In 2007, the sports pages sometimes seemed like they were filled with more sagas, sideshows and soap operas than sports. But there were also those heart-racing moments that brought the exuberant fan out, making you jump from your seat and shout.
Sometimes in support and celebration. Sometimes at the refs. Sometimes at the call-center representatives who were the only ones you could vent to about not being able to watch the game.
But fans of most sports in Utah had something to cheer about this past year, whether it was flirting with the NBA Finals, winning another conference championship or bowl game, getting a new coach, or securing a permanent home for that other brand of football.The following 10 Utah sports stories from 2007 stood out the most to the Deseret Morning News sports staff:
1. Utah gets Jazzed up again
OK, so things didn't exactly end so well last summer when Tim Duncan and Eva Longoria's soon-to-be husband helped persuade a few Jazz players to keep their booked vacation plans even with the playoffs surprisingly still going on. But in retrospect, the fact that Deron Williams could be upset about some teammates' effort just one series away from the NBA Finals shows how successful Utah's season was.
The Jazz's resurgence, lengthy playoff run and later-than-expected vacations (for most players, at least) was undoubtedly the Utah sports story of the year. Heck, knowing the Jazz brass' love for banners, they might even put up one commemorating their Western Conference Finals appearance alongside the one they got for their Northwest Division championship. The way they rallied from a 3-2 deficit to Houston in the first round and then streaked past the Golden State Warriors in Round 2 was memorable. (By the way, did anyone at EnergySolutions Arena send a Christmas card to the Dallas Mavericks?)
Some Jazz fans were relieved that Carlos Boozer simply played in Utah. That the power forward played his way into an All-Star spot and acted like he wanted to stay was a big plus. Another bonus was the play of Williams. He came on strong enough to earn a spot on Team USA and started making some people forget that other great point guard no, not John Stockton ... Chris Paul.Center Mehmut Okur was another big reason for Utah's success last year. Not only did he earn a rep as being clutch from 3-point land and gain a late All-Star invitation, he just might be the only Euro who gets along with Jerry Sloan. Isn't that so, Andrei Kirilenko, Gordan Giricek and John Amaechi?
2. BYU football gets fully invested/crowned/blessed
Ten wins in a row. Fourth-and-18. Eathan Manameuala's fingertips. Deja 8-0 all over again. Magic happening. Tulsa. Oops. So not everything went the Cougars' way in '07. It just seemed that way at least after they let one slip away at UCLA and let everyone with the football slip by them in Oklahoma.
Other than their two coulda, shoulda, didn't non-conference road losses, this was an exceptional season for the Cougars. The last two nailbiting wins were especially memorable well, at least the highlight plays at the end.
And to think this was supposed to be a rebuilding year. But despite John Beck, Curtis Brown and Jonny Harline moving on, Max Hall, Harvey Unga, Dennis Pitta and Austin Collie moved in and kept things rolling for Bronco Mendenhall. The new stripling warriors on the block helped BYU secure a second straight unscathed MWC crown, another Las Vegas Bowl victory and one more thrilling win over rival Utah.Ranked No. 16 when the final AP poll was released a year ago, the 11-2 Cougars should end up in that neighborhood when this season's last rankings are released next week. That, they believe, will help them make a serious run at a BCS bowl in 2008. Good, clean living apparently can't hurt, either. Right, Austin?
3. As The A.K. Turns
You might have wondered if Andrei Kirilenko was a Russian soap opera star or an NBA basketball player at times this past year. He laughed (while leading his native land to a European championship). He cried (while stinking and sulking it up during his pro team's NBA championship quest). He was torn between the relationship he was stuck in and one he longed for. Rumors swirled, a divorce seemed imminent, threats were made, feelings were hurt.
Kirilenko was even framed by a scorned ex-lover for a malicious murder in Moscow. OK, maybe not that, but it was a summer of diss and content.
Since soap-opera writers are still on strike, let's sum it up the rest of the saga like this: Kirilenko quit blogging and blabbing in Russia, started balling and blocking in America, kissed, made up and lived happily ever after with Jerry Sloan (for now, at least). Cue tender music for final scene ... and ACTION!
Kirilenko: Jerry, let us be forever friends.
