Sports right in tune in 2001
By Chris Connelly
Special to Page 2

That's right! ... It's two end-of-the-year staples in one, as I offer this mix tape of some of 2001's best songs, idiosyncratically explicated to trigger memories of the year's most significant moments in sports!

George O'Leary
George O'Leary knows where the Go-Go's are coming from when they sing about being "Unforgiven."
Enjoy this gloriously spirited rant from the Go-Go's, sung by an oh-so-fired-up Belinda Carlisle, who backinnaday dated Dodgers first baseman Mike Marshall, and ponder the unique humiliation of George O'Leary, whose mythical football letters at New Hampshire (no biggie, really) and master's degree at NYU (big biggie. He's a college coach! What was he thinking?) first cost him the Notre Dame job and, as the people at Georgia Tech were quick to show him, proved that as Thomas Wolfe once wrote, You Can't Go Home Again.

While you do so, extend silent props to the Hispanic community of Denver, willing to overlook Dan Issel's too-short suspension and instead call off their boycott and accept his apology ... an altogether appropriate gesture for a holiday season when tolerance is more important than ever.

"I'm Blue, and I'm Lonesome, Too"
Thrill to this track off the "Down on the Mountain" concert CD, sung by the great Alison Krauss (who hails from the same hometown, and claims to have the same accent, as speedskating gold medalist Bonnie Blair), and consider the turbulent emotions of Barry Bonds, who put up unprecedented offensive numbers and set a new single-season home-run record while 1.) receiving death threats that authorities apparently viewed as credible; 2.) mourning the death of his bodyguard and friend, who died on the operating table while undergoing elective surgery that Bonds had paid for; 3.) being regularly characterized as self-centered and churlish, without friends in the Giants clubhouse ... then going on the open market and finding no takers at his hey-it's-less-than-A-Rod rate.

"Family Affair"
Mary J. is in the spot tonight, and while you shake your thang to this year's most danceably Dr. Dre track, consider the sudden lack of hateration in Washington, where the Redskins turned it around after an 0-5 start, thanks to coaching by more Schottenheimers than appear in the Frankfurt phone book. Bonus question: Which member of the clan nearly had his Schotten permanently Heimer'd by LaVar Arrington's helmet? 1.) Marty, the head man; 2.) Kurt, who handles the defense; 3.) Brian, the quarterback coach; 4.) Zeppo, the romantic lead; or 5.) Gummo, who didn't go into coaching but handles the finances.

"H to the Izzo, V to the Izzay"
Michael Jordan
No, Jay-Z isn't singing about Tom Izzo in "H to the Izzo, V to the Izzay." That tune is more appropriate for Michael Jordan.
Jay-Z seems to be the recording artist preferred by more athletes than any other, but while this track sounds as if it'd be a perfect tribute to the coach who's led Michigan State to three consecutives Final Fours, the song's title is, I'm told, another way to say HOVA ... as in Jehovah. And the only athlete I ever heard being compared to God, and by Larry Bird no less, is MJ himself, whose jersey Jay wore while performing this song at the MTV Video Music Awards.

That's the anthem -- now get your damn hands up for the guy who came back so you could see him one more time ... even if it's with the (remarkably resurgent!) Washington Wizards.

"Imitation of Life"
This gem from REM, the alt-rock gods from Georgia, whose bassist Mike Mills once hit me with a Tom Glavine reference, scores with its soaringly plangent "Come on, come on/No one can see you cry" chorus -- and that reminds me of a dewy-eyed Raymond Bourque, ending a 20-year quest by receiving the most magnanimous pass in the history of hockey from captain Joe Sakic and becoming the first Avalanche player to lift the freshly-won Stanley Cup after Colorado's Game 7 victory.

Is it wrong that modern-day sports and its sappy storylines can so shamelessly manipulate your emotions that you find your own eyes tearing up for a player you never rooted for in your life? (No.-ed.)

In the immediate wake of Bourque's triumph came the added bonus of 2001's most totally charming sports story, from Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe: the tale of Bill and Katie Heisenbuttel, neighbors of Bourque and fans of the New Jersey Devils, who nonetheless were awakened at 2:30 a.m. by Bourque's children and politely asked if they'd, you know, be interested in posing for a picture with the Cup. And so they do! Terrific stuff.

