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Well, another calendar year has come and (almost) gone, and with it several of our sports heroes.

We're not talking about death here -- that's too depressing around the holidays. No, we're talking about retirement -- players and coaches who have called it a career in the past 12 months, and moved on to the next phase of their lives.

But here at Page 2, we don't just care about the MVPs. We care about the role players too.

With that said, Page 2 offers a final sendoff to some of our favorites, from AA to Z².

Andre Agassi
Ann Heisenfelt/AP Photo
We won't soon forget Agassi's teary-eyed farewell in Flushing Meadows.

The moment took place in the press room at the end of his U.S. Open run.

Not on the court, where he'd just battled through pain, age and fatigue. And not when he emptied his soul to 22,000-plus at Arthur Ashe Stadium afterward.

No, the moment took place in the press room, where he officially said goodbye -- in what will, without question, be the greatest sports icon/media moment since Ali was on the balcony in Zaire after the Foreman fight and the "vultures" let him be. When the media recognized his place in history, and their place in his life.

On his last day with a racket in his hand professionally, Andre Agassi had that moment. On U.S. soil, in New York City no less. By announcing just a couple months before, at Wimbledon, that this would be his last stand, the Agassi Peace-Out Tour never happened. Pain, age and fatigue kept him out of tournaments leading up to this farewell. Once he got to Queens, where he'd won two of his eight Grand Slam titles, he said, "I didn't come here to quit."

He just came to say goodbye.

As hard as it is to say goodbye to yesterday, tomorrow is more difficult. Which is why the people in that press room knew they had to let Agassi know that tomorrows wouldn't be the same anymore. Not without him. The moment signified his greatness.

When's the last time a room full of media gave an athlete a standing ovation?
-- Scoop Jackson

Good riddance. And I mean that sincerely. I'm glad Tiki Barber is walking away from football.

You should be, too. When the New York Giants running back announced that this would be his last NFL season, reactions fell into two general camps:

(A) He's a fool. He's in his prime, and you don't quit playing until the wheels come off.

(B) He's brilliant. He's getting out while the getting is good, and he won't need an artificial hip when he's 45.

Both sentiments have merit. Neither is worth additional discussion. What matters is this: Barber is leaving on his own terms. Making a choice that belongs to him, and him alone.

The rest of us should be so lucky.

Consider: For most of human history, retirement didn't exist. You worked, and you died. End of story.

Even kings didn't have much say in the matter -- sure, they lived a better life than the serfs, but they couldn't exactly put aside the responsibilities of governing to pursue a second career in landscape painting. The notion that one can simply pack up, check out and bid adieu to a life's work in order to pursue something else -- be it another job or a life of leisure -- is thoroughly modern. And downright miraculous. It's a luxury that many of the world's residents still don't have, a luxury everyone else should treasure.

Look, I love writing. But I love it a lot more knowing that someday -- if all goes well and some financial pirate doesn't loot my IRA -- I'll be able to walk away at my discretion. Same as Barber.
-- Patrick Hruby

Jonathan Bender
John Harrell/AP Photo
Bender was blessed with out-of-this-world athleticism -- and two bad knees.

"Due to my medical condition in my knees I will not be able to continue playing basketball." Those were his words. Words he'd been fighting off saying for six years, ever since he entered the league. The sad part is what he'll be remembered as, as opposed to what he actually was.

Jonathan Bender actually was a very good basketball player who never got the chance to achieve greatness, to show the world how good he really was. But he'll be remembered as just another high school player who made the leap straight to the NBA and failed. It's unfair. But it's the truth.

The game can be cruel like that to some. But Bender will always have something of significance to R.I.P. with now that his b-ball career is over. That's the 31 points he scored in the McDonald's High-School All-American Game in 1999 -- the highest individual point total in the 30-year history of that game. And the fact that he bumped off Michael Jordan to grab the top spot makes it that much larger in the grand scheme of what his career became.

People say he had legendary potential. "Such promise" is what Pacers president Donnie Walsh said as he watched Bender say goodbye to the NBA on Feb. 4. Now, at 25 years of age, he has to do something with the rest of his life. He has to find a way to not make that McDonald's game his entire life.

If you are Jonathan Bender, what do you do to prove the world wrong about how it's going to remember you?

If you are Jonathan Bender, where do you begin?
-- Scoop Jackson

It was Maximus, that leathery, determined hero from "Gladiator," who said, "Death smiles at us all; all a man can do is smile back."

