Mark Starr

Stories by Mark Starr

  • Starr: Soccer’s Cinderella Team

    I am of the persuasion that believes rivalry is the lifeblood of sports. As a Bostonian, I am particularly partial to Red Sox-Yankees, but I have no lack of respect for Ohio State-Michigan (on the gridiron) Duke-UNC (on the hardwood) BU-BC (on the ice), Federer vs. Nadal and Tiger vs. the field. Whatever stirs your juices is fine by me.One of the burgeoning rivalries bordering on a blood feud that always stirs my juices is our very own U.S. soccer lads vs. Mexico. Most of the passion surrounding this rivalry is, not surprisingly, delivered from south of the border. Mexican fans are distressed if not totally crazed about the recent turn of events on the soccer pitch. They cannot believe that the damn Yanquis have actually supplanted their country as soccer’s numero uno in this Central America/North America/Caribbean region.It is hard to imagine a moment of greater despair for Mexican fans than when the United States earned a quarterfinal berth in the 2002 World Cup by booting Mexico...
  • True or False: Do American Athletes Rule?

    The starry aggregate of America's "Dream Team" at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics was so dazzling that even the opposition was charmed by its Magic, as well as its Larry and Michael. Two years later at the world championships, Dream Team II was an exercise in ugly Americanism. The U.S. squad laughed up and down the court, punctuating its romps with the NBA's native tongue, trash talk. But sports adheres to the law of "he who laughs last," and lately America has not been laughing. Its recent Dream Team incarnations have been smacked by a succession of nations—Argentina, Spain, Greece, Lithuania—that, not long ago, had never done anything with a big round ball except kick it. ...
  • Starr: Baseball's Racial Divide

    Many black fans believe Barry Bonds is being singled out. He is. But that doesn't necessarily mean his treatment has been unfair.
  • Starr: On Roger Clemens's Return

    My pal didn’t want to be in Fenway Park on that cold, dank April night 21 years ago. He would have been far happier had he scored tickets to Boston Garden, where Larry Bird and the Celtics were playing the second game of the Eastern Conference semifinal against Dominique Wilkins’s Atlanta Hawks. Second choice would have been watching the Celtics game in the comfort of his home.But the Celtics, not the Red Sox, were the impossible ticket in those days. So with his former college roommate, a passionate baseball fan, visiting town, my friend secured two tickets to the baseball game—not a difficult get, with just 13,414 fans in the stands. They were pleased they would get to see the Red Sox’s young stud, 23-year-old Roger Clemens, who had shown flashes of brilliance in an injury-shortened season the previous year and was off to a 3-0 start.What they witnessed turned out to be a magical evening of baseball immortality. That was the night that Clemens broke baseball’s single-game record...
  • Starr: Boxing's Last Great Fight

    After all the extraordinary hype, the 'real' reality show takes place Saturday night. Might we finally see a classic?
  • Starr: America's Next Olympic Hopeful

    The U.S. Olympic Committee has to choose between L.A. or Chicago as its candidate to host the 2016 Summer Games. Why I like Chi.
  • Starr: Don Imus Is Us

    As the college basketball season wound down to its ends with a distinct lack of any of the promised madness, the Rutgers women’s basketball team was the closest thing to a Cinderella story that this year’s tournaments offered. Rutgers was not quite that much of a long shot—it has long been on the periphery of elite women’s teams—but was still a scrappy underdog that had overcome an unfavorable draw to reach the final against the University of Tennessee, the gold standard of women’s basketball.What pretty much anyone watching could see in that women’s final was that Rutgers was overmatched in almost every facet of the game, except possibly grit. And it quickly became clear that the team’s frantic effort—it seemed to be trying too hard—wouldn’t be enough even to keep it close.But Don Imus apparently saw something else. On his nationally syndicated radio show, “Imus in the Morning” (simulcast on MSNBC TV), the reigning king of the radio talk show empire revealed that instead of game...
  • Mark Starr's 2007 Baseball Preview

    The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry in the American League East will finally tip the other way, but both teams will be there in October. And this year's surprise playoff team is ...
  • Books: The Bracket Game

    Tolstoy or Dostoevsky? Duke or Carolina? The single-elimination bracket grid really can answer all of life's questions.
  • Starr: The Badness in March Madness

    Thanks to the social engineering of NBA chief David Stern, this March will be even Madder than usual.When the league boosted its minimum age to 19 years old, it forcibly redirected a handful of players—the cream of the high-school crop—to college rather than their preferred route of directly to the big money awaiting them in the pros. As a result, rather than having already disappeared into the NBA netherworld of Toronto or Portland, two of the most sensational freshman players in years will be showcased this week on center stage in the NCAA tournament. Thursday, fans can see Ohio State's 7-footer, Greg Oden, a fierce rebounder and shot-blocker who has the potential to become the most dominant American-born center since Shaquille O'Neal. On Friday, University of Texas' Kevin Durant will display the prodigious offensive skills that have made him a shoo-in for college player of the year honors.Stern's seemingly minor-rule tweak appears to have provided an embarrassment of riches—an...
  • Super Bowl: Settling The Score

