In 2002, some guy named Thomas Edward Patrick Brady found himself in the Super Bowl, ball in hand with 1:30 left to play on American sports’ biggest stage against Kurt Warner and the “greatest show on turf.” Instead of taking the great John Madden’s advice and running out the clock and trying for an overtime win, the second-year quarterback only came right out and completed three straight passes to get the drive started with no timeouts. After an incompletion, Brady hit Troy Brown for a huge 23-yard gain and his tight end for another six yards to put his Patriots in field goal position with only seven seconds left.
That summer, Shaquille O’Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers competed in their third straight NBA Finals against the New Jersey Nets. The Lakers won in four games, with Shaq averaging 36.3 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and ridiculous 31.4 PER. Naturally, Todd MacCulloch and Aaron Williams were no match for Shaq in one-on-one situations — and their efforts were seemingly more futile when they worked together to stop The Diesel.
In the fall, the Anaheim Angels and the San Francisco Giants squared off for an epic seven-game series. Pitching didn’t matter much in this series, as baseballs were caught by fans over and over and over again. The biggest culprit in this debacle was Barry Bonds, who hit four in the series and was nothing short of dominant at the plate for seven games against the Anaheim Angels.
Despite the brilliant performances of all three men in their respective sport’s largest stage, only two of them were able to realize the goal set when their seasons started. Brady won his first Super Bowl after an epic game-winning drive. Shaq won his third straight Finals MVP playing against himself in the paint. Barry Bonds — well Barry Bonds just hit the hell out of the baseball.
2002 was a strange sports year for me. The Raiders were hosed by the refs in January in the infamous Tuck Rule game following the 2001 regular season (and were blown out in the Super Bowl following the 2002 regular season). The Lakers won their third straight title while the relationship between that team’s two superstars continued to grow apart. And the San Francisco Giants fell in seven games to the Anaheim Angels — the team in all the four major sports closest to my hometown of Buena Park.
I grew up at Angels stadium. I’ve watched more baseball games live down the third base line at that ballpark than every other ballpark I’ve been to combined. My little league all-star team got to practice on that field one day, and we got to meet all the players. Garret Anderson, Tim Salmon, Troy Glaus and Darin Erstad were my guys. Even my pops didn’t have a problem with the Angels, calling them his “American League Team.” But we were Giants fans in Southern California, and this was the one time in 42 years my dad was going to be able to see the team he grew up loving win a World Series.
Our starting pitching wasn’t perfect, but we had a staff led by Jason Schmidt and his 196 Ks on the season and five guys with at least 10 wins. Tim Worrell was solid out of the bullpen, and Robb Nen got the ball to close out games. The right side of the infield featured J.T. Snow, a favorite of the women, and Jeff Kent, a favorite to no one. Rich Aurilia was my man, and David Bell was whatever. In the outfield we had Reggie Sanders, Tsuyoshi Shinjo (Kenny Lofton when healthy) and Barry Bonds.
Barry Bonds was an issue that season. Not an issue in the way that unemployment or the national debt was an issue, but an issue in the sense that every time he approached the plate the dynamics of the game at that moment were being compromised. He hit 46 home runs (a far cry from the 73 he hit the year before), had a slash of .370/.582/.799 and won 100 percent of the first-place MVP votes. He was unreal at the plate and helped lead the Giants to his first, and only, World Series.
During the series, he upped his game and hit four home runs with a slash of .471/.700/1.294(!). Of course, the Giants would go on to lose the series in seven games, but this series will always be remembered for a couple of home runs that Bonds flat out destroyed in Anaheim.
The first was in Game 2 when Troy Percival threw a 100-mph fastball right down the middle of the plate and Bonds crushed what might have been the absolute hardest hit baseball I’ve ever seen in my life that nearly cleared the park. The second was a blast in Game 6 that was estimated at 485 feet against Francisco Rodriguez. PEDs or not, we’ll probably never see such batting dominance, plate discipline and unbridled power from one man in the World Series again — and frankly — I’m okay with this. Bonds may not have gotten his title, but he wrote his name in both Giants and MLB lore for years to come.