When it was all over in his hometown of Detroit, when he stood on that podium clutching the Vince Lombardi trophy, Jerome "The Bus" Bettis not only was smiling at the death of his 13-year NFL career, he was laughing.

It was one of the greatest finales ever in sports. But it almost was supplanted by an ending that would have been unbelievably cruel.

In the AFC Championship Game against the Colts, The Bus had the ball on Indianapolis' 2-yard line with a 21-18 lead and 1:20 left. Like he had done thousands of times before, The Bus took the handoff and plowed ahead toward the goal line -- but this time he was popped by the Colts' Gary Brackett, and the fumble was collected by Nick Harper. It was The Bus' first fumble all season.

Then two things happened to show us that good things do happen to good people. Ben Roethlisberger made an incredible tackle to prevent Harper from scoring. And Mike Vanderjagt, America's favorite idiot kicker, missed the game-tying field goal.

Those final moments were rocky for The Bus. But even if things had finished on such a dour note, Bettis had a career very few running backs are fortunate to have: 13,662 yards (top five all time), 91 TDs, and adored in two cities.

But not even a full year into retirement, The Bus already sees that real life rarely follows the smooth route. His father, Johnnie, died unexpectedly of a heart attack less than a month ago. But typical of The Bus, now an NFL analyst for NBC, his smile is still shining brightly.
-- Jemele Hill

Bret Boone
Larry Goren/
One minute Boone was a slugger, the next he was out of baseball it seemed.

Bret Boone is either the most likeable cocky guy I've ever met, or the cockiest likeable guy.

No matter what kind of egotistical nonsense he was talking, it always came off fresh and funny, rather than insufferable and arrogant. Which is why it was sad to see his career end so quickly.

One moment he was among the best second basemen in baseball -- if not THE best -- and the next he couldn't hit or field. He went from the Mariners to the Twins to the Mets to out of baseball as quickly as a 6-4-3 double play.

There was speculation about steroid use with Boone -- that it was a contributing factor to his sudden demise as a player. I don't know. Yes, his 2001 season was off the charts -- he, not Ichiro, deserved the AL MVP award that season -- but then so was Davey Johnson's 43-homer season in 1973, along with many others throughout baseball history. Boone did always have pretty good pop in his bat (the only game I saw him play in person prior to 2001 was during the 1998 season, and he hit three homers that day). And certainly many other players have gone from All-Star to also-ran virtually overnight.

What I do know is that few players have ever spoken as lovingly and intelligently about baseball as Boonie. You could sit next to his locker forever talking ball (as well as about how great a player Boone considered himself). He and his brother Aaron are part of a three-generation baseball family, and it shows. And if it's a little sad not to see Bret flipping his bat anymore, at least there is the very good possibility that we'll have another generation of Boones to watch in the coming years.
-- Jim Caple

I wasn't hungry that October morning in Philadelphia in 2002. I rarely eat breakfast anyway, let alone at 5 a.m. But I was also a little nervous. Excited … but nervous. I was about to witness one of John Chaney's famed 5:30 a.m. practices, followed by a one-on-one interview with the legendary Temple coach.

Chaney, who retired in March, will probably be remembered nearly as much for his fiery temper and highly publicized flare-ups as he will be for his Hall of Fame coaching career. That's a shame. Chaney won 741 collegiate games, including a stellar 516-252 record in 24 seasons at Temple. And while he never made a Final Four, his Owls reached five NCAA regional finals. All at a school that really can't compete with the biggest dogs in the recruiting rat race.

That practice was one of the most fun things I've ever covered. (You can read about it here.) But then came the interview. I sat across from Chaney at his desk in his office, fidgeted as I turned on my tape recorder, and finally fired off my first question.

For the next 30 minutes or so, I listened to Chaney talk passionately about his coaching philosophy. About his life philosophy. About how he believed his early-morning practices instilled discipline in his players, many of whom came from underprivileged backgrounds. About how their education was by far the most important thing to him -- what would really lift them out of the circumstances they'd come from.

It was perhaps the most riveting collegiate lecture I ever heard. I ate up every word.

Just as we were wrapping up the interview, Chaney's secretary came in with a carton full of buffalo wings. It was indeed lunchtime. I thanked Chaney, gathered my belongings, and took a couple steps toward the door.

"Hey, kid, you hungry?"

