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"On the positive tip," as '90s nuisance Arsenio Hall is fond of saying, there was greater cause for celebration than for consternation in 1991. Bills came due, and we don't mean Buffalo, which lost the Super Bowl 20-19 to the New York Giants. No, it was payback time for others: those brash, allegedly unbeatable, hot-water-runnin' Rebels of UNLV? Jugger-not! Duke avenged its 1990 Final Four loss to Vegas, beating UNLV by a deuce in the semifinals before canning Kansas 72-65 for the Blue Devils' and coach Mike Krzyzewski's first national championship.
Payday came on May Day for Rickey Henderson of the A's. Just after he stole his career-record 939th base, and just before he had himself bronzed, the leftfielder declared, "Today, I'm the greatest of all time." Approximately nine seconds later, 44-year-old Nolan Ryan threw his seventh no-hitter, and Rickey's record ran somewhere near Tank McNamara in the next day's sports section.
Like Ryan—or Henderson's speech writer—Connors didn't know when to quit once he'd warmed up at the Open. Nightline host Ted Koppel claimed Jimbo won "a victory over mortality" in Flushing Meadow. Mortality? Talk about a tough draw. As Connors raged all the way to the semifinals before succumbing to age and Jim Courier, Ilie Nastase noted, "What Jimmy has is what we all would kill for: just one more time."
Forty-two-year-old George Foreman had it: He fought once more, this time with feeling. In losing an intense 12-round decision to Evander Holyfield, the Fatman finally won respect. And, yes, "a victory over mortality."
But mortality is no palooka. After all, Red Grange died. So did Paul Brown, James (Cool Papa) Bell and Leo (the Lip) Durocher. Bob Johnson coached the Pittsburgh Penguins to their first-ever Stanley Cup championship in May, was found to have a brain tumor in August and died in November, a sad, swift year that still accommodated just one more joyous time.
Isn't it a shame that in recalling the year, we cannot...recall the year and replace its defective parts the way an automaker can? Magic Johnson's Nov. 7 announcement that he had tested positive for the AIDS virus raised awareness of the disease and lowered all spirits but his own indomitable one. He, too, had given us Just One More before retiring, appearing in June in the ninth and final Finals of his 12-year NBA career.
"Me going against Michael Jordan in the Finals," Magic marveled on the eve of the championship series. "It's what you live for, right?" Averaging the same 31-plus points that he had in the regular season, Jordan and the Bulls beat Johnson and the Lakers in five games. When it was over, Jordan gathered the gold trophy in his arms as if it were a lost child returned to him. In fact, it was MJ's first championship. "I think people will now feel it's O.K. to put me in the category of players like Magic," said Michael, no longer envious of anyone. With the possible exception of....
John Daly. On the eve of the PGA Championship in August, the 25-year-old ninth alternate drove all the way from Memphis to Crooked Stick in Indiana, using either a car or a three-wood, it's not clear which. Added to the field when Nick Price withdrew, and without having played so much as a practice round, Daly spanked his first drive 364 yards, for which he requested a mulligan. Not really, but that was how ridiculous his romp through the field to three-stroke tournament win was. Said the native of Dardanelle, Ark., "This is like a miracle."
Which is precisely how we would describe the 88th World Series. What else to call it? The Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves, two erstwhile cellar-dwellers, made the nation's knuckle-hair stand on end for seven nights. In Game 7 at the Metrodome, Minnesota's 36-year-old Jack Morris petulantly refused to stop pitching until the Twins had won the damn thing, 1-0 in 10 innings. By then, the damage had already been done to central nervous systems everywhere. "I can't sleep at night," Braves second baseman Mark Lemke confessed to Twins centerfielder Kirby Puckett earlier in the Series. "Take a number, kid," replied Puck. "Who can?"
Take a number, kid. 29'4½"? Mike Powell leaped that chasm in breaking Bob Beamon's 23-year-old long jump record at the World Championships. For perspective, Powell's distance was exactly 24 feet longer than Masters champion Ian Woosnam, who is 5'4½". 9.86? Carl Lewis's new record in the 100 meters. Four? Rick Mears now has that many Indy 500 victories. 21? That's the blackjack number worn by Michigan's Desmond Howard who, appropriately, didn't take a hit all year en route to winning the Heisman Trophy.