Sloan: A.K., you're like a *$!#&!@ son to me. I wouldn't trade you for a John Deerevosky tractor.
Larry H. Miller: Sniff, sniff.The End ... or ... to be continued?
4. Derek Fisher: Cheers to jeers
The savvy veteran's locker room leadership not necessarily his shooting accuracy was lauded and credited for helping the Jazz win the division and qualify for postseason play after a three-year absence. He was the glue, the mentor, the champion. Then he became the hero with how admirably he handled the heart-wrenching situation with his baby daughter, who was diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer.
Will anyone ever forget the emotional lift he gave the Jazz and the roaring reception he got when he traveled cross-country to make his inspiring second-half showing during Game 2 of the Golden State series? In that game, he arguably hit the biggest shot, made the biggest defensive play and became a national feel-good news story/champion for a retinoblastoma cure.
All that goodwill, however, soon dissipated for some fans. He asked for and was granted a release from his Jazz contract so he could move to a city more capable of offering his daughter medical care. Many thought giving up millions was a heroic sacrifice until, that is, he quickly re-signed for millions with the loathed Los Angeles Lakers, his former team.The cheers turned to jeers when he returned to Utah as headband-sporting Laker in November.
5. Utah football: Painful to Poinsettia Bowl
If nothing else, the 9-4 Utes proved there are no guarantees when it comes to college football. Just ask Joe Glenn. But that point became evident even before the Wyoming coach's infamous verbal declaration and his even-more-infamous non-verbal exclamation. Poised for a big season, Utah suffered from injuries and inconsistency. They lost their starting running back, Matt Asiata, in the first quarter of the first game, then lost their starting quarterback, Brian Johnson, in the second half and that was just the beginning of their health woes.
The players who didn't end up in the M*A*S*H unit had their own set of problems on the field. Utah stumbled to a 1-3 start with somewhat acceptable losses to Oregon State and Air Force along with an inexplicable 27-0 drubbing in Las Vegas. Against UNLV. Yes, in football! Making that all the more strange was the Utes' 44-6 walloping of then-11th-ranked UCLA mixed between those losses and an ensuing win at then-ranked Louisville.
Go figure. Well, don't try. Just accept that after the Keystone-Kop-like beginning, the Utes steamrolled through eight straight opponents in large part because of Darrell Mack, kicker Louie Sakoda and a stingy defense.
Most memorable was the Glenn-U. coach Kyle Whittingham spat. Fearing Wyoming's boss might be right about his guaranteed win over Utah even after the Utes jumped ahead 43-0 Whittingham called for an onside kick midway through the third quarter in a move that kinda, sorta looked like he was trying to shove crow down Glenn's mouth at midfield.
Glenn responded by flipping him off. Whittingham fumed to the press after the 50-0 blowout. Then they both apologized and asked Andrei Kirilenko if they could turn their feud into an episode of his Russian soap opera.From there, the Utes found a new way to painfully lose to their rivals from Provo and wrapped up the year by doing what they always do winning a bowl game.
6. Utah basketball coaching carousel
On Jan. 9, the U. hoops squad lost 73-57 at Colorado State to hit a 57-year low by starting conference play with an 0-3 record. After the game, which dropped the Utes to 5-11 for their worst start in 34 years, Utah coach Ray Giacoletti was quoted as saying: "I'm tired of losing." Turns out, he wasn't the only one. Two months, six losses and an early MWC tourney exit later, Rick Majerus' replacement had agreed to be paid $175,000 each of the next four years to not wear his red jacket against BYU. Oh yeah, and he couldn't coach the Utes anymore, either.
That sparked a nationwide coaching search, which basically included rumors about every coach from a mid-major school in the NCAA tournament, former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, now-Milwaukee Bucks coach Larry Krystowiak, Stew Morrill, Tommy Connor, etc. The exception: Roger Reid. He'd already been gobbled up by Southern Utah University.Athletic director Chris Hill finally settled on the Jim Boylen with an "e" from Michigan State. "This is a big day for me," Boylen said at his We-Hope-He's-The-Next-Rick-Majerus press conference. "I'm pumped. To say I'm jacked up would be an understatement." To say Ute fans hope their program doesn't end all Giac-ed up again would be another one.