Before I knew it, I was headed out the door again -- this time with a ziplock bag full of buffalo wings. Best wings I've ever had.

And I never even took a bite.
-- Kieran Darcy

Joey Cheek
Ken Levine/
Cheek did his most important work off the ice.

Dwyane Wade as Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year? Gimme a break. If there ever was an obvious choice for the award, it was this year. And it should have been the man who epitomized the term "sportsman."

Joey Cheek.

Not only did the speedskater win a gold medal at the Torino Olympics. Not only did he also win a silver medal. He also donated his entire medal bonuses -- $40,000 -- to the international charity Right to Play. "I've learned how news cycles work," he said at a news conference. "Tomorrow there will be another gold medalist. I want to use my time here for something productive."

He did. Cheek's donation and challenge to others brought more than $500,000 into Right to Play, which sets up athletic opportunities in war-torn and poverty-stricken nations, hoping to turn children into athletes instead of soldiers. Cheek did more than that, though. He returned from the Olympics and spent the next several months traveling, speaking and bringing needed attention to the horrors in Darfur.

We'll miss Cheek on the skating oval now that he's retired, but we'll probably see him running for office eventually. And in the meantime, his athletic career isn't over -- he's talking about playing football at Princeton.

Cheek has described himself as "just a guy skating around in tights." Which is fitting. Tights are what heroes wear in comic books. And fortunately, sometimes that's what they wear in real life.
-- Jim Caple

Imagine if Bill Romanowski hooked up with Hillary Clinton. Unthinkable? It's not far from what reportedly happened in Canada this year, when longtime NHL enforcer Tie Domi was romantically linked with Parliament member Belinda Stronach. Domi's estranged wife stated in divorce papers that the tryst led to the breakup of their marriage.

It's not the type of behavior we'd expect from the player who ranks No. 3 in NHL history in penalty minutes. However, this is -- pounding on a fan in Philly who fell into the penalty box with him in 2001, injuring Scott Niedermayer with an elbow to the head and getting suspended for the rest of the playoffs in 2001, setting the Maple Leafs' single-season record for penalty minutes in 1997-98, and tangling with some of the biggest, baddest thugs in the NHL throughout his career despite significant size disadvantages in many cases.

Domi announced his retirement in September after 16 NHL seasons. Page 2 will miss him dearly.
-- Thomas Neumann

Doug Flutie
David Podwika/
There was a lot of heart in that little package.

It would have been enough for us to have Doug Flutie frozen in time back in 1984, legs scrambling, arm cocked, and then that prayer of a pass winging its way toward Gerard Phelan and Hail Mary history. It would have been enough for us to have him defined by that single, spectacular moment. But to his credit, that wasn't enough for Flutie.

He kept playing, kept pressing, kept pitching and kept producing. Working outside the spotlight for eight years, he won three Grey Cups and passed for 41,355 yards with the Calgary Stampeders and Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League.

And though he'd once been considered too small to be an effective NFL quarterback, he followed his Canadian career by winning the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award and a Pro Bowl spot as a Buffalo Bill in 1998, and was an effective starter (37-28 record) for eight more seasons.

When he finally retired this year, at age 43, he wasn't a golden boy forever captured in a magic moment. He was a tenacious, accomplished pro whose will, more than that heave to Phelan, defined and forever recommended him.
-- Eric Neel

Up until two days ago, all I remembered about Brian Grant was he had big contracts and big dreadlocks.

Grant, chosen by Sacramento with the No. 8 pick in the '94 NBA draft out of Xavier, had two good seasons to kick off his career with the Kings (13.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg in 1994-95, 14.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg in '95-96). In '96-97, he was only able to play in 24 games, averaging 10.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.

Yet the Portland Trail Blazers signed Grant to a seven-year, $63 million contract following that season.

Grant had two pretty good seasons in Portland (12.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg in '97-98, 11.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg in '98-99), but in his third season there he averaged only 7.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in 63 games.

Yet he opted out of his contract, and the Miami Heat signed him for seven years and $86 million!

Grant played four solid, though unspectacular, seasons for the Heat, followed by a season apiece with the Lakers and Suns in a more limited role. Suffering from chronic knee problems, he announced his retirement in October at the age of 34. His career averages: 10.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

So, like I said, what I remembered about Brian Grant was he had big contracts and big dreadlocks.

