For me, covering sports has been my passion and business for 27 years as a columnist, radio talk show host, and TV commentator. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and the many stances I’ve taken reporting and writing on sports and the games with a social conscience.
2005 was another great sports year, and covering sports locally and nationally was again a win-win. These are some of the stories that I believe grabbed the headlines locally and nationally.
Black NFL coaches advance
If you’ve been reading my columns for any length of time, you know that I have written many times about coaches and how few Black coaches get NFL head-coaching opportunities. When Dennis Green became head coach of the Vikings in 1992, he was just the second African American head coach in the modern era. As many of you know, I hosted and produced his radio shows for eight years.
Art Shell was the first Black head coach with the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders in the late eighties. This is the 86th season of the NFL, and not until last summer did Hall of Fame inductee Fritz Pollard finally get what he so richly deserved. He was the NFL’s very first African American head coach.
Today there are a record six African American head coaches. Two of those coaches, Green and Tony Dungy, have attained 100 or more career wins. For the first time ever, three Black coaches have won division titles in the same year: Indianapolis’ Tony Dungy, Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis, and Chicago’s Lovie Smith. For me, that is one of the top sports stories of 2005.
White Sox win
The Chicago White Sox, managed brilliantly by Ozzie Guillen, surprised the baseball world in 2005 by winning 99 games and ending the three-year reign of the Minnesota Twins in the American Central. They beat Boston and Los Angeles in the playoffs, then captured the biggest prize of all, the 2005 World Series, sweeping the Houston Astros 4-0 to win their first World Championship since 1917.
The failure of the Twins in 2005, who slipped to third in the division behind Chicago and Cleveland primarily because of their inability to produce offensively, has already led to the decision by management to make sweeping changes.
Twins lose Jones
Star right fielder Jacque Jones, who led the Twins in homeruns with 23 and was a key contributor to three straight titles, is gone. He signed a three-year $16 million deal with the Chicago Cubs.
No sports story spiraled out of control like the failed contract attempt of Terrell Owens of the Philadelphia Eagles. Last year, I covered Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville. Owens returned from a broken leg during the regular season to play very well and used that return to fuel his belief that the Eagles owed him.
Owens tried unsuccessfully, on the advice of agent Drew Rosenhaus, to disrupt the Eagles as part of his plan to have his seven-year, $49 million contract renegotiated. After several incidents in which he called Q.B. Donovan McNabb a hypocrite and got into a fight with Hugh Douglas, he was suspended and later deactivated.
Tony Dungy on the suspension of Terrell Owens: “The tough thing that people don’t appreciate from a head coach and general manager’s standpoint [is that when] you sign a guy to a long-term contract and you give him a large signing bonus like Philadelphia did with Owens, it ties your hands financially. There are not a lot of things that you can do.
“The guy is untradeable at that point because of the salary cap hits you’re going to take. You really can’t cut him, so you have to get the most out of him, and it would have set a bad precedent if the league and the arbitrator had said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to let this guy play, you can’t suspend him.’
“…I think what he did was very detrimental. I think he put his personal situation first in front of the team, and that’s what I did not appreciate. Everybody has contract disputes; I want to make more money than I’m making. We at Indianapolis probably have 50 or 51 guys out of 53 that think they should be making more money.”
“And those can be handled a certain way, but you don’t put it in front of the team,” said Dungy. “You don’t start tearing your teammates down, your coaches, that kind of thing. I was just disappointed in Owens that way, and I think Philadelphia did really the only thing they could do.”
Tragedy strikes Dungy
The Indianapolis Colts, coached by former Gophers quarterback Tony Dungy, start the season 13-0, then finally lose to San Diego. Then tragedy strikes days later and Dungy gets word that his oldest son James, 18, is found dead last week in Tampa.
One week Dungy is marching towards immortality with a perfect season, and then he gets kicked in the gut by the loss of a child.