Shakira would like the St. Louis Rams, who score "Whenever" they want with their "Whatever" offense.
"Whenever, Whatever"
Shakira's boyfriend's father just quit his job, which wouldn't be news except that her boyfriend's father happened to be president of Argentina, where they should still be counting their lucky stars that Robbie Resenbrink of my dearly beloved Holland World Cup squad hit the post in OT so that Maradona's team won the tournament. Not that I'm bitter.

Anyway, it all means that the thoroughly beguiling Shakira has even more than the apparent enmity of the Sports Gal to cope with this month ... so send good thoughts her way as you get your swerve on to this rump-waggler, and shout out your love to the whenever, whatever offense of the St. Louis Rams, which seems to have taken the Dutch "total soccer" concept and brought it to the NFL.

Sorry, this is a Kournikova-free zone. (Note to A.K.: Win something that's not a Russian hockey star's heart, then we'll ask for your 8x10. And yes, I am the guy who just spent one-quarter of an "Unscripted" asking the Jensen Brothers about Anna. Hypocritical? Moi? I have a Responsibility to My Audience!)

Anyway, our Destiny's Children haven't just been Blessed By Nature, they're champions in (and on) their chosen fields ... which is why they can live up to this song's title without losing their dignity or our respect. In Hollywood terms, they are:

The Leading Man: Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter (looks, class, the ease of the great film stars, and a sense of humor!).

The Leading Lady: Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey (she's 40-something, yes? Now and forever, I'm telling you).

The rebel: A's pitcher Barry Zito (when he starts writing songs for real, I'm taking him to the guys who signed Pete Yorn).

The ingénue: Stanford volleyballer Logan Tom (Olympian, Player of the Year, National Champion ... Did He who made the Lamb make thee?).

Aerosmith's "Jaded" seems to be the perfect anthem for Randy Moss.
Aerosmith sang this at the 2001 Super Bowl, which must explain why Randy Moss has taken it on as his rallying cry ... or so everyone seems to be moaning. "He's taking plays off!" "He's not giving 100 percent!" Hey, he's a WIDE RECEIVER, remember? If they throw more than 10 passes his way, he gets to put in for overtime.

The guys who are supposed to give 100 percent are on defense; that's why there's so much talk about keeping them off the field. They get tired faster. Let Randy be Randy, and he'll play like a star, as he, um, pretty much almost always has. I mean, for the most part. On the whole, that is.

"My City of Ruins/Safe and Sound/I Believe in Love"
These three new songs from the "America: A Tribute to Heroes" telethon -- by Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crow, and the Dixie Chicks -- remind me of the surprising grace with which sports, and baseball in particular, managed to honor the fallen of Sept. 11. Now when I hear "God Bless America," I don't immediately associate it with Kate Smith and a Game 7 at the Spectrum.

Did the aftermath of Sept. 11 prove that sports matter, or don't matter? It proved that games -- unlike the messy business of life -- offer us the pleasure of a guaranteed beginning, middle and end. This fall, I think sports comforted us not so much in content, but in form. (That's part of the reason why even Yankees fans tipped their caps to the impressively resourceful Arizona Diamondbacks.)

"Bring It on Home To Me"
Even those a little baffled by the long, brooding qualities of the movie "Ali" can't help but be stirred by director Michael Mann's opening, in which he cross-cuts the training regimen of a young Cassius Clay with a brilliantly imagined recreation of Sam Cooke's hit, as performed live by Sam on the "Live at the Harlem Square Club 1964" album, which you must own someday.

It's a sad song that's just brimming with optimism ... and whether you're a New Yorker or a Red Sox fan, it's the ideal note on which to end this troubling year and embrace the spirit of the holiday season -- what Paul Tillich once called The New Possibility. Because hope is the thing with feathers. Or is that the San Diego Chicken?

Chris Connelly writes a weekly column for Page 2. "Unscripted with Chris Connelly," the TV show airs at 5 p.m. ET, Monday-Friday on ESPN.



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