Where is America’s most livable city? Forget cost-of-living, quality of education, transportation and economic opportunity. The most livable city is the one with the best sports. For each year of the modern era, starting in 1976, The Sports Notebook has selected one city or part of the country where it was particularly good to be a fan. Below is the recap of how that year unfolded…
Northern California generally lives in the shadow of its more glamorous in-state brethren to the south. It’s that NoCal doesn’t have a beautiful landscape and they’ve had their share of sports success—from the Oakland A’s dynasty of 1972-74, the San Francisco 49ers dynasty built by Bill Walsh, the A’s Bash Brothers of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco that won three straight pennants from 1988-90, the Oakland Raiders of John Madden that became America’s first Bad Boy team in the 1970s right up to the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series last year. But sometimes even championships don’t trump the glamour of Hollywood. And when you come up just short it’s even more aggravating. Coming up just short was the story of Northern California sports in 2002. The Oakland A’s enjoyed a season that inspired the movie Moneyball, but lost in the playoffs. The Oakland Raiders rolled to 11 wins and won the AFC title, but lost the Super Bowl. And no loss was more aggravating—or unjust—than that suffered by the Sacramento Kings who lost the Western Conference Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers. While SoCal got titles from the Lakers and the Angels, NoCal came up agonizingly short. It’s that latter story that gets told here in TheSportsNotebook for 2002…
The Sacramento Kings had been one of the NBA’s inept franchises, dating back to their days in Kansas City, their eventual move west in the 1980s and into the late 1990s. The franchise enjoyed a breakthrough year in the strike-shortened season of 1999 and began a slow ascent. ’99 saw them go 27-23 and take Utah to a decisive fifth game in the first round of the playoffs. One year later they went 44-38 and squared off the Lakers, again going to a fifth before coming up short. In 2001 the Kings took a big step, breaking the 50-win barrier, winning the franchise’s first playoff series since relocating. The Lakers were again the obstacle—they swept Sacramento out in four straight. But the 2001 Lakers were perhaps the best of the three championship teams anchored by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, and they also swept San Antonio and then only took five games to beat Philadelphia for the title. There was no shame in losing for Sacramento, although consistently getting beat by their well-heeled neighbor to the south had to be aggravating. And 2002 had to be Sacramento’s time.
Chris Webber was the power forward and the clear star of the team, averaging 25 points/10 rebounds a night, while Mike Bibby, a good shooter and playmaker keyed the backcourt. Peja Stojakovic was lights-out from three-point range. Other key roles were filled by Dough Christie a 12 ppg scorer at small forward, and former Laker center Vlade Divac, who helped Webber hit the glass and chipped in some scoring help. The best player of the bench was 22-year-old Hedo Turkoglu, currently a starter in Orlando, while Scot Pollard could help with rebounding and Bobby Jackson added decent minutes in the backcourt. This was a team that was deep, well-put together with clearly defined roles and a go-to player in Webber good enough to win a championship with.
The early part of the season underscored both the promise and the problems. Sacramento won seven of nine to start the year, but one of the losses was at Los Angeles. The Kings closed November with quality road wins at Dallas and San Antonio, the latter in overtime. Sacramento got revenge on Los Angeles with a December 7 win at home, and then two weeks later started a 12-game win streak through the soft spot on their schedule that ran the record to 31-9. A brief stretch of up and down play including losses to the Spurs and Mavericks and March began with two more losses, plus another defeat at the Staples Center. But on March 24 the Kings ripped off 11 straight wins to get to 60-19 and lock up the #1 seed in the West and overall. Even though a final game to Los Angeles left them 1-3 against the Lakers , Sacramento could at least write that off of as meaningless, while Los Angeles was playing for the #2 record. Still, the lack of head-to-head success against Shaq and Kobe had to be a concern as the playoffs began.
BASEBALL GETS UNDERWAY
The Oakland A’s knew something about having a postseason stumbling block against a well-heeled glamorous opponent, although theirs was across the continent. Two straight years the A’s had made the playoffs, both times they’d drawn the New York Yankees in the opening-round Division Series, both times the best-of-five series had reached a decisive game…and both times the A’s had lost. Then in the offseason the Yankees raided them in free agency to get their best player, Jason Giambi, while the Boston Red Sox stepped in and helped themselves to centerfielder Johnny Damon. It was Oakland’s attempt to replace these players on a shoestring budget, and the innovative methods applied by GM Billy Beane that provided the basis for the movie Moneyball.
