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December 29, 2002
From the NFL playoffs to the Winter Olympics, from auto racing to baseball's All-Star Game, events in 2002 unraveled with layers of confusion, bumbling and grumbling, and sometimes sinister undertones.
A quirkiness beset sports, and for every thrilling finish, a contentious one arose.
Not even a steadfast legend such as Ted Williams escaped a bizarre ending. Nearly six months after his death at 83, he lies cryonically frozen.
A hint of things to come arrived behind a veil of snow in January when the Patriots seemed doomed in the final seconds of regulation against the Raiders. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady took a hit, the ball squirmed free, the Raiders recovered and the deal looked done.
As New England fans shivered and prayed, officials studied the replay and ruled it an incomplete pass.
"I feel like we had one taken away from us," Jerry Rice said. Other Raiders and their fans were less delicate in their description of the apparent heist.
Adam Vinatieri kicked a 45-yard field goal through the snowflakes and the uprights to send the game into overtime. Vinatieri then hit a shorter one on the first drive of overtime to send the Patriots to the AFC title game and on to the Super Bowl in New Orleans.
Vinatieri had more dramatics left in him: a 48-yarder as time expired to give the 50-1 shots at the start of the season their first NFL title, 20-17 over St. Louis.
Little more than a week later at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City, one of the daintiest of sports, pairs figure skating, produced the wildest of melodramas.
Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the gold, creating an immediate uproar. Amid an investigation into a judging fix, Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier were given golds of their own. Marie-Reine Le Gougne, an obscure French judge, suddenly became notoriously famous, charging, then denying, that she was pressured to help the Russians in a vote-swapping deal involving ice dancing.
The biggest judging scandal in Olympic history -- and a soap opera to match the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan burlesque of 1994 -- rambled through International Skating Union hearings in Switzerland and brought a ban of LeGougne and French skating federation chief Didier Gailhaguet.
The affair took a bizarre twist months later with the arrest of a reputed Russian mobster, charged with setting up the fix. Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov is in custody in Italy, awaiting extradition to the United States as the FBI continues its investigation.
The Salt Lake City scandal prompted at least a brief retreat to honest voting by the judges and more emphasis on performance than reputation.
Sarah Hughes, a poised 16-year-old from New York, arrived at that propitious moment and stunned herself and everyone else by capturing the women's gold. The Russians grumbled about Irina Slutskaya's silver, and favorite Michelle Kwan pouted about her flops that dropped her to bronze, but nothing could detract from Hughes' achievement.
If nothing else could equal the plots and subplots of Olympic figure skating, there was no lack of controversy at other events.
Helio Castroneves needed three hours to win his second straight Indianapolis 500, nearly twice that long to have the victory upheld by race officials, then had to wait out a protest hearing the next day.
Castroneves, an exuberant, 27-year-old Brazilian, became the first driver to win consecutive Indys since Al Unser Sr. in 1970-71.
There were boos and angry cries of "rip-off" when Michael Schumacher let Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello win the United States Grand Prix in September. Schumacher said he was simply paying back Barrichello, who had pulled over at an Austrian race in May and allowed Schumacher to win in order to pile up points in quest of a Formula One title.
A tie at the All-Star Game set off a huge outcry by baseball fans already angry about the possibility that there would be a strike.
The 7-7 tie after 11 innings came about when the managers, Bob Brenly of the National League and Joe Torre of the American League, ran out of players because they tried to get everyone in the game. Commissioner Bud Selig conferred with the managers, then ordered a halt without a winner.
"This will never happen again," Selig said. "This has been one of the saddest experiences in my life."
At least baseball had the good grace to avert a strike and the great luck to have an exciting World Series that featured one of the greatest comebacks in history.
The Angels trailed 5-0 in the seventh inning at home in Game 6 and were four outs from defeat in the eighth against the Giants. The platform for the trophy presentation was set up in the visitors' clubhouse, the Giants' champagne ready for popping.
The champagne stayed on ice as the Angels rallied twice for a 6-5 victory.
Anaheim's 4-1 victory the next day to capture the World Series struck some as anticlimactic. In a year such as 2002, everyone should have been grateful that at least it was decisive.