Sports Year in Review

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New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden provides a 2005 sports wrap up: USC dominated college football again, the White Sox won the World Series after decades of frustration, and Terrell Owens was booted from the Philadelphia Eagles.

TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Several times over the course of this year, front-page news came from the world of sports: steroids in baseball, the White Sox winning the World Series after decades of frustration and Terrell Owens being booted from the Philadelphia Eagles. New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden followed those headlines and others of note. He joined me recently for a 2005 sports wrap-up.

Well, Bill, let's start out talking about college football. After all, it is the season. The big game, of course, is the Rose Bowl, Texas and USC. USC is favored slightly. You believe in that?

Mr. WILLIAM C. RHODEN (Sports Columnist, The New York Times): Yeah, I mean, I've watched USC. I've watched it, and I'm tired of picking against them. I mean, you know, this is a great, great offensive team. These guys...

COX: But you don't think--it's not going to be a rout. I know some people think so, but I don't think so.

Mr. RHODEN: Well, no, you know, that's what I'm saying. On paper, you're like no way it's going to be a rout, you know? Not this time.

COX: We'll find out soon. Let's talk about for a moment Leinart, Matt Leinart, USC quarterback; Reggie Bush, of course, a Heisman trophy winner, both coming out; and even Vince Young, whether or not he may or may not come out. In terms of draft positions, who do you take first?

Mr. RHODEN: If you put a gun to my head and say, `OK, Rhoden, you're in the greenroom. It's draft day. Who are you going to choose?' well, if Vince Young comes up, I'm going to choose Vince Young.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: You know, I want to move into some other areas, but before we get to the NFL, I want to ask you about the Fiesta, Notre Dame and OSU.

Mr. RHODEN: That's a great game 'cause Notre Dame's in it. You know, they've got a tremendous national following. You know, yeah, they had a great resurgence. I don't sense they're going to have a lot of trouble in the Fiesta. But it's--that's--I think outside of the national championship game, I think that's where a lot of eyes are going to be just because Notre Dame is back and they're in the national hunt.

COX: Let's talk about the NFL. It's been quite an interesting season as we come toward--closer and closer to the playoffs, but we would have to begin our discussion with the Indianapolis Colts. They've had quite a run. Their unbeaten streak came to an end, and now we have the tragedy of the death of the son of the coach, Tony Dungy. What does this do collectively, do you think, Bill Rhoden, to their momentum heading into the playoffs?

Mr. RHODEN: It's devastating, just a tragedy of the worst order with Dungy. There's just no way man. There's just no way of telling, I mean, how--you know, I mean, how this is going to play out.

COX: You could have expected that the Colts would be right back near the top, as they have been, but, you know, you look--you've got the Giants. You've got Chicago, Carolina, Seattle. Is it wide open heading into Super Bowl?

Mr. RHODEN: Well, you know, it's certainly--I mean, the NFC has just been wide open all year. A lot of people still aren't--including me--sold on Seattle, but I think they're a lot better than people think. The Giants, I think, are really serious. That defense is playing excellent. Chicago is playing great. And New England is back, Tony.

COX: Yeah, I see they...

Mr. RHODEN: They are...

COX: I see that they are.

Mr. RHODEN: They're back. And I really think that New England will be back in the Super Bowl.

COX: All right, well, you know, the people in Cincinnati probably are not happy to hear that. And speaking of Cincinnati, it brings me to the next point, which is Marvin Lewis, who's done a great job there...

Mr. RHODEN: Great.

COX: ...Lovie Smith, who's done...

Mr. RHODEN: Great city.

COX: ...a great job in Chicago, of course, and Tony Dungy, whom we've already been talking about: all top candidates for coach of the year, aren't they?

Mr. RHODEN: The `Soul Bowl.'

COX: That's interesting.

Mr. RHODEN: Yeah, man.

COX: I like that. I like that, Bill Rhoden.

Mr. RHODEN: Yeah, the Soul Bowl. Yeah, well, you know, when you look at what's happening in college football, where, you know, African-American coaches are just having just an awful time. And so the fact that, you know, you got Lovie, Tony--and Marvin is doing just a phenomenal job. You know, solid guys. Each one of those would be solid guys. They've all paid their dues. And the NFL's such a copycat league that the minute, you know, a black coach wins the Super Bowl, it'll almost sort of be like a Jackie Robinson moment.

