Surely it was an omen. Not even one full day into the new year and sports turned downright weird in 2006, with Doug Flutie making the first drop kick in the NFL since 1941.

The year ended with a different sort of kick – the announcement of the Clericus Cup, a soccer tournament for priests and seminarians. The Vatican will field a team, although there was no immediate word from the Holy See if hard fouls will be designated as clerical errors.

Between Flutie’s throwback kick – the previous one came two weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor – and the Clericus Cup, which put an ecclesiastical stamp on the notion that soccer is indeed religion, all sorts of odd bounces rolled across the sports landscape.

Gonzaga’s baseball team turned triple plays in consecutive innings, both triggered by a line drive caught by first baseman Bobby Carlson; a bullfighter named Rafita Mirabal performed in Mexico at the grizzled age of 9; French environmentalist Raphaella Le Gouvello windsurfed solo across the Indian Ocean; British jockey Paul O’Neill was suspended a day for head-butting his horse, and former Southern California football great Anthony Davis had his gastric-bypass surgery broadcast live online.

But this was all tame stuff. Consider Warren Sapp, the Oakland Raiders defensive tackle who refuses to eat in restaurants on the road for fear that someone is trying to poison him.

He says it happened to him repeatedly while with Tampa Bay, and he is especially wary of dining out in Philadelphia. Once, like a king of yore whose food was tested by a serf, he switched plates with a friend. The friend became violently sick.

“I know it’s real,” Sapp says.

Elsewhere in the NFL, Detroit Lions assistant coach Joe Cullen was arrested twice in the space of two weeks, once for allegedly driving nude.

The judicial system and sports went one-on-one in Tacoma, Wash., where a judge was disciplined for ordering those in her court to give a “Go Seahawks” cheer for the Super Bowl-bound team. The rally cry came before she issued a manslaughter sentence. Judge Beverly Grant later recognized the “inappropriateness of my opening comments.”

Diego Maradona, no stranger to the law, was stripped of two Rolex watches by police after a news conference in Italy. The soccer great faces a $38.5 million bill in unpaid income taxes. The watches total about $13,000. He made sure to remove his earrings before he got to the police station.

Police were also on the case in golf. At the New South Wales amateur championship in Australia, play was suspended when a stolen truck crashed onto the course while police chased an armed man. Four groups remained stuck on the sixth hole after it was declared a crime scene.

Similarly, the Chrysler Championship in Florida was interrupted when police with guns drawn pursued two youngsters accused of burglarizing a house.

“Never had a manhunt out here,” said PGA Tour player Brian Gay, on the third tee at the time.

At the Memorial, Phil Mickelson encountered a unique hazard. The Masters champion returned to complete his second round only to find the pin on the sixth hole in a new spot. Officials had to move the cup after someone filled it with excrement.

Texas Rangers outfielder Kevin Mench also was puzzled. He couldn’t figure out why one of his toes kept hurting. Not even cortisone injections helped. Finally, a specialist had an answer: His shoes were a half size too small.

“Man, I’d been wearing 12s since I was 15 years old,” Mench said.

Doug Mirabelli of the Boston Red Sox had a Clark Kent/Superman moment in 2006. He didn’t exactly dash into a phone booth and come soaring out in a cape, but he acquitted himself nicely. The Red Sox had just reacquired the catcher from San Diego and needed him immediately to handle knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

Mirabelli got a police escort from the airport, changed clothes in a car and arrived just before the opening pitch. The key stat? From Logan Airport to home plate at Fenway Park: 25 minutes.

Commerce never stopped in sports in 2006. Even Smarty Jones was part of the action, but this had nothing to do with stud fees. The 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner turned artist. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported an organization is getting famous horses to paint with their noses, whiskers, hooves and tails to create “Moneighs.” One work by Smarty went for $3,250 on eBay.

Ben Johnson also tried to cash in. The disgraced sprinter, who lost his Olympic gold medal after testing positive for steroids, was featured in commercials for Cheetah Power Surge sports drink. When asked in the ad if he uses the product, Johnson replies: “I Cheetah all the time.”

Sal Meijer never won – or lost – an Olympic medal. He owns a kosher sandwich shop in Amsterdam. The Israel-Andorra European Championship qualifier had been shifted to the Netherlands because of fighting in Lebanon. But the Dutch stadium, about a 90-minute drive from Amsterdam, was not selling soccer tickets, fearing violence. The Israelis wondered if Meijer’s shop would take care of sales. Asked why they turned to him, Meijer said: “They like my food.”


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