Can it be that 1988 IS behind us already? Wasn't it only yesterday that we were watching Eddie the Eagle flapping myopically through the Calgary skies in the Winter Olympics? And wasn't it just a moment ago that Debi Thomas fell in figure skating to Katarina Witt, an East German you would want to build a wall around too.
Alas, that was last winter, before Kirk Gibson so much as donned a Dodger uniform. What a year 1988 turned out to be, and how many things it gave us to contemplate.
Start with those Winter Games and the soaring performance of Finnish ski jumper Matti Nyk‚Äö√†√∂¬¨√ünen. Did you ever dream that there was a sport perfectly suited to a 5'10", 132-pounder built like a bird? Doesn't it follow that there might be a sport suited to our bodies, too? And what of American speed skater Dan Jansen, who fell in both of his races, after learning that his sister Jane had died of leukemia? No one could watch him sitting motionless on the ice, hands over his eyes, and not consider the awesome and sometimes awful vagaries involved in training—nay, living—for an event that comes only once in four years. And no one could fail to be moved by the emotions he lived with in those days.
This was a fascinating year for football. We may not be sure whether the college game is an extracurricular activity or a made-for-TV maxi-series, but Miami sure gave us a night's worth of entertainment when it beat Oklahoma 20-14 in the Orange Bowl last New Year's Day to win the national title.
December 26, 1988
In the Super Bowl, Washington whipped Denver 42-10 and Redskins quarterback Doug Williams, the black quarterback, won the MVP award. Everyone noted what a milestone it was for black Americans; far fewer wondered how Washington's victory felt to Native Americans, those for whom being called "redskin" isn't a fun thing.
In tennis there was excitement over the ascent of Steffi Graf, who at 19 won the Grand Slam, and some uneasiness at the thought that the grandes dames of the sport, Martina and Chris, might soon be leaving the scene; certainly they're no longer meeting in the finals of big events.
Golf. Now, there's a sport that goes down easy, as long as you're in a reclining chair. If I hear one more father say his son is going to play in the PGA instead of the NFL because it's so much easier, I'll hit him over the head with a sand wedge. Is there anything tougher than a two-man 18-hole playoff for the U.S. Open? Curtis Strange beat Nick Faldo in such an ordeal and thereby won the first major title of his 12-year career, and it was clear both men would have preferred tackling Herschel Walker to facing another downhill putt.
Something big happened in hockey: Wayne Gretzky was traded from Saskatoon or Moose Jaw or somewhere to L.A., apparently to bring his quaint Canadian sport to the attention of motion picture studios and to be nearer to Magic Johnson. Gretzky also took a wife. But the matrimonial front was dominated by heavyweight champ Mike Tyson, who was married to, then separated from, a—choose one: conniving, manipulative, evil, lovely—starlet named Robin Givens. As time wore on, it was hard to remember Tyson fighting anyone other than his wife. Did he really beat Michael Spinks last summer in 1:31 of the first round? Or was that a Pepsi ad?
Kansas won the NCAA basketball crown and Los Angeles the NBA title, the Lakers becoming the first back-to-back pro champs since 1969. The Jayhawks' success proved that forward Danny Manning was the best college player, while the Lakers' win proved it's possible to repeat if you've got Johnson, James Worthy and an aging center named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on your squad.
Baseball brought us Oakland A's slugger Jose Canseco's unprecedented combination of 40 home runs and 40 steals and the Dodgers' World Series victory. Pitcher Orel Hershiser looking to the skies and singing for inspiration may have been my favorite sports scene of the year.
And let's not forget the Summer Olympics. Florence Griffith Joyner, Matt Biondi, Kristin Otto, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Greg Louganis, Janet Evans, Naim Suleymanoglu—there was a host of stars in Seoul who glittered. But the tragedy of Canada's 100-meter sprinter, Ben Johnson, who won the gold and set a world record and then had it all taken away when he tested positive for anabolic steroids, left a pall over the Games. Something we wanted to believe was pure had been tainted, and suddenly it became a bit harder to trust great athletes wherever they're from.
Yet the cynicism has subsided somewhat. We're thinking about serious sports issues—steroid use, drug testing, free agency, "shamateurism" and more—and that's good. You can't solve problems by not thinking about them. This year gave us a lot to ponder. And a lot to cheer.