As Sam Sees It

New Year’s is a time to look back and to look ahead. Not many years, if any, have been better to Arizona sports teams than 2001 was. Among the many “trophies” collected by Arizona teams and athletes are the World Series Championship, the National League Western Division Championship, the National League Divisional Play-off Championship, the National League Championship, the Cy Young Award, Most Valuable Player Awards for the World Series and the National League Play-offs, the NCAA Softball Championship, the PAC-10 Championships in Softball and Men’s Basketball and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Runners-up.

Most of those awards belong to the Arizona Diamondbacks, World Champions of Baseball. There has seldom, if ever, been a more dramatic and exciting World Series than the 2001 series between the Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees. For that matter, there have been very few play-off series any better than the one between the Diamondbacks and the St. Louis Cardinals. Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson treated fans to pitching performances that have few, if any, in history that are comparable. Between them, the dynamic duo won 43 regular season games and lost only 12. They finished first and second in strikeouts. They won nine games and lost none in the play-offs and World Series and were, wisely, voted co-MVP honors for the World Series. Johnson won the Cy Young Award and Schilling picked up his share of honors including the Roberto Clemente Award. Luis Gonzalez had a MVP type season and destroyed the team home run record. Craig Counsell was the National League Championship Series MVP after starting the season as a utility man.

The University of Arizona came through on the collegiate level with a NCAA Softball Championship that would probably still be the talk of the state had it not been for the Diamondbacks’ stellar accomplishments. The Wildcats clawed their way to the top in a talented NCAA World Series Championship Series field. Junior pitcher Jennie Finch went 32-0 for the champions. The Wildcats men’s basketball team was almost as good. Lute Olson’s charges got all the way to the finals before losing to the powerful Duke Blue Devils.

Looking ahead, the Diamondbacks should be better on paper than they were in 2001. Championships, though, are won on the field and not on paper. This one will be difficult indeed to defend. Jennie Finch and the Wildcats also have their work cut out for them, but probably have a better chance of defending their crown. The basketball ‘Cats were decimated by graduation and early exits for the NBA money, but Olson’s young squad is already making like contenders for at least a run at the conference or even national titles.

One more gripe about the NCAA football championship situation is in order. Despite picking Nebraska to be the national champion before the season began, I do not feel that the Cornhuskers deserve to play for that honor or to be awarded it should they win. This is the time to say that my prediction is that they will win and Miami will join the list of those who have lost their opportunity to play for or win the championship. If Nebraska and Oregon both win, Oregon should get the championship they probably could not win in head-to-head competition. It is time for a play-off system. This year’s situation cries out for a change.

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