Moneyball was a great movie and accurate in the limited scope a film can undertake, but it did leave one perception that has to be corrected. It’s the perception that the entire team was a bunch of misfits. In fact, Oakland had three outstanding young starting pitchers in Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. They had an elite shortstop in Miguel Tejada, a third baseman in Eric Chavez who hit 34 home runs and was a whiz with the glove. Oakland had a talented young rightfielder in Jermaine Dye and a good closer in Billy Koch. By year’s end, Zito would win the Cy Young Award, Tejada the MVP and Koch led the league in saves. So give Beane credit for advancing the use of statistical data in replacing two big guns in Giambi and Damon, but realize that was but one small part of the overall story. The A’s started the season by sweeping Texas three straight, ended April by sweeping the Chicago White Sox and were 15-10 after the first month of play.
Sacramento’s first-round opponent would be the Utah Jazz, with the teams having reversed positions in the Western Conference pecking order since their 1999 playoff meeting. Utah still had the revered duo of Karl Malone at power forward and John Stockton at the point, but Malone was 38, Stockton was 39 and while both were good players, neither was a superstar anymore. And forward Donyell Marshall, at 15 ppg, was the only one in the supporting cast able to step up. But veterans know how to dig deep in the playoffs and after a narrow loss in Game 1, Utah finagled a road win in Game 2 after Sacramento shot the ball poorly. The Kings went to Salt Lake City needing to win one of two to stay alive. On the final Saturday of April, they took care of business. While the shooting was still cold, Webber led a ferocious team rebounding effort that dominated the glass and Malone looked the part of a 38-year-old. A 90-87 win reclaimed homecourt advantage for the top seed. Two days later, Stojakovic found his shooting touch and knocked down 30 points, Malone was held to three rebounds, and the Kings clinched the series on the road.
Dallas was up next. The strength of the Mavericks, who’d won 57 games underscored the strength of the West. The conference’ s top four teams, including the Lakers and Spurs who were paired up in the other semi-final, had all won more games than New Jersey, the #1 seed in the East. And this in spite of the West teams playing an unbalanced schedule requiring them to beat up on each other. Any of the four teams still playing hoops in the West would win the East. Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki was already a star by this point, a 23/10 man and at this point in his career, Steve Nash’s passing artistry was in Big D. Michael Finley scored 21 a night at the two-guard slot, Nick Van Exel provided quality depth. And the power forward was familiar to Webber—it was Juwan Howard, part of his freshman class at Michigan, a group that made history when they became the first team with an all-frosh lineup to reach the NCAA final and then repeated the feat as sophomores. The only thing they lacked in Big D was the D—the Mavericks were 28th in the NBA in points allowed.
Stojakovic scored 26 points in Game 1 as Sacramento shot 46 percent and pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 108-91 win. But for the second straight series they gave away homecourt advantage in Game 2. Nash unleashed his scoring side, burying four treys and scoring 30 points, while Stojakovic went cold, 5-for-19 from behind the arc and neutralizing Webber and Bibby’s 22 points apiece. The Kings may have had problems defending their home floor, but for the second straight series, they quickly reclaimed the edge in Game 3. Webber played his best game of the postseason, a 31/15 night in Game 3, Bibby knocked down 29 and the Kings survived a 37-point outburst from Finley. Then in Game 4, Webber again came up big, a 30/10 day, as he and Dirk went toe-to-toe. Nowitzki’s 31/12 game wasn’t enough as the Kings escaped with a two-point win. Even though Sacramento was in command and would close out the series back home in Game 5, as Turkoglu scored 20 and grabbed 13 rebounds off the bench, one piece of bad luck had struck—Stojakovic was out, at least temporarily, and the Kings would have to get by without their three-point shooter as they got set to face the Lakers.
THE GREAT CHAMPIONSHIP ROBBERY
This was the de facto championship round and perceived as such at the time. Now the question facing Sacramento was the one that faces up-and-comers in any sport, but seems most pronounced in the NBA playoffs—can regular season potential and talent be translated into big-game performance. Los Angeles was not a deep team, relying mostly on Kobe & Shaq. While that’s a pretty nice duo to build on, they would need contributions from Derek Fisher, Robert Horry and Rick Fox if they were going to win a series like this. But they did have the advantage of Stojakovic being sidelined, and then Kobe completely outplayed Bibby in Game 1, giving LA the edge in a win. Their season realistically on the line in Game 2, the Kings came out and stayed alive thanks to some awful shooting by the Lakers, who went 3/19 from behind the arc, effectively negating a 35/12 night from Shaq.
