With the Yankees getting knocked out of the playoffs and the former New York Giants capturing the World Series, the 2010 New York sports scene is down to two teams with a chance to win a championship. The Knicks, Nets, , Devils, Islanders and Mets didn't come remotely close to competing for the grand prize. The and Jets are the last two standing. Now let's go back in the Wayback Machine and take a look at the New York sports world one decade ago. It was a different story back in 2000. Four out of the nine local teams played in their respective sport's finals, and a fifth made it to the conference finals. That's a pretty good percentage. And let's face it, everything looks better when viewed through Benny Agbayani-colored glasses.
The biggest story of the year was, of course, the Subway Series. Not one of those namby-pamby regular-season sets, but a real Subway Series - the Brooklyn Dodgers/Yankees, NY Giants/Yankees kind - the World Series. The Mets were the little team that could, with a handful of hitting stars - Mike Piazza, Robin Ventura and Edgardo Alfonzo (who we all thought would be in the final years of a Hall of Fame career right around now) - an outfield that consisted of Agbayani, Jay Payton, Derek "Operation Shutdown" Bell and Timo Perez, and great pitching. They beat the SF Giants, featuring Bobby Jones' complete-game one-hitter, and the Cardinals in the playoffs to reach the Series. Even though the powerhouse Yankees limped into the playoffs with the worst record of all eight postseason qualifiers (but defeated Oakland and Seattle in the Division Series and LCS), they still possessed the aura of invincibility, to always take advantage of their opponents' mistakes and find a way to win, and that's just what they did to the Mets, in winning their third straight World Series. And the Core Four of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada were still just a bunch of crazy kids, each with a full head of hair.
The Fall Classic that year was all set up by the Roger Clemens beaning of Mike Piazza (which took place during that historic day/night doubleheader at Shea and Yankee Stadiums). The now-we-know-why-he-was-always-in-such-a-rage Clemens was consistently being torched by the Met catcher, so he must have felt that his only course of action was to hit him in the coconut. Until October that is, when he also added throwing a broken bat at Piazza to his arsenal. It was one of the most bizarre plays in World Series history. If there had been a game six for Clemens to pitch in, what would he have done to Piazza next? Just flat out tackle him? Stab him? Run him over in his Hummer? Other memorable highlights (or lowlights, depending on your point of view) included Perez happy-assing his way around the bases in game one while eventually being thrown out by World Series (and All-Star Game) MVP Derek Jeter, Armando Benitez blowing a save, Paul O'Neill's loooong at-bat, Jose Vizcaino's game-winning single, Met players not running out fair balls, Piazza's three Series home runs, Jeter's homer to start game four, Al Leiter's gutsy eight and 2/3 inning performance in game five and Luis Sojo's 47-hopper up the middle. It was the last hurrah for both the 1990s Yankee dynasty and the overachieving Bobby Valentine-era Mets.
On the gridiron that year, the Jets were in their transitional one-year-and-done Al Groh moment in time. They started the season 4-0, but ended up 9-7 and out of the playoff picture. Curtis Martin gained 1,204 yards, Vinny Testaverde was their QB and Richie Anderson (88 catches) and Mo Lewis (10 sacks) were the team's Pro Bowl representatives. The highlights for Gang Green were the Monday Night Miracle, when they scored 30 points in the fourth quarter to beat Miami (with Jumbo Elliott making the game-tying TD catch in the waning seconds of regulation), and the victory over Tampa Bay, when Wayne "the Green Lantern" Chrebet caught the clinching touchdown pass, and put showboat Keyshawn Johnson in his place to boot. The Giants, on the other hand, had a more successful year. With the playoffs looking like a long shot, coach Jim Fassel made his "putting all my chips on the table" playoff guarantee, which spurred the team on to finish the season with a five-game winning streak and earned them a spot in the postseason. Tiki Barber gained 1,000 yards for the first time in his career, Kerry Collins threw 22 touchdown passes, Amani Toomer caught 78 passes for 1,094 yards and the team had the fifth-ranked defense in the NFL. Their first two playoff games were more like parties than competitive contests. Ron Dixon opened up the game vs. the Eagles with a 97-yard kickoff return, Jason Sehorn intercepted a second-quarter pass and ran it back 32 yards for a TD and the rest was just window dressing, in a 20-10 victory. The NFC championship game vs. the Vikings was a 41-0 all-day-long celebration. Collins tossed five TD passes, Ike Hilliard caught 10 passes for 155 yards and scored two TDs, the D sacked Daunte Culpepper four times and intercepted him three times, and Randy Moss completely gave up about four minutes into the game (some things never change). Unfortunately, there was still one more game to play, as the Giants were completely dominated by Baltimore in the Super Bowl, losing 34-7. Dixon's second 97-yard kickoff return TD of the playoffs was the only highlight.
