A YEAR OF Toughness
Coaches like to say, No pain, no gain," but its the players who put their bodies on the line, be it Pudge Rodriguez blocking the plate in the ninth to help knock the Giants out of the playoffs or Steelers receiver Antwaan Randle El, who was given a new perspective on the AFC wild-card game by Browns defensive back Chris Akins.
A YEAR OF Power
Strength matters more than ever in sports-witness the performances this year of Ravens running back Jamal Lewis, tennis ace Serena Williams and Giants slugger Barry Bonds, whose dominance of National League pitchers earned him his third consecutive MVP award.
A YEAR OF Speed
Michael Phelps (right, in the world championships) often appeared to be flying through the water in 2003, a year that featured plenty of speed merchants, from T.J. Ford pushing it upcourt on a break to Andy Roddick ripping an opponent's catgut with his 149-mph serve.
A YEAR OF Courage
Bravery is a word that's overused in sports—but not when the topic of conversation is Bethany Hamilton, 13, who lost her arm to a tiger shark but vows to resume her promising surfing career, or Neil Parry, who lost part of his leg after suffering a football injury in 2000 but came back to play for San Jose State this year.
A YEAR OF Heart
To win his fifth straight Tour de France, Lance Armstrong overcame pileups, dehydration, saddle sores, broken equipment—not to mention the Pyrenees and 197 other riders-demonstrating the kind of fortitude that's often discussed in sports but rarely seen in such pure and simple form.
A YEAR OF Grace
John Wooden used to tell his players that a layup was as good as a dunk—but how you do it counts for something, albeit not on the scoreboard. Witness the grace under pressure of Annika Sorenstam, the poise under defensive pressure of Pitt receiver Larry Fitzgerald and the seemingly bottomless reserve of panache displayed by Michael Jordan, who retired this year, for the last time.
A YEAR OF Stupidity
At the highest levels, sports are about both brawn and brains, but that was hardly the case with Rush Limbaugh's theories about black quarterbacks, Vijay Singh's views on Annika Sorenstam or the lie-down strike of sprinter Jon Drummond (right), who refused to leave the track for 15 minutes after he was DQ'd for a false start in the 100-meter quarterfinals at the world championships.