December 22, 2009
2000s: Top 10 Stories
By Lee Jenkins,
1 Baseball's steroid scandal
Performance-enhancing drugs plagued almost every sport in the 2000s, but they made the most headlines in baseball, where big names kept popping up in the news: Rafael Palmeiro, owner of more than 3,000 hits; Roger Clemens, winner of more than 300 games; Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, perpetrators of the home-run chase; Alex Rodriguez, recipient of three MVP awards; David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, breakers of the Red Sox curse. But the face of the scandal -- fair or not -- belonged to Barry Bonds, who passed Hank Aaron's career home-run record at the same time he was being investigated by a federal grand jury for allegedly using steroids. That awkward scene, which Aaron refused to even watch, provided the backdrop for the richest and saddest story of the decade.
2 Two sides of Tiger
For 9 years and 10 months, he appeared as flawless as a superstar of this era could. He won 12 major championships in the decade, and at one point, held all four. He threw some clubs and shouted some four-letter words, but by and large he was as careful with his image as he was with his shot selection. He made his fans admire him from afar, never letting his public get too close, and perhaps now we know why. In the last month and a half of the decade, Tiger Woods has admitted infidelity, taken an indefinite leave from golf, been abandoned by sponsors and allegedly attacked by his wife. As his many alleged mistresses dominate the news cycles, they remind us once more that you never really know who you're rooting for.
3 Patriots: What was, what could've been
The Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years, built the NFL's model organization and became only the second team in the history of the league to finish a regular season undefeated. They were a dynasty and a juggernaut, but they were also caught videotaping opponents' signals and they may be best remembered for their worst moment. On Feb. 3, 2008, the Patriots carried an 18-0 record into the Super Bowl against the Giants and a 14-10 lead into the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. But a 32-yard circus catch by reserve receiver David Tyree, in which he pinned the ball against his helmet, set up the touchdown that spoiled the Patriots' perfect season and provided a bit of karmic comeuppance.
4 Rise, fall and rise of Kobe
He started the decade with a championship and ended it with a championship, giving him four in 10 years, to go along with an Olympic gold medal, two scoring titles, an MVP award and one unforgettable 81-point eruption against Toronto. But between the first championship and the last one he was accused of sexual assault (the charges were dropped), feuded with teammate Shaquille O'Neal and publicly requested that the Lakers trade him. He went from a lovable young star to a public enemy. Fortunately for Bryant, his trade request was never heeded, and last June in Orlando he led the Lakers to another title, earning himself a slice of redemption in the process.
5 2008 Olympics: Fastest on water, land
The only person in Beijing who could catch Michael Phelps was Usain Bolt and the only person who could catch Usain Bolt was Michael Phelps. In one of the greatest Olympics ever, they fought for the spotlight, and in the end they shared it. Phelps swam 17 races and won a record eight gold medals. Bolt won three gold medals and set world records in the 100 and 200 meters. In the 100, Bolt built such an insurmountable lead that he slowed down 10 yards from the finish line, like a wide receiver strutting into the end zone. When the 2008 Olympics began, Phelps and Bolt were both stars of fringe sports. After the Games ended, they were among history's greatest athletes.
6 A long and remarkable ride
When the decade opened, Lance Armstrong had already survived testicular cancer and come back to win the Tour de France. But that was only the beginning of his journey. He would win the Tour de France six more times this decade, transcend racing, raise millions of dollars for cancer research and start the yellow-bracelet craze. Armstrong retired from competitive cycling in 2005, only to return last summer and finish third at the 2009 tour. He has become a more controversial figure in recent years -- due to constant tabloid reports about his personal life and rumors that he took performance-enhancing drugs -- but he is still an inspirational one.
7 Michael Vick and the dogs
He was among the most entertaining athletes of the decade and then he was among the most infamous. From 2000 to 2006, Vick redefined the quarterback position, first at Virginia Tech and then with the Falcons, winning games with his legs more often than his arm. But in 2007, Vick pleaded guilty to running a dogfighting ring and was sentenced to 23 months in prison, sparking as much debate as any story this decade. Vick's career was derailed, the Falcons were shell-shocked and the issue of dogfighting entered the national conversation. Vick is back in the NFL, but he will be affected forever, as will the dogs who were in his command.
8 LeBron's empire
LeBron James was 16 at the start of the decade, a freshman at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, already a starter but not yet a sensation. Much has changed for James over the course of the decade. He has become, if not the best basketball player in the world, the most promising and the most powerful. He hosted the ESPYs, was featured in a documentary, was the first African-American man to be on the cover of Vogue and was ranked No. 1 by Forbes in a list of top-20 earners under 25 (annual earnings: $27 million). All that's left for James is a championship and no one doubts he will get it soon.
9 Dominance of Fed
If Woods was the prince of Sunday afternoons, his friend Roger Federer was king, with a record 15 Grand Slams this decade and five straight Wimbledon titles. When he lost the epic Wimbledon final to Rafael Nadal in 2008, he looked as shell-shocked as anyone, part of a real-life slump that cost him the No. 1 ranking. The reign of Roger was interrupted, but it was hardly over. He salvaged 2008 by winning the U.S. Open. This year he won the French Open, the only Grand Slam to elude him, as well as Wimbledon, and he finishes the decade again ranked No. 1. Just as important, he has managed to sidestep the kind of scandal that has taken down at least one of his peers.
10 The brothers quarterbacks
The NFL is blessed with two howitzer-armed brothers from New Orleans. Peyton Manning won Super Bowl MVP in 2007 (he also has three regular-season MVPs and is challenging for a record fourth this season as the Colts threaten to finish 16-0), and by the time little bro Eli captured the same honor in 2008, it was clear that the Mannings had become the first family of America's favorite sport. The brothers share a self-deprecating sense of humor, which has translated well to airwaves, and a passion for the two-minute drill, which has translated well to Super Bowls.

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