It was, to put it simply, bizarre. On June 28, Mike Tyson
stepped into the ring with Evander Holyfield, looking to
reassert himself as one of the greatest fighters of all time and
reclaim the world heavyweight championship belt he had lost to
Holyfield the previous November. When it became apparent that
neither of those things was going to happen, Iron Mike lost it.
He bit Holyfield on the right ear--and then the left--and lost,
in short order, the fight, 10% of his $30 million purse and
every shred of credibility he had fought to regain since his
release from prison in 1995.
It took eight sutures to reattach the one-inch portion of
Holyfield's right ear that Tyson gnawed away, and the champion
wasn't the only one in stitches. The bite was a boon to headline
writers (pay per chew exclaimed the Philadelphia Daily News) and
talk-show hosts alike. In a way, though, the fact that the
year's most-talked-about sports moment was as sensational--not
to mention as believable--as the plot of a daytime TV serial
was somehow fitting. After all, in 1997 the sports pages were
dominated by two groups: the Young and the Restless.
The first hint that youth would prevail in a big way in 1997
came in January, when 16-year-old Martina Hingis breezed through
the field at the Australian Open. She added the Wimbledon and
the U.S. Open titles, failing to win the Grand Slam only because
of a loss in the French Open final to Iva Majoli, a Croatian
sensation who was all of 19. In February, 25-year-old Jeff
Gordon, a.k.a. Boy Wonder, took the checkered flag at the
Daytona 500 en route to becoming the youngest driver to win 10
NASCAR races in back-to-back seasons. Right around that time, a
14-year-old Michigan girl, Tara Lipinski, lost her last baby
tooth. A month later she won the World Figure Skating
Championship. Two weeks after that, 21-year-old Tiger Woods
played Augusta National like a pitch-and-putt, becoming the
greenest golfer to wear the green jacket. His bid for a Grand
Slam was foiled in June by Ernie Els, who at 27 became the
youngest two-time U.S. Open winner in three decades. A month
later, a humble 25-year-old Texan named Justin Leonard humbled
the 88-year-old Royal Troon to take the British Open.
The year's final major, the PGA, was won not by a kid but by
Davis Love III, who is in his--gasp!--30's. With the win, Love
finally shed the best-player-to-never-win-a-major label he had
been saddled with for years, and he wasn't the only champion of
1997 whose victory was the culmination of a long, restless wait.
The Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XXXI, returning the NFL
championship to Titletown for the first time in 29 years. And in
June the Detroit Red Wings won Lord Stanley's Cup for the first
time since 1955, when Stanley was still just a common bloke.
Not every team looking to exorcise its championship demons
succeeded in 1997, however. The Cleveland Indians were two outs
away from ending a 49-year World Series drought when they blew a
2-1 lead in Game 7 against the Florida Marlins. The Tribe
eventually lost the game in the 11th inning when a 22-year-old
rookie named Edgar Renteria smacked a single up the middle to
drive in the winning run and give the Fall Classic to the
precocious, five-year-old Fish--a fitting result in a year in
which the kids were a lot more than all right.