Surgeries slow Bonds
Superstar and seven-time National League MVP Barry Bonds, only the third player in baseball history to hit 700 or more career homeruns, missed most of the 2005 season after four knee surgeries. He still trails Babe Ruth (714) and homerun king Henry Aaron (755).
No pro hockey
After a marathon league-mandated labor dispute shutdown during the 2004-2005 season, the entire National Hockey League became the first professional sports league to lose an entire season because of the impasse.
Scandals follow Moss trade
No local story that took on a national angle was bigger than the 2005 year of the Minnesota Vikings. Sold by owner Red McCombs first to Reggie Fowler, then later to Ziggy Wilf, the team traded star Randy Moss to Oakland while the NFL owners were deciding on the ownership credibility of Fowler, then Wilf.
I wrote about and gave a thumbs-down to the trade, predicting it was not a good deal. And it turned out to be just that. Last year the Vikings made the playoffs, remember? And they beat the Packers at Green Bay.
Losing 30-23 to Baltimore on Christmas, the Vikings, after winning six straight, have now lost two straight and will miss the playoffs for the third time in Tice’s four years as coach. It’s also the second time in four years that the Vikings win six straight games and miss the playoffs; remember 2003 and the 6-0 start?
Are the Vikings better off today missing the playoffs without Moss than making the playoffs last year with Moss? They scored fewer points and fewer touchdowns than last year with Moss. And, they had more problems off the field this year without Moss than when Moss was here!
Moss was traded during the spring after the controversy that followed his mooning of the Green Bay Packers fans. Shortly after Moss was traded, Head Coach Mike Tice was fined $100,000 by the NFL for scalping Super Bowl tickets. Several weeks later, running back Onterrio Smith was suspended for the entire 2005 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy for the second time. He was stopped at the Minneapolis airport going through a security checkpoint with a fake penis called The Original Whizzanator.
After starting 0-2, 1-4, 2-5, and losing quarterback Daunte Culpepper to major knee surgery in the Carolina loss, the Vikings reeled off six straight wins with backup Brad Johnson at quarterback. Before the streak, on October 6 as many as 17 or more Vikings players were accused of lewd and lascivious conduct on Lake Minnetonka in what was called a Love Boat Scandal where players were alleged to have had sex with prostitutes and strippers on a public cruise ship owned and operated by Al & Alma’s Charter Cruises in Mound.
After an investigation into the charges, four Vikings players — Daunte Culpepper, Bryant McKinnie, Fred Smoot and Moe Williams — were charged with indecent conduct, disorderly conduct, and lewd or lascivious conduct, according to findings by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s office.
T-wolves fire Saunders
The Timberwolves fire all-time winning coach Flip Saunders after the team that made the NBA Western Conference Finals the year before struggled to a 26-27 start. VP of Basketball Operations Kevin McHale took over behind the bench to finish the season. The Timberwolves finished 44-38 and failed to even make the playoffs after winning 58 games in 2003-2004..
Tiger’s back to #1
Super Star Tiger Woods regains the number-one male player position in professional golf worldwide after winning the 2005 Masters, his fourth, and the British Open, his second. He becomes the youngest golfer ever to win 10 career professional majors before turning age 30.
Fitzgerald Jr. excels under Green
Minneapolis native Larry Fitzgerald Jr., in only his second NFL season with the Arizona Cardinals, was selected to the 2006 NFL Pro Bowl. Fitzgerald is second in the NFL among receivers with 97 receptions for 1,329 yards, and nine touchdowns with one game to play this Sunday at Indianapolis. Fitzgerald leads all NFL receivers with catches of 20 yards or more (26), and he has helped Arizona attain the NFL’s number-one passing offense.
Two years ago, a biased reporter with an axe to grind with Black coaches, Charlie Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, who has a history of writing inaccuracies, wrote, “How long will it take for Arizona Head Coach Dennis Green to negatively affect Larry Fitzgerald Jr.?”
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio, 89.9 FM, at 8:20 am, and Monday evenings 6-7 pm. He welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.
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