They may not all have been the big stories, the ones that cracked all of the end-of-year lists of the year’s most momentous or memorable events. But 2020’s Ten Stories That Mattered remind us that sometimes paying attention to the little stuff points you toward the big stuff.
In chronological order:
QB OF THE FUTURE
Remember the old days when they held a football game in Pasadena on New Year’s afternoon? On the first day of 2020, we didn’t realize it but we were watching the future of quarterback play in Los Angeles. Justin Herbert led Oregon to a 28-27 comeback victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, earning offensive MVP honors by running for three touchdowns and directing a fourth-quarter rally. Today, Herbert is a Charger, probably will be the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year and may just be the best quarterback in town right now.
The news shocked us to the core that gloomy Sunday morning in late January, when the news came down that Kobe Bryant and eight others had died in a helicopter crash. In the immediate aftermath hundreds, and ultimately thousands, of Laker fans journeyed to Staples Center and started an impromptu memorial, leaving flowers, and balloons, and Laker jerseys and caps and pennants and posters. Eleven months later, there may be closure, but we still grieve.
A PIECE OF METAL
Rob Manfred’s decision on penalties for the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal did not mollify the baseball world outside of Houston, with spirited reaction from other players (even Mike Trout!) during spring training – partly because of light penalties and partially because of the lack of penitence from Astros’ players and officials. Manfred’s response: “The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act.” Justin Turner fired back: “At this point, the only thing devaluing that trophy is that it says ‘Commissioner’ on it.” Who knew how the men would be linked in October?
THE FIRST DOMINO
The evening of March 8, the day before the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells was supposed to begin with qualifying, tournament officials announced it was being canceled after an outbreak of the coronavirus in the Coachella Valley prompted Riverside County to declare a public health emergency. Three days later, the rest of the sports world shut down. Footnote: Organizers announced the 2021 tournament will not be held in March but might be rescheduled later in the year. Maybe. Remember when we thought we could get by this pandemic in a few months?
PAY THE WOMEN
There is, finally, a path to agreement between U.S. Soccer and the Women’s National Team over equity in pay and working conditions. All it took was a lawsuit that, among other things, resulted in the resignation of federation president Carlos Cordeiro after a stunningly tone-deaf filing by the federation’s lawyers. Fittingly, replacement Cindy Parlow Cone is a former USWNT player. Did the women deserve what they were asking for? This sentence at the end of my column in March should sum it up: “… You want to talk about the ability to perform under pressure? These women filed that lawsuit last March and then went out and brought back a fourth World Cup. Try matching that.”
Terry Cannon’s specialty, be it the arts or jazz or baseball, was the quirky, the interesting and the overlooked. It ultimately led him to start the Baseball Reliquary, a vehicle for recognizing the game’s quirky, interesting and overlooked (which is where the cowbells, rung at the start of each year’s ceremony in honor of Brooklyn Dodgers’ superfan Hilda Chester, come in). The Reliquary and its cousin, the Institute for Baseball Studies on the Whittier College campus, will be part of Cannon’s legacy after his death from cancer Aug. 1, at age 66.
THE BIG DEAL
There seems to be this trend in recent seasons of Los Angeles teams actually acting like big-market franchises. It’s refreshing after years of executives shying away from big risks. The latest example came in July, just before baseball began its 60-game 2020 season, when the Dodgers and Mookie Betts signed a 12-year, $365 million extension and Betts issued this vow: “I’m here to win some rings for L.A. That’s all I’m focusing on.” He’s already delivered one, and that’s a nice down payment on that contract.
IT’S IN THEIR DNA
A summer when athletes were forced into bubbles was also one in which social justice issues took center stage, and it shouldn’t have been surprising that the players of the WNBA were in the forefront. They dedicated the season to Breonna Taylor and have actively worked to defeat one of the league’s owners, Kelly Loeffler, in her Georgia Senate race. As the Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike put it: “We are women, so our life is political, unfortunately, because of how this country has evolved. It shouldn’t be. But, you know, we press on.”
IT’S WHY HE’S HERE
Anthony Davis’ walkoff three-pointer to beat Denver in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, a step en route to the Lakers’ 17th title, goes in the pantheon of fantastic L.A. finishes. And it was another example of an L.A. franchise dreaming big and ultimately being rewarded for it, going back to when Rob Pelinka swung the deal with New Orleans in June 2019. As Davis put it in a postgame TNT interview: “This is what they brought me here for.”
HEY, LET’S PLAY
Among the quirks of Pandemic Sports, 2020: You had to be willing to change course suddenly. UCLA was supposed to play Utah and Cal was scheduled to play Arizona State in the Pac-12’s Week 2, but when the Sun Devils and Utes experienced COVID outbreaks, the original northern and southern branches of the University of California were left with … each other. They scheduled a Sunday morning game at the Rose Bowl on 48 hours notice, game plans were presumably bare-bones, and UCLA won 34-10.
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