Memory and anticipation: At this time of year, we teeter between the two, recalling the crowded events in sports in 1985 and wondering what possible fat guy, skinny guy or fast-balling right-hander will make our new year just a little bit happpier.
Like few years before it, 1985 wrought crowning achievements: Pete Rose (surpassing 4,191 career hits), Tom Seaver and Phil Niekro (300 victories), Rod Carew (3,000 hits) and Nolan Ryan (4,000 strikeouts). Grambling's Eddie Robinson won his 324th game to become college football's winningest coach. And Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the Lakers at long last to a National Basketball Association championship series triumph over the Celtics.
But 1985 also tells us to hang on to next year's heroes as soon as they appear, because their time in the spotlight might be brief. A sports idol, it sometimes seems, can have a mere 15 seconds of fame.
Take Doug Flutie. It's hard enough to remember last week, let alone last Jan. 1, but that was the day the little field general led Boston College to a Cotton Bowl victory, the culmination of a miraculous season. But after that, Flutie failed to produce a miracle a week and slowly slid from sight in the U.S. Football League, his season finally being terminated by a 275-pound lineman.
Speaking of last January, Joe Montana became a two-time Super Bowl MVP by leading the San Francisco 49ers to a resounding, 38-16 victory over the Dan Marino-led Miami Dolphins. But Montana will need a Flutie-like miracle to become a three-time Super Bowl MVP next month.
Who remembers the USFL champ? (The Baltimore Stars?) Who remembers the USFL?
Or the North American Soccer League? Or Howard Cosell?
How can the Rhode Island Gulls ever be the same without Manute Bol and Spud Webb?
The spotlight can sear, too, 1985 told us. The drug trials in Pittsburgh, featuring a parade of baseball players, dimmed an otherwise joyous season. College scandals surfaced with shocking regularity: Tulane and TCU could head up a whole conference of disgraced teams.
The past year proved once again that:
America is the land of opportunity. Bernhard Langer of Germany won the Masters, and Taiwan's T.C. Chen had every opportunity to win the U.S. Open except for a quadruple-bogey eight on the fifth hole of the last day, which included the year's most improbable stroke. He hit the ball twice on the same shot.
And: Czechs won both singles titles in the U.S. Open tennis championships as Ivan Lendl beat John McEnroe and Hana Mandlikova upset first Chris Evert Lloyd, then Martina Navratilova. But the tennis story of the year involved West Germany's 17-year-old Boris Becker, who became the youngest man to win the singles championship at Wimbledon.
The American family remains this country's strength. The stock car Pettys have been succeeded by the Elliott family, with Bullet Bill in the driver's seat of the family T-Bird. This is the car that blew everyone away at Daytona with a record 205.114 mph, leaving the competition up the track and wondering just what was keeping Elliott from leaving the premises on a turn and flying on home to Dawsonville, Ga.
In the age of speed, Nihilator paced the fastest mile in harness history.
Man knows not the hour. St. Louis' Vince Coleman was hailed as a man of steal, only to be run over by a tarp.
And: Just as he was about to match Rocky Marciano with 49 straight victories, Larry Holmes ran into Michael Spinks, who became the first light heavyweight boxer to defeat the heavyweight champion. And then there is a guy neither Thomas Hearns nor anyone else should want to fight: Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
Fairy tales don't always come true. Earl Weaver came home to the nest, but the Orioles still did little more than flutter along.
Pitchers make news. Dwight Gooden seemed too good to be true. Joaquin Andujar made a fool of himself. Denny McLain went to prison. Smokey Joe Wood died.
History repeats. The Bears are the Monsters of the Midway again.
Every sports team owner doesn't learn from history. Just when Gerry Faust proved what a lack of experience can accomplish, 26-year-old David Shula popped up as a possible head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
The more things change . . . Georgetown proved it could still win without Patrick Ewing, although the Hoyas lost with him in the NCAA championship game to a Villanova team that made 22 of 28 shots. Maryland settled down after inordinate expectations and won another ACC football championship. (Bobby Ross even said he'd sign a long-term contract.)
Unexpected delights: American University went to the NCAA soccer final, and George Mason won the women's NCAA soccer title. Napoleon McCallum ended his Navy football career fittingly by leading the Midshipmen over Army. Jay Schroeder got his chance with the Redskins when Joe Theismann broke his leg.
It can be difficult to identify with a skater, even if his name is Wayne Gretzky. Sensational as he is -- in 1985, as his Oilers won their second straight NHL Stanley Cup, he won his sixth straight MVP award and fifth scoring title -- we'll never fully appreciate him because he does it all for Edmonton.
Not so Larry Bird and Abdul-Jabbar. Although no one plays the game of basketball better than Bird (he won his second straight MVP award in 1985), no one has achieved as grand a stature as Abdul-Jabbar. With 29 points and seven rebounds in Game 6 of the championship series, he led Los Angeles to its third NBA title in six years by beating Boston. Said Abdul-Jabbar, a youthful 38, seemingly as strong as ever: "When I retire -- and it won't be long now -- I can look back on this with great feeling. We beat Boston in Boston."
Indisputably the NBA's player of the month for June, Abdul-Jabbar, arguably, stood above the crowd in 1985 as the man for all seasons.