But as I was researching Grant's career, I came across the fact that Grant won the NBA's J. Walker Kennedy Citizenship Award in 1999. That he worked with the Ronald McDonald House to help terminally ill children and their families, and participated in many, many other charitable activities.

Maybe Brian Grant wasn't quite as overpaid as I thought.

Enjoy your retirement, B.G.
-- Kieran Darcy

Brooks Kieschnick
Morry Gash/AP Photo
Pitcher, hitter ... Kieschnick was the ultimate handyman.

Brett Favre is a throwback. David Eckstein is a throwback. Tim Duncan is sometimes a throwback. Alexander Ovechkin is quickly growing into a throwback. Derek Jeter is a throwback, minus the $20 million salary.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. The last real throwback retired in February. For two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, in 2003 and 2004, Brooks Kieschnick played both ways. He pitched and came off the bench as a hitter. Chuck Bednarik -- you've lost your title.

In '03, Kieschnick pitched in 42 games (1-1 record, 5.26 ERA) and hit seven home runs as a pinch-hitter/DH/left fielder (in just 70 at-bats). The next season he pitched 32 times (1-1, 3.77 ERA) and hit .270. In this age of 11-, 12- and even 13-man pitching staffs, it's amazing more teams don't try this with their 25th man. Even Tony La Russa hasn't given it a shot. But perhaps that's more of an indication of how special Kieschnick's abilities were; a few players of recent vintage have switched from playing the field to pitching, but none besides Kieschnick have done both in the majors at the same time in more than 50 years.

A two-way star at Texas (he's in the College Baseball Hall of Fame), Kieschnick had cups of coffee as an outfielder with the Cubs, Reds and Rockies before switching to the mound in 2002. A year later, he was pitching in relief for Milwaukee.

He played in the minors in 2005 and then retired before spring training this year, to take a sales job and spend more time with his family. He didn't get filthy rich playing baseball (he topped out at $380,000 in 2004) … which makes him a true throwback in more ways than one.
-- Dave Schoenfield

I liked Al Leiter as a pitcher. Even when he pitched for the Yankees, I liked him, I truly did. He was spit-in-your-eye mean. He worked guys inside on the hands and up under the chin. He seemed to like the feel and flavor of pressure. He was never great (although he did pitch a no-hitter with the Marlins in 1996), but he was often very, very good (17-6 with a 2.47 ERA in 1998 with the Mets). And he was always nails (see Game 7 of the 1997 World Series).

That said, I was eager for him to retire. Because as good as he was on the hill, the guy is even better in the broadcast booth. He's candid, insightful, and truly analytic. He reveals the thinking process of pitchers, and describes the ins and outs of the mental battle going on between pitchers and hitters in each at-bat with a savvy blend of science and psychology. He's not telling you he knows better. He's not saying "this is just the way it's done." He's unpacking moments, revealing them. He invites you into something he knows, instead of just telling you that he knows it. It's a rare and very good thing.

So, like I said, I liked Al Leiter as a pitcher. But I'm glad he hung it up.
-- Eric Neel

Mario Lemieux
Richard C. Lewis/
Lemieux is gone, and soon the Penguins may be too.

It's hard to believe that Mario Lemieux's career is really over. The player widely regarded as the second best to ever lace up the skates -- and the best ever by the folks of Western Pennsylvania (sorry, Gretzky) -- called it quits for good on Jan. 24, 2006.

Although Lemieux's career spanned 21 seasons, hockey fans never took a chance to see him play for granted -- both because of his enormous talent and also because career-long injury problems meant he was rarely on the ice.

There was the Hodgkin's scare in 1993. That was bookended by back problems and other ailments. Then he sat out the entire 1994-95 season. And then two years later he retired, frustrated by injuries and the NHL's unwillingness to put an end to "garage league" clutch-and-grab tactics.

He came out of retirement in 2000 -- now serving as both a player and part-owner of the Penguins -- and immediately retook his perch as the league's best player. Unfortunately, he also retook his perch as the league's most injury-prone player. (Sorry, Forsberg).

