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The Good, The Bus and The Ugly

What was the best game of the year? What about the play of the year? What was the most disappointing event? And why does Bucs announcer Gene Deckerhoff earn our sympathy? Times staff writer Tom Jones answers these questions and more in our special year-end "Shooting from the Lip."

By TOM JONES
Published December 31, 2006


Game of the year

USC was favored to win its third consecutive Associated Press college football national title and would have if it hadn't been for Texas quarterback Vince Young. His scramble from 8 yards out with 19 seconds left gave Texas a 41-38 victory in the Rose Bowl and left people wondering if Young was the best college football player ever.

Play of the year

Normally you look for a play that wins a pennant or clinches a Super Bowl. Sometimes it's a putt to win a major or shot that wins the Final Four. But our play of the year happened in a run-of-the-mill baseball game in the middle of the season. But Gary Matthews' catch that featured a full sprint to the fence, climbing the wall and throwing up his glove hand with his back to the infield to rob Houston's Mike Lamb of a homer goes down as the best catch in baseball history. That's right, you heard us. Best catch ever.

Shot of the year

Vice president Dick Cheney accidentally shot a lawyer from Austin, Texas, in the face while quail hunting in Texas.

Kick of the year

Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth twice stomped on the head of Cowboys center Andre Gurode, including once after Gurode's helmet came off. Gurode needed 30 stitches, and Haynesworth was suspended five games by the NFL.

Broadcaster of the year

We're not saying Bucs and FSU announcer Gene Deckerhoff is the best play-by-play guy working. In fact, we can think of a few who call a better game. But any guy who can sound this enthusiastic while calling dismal Bucs and Seminoles games deserves some recognition. Atta boy, Gene.

Analyst of the year

NBA analyst Charles Barkley is funny, opinionated, outrageous, insane, politically incorrect and about 1,000 other things. But he is always one thing: honest. He'll criticize anyone: star, scrub, white, black, veteran, rookie and, when it calls for it, even himself. What more do you want from an analyst?

Feel-good story of the year

Closing out his classy 13-year career, the Steelers' Jerome Bettis returned to his hometown of Detroit, where Pittsburgh defeated Seattle for its fifth Super Bowl victory. The Steelers got their one for the thumb, but, better yet, Bettis got his one.

Heartbreaking moment of the year

Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro breaking down during the Preakness. When you see something like that, don't you think: Why, exactly, do we force horses to run?

Most grueling event

It was a tennis match. Don't laugh. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer locked horns in a match that lasted nearly five hours in the final of the ATP Masters Series Rome. Nadal finally won 6-7 (0-7), 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5). The match took so much out of Nadal and Federer that both withdrew from the next tournament in Hamburg, Germany - both blaming "fatigue."

Most disappointing event

The Winter Olympics. Bet you even forgot there was an Olympics in 2006. Seriously, name one thing that happened (other than Bode Miller drinking and essentially acting like a horse's fanny). These Olympics had no Bonnie Blair, no Peggy Fleming, no Franz Klammer, no Herb Brooks and, for our money, no thrills at all.

Coach of the year

Three years ago, the Detroit Tigers lost 119 games. They lost 90 and 91 games in the next two seasons. But then manager Jim Leyland took over and turned the perennial losers into a championship-caliber club.

Worst coach of the year

Mark R. Downs, 29 and a T-ball coach outside Pittsburgh, was accused of offering one of his players $25 to hit an autistic boy in the groin with a baseball so the boy wouldn't be able to play. Downs was convicted of corruption of minors and criminal solicitation to commit simple assault and was given probation.

Most embarrassing team

The Bengals could have remade The Longest Yard during training camp. They had eight players arrested in 2006. Eight! One more and the team gets a discount at a local bail bondsman.

Most embarrassing moment

It happened two weeks ago. As the ESPN college football crew previewed what bowl game they were looking forward to the most, Desmond Howard talked about Cal vs. Texas in the Holiday Bowl. He went on and on about whether Cal could move the ball against the Texas defense and whether Colt McCoy could play. Uh, one problem: Cal's opponent in the Holiday Bowl was Texas A&M. We don't know which was worse: Howard talking or no one correcting him.

Goofiest injury of the year

Texas Rangers outfielder Gary Matthews, he of our catch of the year, missed the first week of the season because he tried to stop a sneeze and strained a rib cage muscle.

Best book of the year

Game of Shadows. Okay, I admit I didn't read it. But any book that ends up landing people in jail and making Barry Bonds a pariah has to be pretty good, wouldn't you say?

Worst book of the year

Dallas receiver Terrell Owens said he was misquoted in Catch This. Did we mention it was an autobiography?

Breakup of the year

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his girlfriend, model-turned-actor Bridget Moynahan, ended their three-year relationship. But the saddest news was the breakup of USC-turned-Arizona quarterback Matt Leinart and boozer-turned-party-animal Paris Hilton after, what, three hours? Their relationship might have made it if it wasn't for Leinart getting one of USC's basketball players pregnant.

Request of the year

Jose Canseco made his baseball comeback with the San Diego SurfDogs. He requested a trade ... after one game.

Choke of the year

I thought about Phil Mickelson's gag at the U.S. Open, but he was really trying to win and just didn't. But Olympian Lindsey Jacobellis lost because she was showing off. Leading by a wide margin in the snowboard cross race, Jacobellis used the second-to-last jump to try a backside method grab - snowboarding's version of "Look, Ma, no hands." She ended up crashing and watched in horror as she was passed near the finish line. She took home the silver instead of the gold.