Sacramento had needed to win road games throughout the playoffs, so if nothing else the situation didn’t intimidate them, and they played their best game of the postseason in Game 3. Webber turned in a 26/19, Bibby knocked down 24, Christie stepped up with a 17/12 and a lockdown defensive effort gave the Kings a 103-90 win to turn the series back in their favor. After one quarter of Game 4, they held a 40-20 lead and had the chance to step on Los Angeles’ throat. But Horry stepped up and showed why he earned the nickname “Big Shot Rob” over the course of his career, scoring 18 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and helping the Lakers gradually crawl back and eventually win by a point.
The series went back north for Game 5 and now it was the Kings’ turn to show they could win a close game. Webber had a big 29/13 night, Bibby knocked down 23 and if nothing else, the return of Stojakovic—even if he didn’t make an impact—had to be a psychological lift. A 92-91 win placed Sacramento on the brink of clinching.
Game 6 holds a unique place in the annals of NBA lore and for all the wrong reasons. Sacramento played its guts out on the road. While Shaq was a beast, at 41 points/17 rebounds, Webber was strong and the Kings had control of the game in the fourth quarter. The league was now on the verge of a Sacramento-New Jersey matchup in the Finals and the terror they faced at the idea of such a matchup from a marquee standpoint is the only possible explanation for what happened next. The officials took over, and essentially banned Sacramento from playing defense. The Lakers were given 27 free throws in the fourth quarter alone. Now I am not one who believes that a free throw disparity if prima facie evidence of officiating bias. But it’s simply impossible for a quality NBA team to commit that many fouls in a quarter, to the point that the Lakers shoot a game’s worth of free throws in a single quarter—coincidentally, the defining quarter of the season. Los Angeles’ cheap 106-102 win was criticized throughout the country afterward, with even political activist and occasional presidential candidate Ralph Nader calling for an investigation. It might be fair to say that Nader and other politicians should have bigger fish to fry, but anyone who cares about the integrity of play—and let’s face it, the NBA has justly earned its share of criticism over the years in this regard—should have wanted some type of inquiry for the way the men in the striped shirts took over Game 6 and handed it to the Lakers.
The unfortunate way the league chose to handle Game 6 obscures what was an epic Game 7. The two best teams in the game went to overtime with everything on the line. If the Lakers were giftwrapped the previous game, they did what champions do this time around—they got solid games from every key role player—Fisher, Horry and Fox were all big contributors in the decisive game, while Kobe got 30 and Shaq 35. Sacramento couldn’t get a trey to save its life, going 2-of-20 from behind the arc. Stojakovic’s inability to get his shooting rhythm back is another part of this series that’s been lost to history, obscured by the farce that was Game 6. Los Angeles won 112-106 and quickly dismissed New Jersey for a third straight title.
There are other instances of bad officiating playing a key role in a championship situation. You only need ask the St. Louis Cardinals about the 1985 World Series and a call at first base, or the Dallas Cowboys in 1978 over a nonsense pass interference call in the Super Bowl. But those were the kinds of bad calls that, as much as they suck if you’re a fan of the team getting robbed, do happen in the course of sports. What happened to Sacramento was a travesty. When I think of the 2002 NBA season I really think of them as the real champs. Small consolation, but it’s the least the Kings and their fans deserve.
While Sacramento was getting robbed in May, the A’s were struggling. Losing two of three to the Yanks triggered a terrible stretch where they lost eight consecutive series and were eventually saved only by sweeping lowly Tampa Bay twice. Oakland fell ten games back of Seattle, who’d won 116 games the prior year and resurgent Anaheim was in second place. But eventually the A’s stabilized and reduced the deficit to three games by the time interleague play concluded on June 23. At the All-Star break Oakland was five out and trailed both the Angels and Red Sox in the race for the wild-card.
