Posted: Thursday December 28, 2006 2:36PM; Updated: Thursday December 28, 2006 2:36PM
The sports year started with Vince Young putting on one of the most dominating performances in history.
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The earliest omens indicated that 2006 would be a glorious year in sports. After all, hadn't Texas quarterback Vince Young set the tone with his wondrous performance in the Longhorns' Rose Bowl win over USC in January? Young sliced through the Trojans' defense to lead Texas to the national championship, and even USC fans had to concede that it was one of the greatest individual performances in any sport in recent memory.
But in retrospect, it wasn't Young's game-winning scramble in the final minute that would come to be symbolic of the year, it was another, far less successful Rose Bowl play. Nearing the end of a 37-yard run in the second quarter, USC tailback Reggie Bush for some reason decided to lateral to teammate Brad Walker, a freshman walk-on receiver whose presence on the field was nearly as hard to fathom as Bush's decision to entrust him with the ball. The lateral went awry, Texas recovered, and we had seen the first of many 2006 blunders that left us wondering if the sports figures we usually mavel at had at least momentarily taken leave of their senses. It was the year of the spectacular gaffe, 12 months of bizarre decisions that made us shake our heads and ask the same question again and again: "What was he thinking?"
What was French soccer star Zinedine Zidane thinking when he head-butted Marco Materazzi of Italy in the World Cup final in July? By giving into Materazzi's goading for just a few seconds, Zidane managed to get himself ejected from the game, cripple his team's chances for the title (Italy won on penalty kicks), and ensure that his marvelous career ended in ignominy instead of glory.
Zidane lost his compusure, but Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger nearly lost much more. What was Roethlisberger thinking when he took off on his motorcycle without a helmet in June? The ride ended when he was hit by a motorist at an intersection, a collision that left Roethlisberger with multiple facial fractures and lacerations. Although he recovered enough to play in Week 2 for the Super Bowl champion Steelers, Roethlisberger's poor play early in the season suggested that he was still suffering some after-effects of his injuries. He and the Steelers never fully recovered from their slow start, and they missed the playoffs.
What on earth was Floyd Landis thinking during his Tour de France victory-turned-embarrassment in July? After Landis won the race, he was found to have unusual testosterone ratios in his blood, suggesting he had used illegal performance enhancers, and he was stripped of his championship. It wasn't so much the apparent cheating that was hard to understand, it was Landis' variety pack of explanations as he proclaimed his innocence, a set of excuses that included a suggestion that a bottle of whisky might somehow have been the culprit.