The two most dramatic events of the year that was 2002 sports came towards the end, with the World Series and college football’s national championship game, played that year in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Anaheim Angels won the Series after trailing a must-win Game 6 by five runs in the seventh inning. Aided by “The Rally Monkey”, the Angels won that game, won the next night and made amends to a fan base that had suffered through some tough collapses in the playoffs.
Miami was the defending national champion in college football and looked poised to repeat, entering the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State as a solid favorite. The game proved to be an epic, going double overtime and the Buckeyes winning.
Hurricane fans feel forever jobbed over a controversial pass interference call at the end of the first overtime. Buckeye fans feel like there’s more to the story. But college football fans in a general sense, were the big winners, because this was not just one of the best games ever played, but the storylines remain rich to this day.
Another storyline coming out of the college football season as a whole was the re-emergence of USC. The Trojans had not won the Rose Bowl since 1996 and had not been the clear power of the Pac-10 since 1987-89. In their second year under Pete Carroll, USC lost a couple early games to good teams in Kansas State and Washington State, but then took off.
The Trojans moved their record to 8-2 and then closed on a tear. They beat crosstown rival, #25 UCLA, 52-21. USC then took on traditional rival, #7 Notre Dame and won 44-13. The Trojans finished the job in the Orange Bowl when they hammered third-ranked Iowa 38-17. Quarterback Carson Palmer won the Heisman Trophy and USC would be the dominant force in college football through 2008.
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The Maryland Terrapins had knocked on the door of a national title in basketball in 2001 and in 2002 they broke it down. Veteran head coach Gary Williams produced an outstanding team, reached the Final Four in Atlanta and then squared off with Indiana, who was in the odd position of being a Cinderella.
After the firing of Bob Knight prior to the 2001 season, the Hoosiers somehow ended up in the Final Four a year later. It proved to be lightning in a bottle, for Knight-haters, it was a magical March, at least in the moment. Indiana gave Maryland a tough game in the NCAA final before the veteran Terps pulled away down the stretch.
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The Detroit Red Wings already had veteran talent, and they went out and added more of it prior to the 2002 season, including one of the league’s best goalies in Dominic Hasek. The end result was the best record in the NHL and a Stanley Cup, though there were some interesting moments along the way to getting there.
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a franchise reputation for ineptitude in the cold weather. But they also had an elite defense, and that proved to be enough to get them through a road trip to Philadelphia in January and ultimately a Super Bowl title.
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The Los Angeles Lakers had won the NBA title in 2000 and 2001 and behind great years from Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, went 58-24 in the 2002 NBA season. They had a worthy challenger in the Sacramento Kings, who went 61-21.
By rights, this should have been Sacramento’s championship. The two teams played in the Western Conference Finals. The Kings led the series 3-2 and were in position to win Game 6. The officiating then took over and put the Lakers on the line 27 times in the fourth quarter, making it all but impossible for Sacramento to win.
Los Angeles won Game 7 on the road and then beat a completely overmatched New Jersey Nets team in four straight. Shaq averaged 36 points/12 rebounds against the Nets to win his third straight Finals MVP.
The Lakers were a very good team in 2002–good enough that asking Sacramento to, in effect, beat them five times in seven games is asking too much. Laker fans who can’t acknowledge the tainted quality of this three-peat should put down the Kool-Aid.
Read more about the 2002 Sacramento Kings