Top 10 Local Stories
1. USC x 3
* To try to put this 34-0 run by the Trojans in some kind of context, the last school to win three national football championships in a row was Minnesota in 1934-36. USC is one Rose Bowl victory away from equaling that feat. In today’s environment -- more travel, more media, underclassmen leaving early for the NFL -- the Trojans’ three-year ride might be the most impressive in college football history.
2. Not ‘The Last Season’
* Phil Jackson to Kobe Bryant in 2005: “About all that bad stuff I wrote about you last year ... um, never mind.” In a surprising U-turn, one year after walking away from the Lakers, Jackson came back. Is he worth $10 million? With a roster consisting of Bryant and assorted spare parts, Jackson has the Lakers above .500, jostling for a playoff berth. Last season without Jackson, the Lakers finished 34-48, 28 games out of first place.
3. Bush Approval Rating Soars
* Carson Palmer in 2002, Matt Leinart in 2004, Reggie Bush in 2005. USC became the first school to win consecutive Heisman Trophies since Ohio State in 1974-75 and the first school ever to win three in four years. Bush was a landslide winner after a season in which he rushed for 1,658 yards and an 8.9 per-carry average and scored 17 touchdowns. Next: Probably on to the NFL, where teams have appeared all too happy to lose games down the stretch to better their Draft Bush campaigns.
4. ‘Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’
* Arte Moreno’s creative attempt to appeal to the L.A. market while tenuously meeting contractual demands with Anaheim created much comedy fodder for sportswriters and considerable angst in Orange County. Funny, the controversy seemed to ebb when the Angels won the American League West, then beat the Yankees in the playoffs, then had Bartolo Colon become the team’s first Cy Young Award winner in 41 years.
* Could the Angels have gone further in the playoffs? After handing the White Sox their first loss of the postseason in the American League championship series, the Angels were angling toward a 2-0 advantage when home plate umpire Doug Eddings wiped out an apparent strikeout of Chicago’s A.J. Pierzynski, ruling that the third strike first hit the ground before smacking the glove of Angel catcher Josh Paul. Paul, figuring the inning was over, rolled the ball toward the mound, allowing Pierzynski to reach base safely and extend the ninth inning long enough for Chicago to win, 2-1, and alter the course of baseball history.
* While the Angels were reaching such dramatic heights, the Dodgers muddled through an awful season, leaving the franchise in shards by October. Manager Jim Tracy got out while the going was good and General Manager Paul DePodesta’s ensuing search for a successor drew so much media ridicule, owner Frank McCourt got rid of him too. Proving that, for better or worse, McCourt does read the newspaper.
7. ‘First-Place Clippers’
* Words we thought we’d never read in this lifetime, or the next. But there they are, leading the Pacific Division standings, or close to it, for the first quarter of the season as 2006 begins. And talking-head analysts are speaking seriously about the Clips going deep into the playoffs, with Elton Brand emerging as a legitimate most-valuable-player contender.
8. Drew x 2
* In a year in which UCLA returned to the NCAA basketball tournament, the Bruin football team also rebounded -- returning to the top 25 on the strength of a high-scoring offense led by quarterback Drew Olson, who passed for 3,198 yards and 34 touchdowns, and running back Maurice Drew, who scored 13 touchdowns.
9. Colletti, Not Confetti
* DePodesta’s computer didn’t work out as planned, so the Dodgers went decidedly old-school by replacing him with Ned Colletti, who maintained the theme by hiring Grady Little as manager and stocking the roster with such old-school newcomers as Nomar Garciaparra and Kenny Lofton.
10. Galactic Impact
* It took an unlikely goal from substitute midfielder Guillermo “Pando” Ramirez in overtime to do it, but the Galaxy duplicated their 2001 MLS Cup triumph with another 1-0 victory over the New England Revolution.
-- MIKE PENNER