Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2004 - Sports Recap (The Foundation for 2009)

It's funny how this year altered several franchises forever. The Lakers, Chargers, Pacers, Pistons, Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, NY Giants and USC can trace almost where they are now back to what happened in 2004.

The biggest sports story of the year was the "Malice at the Palace" brawl between the Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers and the fans at Auburn Hills who added fuel to a smoldering fire. SLAM Magazine has a great piece looking back at it but several things happened as a result
- The Pacers were never the same. A Eastern Conference power to a lottery, rebuilding team
- NBA Dress Code instituted.
- Flagrant fouls punished under a microscopic glare.

Of course the irony is that the Pistons shocked the world a few months by ending the Lakers dynasty and proving team over individual. Their blue collar work ethic kept that team among the East's elite until 2008 and made Chauncey Billups go from a journeyman into a borderline Hall of Famer. As a Lakers fan, it made me hate the Pistons once again but that was a weird year for the team.

You had a super team of Karl Malone and Gary Payton join a visibly shaken Kobe Bryant (dealing with his rape charges) and a slowly declining Shaquille O'Neal. You had Derek Fisher proving his value with the 0.4 shot against the Spurs (still remember screaming in my dorm room when he hit that). Kobe played some great basketball under pressure but some of his worst too - one shot in a half against Sacramento? Taking over Game 4 of the Finals when he didn't need to?

It was the end of an era. Shaq left, Fisher left, Gary Payton left. Karl Malone later got in hot water over some comments to Kobe's wife. And thats when the Lakers became Kobe's team for worse and later for better. A leader who had to learn by being selfish that leading means getting guys to follow you and trusting them to step up.

The Dodgers made it a bad sports year for L.A. professionally all around. They made one of their worst trades ever in giving up Paul LoDuca and Guillermo Mota to Florida for Brad Penny. LoDuca was the heart and soul of that team and Mota was the bridge to the unhittable closer Eric Gagne (who was overworked down the stretch). Let's not forget the Boys in Blue were in first place in the NL and cruising - no need to make that deal and Brad Penny was a solid pitcher - until the 2nd half of the season started.

Of course all of that changed when Gagne and LoDuca were on the Mitchell Report but hey, it was a bad deal then. The last year the Dodgers made the playoffs til 2008 but who can forget Jose Lima pitching a four-hit shutout for the Dodgers' first playoff win til 88. I remember watching that in my dorm with awe. LIMA TIME forever!

Then again who cares about that because everyone will remember the 2004 postseason. The greatest NLCS nobody saw with an absolute classic in Game 5 (Jeff Kent's walk-off ended a scoreless tie). And the greatest ALCS ever leading to the Red Sox finally ending the Babe's curse. Pretty much ensuring we'd hate Boston fans but nobody ever thought they'd win one - much less, TWO - World Series in our lifetime.

The Red Sox became the standard for winning in the decade and running a great franchise. Who knew? And the Yankees ended up going on massive spending sprees as a result to finally field a championship team in 2009. That 2004 ALCS is where it all started - losing the torch and taking it back.

And then there's the Chargers and Giants who swapped picks in the 04 draft and got Philip Rivers and Eli Manning. Yeah that worked out pretty well, the Giants got Super Bowl XLII and the Chargers got four division titles and their first playoff wins since 1995. Did I mention that trade brought along Pro Bowlers Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding to SD?

Oh yeah, Ben Roethlisberger was drafted that year. Drew Brees had a great year for San Diego that paved the way for him to be traded to New Orleans in 2006.

Which bring me back to my city. USC's road as a dominant program in college football started in the 2004 Rose Bowl where they split the national title and ran the table the following year to win the title outright.

To me that 2004 USC team deserves to be ranked among the best college football teams in recent memory - a better defense than the 2005 squad and just as deadly on offense. But that's when the Trojans became the talk of Los Angeles and began establishing their dynasty. One that nearly crumbled this past year.

It was a funny sports year. Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters didn't win anything and were thought to be slumping. At the Olympics, Michael Phelps won 8 medals, Jeremy Wariner showed white guys can win at track, and Team USA didn't win gold in basketball for the first time.

5 years later, this year set up a lot of things that are happening right now.

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