THE SPORTS SCENE:

Top 10 Sports Stories of 2002

by Darrell K. Carter

The year 2002 was a very intriguing year, whereby we witnessed the dismantling of a former Super Bowl team, only to see it rise again from the ashes. Local heroes passed into eternity, and the University of Maryland football and basketball programs regained our reverence. The National Football League finally addressed the racial divide, while the Kenyans and Russians ran over Baltimore—literally! Maybe 2002 was not as exciting as years past, but here we go...

#10: Baltimore Marathon
The second annual Baltimore Marathon strolled into downtown Baltimore with a splash at the finish line. A dominating performance by the Kenyans had the crowd roaring and cheering for Erick Kimayo, who finished with a time of 2 hours, 17 minutes and 43 seconds. He outpaced his compatriot Charles Kamindo by 2 minutes and 15 seconds. Baltimorean Jean-Paul Chrétien finished seventh, with a time of 2 hours, 42 minutes, and 39 seconds.
       In the women’s division, Russian Elvira Kolpakova outpaced the rest of the women, winning the event in 2 hours, 52 minutes, and 8 seconds. Running second was Baltimorean Melissa Rittenhouse, who reached the finish line a mere 2 minutes and 37 seconds later.

#9: Dave McNally
How do you rank someone’s death in a Top 10 count? You don’t! Orioles fans knew McNally, though he was not as well known in the sports world as were other notables who expired in 2002. Most memorable for this fan was in 1970, when the Orioles pitching staff produced four 20-game winners: Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson—and Dave McNally. His greatest feat by far had to have been hitting the only grand slam homerun in World Series history by a pitcher, against Tony Cloninger and the Cincinnati Reds in 1970. Maybe today’s baseball players would want to thank McNally for being one of the first to challenge free agency. McNally won 20 games four times in his 12-year career with Baltimore.

#8: Blast Fire Head Coach
Former Blast coach and current Blast general manager Kevin Healy must be at odds with his twin personality. Usually when a person is fired in sports, that person is fired from all positions—but not here. Healy the coach was let go by team owner Ed Hale, a notable banker and shipping magnate in Baltimore; and then Healy was named general manager of the same team. Healy joined the team as coach in 1998. It was on his watch that the team experienced a league switch and name change, moving from the now-defunct Spirit of the old NPSL to reclaim the previous Blast name with the old MSL and MISL. Are you confused? Well, imagine what Kevin Healy is experiencing.

#7: Ravens Draft Reed
The Baltimore Ravens selected safety Ed Reed of the University of Miami with the 10th pick overall in the National Football League annual draft. Reed excelled this past season with the Ravens, leading the team with five interceptions. His closing speed running toward his opponents has been compared to that of a younger Kenny Houston. Reed has been all over the field, especially against the run. Many believe he was overlooked for the Pro Bowl.

#6: Pimlico
After years of holding the State of Maryland hostage for funds to supplement a dying business, the owners of Pimlico and Laurel Race Tracks sold a 51 percent interest to Magna Entertainment Group of Ontario, Canada for $105 million. The company is considering tearing down the historic Pimlico Race Track and rebuilding on the same site, while moving the Preakness to Laurel for one year. Now that Maryland has a Republican Governor, the cry for slot machines will almost certainly be heard, and granted, by the Maryland House and Senate. Questions remain, however: Why sell now, when the battle cry for years has been ‘We Need Slots,’ and they’re finally coming? And where is the $10 million dollars the State of Maryland and its citizens gave the track owners just a couple of years ago?

#5: Juan Dixon
Juan Dixon, formerly of the University of Maryland and Baltimore’s Calvert Hall High School, became the 17th pick overall of the Washington Wizards, in the annual players draft. Dixon led the Terrapins to their first national championship, defeating the Indiana Hoosiers. Dixon, a remarkable student athlete, overcame the odds of inner city living in a rough part of Baltimore. Both of his parents died of AIDS, and his grandparents and aunts raised him. Dixon earned a B.A. in family studies at U.Md.

#4: Ozzie Newsome
In today’s world, one would think, “Why would it take this long to name an African American general manager in the National Football League?” Well, Ozzie Newsome of the Baltimore Ravens became the first in league history, though he had been serving as vice-president of football operations, which controls players’ transactions and draft day. Newsome came to Baltimore with owner Art Modell when the team moved here from Cleveland. There, Ozzie established himself as a Hall-of-Fame tight end with the Cleveland Browns.

#3: O’s Front Office
Usually a baseball organization’s top story of the year is a free agent signing or winning the pennant, but not this time. Instead, the big news was a front office shake-up. In late November it was announced that former Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan and former Montreal Expos general manager Jim Beatie would serve, respectively, as vice-president of baseball operations and executive vice-president of baseball operations. Flanagan will fill the vacancy left by the lackluster Syd Thrift. A couple of years ago, Thrift was on a local sports talk show when a caller asked about a minor league player in the system. Syd Thrift gave a favorable report on the player. The only problem was that the player was fictitious. In all fairness to Thrift, he was responsible for bringing in Rule 5 draftee Jay Gibbons, outfielder Gary Matthews, slugger Tony Batista, and pitchers Rodrigo Lopez and Jorge Julio.

#2: University of Maryland Wins NCAA Championship
Gary Williams finally pulled off what no other great coach in the University of Maryland Men’s basketball history could do: win a national championship. March madness witnessed a Maryland repeat performance to the Final Four, only this time it advanced to the championship game against Indiana. The Terps were ranked #2 in the nation going into the tournament, as a number one seed. Terrapins fans rocked the Georgia Dome as the University of Maryland outscored Jarred Jefferies and the Indiana Hoosiers 64-52.

#1: Johnny Unitas
Heroes come and go, but Johnny Unitas wasn’t just any hero, he was Mr. Baltimore. The former great Hall-of-fame quarterback passed away in 2002. Known as "The Golden Arm," Johnny Unitas held most of football’s records until he retired in 1973. One record still stands: his 47 consecutive games with a touchdown, from 1956-1960.
       John Unitas served his sport with elegance and a great appreciation for the art of the game. His hunched shoulders, crew-cut hair, bowlegged physique, and high-top shoes became the talk of the league, though his true signature was to be seen on the playing field, Sunday after Sunday.
       In 1958, "the greatest game ever played" placed Baltimore and the NFL on the sports map. The match, between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts at Yankee Stadium, culminated with a 23-17 victory for the Colts, and rights to the NFL Championship. The Colts repeated this feat the following year, versus the same Giants. Another great moment for the old Colts was in 1971, when Unitas threw a touchdown in Super Bowl V against Dallas, spearheading Baltimore’s victory.
       Johnny Unitas’s retired number, along with those of other old Colts greats, hangs in the Ring of Honor at Ravens Stadium. Also, a bronze statue graces the main stadium entrance, now renamed Unitas Plaza.


Copyright © 2003 The Baltimore Chronicle and The Sentinel. All rights reserved. We invite your comments, criticisms and suggestions.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on January 8, 2003.