COX: There's no way we can leave the subject of football in 2005 without talking about the Philadelphia Eagles and Terrell Owens.

Mr. TERRELL OWENS (Professional Football Player): I've had an opportunity to talk with the Eagles organization and I have learned that the team does not recognize individual achievements. It has been brought to my attention that I have offended the organization and my teammates. Therefore, I would like to apologize for any derogatory comments toward them.

COX: How will this resolve itself in 2006?

Mr. RHODEN: Yeah, he'll be somewhere else, but, you know, it's interesting, Tony. I've seen an impact already--in just a number of players have been disciplined already for what they call sort of conduct detrimental to the team. You know, so I think it's had an impact just in terms of how teams are dealing with, quote, unquote, "troublemakers."

COX: You know, that's a good segue into our next segment, talking about keeping control of players. The NBA certainly went to an extent to do that with this dress code for 2005, as well as the age limit that was imposed. Is it working or not working? And does anybody really care?

Mr. RHODEN: Well, people care. I mean, I think that with Stern, here you got a league that's like 60--you know, 65, 70 percent African-American, at least on the playing field, and I think that you have to always be aware of perception, for better or for worse. And I think the perception after that debacle in Detroit, drastic measures had to be taken. The dress code first, to be honest with you, yeah, I'm kind of OK with it. I don't like the intent behind it, which I think is somewhat of a cultural bias, but I think a lot of guys, you know, are getting into dressing. The age limit I don't like, and I never liked it.

COX: Let's talk about the fact that this year it seems as if the coaches are having a major role as a story line in the NBA. We've got Jackson back in Los Angeles. You've got Brown in New York with the Knicks. You've got Riley back in Miami. You've got Flip Saunders in Detroit. What does that say to you about these coaches, high-profile ones, moving around in the way that they have this year?

Mr. RHODEN: The pro game is kind of becoming a little like the college game, where it used to be the players run it. Well, now because you have Riley, Brown, Flip Saunders, the coaches are a little front and center. And you know, I mean, all they show is that they're just as mercenary as anybody else.

COX: In baseball, the big story line--obviously there have been a lot of trades during the Hot Stove League, but coming up for the new season in 2006, I want to ask you about Barry Bonds. What story line do you suspect will develop around him?

Mr. RHODEN: Well, I hope the story line is him being in San Francisco passing Babe Ruth and making a run at Hank Aaron. We may see him, Tony, in Ari--in the desert, in Arizona.

COX: Really? You think so, huh?

Mr. RHODEN: Yeah, well, I'm feeling it. It's not that I think, I'm feeling it.

COX: Now baseball has had some other big stories of the year, steroids obviously being one of them, Chicago White Sox getting to the--you know, to the big house, so to speak...

Mr. RHODEN: Big story.

COX: ...after all those years. Those were good stories, though, yes?

Mr. RHODEN: Well, I want to--I was going to say the big story was the White Sox winning the World Series 'cause I'm from Chicago, you know? That was a great feel-good story on the field, but clearly the government getting involved, Congress getting involved and forcing major-league baseball to adopt a more severe drug policy is the big news of the year.

COX: You know, Bernard Hopkins lost in a controversial decision to Germaine Taylor. He had a second fight, lost again. So is that settled now?

Mr. RHODEN: You know, a lot of the pro-Hopkins people are saying, `Well, the boxing establishment says he's too old and Germaine Taylor is the new blood they need.' I happen to like Germaine Taylor, but I don't think you can say just yet he is the man in that division. I think there's probably going to be another Germaine Taylor-Hopkins fight, and then there's a kid named Winky Wright. I just don't know if he wants to do that right now.

COX: Bill Rhoden, you're a great writer, wonderful columnist and a good person to talk sports with. It's like we've been in the barbershop all day.

Mr. RHODEN: Hey, Tony, thanks for having me, man. I look forward to doing it again.

COX: William C. Rhoden is a sports columnist with The New York Times.

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