It was mid-August, with a record of 69-51, but still slightly behind in the playoff race that the A’s made history. On August 13 they won the middle game of a series with Toronto. They didn’t lose again until September 6. The 20-game win streak set a major league record that still stands. By the time it was over, they were in first place, 3 ½ up on Anaheim, and more importantly, the playoffs were all but assured, as both Seattle and Boston had faded. The race with the Angels provided some cosmetic interest in the final month and Anaheim briefly led by a game in mid-September, but a strong finish moved Oakland to a dazzling 103 wins—their second straight year at a 100-plus—and clinched both the division and the best record in baseball.
RAIDERS SEEK REDEMPTION
The A’s were getting ready for the crunch and the Raiders were hoping for some redemption. They’d won the AFC West in 2001 before suffering a controversial loss in the divisional playoffs against New England. Playing in a Saturday night blizzard in Foxboro, the Raiders led by three late in the game when Tom Brady appeared to fumble on a sack with Oakland recovering. Upon replay, the officials ruled Brady’s arm had been moving forward. It became known as the “Tuck Rule”—common sense told you it was a fumble, but the letter of the law said it was not. It was an aggravating moment for Raider fans, as the national consensus was both that they were robbed, but yeah, the call was probably right. It got worse when Patriot kicker Adam Vinateri nailed an impossible 45-yard field goal in the heart of the blizzard to tie the game and then won it in overtime. In the offseason, Oakland coach Jon Gruden went to Tampa Bay, and Bill Callahan took over the coaching reins.
Oakland’s offense was built around the passing game, with Rich Gannon being a veteran who found his form late in his career, and giving inspiration to all of us who were slow starters at some point in life for whatever reason. He had quite a cadre of veteran receivers—40-year-old Jerry Rice was cut loose by San Francisco and found a home across the Bay. Tim Brown was 36 and still playing well in a career that was spent entirely in silver-n-black. And 24-year-old Jerry Porter provided some youth. The offensive line was respectable, with All-Pro center Barrett Robins, but was nothing spectacular. The defense was similarly lacking in playmakers, with another aging vet and future Hall of Famer having to carry the load, in safety Rod Woodson. Callahan’s team would live or die on the arm of Gannon. And the quarterback answered the bell. A 4-0 start kicked off what would be another MVP year in the Bay Area, as Gannon joined Tejada and Zito in the realm of individual award winners and the Raiders sent notice they intended to contend again.
The Yankees were in the playoffs again, but this time it was the Angels who would have to deal with them. Oakland would draw the Minnesota Twins in the Division Series. The Twins were even more a Moneyball team than the A’s, and perhaps it should’ve been GM Terry Ryan who got the chance to be played by Brad Pitt on the big screen. Dealing with a similarly small budget, Ryan’s team had a good outfield, with Tori Hunter and Jacque Jones, who hit 27 home runs and was the team’s only .300 hitter. And the designated hitter was someone who would eventually make his mark on MLB postseason history—David Ortiz. As a Twin, he hit 20 home runs and slugged .500, although by the next season the Twins would release him and the Red Sox scooped him up. Mostly this was a team where no one individual scared you, but there were no weak points. The same was true of the pitching staff. 23-year-old Johan Santana would one day be the best pitcher in baseball, but in ’02 he was doing shuttle duty between the rotation and the bullpen. Rick Reed and a 23-year-old Kyle Lohse were the top two pitchers on the staff. Minnesota was an easy team to respect, but they were also beatable.
Hudson got the ball for Game 1 and was staked to a quick lead, as the A’s led 5-1 after two innings. But he didn’t have his stuff, giving up home runs to Cory Koskie and Doug Mienkiewitcz, letting the Twins back in it and giving way to reliever Ted Lilly, who promptly surrendered a game-tying double to Jones. The Twins won the game 7-5. One day later it was up to Mulder to square things and he did just that. Once again, the A’s offense started fast, with Chavez hitting a three-run shot in the first and this time the lead stood up, as Mulder coasted home to a 9-1 win.
Oakland needed to win one game in Minneapolis to force the series back home for a fifth game and they got their win behind Zito in Game 3. A’s DH Ray Durham led the game off in a memorable way, with an inside-the-park home run, and Scott Hatteberg—the first baseman whose plate discipline made him a focal point of Moneyball went deep right after. Zito wasn’t dominant and the Twins tied the game 3-3 in the fifth, but Dye led off the sixth with a home run, the A’s scored two more in the seventh and the bullpen closed out the 6-3 win. Hudson got a chance to clinch on Saturday, but once again he had nothing. Tejada staked him to a 2-0 lead with an early home run, but the Twins answered in the bottom of the 3rd and then fourth was an absolute train wreck if you were an A’s fan. Four hits, a walk, a hit batsman, two errors and two wild pitches translated into seven runs and the game was blown open. It ended 11-2.
