legend is never easy. Just ask the guy who followed Vince Lombardi at Green Bay (Phil Bengtson) or Bear Bryant at Alabama (Ray Perkins). When Spurrier shocked Gator Nation by leaving for the NFL after 2001, Florida hired his former assistant Zook. The Zooker had one great thing going for him: He could recruit. Once the ball is kicked off, however, Zook has problems. Sometimes the wealth of talent he has assembled on the field overcomes the tactical disadvantage of having Zook on the sideline. Sometimes, it doesn't. At Florida and then Illinois, Zook's record as a head coach is 44-53 (21-39 with the Illini).
9 Matt Millen
At this point in the financial crisis we have by now become accustomed to seeing CEOs be rewarded for massive failure. For perhaps the only time in their sad franchise history, the Detroit Lions can be said to be ahead of their time in one respect at least: They rewarded spectacular failure earlier than anybody else this decade. Millen somehow lasted seven-plus seasons as Lions GM, during which the squad posted an NFL-worst record of 31-84 and became the only team in league history to go 0-16, in 2008. A sign: In 2002, his coach, Marty Mornhinweg, won the coin toss heading into OT against the Bears and decided to kick off. The Bears would take the ball and score on the first possession.
10 NFL Network
A channel devoted entirely to programming about the most beloved sports league in America? Sounds great. Where do I sign up? Wait, you mean I can't sign up, because the greedy suits at my monopolistic cable carrier can't cut a deal with the greedy suits at the NFL? So I can't watch the Saints or Colts play their games even though both teams are 13-0? All together now: WHAT THE [BLEEP]?!? Six years after its birth and four seasons after it started carrying live NFL games in prime time, the NFL Network still doesn't have deals with some of the nation's biggest cable companies. The result: Only about 55 million homes have access to some of the year's biggest games.

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