7. The mtn.: Mustn't see TV
If you haven't called or e-mailed Comcast, Dish, DirecTV, MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson, BYU and Utah athletic directors, the Deseret Morning News sports department and/or TV critic Scott Pierce to complain about The mtn. deal this year, then, well, you might be the only one.
Don't worry, though, the Cougars and Utes have sicced the best legal team students' tuition money could buy on The mtn. and Comcast execs to work this deal out. Oh, that was six months ago? Well, there have been a lot of ambulances to chase lately, so maybe they'll jump on it soon.
Anyway, two years into the much-ballyhooed/belly-ached TV deal, satellite subscribers still can't get the MWC's exclusive and elusive channel. Even Comcast subscribers who don't live within boundaries of some type of splotchy footprint can't get it. Heck, even those who had the channel couldn't see some of the action, what with sometimes shaky technical work.
At least some of the games were on CSTV and Versus, though even those channels aren't included in all basic packages (yes, Dish, this complaint is directed at you).Suddenly, Tuesday Night Football on ESPN isn't sounding so bad, is it?
8. Days of RSL lives
Even if they weren't striking, soap-opera writers would have a hard time writing a script that had as many twists (yes, including what the governor did to legislators' arms), torture (what else can you call all the bickering and politicking?), turns, Tibetan flags, trades, toppled leaders (coach and GM), terrible soccer, taxpayers' money and tales of relocation as this never-ending doozy offered.
Well, they could probably write it, but nobody would watch it. Or was that just good soccer in Utah that nobody gets to watch? Ouch. Pull out the red card and the red tape and the budget in the red while you're at it.
The (To-Be-Named-At-The-Right-Price) stadium drama wasn't the only reason RSL is likely glad to see '07 in its rear-view mirror. Speaking of rear-view mirrors, isn't that Freddie "The-Next-Pele" Adu back there? And the retired Eddie Pope? And the fired coach John Ellinger? And the released/traded/accidentally left behind Jeff Cunningham, Chris Klein, GM Steve Pastorino and about everybody else who started the year in Salt Lake?
Lastly, these conversations may or may not have happened in '07 ...
Checketts: Freddie, do you want to play for Salt Lake?
Adu: I do
Checketts: Freddie, nice U-20 tourney.
Checketts: Um, OK. Good luck in Portugal. How many goals did you score for us anyway, 10, 15?Adu: Uh, two.
9. BYU basketball: Smelling like a Rose (well, usually)
The year was quite eventful for the Cougar hoopsters and lucrative for coach Dave Rose with several sweet-and-sour moments. For instance:
• Their starting point guard, Rashaun Broadus, was kicked off the 2006-07 team for getting arrested in early January, but Austin Ainge filled in quite nicely.
• They cruised to the MWC regular season championship, but couldn't win the postseason Las Vegas Invitational/MWC tournament.
• They made the Top 25 rankings and NCAAs but got a cruddy No. 8 seed and another first-round loss.
• They started 2007-08 with a win over ranked Louisville, but couldn't seal the deal in close contests with highly ranked North Carolina and Michigan State and then lost to Boise State.
• Dick Vitale pronounced his love for Trent Plaisted and his wife on national TV, but that was one of the few games this season everybody will be able to watch.• And, finally, they jumped to a 10-2 record and a No. 20 ranking, but their estimated RPI and SOS rankings drooped in the 100s and 200s respectively. And then they lost their spot in the polls after their Idaho trip (in more ways than one).
10. Utah gymnastics: A sterling-silver lining
Like the football team, injuries and inconsistency plagued the Red Rocks during part of the season. But the young squad, which included six freshmen, put it together when it counted most. They had their best scores in their last three meets. The highlight was a stellar performance on the beam at nationals, an event they hosted at the Huntsman Center, as they passed up No. 1-ranked Florida to finish in second place behind three-peat champion Georgia. Take that, Urban Meyer.
Junior Ashley Postell was again the go-to gymnast, with a back-to-back runner-up finish in the all-around competition and her first NCAA individual title on beam.
What had been the most difficult season in Greg Marsden's 32 years at Utah ended up being quite fulfilling.
"It was tough," said Marsden at the time, "but rewarding at the end."Which about sums up the year nicely for most of our Top 10 finishers not counting TV viewers who can't get The mtn., of course.