    A few seconds after Tom Brady’s last-gasp pass died in the arms of an Indianapolis Colts defender, my phone rang. I figured it for the first of many condolence calls to be exchanged between my fellow lifers from section 132 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.Instead, it was my daughter on the line—ah, the swift and dexterous dialing fingers of youth—and I immediately detected the anxiety in her voice. “Are you all right, dad?” she asked. I thought, “What kind of jerk does she think that I am, that my physical and mental health couldn’t withstand the heartbreak of a New England Patriots defeat?” Then, of course, I realized: exactly the kind of jerk she’s known for the 20 years of her life.So I took a quick inventory and, a little too my surprise, discovered I was, in fact, all right—a little disappointed but not remotely devastated by the defeat. Which by the time I caught up with my buddies seemed to be the consensus. It had been a great game. We were outplayed. All those breaks,...
  • A Super Bowl Showdown

    There are undoubtedly some folks waiting for the hypefest in Miami in two weeks under the misapprehension that it is the Super Bowl. But any true football fan knows the Super Bowl was played in Indianapolis Sunday night—when the hometown Colts beat the New England Patriots 38-34 for the AFC Championship.The game may have set a record for clichés available to sportswriters: two heavyweights; got up off the canvas; monkey off the back; a defense that bends and, in this case, finally broke. But none do justice to the magnitude and the brilliance of the Colts’ victory. Indy came back from 18 points down and years of heartbreak to score the winning touchdown with just a minute left in the game. It came on a masterstroke of deception. With a third-and-two at the Patriots’ three-yard line, the NFL’s premiere passer, Peyton Manning, eschewed the air and, instead, handed the ball off to rookie Joseph Addai, who scooted into the end zone.Then Manning retired to the bench, barely able to watch...
  • The NFL's Final Four

    Could Sunday’s Final Four have worked out any better for the NFL? First we get Chicago vs. New Orleans: the league’s historic heartland pitted against a Cinderella story for the ages, the perennial Aints turned into America’s team. That’s followed by the league’s premier rivalry: the Colts vs. the Patriots, Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. Will Manning finally break through to the next level? Will Belichick’s boys take a giant step toward a fourth title that would, arguably, establish the Pats as the greatest NFL champions ever?Here’s a look at how we got here and what lies ahead.The WinnersIndianapolis: There were plenty of improbable scenarios last weekend, but none more than the Colts dominating the Ravens without Peyton Manning leading his team to a single touchdown. Indeed, had you described to me Manning’s shaky performances the first two weeks of the playoffs—five interceptions and a couple more that should have been picked by Baltimore—I would have guaranteed you that Indy...
  • The NFL Coaching Game

    There was so much to talk about following the NFL’s first wild playoff weekend: Tony Romo’s chokehold, Jeff Garcia’s redemption, the post-season wobbles of the Manning brothers, and Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork’s at-once brawny and brainy play. Yet the incessant chatter has been focused on coaches. Nick Saban has left, Bobby Petrino is coming. What did Bill Belichick have to say, along with his quick hug, to his former acolyte Eric Mangini? What could Tony Dungy possibly say, along with his long hug, to best pal Herman Edwards, after his offense was a no-show in Indy? Will Bill Parcells stick with the Cowboys? Why would the Giants ever let “Screamin’” Tom Coughlin stay around for another season?I don’t exactly know when our obsession turned from the men on the field to the men on the sidelines. Perhaps it happened as baby boomers, with their overarching influence, aged, and, with their aching bodies, could no longer muster playing fantasies. But there is no doubt that the...
  • The Biggest Sports Stories of 2006

    With an Olympics and a World Cup, 2006 was always destined to be a year replete with athletic glories. What is distressing, though, is how many of the biggest stories of the year were of the “bad news” variety. And my “top 30” countdown didn’t even mention former Ohio State star running back Maurice Clarett heading to prison, Kenny Rogers’ black-handed pitching in the World Series, Ben Roethlisberger’s motorcycle sack, the latest NBA brawl, the Cincinnati Bengals’ string of arrests or any of Terrell Owens’ bizarre antics, from his non-suicide attempt to his spitting episode.But there was plenty of good happening out there, too. The best sports story of 2006—I didn’t rank it because it was singular, and “biggest” doesn’t do it justice—was the return of the New Orleans Saints to the team’s beleaguered hometown and home stadium, the Superdome. Nobody could have predicted the remarkable renaissance of one of the NFL’s perennial doormats, a renaissance that we would have wished for the...
  • Nastia Liukin

    During the run-up to the 2000 Sydney Games, gymnastics guru Bela Karolyi visited a Dallas gym to appraise an Olympic hopeful. He was surprised to see a 10-year-old sprite cavorting among the elite gymnasts. At first Karolyi was annoyed by the distraction, but soon he found he couldn't take his eyes off the kid. "Her personality commanded attention," he says. "She had this total confidence--with no sense she didn't belong there among the best."Today, at 17, Nastia Liukin commands the attention of the entire gymnastics world--and nobody questions her standing. She has won back-to-back U.S. all-around titles and, at the 2005 Worlds, took home more medals--two golds and two silvers--than any other gymnast. Now Liukin has her sights on Beijing 2008, where, with her dazzling repertoire, she could be America's breakout summer star.No American gymnast has ever had a more exalted pedigree. Liukin's father, Valeri, who coaches her, won two gold medals for the Soviet Union at the 1988 Seoul...