Sunday, October 6, was when the Raiders moved their record to 4-0 by hanging 49 points on the board in a road win at Buffalo. It was up to the A’s to win the bigger game and make it a great day for the city. Mulder was facing Minnesota’s Brad Radke. In the top of the second the Twins loaded the bases with one out. Mulder got a popout and was on the verge of escaping, when he gave up a single to center. The A’s trailed 2-0 early in the third, but in the bottom of that inning, Durham homered to cut the lead in half. Then Mulder and Radke got locked in. The Twins threatened in the fourth, but didn’t score. The A’s could do nothing offensively. The game went to the ninth still 2-1. Mulder was finished and the A’s went to Koch, just wanting to keep the game close. The closer couldn’t handle this job. A.J. Pierzynski, then the Twins’ catcher, hit a two-run homer and Ortiz came up with an RBI double. At 5-1, the Twins brought in their own closer Eddie Guadardo to protect the comfortable lead. A single and double set up a three-run home run by Mark Ellis and with one out suddenly the score was 5-4 and Oakland had hope. With two outs, a short single to right brought the winning run to the plate in Durham, but he popped out and the dream was dead.
The A’s made another playoff run in 2003 and suffered another heartbreaking five-game loss, this time to the Red Sox. They got past the first round in 2006, sweeping these same Twins and reaching the American League Championship Series, but were swept out by Detroit. They’ve not made the playoffs since and have fallen on hard times, with the franchise more focused on a new stadium in San Jose than in winning. Beane is still on hand and struggling with the low budgets. His best chance to win had been ’02. With Giambi and Damon things would surely have been different. Money can’t buy everything, but Beane and the A’s can surely identify with the words George Bailey spoke to the angel Clarence in It’s A Wonderful Life—“It comes in pretty handy down here bub.”
GANNON’S GUN LEADS THE WAY
The Raiders lost their first game of the year on October 13 to the St. Louis Rams, who had been to two of the past three Super Bowls behind Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and a high-powered offense, although this would ultimately be the year that ended their postseason run. The season’s first really big game came the following week at home against San Diego. The Chargers were 6-2, as Marty Schottenheimer rejuvenated the organization and built a strong running game behind LaDanian Tomlinson and brought young quarterback Drew Brees along. The Chargers were unintimidated by the road atmosphere in Oakland. Brees threw two TD passes and built a 14-0 lead. Gannon took until the second half to get going, but eventually hit Rice for one score, Porter for another and eventually threw the touchdown pass that forced overtime. But Tomlinson scored on a 19-yard run and the Chargers won 27-21. Oakland lost again the following week at Kansas City and was reeling when they hosted San Francisco on the first Sunday of November.
Jerry Rice’s faceoff with Frisco was the dominant storyline of this game, and his old team was still very good and on its way to an NFC West title. Gannon and Jeff Garcia traded TD passes in the first quarter, but the Niners added a field goal from Jose Cortez and led early, 10-7. Raider kicker Sebastian Janikowski hit two field goals in the second quarter to give Oakland the lead. The game was tied 13-13 in the third when Garcia led a touchdown drive to give the Niners a 20-13 edge. Playing at home, Oakland rallied, and running back Charlie Garner went ten yards to tie. But overtime was again unkind, and Cortez’ 23-yard boot won it for Frisco.
Oakland’s dependence on the pass was exposed in these games. They lost the rushing yardage battle by huge margins to both San Diego and San Francisco. While Garner was a decent back, the team didn’t have a great offensive front, nor could they stop the run defensively. It was all on Gannon to carry the team. And that’s exactly what he did in a big Monday Night game at Denver. The Broncos were challenging the Chargers and Raiders in the division race, but Gannon gunned them down with a razor-sharp 32/38 performance for 352 yards and a 34-10 win.
The challenging schedule stretch of November continued as a grudge game awaited at home against New England. This time the Raider run defense was ready, taking away any ground game and Brady being held reasonably in check, and 18/30 for 172 yards. Gannon threw for 297 yards, and a pair of second quarter TDs opened up a lead. New England kept the game close with touchdowns on defense and special teams, but the Raiders won 27-20.
