- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 31, 2005

The fact that 2005 was one of the best years for sports in Washington in quite some time shows how desperate the sports landscape has been here.

One could make the case that even with all the Redskins’ success — the George Allen years, the three Super Bowl championships under Joe Gibbs — and the accomplishments of other teams, such as the Bullets’ 1978 NBA title and the NCAA basketball championship runs of Georgetown and later Maryland, that 2005 was the best year in sports since 1971.

That was the last time major league baseball was part of the Washington sports fabric — until this year. With all of those good times the other sports teams have provided, there always was something missing. Piggybacking on the good times of the baseball franchise in Baltimore never quite filled the gap the Senators left when they moved to Arlington, Texas, after the 1971 season.

The relocated Montreal Expos were even competitive in their first year as the Washington Nationals, making this perhaps the area’s best sports year since 1969, when Ted Williams was managing the Senators, Vince Lombardi was coaching the Redskins and Lefty Driesell was putting on a show at Cole Field House. So any list of the top five sports moments of 2005 in Washington will be heavy with Nationals moments, and may seem obvious, but still worth noting.

Before we get to that list, though, let me go on record predicting one of my favorite sports moments of 2006 — the debut next month of “Rollergirls” — the reality ladies roller derby show — on A&E;, otherwise known these days as the Freak Network.

The best of 2005:

1. The first pitch to Washington Nationals leadoff batter Brad Wilkerson on April 4 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, marking the official return of a major league baseball team to Washington. It meant so much to so many people who had waited so long for that moment to become reality. The Nationals lost 8-4, but that really didn’t make any difference. There was a Washington baseball team’s box score in the newspapers the next day. It is worth noting that two of the players who made history in that series are no longer Nationals — Wilkerson, who hit for the cycle, and Terrmel Sledge, who hit the Nationals’ first home run.

2. The home opener at RFK Stadium on April 14 — the entire scene, from the old Senators taking their places at their former positions to President Bush throwing out the first pitch, to Livan Hernandez’s eight shutout innings in the 5-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, to the sight of 45,596 fans in the stands. The best moment, though, was when the portable left field stands started bouncing up and down, and the Nationals players stopped in their tracks for a moment to watch the passion on display.

3. Gilbert Arenas hitting the game-winning shot over the Bulls’ Kirk Hinrich at the buzzer in Chicago on May 4 in Game 5 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs to give the Wizards a 3-2 lead in the series. They would go on to win in Game 6 before the hometown fans at MCI Center. If the fortunes of the franchise have turned around, that is the moment in time where the change took place on the court. It was the sort of shot the Wizards seemed destined to miss before then. It was the first road playoff win for the franchise since 1986.

4. The Redskins’ remarkable come-from-behind 14-13 win over the Cowboys in Dallas on “Monday Night Football” Sept. 19. The Redskins barely got by Chicago in the season opener, and Gibbs had changed starting quarterbacks in that game, going back to Mark Brunell. It seemed like setting the stage for another dismal season. And for the first 55 minutes of that Cowboys game there was no reason to believe otherwise, as Dallas led 13-0. Then Brunell led the comeback that changed the fortunes of the team this year, with touchdown passes of 39 and 70 yards to Santana Moss and, for the first time in a long time, the aura around the Redskins had changed. If the Redskins clinch a playoff spot tomorrow against Philadelphia, that night in Dallas was the starting point.

5. It may not have been Ali-Frazier, or even Ali-Bugner for that matter. But when the Mike Tyson circus came to town this summer, it gave Washington sports fans a chance to be part of big-time heavyweight boxing — even if that concept is an illusion these days. The June 11 Tyson-Kevin McBride fight at MCI Center didn’t produce any good, let alone, great fight moments. But the entire scene was something new for Washington. As Russell Crowe asked the crowd in “Gladiator,” we were entertained. First, Tyson declared at the press conference at Howard University that he would gut McBride like a fish. Then Tyson took a beating and offered everyone a peek inside his world during the post-fight press conference.

Looking ahead — besides the debut of “Rollergirls” — the best or worst moment of 2006 could be the political battle over funding for the Nationals new ballpark in the chamber of the District City Council.

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