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The sports stories of the year not seen on ESPN

BY STEVE JACKSON
The SportsMonday Column
Published January 13, 2003

With apologies to the New England Patriots, Lance Armstrong and the Rally Monkey ... In sports, 2002 was the year of Bobblehead terrorists, sparrow biters, topless dancers and "The Attack of the Killer Zambonis."

These aren't the kind of famous tales that are played over and over for you on ESPN. There will be no mention of Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, Kobe Bryant or even John Navarre. Chances are, you have never seen or heard any of this before. But that doesn't make these stories any less memorable.

Inspired by Sports Illustrated writer Steve Rushin, I have scoured the often-scary world of message boards, websites and talk-radio to collect the most bizarre and hilarious sports stories of 2002. Last week, Rushin penned his list entitled "The Stuff You Can't Make Up," and in doing so, publicized most of my collection.

But despite his best efforts, there are still a few ridiculous tales yet to be told.

After Friday night's hockey game, many Michigan fans are now the proud owners of Red Berenson Bobblehead dolls. Rushin pointed out how this sports marketing craze has now grown to include religious leaders like Martin Luther. But he neglected to mention that just five months after Sept. 11, the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns, a Class A affiliate of the San Fransico Giants, announced an upcoming promotion called "Osama bin Laden Bobblehead Giveaway Night."

To be fair, the geniuses behind this idea had planned for the crowd to destroy these collectibles en mass. But the promotion went in the tank when the Bobblehead's manufacturer, Alexander Global Promotions, of Bellevue, Wash., refused to produce them.

"The answer from us consistently has been no," the company's spokesman told The Associated Press. "The reason is, I think it's tasteless."

Ya think?

While we're on the topic of tasteless, I should mention Aron Bright, a high school wrestling coach in suburban Indianapolis. Apparently, Bright was not satisfied with the taste of his mom's home cooking. Why else would he bite the head off a live sparrow in front of his team?

Oh ... someone on his team dared him to do it. That explains everything.

"It was innocent fun," Bright told the AP. The 31-year-old said the students who saw the incident "laughed and laughed. They're still laughing about it. I think everyone took it as such - as innocent fun."

Bright - a geography teacher who still lives with his parents - was suspended for two weeks without pay.

I guess he was just caught up in the moment like Carla Sanchez of New York University.

Sanchez and the NYU dance team were just 15 seconds into their routine at the national championships in April, when the plastic snap on her spandex top inexplicably came undone.

I know what you are thinking: Why is a two-second boob flash one of the most memorable sports stories of 2002? Because she didn't pull her top back up!

Sanchez said she was concerned that stopping and fixing her outfit would cost her team points. After the performance, the judges said that they would have a made a special exception for her imitation of Kirsten Dunst in "Bring it On," and they would not have deducted any points if she had opted to cover up.

Any red-blooded male can guess how this story turned out. She danced topless for two minutes, her team won its division, and she was declared a hero.

"That was very brave," co-captain Carolyn Comparato told USA Today. "She's a rock star."

Dancing with bare breasts takes a certain level of athletic skill. So does avoiding a Zamboni, but not everyone is as gifted as Miss Sanchez.

According to the University of Saskatchewan's school paper, Patrick Guay - a Midget Triple-A hockey player in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec - was not swift enough to avoid the giant ice-clearing machine.

The driver, who was not identified, took road rage to new levels when he redirected his Zamboni into a crowd of 19 youth hockey players. Guay was not seriously hurt, but he did speak to reporters.

"We gave our rallying cry," Guay told Le Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe. "It is not everyone which saw it coming. We thought that it was going to stop."

Steve Jackson would like to thank Google.com's French-English translator for that last quote. He can be reached at sjjackso@umich.edu.