Two more wins set the stage for a December 8 game in San Diego that would determine control of the AFC West. The Raiders weren’t able to run the ball, but this time they stopped Tomlinson. The Chargers got only 65 yards on the ground and at this point in the careers of Gannon and Brees, the Raider signal-caller could win a straight-up shootout. Gannon threw for 328 yards, Brees was intercepted three times and with two third-quarter rushing touchdowns from Zach Crockett and Tyrone Wheatley, the Raiders had a 27-7 win. They ended the regular season with a 24-0 shutout of Kansas City, clinching the AFC’s #1 seed behind a rare game that was all about the rushing attack, with Garner getting 135 yards and the team racking up 280.
ONE MORE SUCCESS…ONE MORE DISAPPOINTMENT
The AFC bracket was not overwhelming. The Raiders were in the opposite situation of the Kings, in that the path to the Super Bowl would be much easier. The league’s best three teams were Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Green Bay based on record and the fact that the NFC’s #4 seed was San Francisco, who’d beaten the Raiders in Oakland, made it a credible argument that no AFC team would be any more than a wild-card in the opposite conference. But when you make a Super Bowl, no one cares about the particulars.
Oakland’s run started against the New York Jets, who started the season 1-4 before turning things around. The teams traded field goals in the first quarter, touchdowns in the second quarter and were tied 10-10 at the half. Then Gannon stepped it up, hitting Porter on a 29-yard TDF pass and Rice from nine. The Raiders were in control and two Janikowski field goals put the finishing touches on a 30-10 win. Second-seeded Tennessee won an overtime game against Pittsburgh to set up the AFC title matchup.
Tennessee had won the AFC crown in 1999 and still had Steve McNair at quarterback and a strong running game behind Eddie George. Gannon and McNair swapped touchdown passes early, then Gannon hit Charlie Garner on a 12-yard scoring play to give the Raiders the lead. Undeterred, McNair first led a drive for a field goal, then ran in the go-ahead touchdown himself. But before the half was over, Gannon flipped a 1-yard scoring pass to Doug Jolley, Janikowski hit a 43-yard field goal and the Raiders led 24-17 at the half.
Another Janikowski field goal appeared to give the Raiders some breathing room, but McNair took it back by scampering 13 yards for the touchdown that cut the lead to 27-24. It went to the fourth quarter in what was a classic Raiders game, circa 2002. Tennessee was winning the battle on the ground, Oakland was winning the battle in the air, particularly to Brown, who would end up with nine catches for 73 yards. And there would be no overtime heartbreak this time around. Gannon ran in from two yards out to open the lead back to ten, and Crockett blasted in for a 17-yard touchdown run that put the finishing touches on a 41-24 win. The Raiders were in the Super Bowl for the first time since winning it in 1983. But that took place during their bizarre interlude when they played in Los Angeles. For the people of NoCal, it was the first time since the 1980 Super Bowl win over Philadelphia.
The Super Bowl matchup itself was filled with irony, as it was Gruden and Tampa Bay who made their way out of the NFC. The storyline added a sad component to it, when Robbins disappeared the day before the game. He hadn’t taken medication for depression and when he was found, he was incoherent and unable to play. Callahan left him off the roster. Tampa Bay’s defensive front was overwhelming under any circumstances, with Warren Sapp anchoring the middle , Derrick Brooks at linebacker and a ballhawking secondary behind them. The Raiders would have been hard-pressed to win this game under ideal circumstances. Putting Sapp against a backup center further aggravated the problem. The game was never close. Tampa Bay was up 20-3 in the second quarter, cornerback Dwight Smith returned two interceptions for touchdowns and Brooks returned another. Asking Gannon to carry the load against a defense this good was too much and he threw five interceptions trying to play catchup. The final was 48-21.
2002 was the highwater mark for these three NoCal teams. We’ve mentioned the A’s struggles since. The Raiders have not been to the playoffs since ’02 and the Kings have never scaled these heights again. This year was a tremendously successful season, but the aftermath makes the “just short” theme a little more painful. In another irony, the city of Sacramento hosted the first and second rounds of the 2002 NCAA Tournament. The two teams to advance out were Oregon and Indiana. The Ducks got within one game of the Final Four…and lost to Kansas. The Hoosiers reached the Final Four and ultimately the NCAA final, leading with less than ten minutes to play…and they came up short. Maybe it was something in the water.