Coming off their remarkable underdog run to the NBA Finals the previous year, the Jeff Van Gundy-led Knicks finished the 1999-'00 season in second place, with a 50-32 record. They were still entrenched in their somewhat successful Allan Houston/Latrell Sprewell/ /Charlie Ward era, which was the calm before the storm of the coming Isiah Thomas years. And this would be Patrick Ewing's last season in New York. They swept Toronto in the first round of the playoffs, and then faced a couple of familiar rivals in the next two rounds. Their series with the Heat went all the way to seven games, and it was Ewing, with one last moment in the sun in a Knick uniform, who came through at the end, beating Alonzo Mourning and dunking for the winning points. Then it was on to face hated Reggie Miller and the Pacers once again, but it was Indiana who came out on top, four games to two. The year 2000 was also the finale of the classic Knicks/Heat/Pacers playoff matchups. The Knicks have only played two playoff series since that season, losing the next year to Toronto and then in 2004 to the Nets. Ewing was traded to Seattle in the fall of 2000, ending that chapter in Knicks history. Meanwhile in New Jersey, Don Casey's Nets were in the midst of the Stephon Marbury era. Do we really need to add details? How many local franchises can one man drag down? The only other notable event happening in Net-land was the fact that Gheorghe Muresan played his last-ever NBA game for the team that season.
The only success on the ice in 2000 in the tri-state area happened at the Meadowlands, with the Devils. Martin Brodeur was right in his prime (though he's pretty much been in his prime the last 16 years), the team had a punishing, yet talented defense with the likes of Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski and Ken Daneyko and the second-ranked offense in the NHL featured Patrik Elias, Calder Trophy-winner Scott Gomez, Jason Arnott, Bobby Holik and Petr Sykora. The team also brought back playoff hero and all-around pest Claude Lemieux in December. Coach Robbie Ftorek never made it to the postseason, as Lou Lamoriello replaced him with Larry Robinson 74 games into the season. After compiling 103 points in the regular season, good for second place in the division, New Jersey defeated Florida, Toronto and Philadelphia in the first three rounds to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. They beat Dallas, four games to two, to win their second Cup in franchise history. Stevens was the Conn Smythe winner. The fourth-place Rangers said goodbye to John Muckler with four games left in the season (and was temporarily replaced by John Tortorella). The last three standing from the glory days of the 1990s, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter and Adam Graves, were surrounded by the likes of Petr Nedved, Theo Fleury, Valeri Kamensky, Kevin Hatcher, Stephane Quintal, Sylvain Lefebrve and Alexander Daigle. Which is why they could only muster up a paltry 73 points. And the last-place Islanders (58 points), under the leadership of Butch Goring, featured Roberto Luongo, Zdeno Chara, Olli Jokinen and Tim Connolly, which looked like a promising future for the team - if they didn't trade all of them.
The year 2000 was a thrilling, successful season for New York sports. Two world champions, two runners up, one that came close to the finals, another finishing above .500, three disasters and one thrown bat that will forever be remembered in baseball lore. A very memorable year.
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