Of course, we lost another chance to see him play with the lockout of 2004-05. But he decided to give it one more go last season, excited by the NHL finally adopting the free-flowing style of play he had been advocating for more than a decade. Ironically though, a fast, wide-open style was no longer ideal for a 40-something player with a bad back. So Lemieux stepped away from the game, head held high as a hockey immortal -- albeit one we never got to fully enjoy. (Sorry, us.)
-- DJ Gallo

Greg Ostertag's career has officially reached its sunset, 10 years after its sunset. During his time in the NBA, Ostertag averaged 4.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

The peak of Ostertag's career was appearing in back-to-back NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998. But Ostertag will be remembered most for a moment he'd rather forget. Though he weighed 280 pounds, he fell to the ground after being slapped by Shaquille O'Neal in 1997, adding to O'Neal's "Superman" persona.

But Ostertag's philanthropy is best embodied by his pro bono modeling work. He posed for countless posters, and his size made him a perfect extra for live action dunk shots. Ubiquitous because of his trademark pose -- his hands up and face turned -- Mr. Ostertag did as much to make young hip-hop lovers look good as Melyssa Ford.

Ostertag's career as a pinup was limited by the advent of the rule preventing defenders from standing in the lane for three seconds. But he still found time to lend his services to Marcus Camby and a few others.

Sadly, all that overshadows the most important thing Ostertag ever did. In 2002 he donated a kidney to his sister, making him the first player ever to play in the NBA after donating an organ.
-- Bomani Jones

Brad Radke
Robert B. Stanton/
Radke took the ball every five days, and did his best.

Brad Radke didn't toil in obscurity -- when you win 148 games in the big leagues and pitch for four playoff teams, you're not exactly a nobody.

But he played his entire 12-year career with the Minnesota Twins. He didn't possess a blazing fastball, or an agent who auctioned him around to the highest bidder. About the only time I remember him making headlines was back in 1997, when he won 12 consecutive starts.

Really, all Radke did was show up and pitch.

Which, to most people, isn't all that exciting, and made it easy to ignore one of the best stories of the 2006 season. Radke pitched through severe shoulder problems all season; in fact, he altered his delivery to help alleviate some of the pain. In April, he had an 8.89 ERA and gave up 10 home runs in 26 1/3 innings. But he adjusted and, even as his fastball remained a mere shadow of what it once was, began improving. And so did the Twins. Of course, even though Radke went 8-3 with a 2.82 ERA in June, July and August, you never heard his name mentioned regarding their rise to first place.

Finally, in early September, Radke was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his shoulder. The story warranted a four-paragraph item on He sat out the rest of the month, but returned to start Game 3 of the Division Series against the A's. There was no heroic ending; Radke didn't pitch well and suffered the loss. The headlines were about Oakland finally winning a playoff series.

Radke's career was over, quietly, like his personality. For most fans, memories of him will quickly fade away. But the guy was a damn good major league pitcher. I'd take him on my team any day.
-- Dave Schoenfield

Although the Los Angeles Kings drafted him five rounds after Tom Glavine -- yes, Tom Glavine -- in the 1984 entry draft, Robitaille wound up carving a nice little niche for himself in the NHL. Consider: He's the NHL's all-time leader in goals scored by a left winger. He ranks 10th in goals scored in NHL history, and first in Kings history. He played alongside Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Marcel Dionne and Steve Yzerman -- five of the top six point-scorers in NHL history. He won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie in 1987, reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993 with the Kings, won the Cup in 2002 with the Red Wings, and played in eight All-Star games.

Not bad for a player who was notoriously ungraceful as a skater. "Lucky" is so well-liked on and off the ice that we'll overlook his appearances in "Sudden Death" and "D2: The Mighty Ducks." We'll be applauding when the Kings retire his No. 20 jersey on Jan. 20.
-- Thomas Neumann

Deion Sanders
Sean Brady/
Deion's playing career is over, but we haven't heard the last from him for sure.

Here's the thing: If he hadn't come back, he'd have been inducted into the Hall of Fame this year. Now we have to wait. Then again, so does he.

But he doesn't seem to care about that. Not like some of us do. It's as if the Hall of Fame will wait for him, rather than him not being able to wait for it. Because "the way it should be" and "the way it is" in Deion Sanders' life are always two totally separate and different things.

That's just the way he rolls. See, it ain't the mouth (this time) -- the one that runs like the Energizer Bunny -- that got him back on the field after four years of "I can be better than Cris Collinsworth as a broadcaster," that got him to slide on that Baltimore Ravens No. 37 that never looked right on him.

Nah. This time it was passion. His passion for the game, the passion that for years everyone from Spike Lee to Tim McCarver confused with ignorance and arrogance. That's what brought him back.

