Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
When you're a fledgling independent minor league baseball franchise trying to carve a niche in the metroplex's saturated sports landscape, nothing is off limits. At least that's how the Grand Prairie AirHogs tried to justify tempting karma by giving away a $10,000 funeral—complete with plot, headstone and casket—at a game in June. The genius promotion, highlighted by fans dressed in black and pallbearer races between innings, received publicity on ESPN and in publications across the country. Ironically, the funeral was won by a 60-year-old woman who had undergone 20 surgeries for various medical ailments. Toldja God works in mysterious ways.
Kenny Cooper just may save American soccer or at least take it to the next level. At just 23, Cooper has all the skills to develop into a premier-level striker, the one thing the U.S. National Team has always lacked to go from middling to elite status. Unlike Landon Donovan, the current poster boy for American soccer, Cooper has not just speed, but also brawn, making his game a good fit for the bruising international stage. This year Cooper is an MLS All-Star and one of the league's leading scorers.
We assume it's easier to part with an Olympic gold medal when you have four more on your mantel, but still, the legendary Dallas sprinter made us all proud when he dashed toward integrity in June. After learning that four of his U.S. 1,600-meter relay teammates had admitted to taking steroids in preparation for the Sydney Games in 2000, Johnson announced he would return his medal because "I know the medal was not fairly won and that it is dirty." Johnson, who maintains he's never doped, still owns the world record in the 200 and 400 meters and still has a burgeoning training facility in Mc-Kinney. Thanks to his class act, he also still possesses his good name.
SMU's AD, turns out, could sell green bananas to an astronaut headed for the International Space Station. After all, he's got the Methodists again believing in big-time sports. In his two-year reign, SMU has constructed the $13 million Crum Center basketball practice facility, spent $1 million upgrading Moody Coliseum, splashed Dallas with a $750,000 "Pony Up" marketing campaign, drawn blueprints for a new outdoor tennis center, eased admission standards, maintained a 97 percent graduation rate and hired former national coaches of the year in basketball (Matt Doherty) and football (June Jones). To pay for Jones' unprecedented five-year, $10 million contract, Orsini persuaded a "Circle of Champions" to invest $100,000 for five years. Miracle on Mockingbird, indeed.
It's OK. Your heroes can still be Cowboys. Best buddy Tony Romo has more famous girlfriends, and Terrell Owens has more shiny endorsements, but no player was more important to the Cowboys last season than Witten. Already with a spot reserved in the Ring of Honor as the franchise's all-time best tight end, the Pro Bowler caught everything thrown his way and yanked us off the couch with his helmet-less gallop against the Philadelphia Eagles. Precise routes. Nimble feet. Pillowy hands. But the best reason to be smitten with Witten: He balances his $28 million contract with a 28-cent ego. A night after rubbing elbows with Jamie Foxx and Serena Williams at T.O.'s birthday party last December, Witten spent the day making friends at Carrollton's Rainwater Elementary School. Oh, and also, Witten's smart enough to realize it's not a good idea to sing at Wrigley Field when you can't, in fact, sing. Right, Tony?
By all accounts, the manager was as good as gone in late April. His team had baseball's worst record (9-18). The Bad News Bears displayed better fundamentals. Washington was this close to getting axed. Owner Tom Hicks admitted it was "pretty close." But just as management began constructing a contingency plan and even a list of potential successors, the Rangers suffered injuries to front-line veterans, began getting production from unheralded youngsters and shockingly climbed back into playoff contention by the All-Star break. One of Washington's strengths is his patience and his unflappable demeanor. The Rangers deserve credit—albeit barely—for giving him the chance to display it.
Next to Jimmy Johnson vs. Jerry Jones, and Mark Cuban vs. Don Nelson, the divorce of Dallas' most popular sports talk radio duo proved one of the most compelling in recent memory. Williams initiated the destruction with Rhyner—his longtime host on The Ticket's The Hardline—via habitual lying and drug use. But the dismissive treatment of Williams by station management and former co-workers escalated the story from a regional phenomenon into national news. The feeding frenzy was unprecedented, generating almost 400 reader comments on our Web site. Or, about 400 more than the following week's dissection of the Rangers. In the final analysis, Williams ruined his career, a radio show and almost his life through reckless, selfish actions. But 15-year friends ignoring him only inflamed the situation. And two wrongs don't make a right. They just make us all sad. For everybody involved.
Justin Leonard may have the best résumé of any pro golfer living in Dallas (two majors and 11 PGA victories), but nobody in the area has had the year Anthony Kim has had. In May, Kim won his first PGA Tour tournament, the Wachovia Championship, with the lowest score (-16) in the tournament's history. Two months later, he won the AT&T National, becoming the first American younger than 25 to win twice in one year on the PGA Tour since Tiger Woods in 2000. Plus, he wears belt buckles on the tour with his initials AK inscribed on them. Now that's Texas.
Unless we're totally cross-eyed on this one, SMU football coach June Jones will be accepting this hardware multiple times in the future. But for now, no personnel transaction has positively affected a franchise like the return of Big Tex to Arlington. While it's difficult to accurately quantify Ryan's influence, there's no denying the Rangers are pitching quicker, playing harder and winning more with him as team president. Attendance isn't exactly overflowing at Rangers Ballpark, and the stagnation of Glory Park doesn't sit well, but don't we all feel a little better with Ryan calling the shots rather than John Hart? Ryan doesn't get all the credit for Josh Hamilton's homers or C.J. Wilson's dramatic saves, but he is the main reason the Rangers are again becoming a relevant franchise with undeniable credibility and, dare we say it, even a bright future.
Questions about doping aside, there's no taking away from what Steve Asmussen's done in the last year. He's gone from the guy who takes the leading trainer crown every year at Lone Star Park to the guy who's training the best horse in the world. That horse would be Curlin, and earlier this year, after the 4-year-old had won just about every race Asmussen put him in, he decided to run him on grass, just for the hell of it, against some of the best turf runners this side of the pond. The big chestnut came up just short. It won't be the last we hear from him or Asmussen. Expect to see the Arlington resident in the winner's circle for years to come.
This just in: Dallas has moved to Arlington. Inexplicably, it left us with only John Wiley Price's "black hole" and half-assed plans for the Trinity River. Thanks a lot. If you're keeping score, the new $1 billion stadium once targeted for Fair Park will now host Cowboys games starting in 2009, the Cotton Bowl starting in '10, the Big 12 football championship game in '09 and '10, an annual Arkansas-Texas A&M football game starting in '09, a Notre Dame-Arizona State game in '13, a potential NBA All-Star Game in 2010 and, of course, Super Bowl XLV in '11. Don't look now, but our sports epicenter has moved 20 miles west. Dallas, last we checked, was rolling out the red carpet for Division II football between East Central State (Oklahoma) and Texas A&M-Commerce. No shit. Couldn't make up something that lame.
The highest-paid running back in Dallas Cowboys' franchise history received a seven-year, $45 million contract in the spring despite starting just one game and never producing a 1,000-yard season. How's that, you ask? Because Marion Barber is a badass, forged out of muscle, menace and downright mean. He's the NFL's toughest, scariest runner, fueled by the disposition of a traveler about to check six pieces of luggage on an American Airlines flight. Proof? Barber made a habit last year of violently stiff-arming potential tacklers in the kisser. So effective, and so unfair, was the move that the NFL Competition Committee deemed it illegal for the upcoming season. Told of the league's new "Barber Rule," prohibiting him from going for opponents' facemasks, the Barbarian never looked up and immediately growled "What about the throat?" Shiver.