The ghetto version of Jim Thorpe, he was; the nonmilitant version of Jim Brown; the remixed version of Bo Jackson. He played two sports like Rumsfeld played Powell. So smooth it pissed you off.

And though he retired from that other sport where he hit .500 in a World Series a long time ago, the Deion with the pads on -- those pads he never had to use -- is the one we'll miss the most. Even though his exit is long overdue.

Deion Sanders, HOF, 2011? Just don't seem right.

I can't wait.
-- Scoop Jackson

The world is getting smaller. We are all connected.

Ours is the information era. Anything you need to know -- and everything else you don't, but end up finding out about anyway -- is just a button-press away. Networks, Web sites, pundits, bloggers. News tickers and RSS feeds, satellite uplinks and YouTube.

Breaking update in-depth exclusives. Fact fact talk talk blah blah footage.

Frankly, it's exhausting. Which is why I'm grateful for Michael Schumacher.

Here's what I know about Schumacher: He races cars.

He's rich. He's probably German. He's the best known sports figure in the world, with the possible exception of Muhammad Ali. Millions follow his every move.

Here's what else I know about Schumacher: Absolutely nothing. When Schumacher announced his retirement in October (something I learned, by the way, when my editors asked me to write this), I missed it. Completely. Just like the rest of his career. And I like it that way. The downside of our cultural cacophony is the downside of Las Vegas buffets. You end up stuffed and dazed, full of food you don't even like, knowing far too much -- which is to say, anything -- about the life and times of, say, Paris Hilton.

Actually, I don't mean to pick on Hilton, or anyone that cares about her. It could be political hacks arguing on "The Today Show." It could be Rex Grossman and Does he have what it takes to lead the Bears to the Super Bowl? It could be Schumacher driving really, really fast. None of these subjects are intrinsically good or bad. Nor is the larger conversation encompassing them. The problem lies in the expectation our ceaseless, ever-expanding conversation creates:

That you need to know. About everything.

No, you don't.

Schumacher's gone. Life goes on, essentially unchanged. Just because people talk doesn't mean you have to listen.
-- Patrick Hruby

In Detroit, he's known simply as "The Captain." He's one of the most beloved athletes ever in a city that claims figures such as Joe Louis, Al Kaline and Barry Sanders as its own. Steve Yzerman retired in July after serving as the Red Wings' captain for an NHL-record 20 seasons.

He will be remembered as the man who restored a once-proud franchise to glory, traveling a similar path as John Elway. Both were lauded as being among the very best in each of their sports, but were criticized for the inability to win a championship. Like Elway, Yzerman ultimately silenced his critics in a big way, leading the Wings to Stanley Cup titles in 1997, '98 and 2002. He also won an Olympic gold medal in 2002 and was named to 10 All-Star teams during his 22-year career.

Known for his skill, toughness and character, Yzerman retired No. 8 in career goals in NHL history, No. 7 in assists and No. 6 in points. The Red Wings will retire Yzerman's No. 19 sweater on Jan. 2, and although their fans won't be able to watch him play again, we're pretty sure they'll be able to see Chris Chelios skate alongside his sons in 2012-13. Seriously.
-- Thomas Neumann

Zinedine Zidane
Michael Probst/
What a way to go ...

"Zizou" ranks among soccer's all-time greats. He led France to its only World Cup win in 1998, and was named FIFA World Player of the Year three times while starring as the sport's premier midfielder with Juventus and Real Madrid from 1996 until 2006.

That's what European fans and American soccerheads will remember him for. But most Americans will forever remember him as the guy who delivered that awesome head-butt in the 2006 World Cup final. The instant his head slammed into Marco Materazzi's chest, his status went from obscure European athlete to household name in the United States. He also helped changed the "wussy" image many people have of soccer -- and maybe even of French people in general.

And while that may seem wrong or unfair, it's actually great for the growth of soccer in the United States. In a World Cup that saw Team USA bounced in pool play, Zidane had casual American sports fans talking about soccer.

Think of the two most iconic soccer images in recent memory: Brandi Chastain showing her bra and Zidane head-butting Materazzi. Sex and violence -- two of America's greatest loves. Perhaps we need more of both in soccer if it is ever truly going to become a major sport here. I, for one, hope it does, and that we soon see Zidane participating in ribbon-butting ceremonies at new soccer stadiums all across our great land.
-- DJ Gallo

Happy Holidays from all of us here at Page 2!