Four Corners: The biggest story of '07 was...

This was the year athletes stopped being targets of society's adulation and simply became targets.

The NFL lost two of its best young defensive backs in Sean Taylor (Nov. 27) and Darrent Williams (Jan. 1). Both senselessly gunned down -- Taylor in mid-season, leaving his playoff-contending Redskins in mourning.

Two prominent NBA players, Eddy Curry and Antoine Walker, were victims of home-invasion robberies. Walker was bound with duct tape as men then made off with his Mercedes, cash and jewelry.

Just a few weeks ago, Indiana Pacers guard Jamaal Tinsley was shot at with an assault weapon in front of an Indianapolis hotel. And these incidents were just to name a few.

Many will remember this year in sports for cheating, whether it be of the performance-enhancing type or the referee-gone-bad persuasion.

I'll remember it as the year America's gladiators, our athletes, became vulnerable.

The year their communities stopped giving them a pass.

The year they had to start watching their backs, just like everyone else.

Eddie Brown

It's hard not to feel guilty, as sports fans, for placing all this horrid, depressing news at the top of our "Stories of the Year" charts.

Referees fixing games. Athletes repeatedly getting mugged. Baseball players sticking needles in their butts. Can't we celebrate the positive aspects of our sports world, instead of dwelling on this disgusting behavior?

The answer is "no."

No inspirational tale can Ctrl-Alt-Delete the story of countless canines being mauled in a pit or, even worse, executed in a back yard. No SportsCenter "Top 10" play can erase the image of Michael Vick stepping into the courtroom wearing prison stripes. And no brilliant coaching move can overshadow the stupidity in which Vick acted when he threw away his career for loser friends.

The Vick story resulted in the NFL's most recognizable and definitely most electric player being sent to prison for up to 23 months.

It turned a potential playoff contender (the Falcons) into the league's laughingstock.

And it opened America's eyes to the brutal world of dogfighting, showing that even the saddest of stories should be learned from, and not forgotten.

Performance-enhancing drugs and the athletes who use them consumed the sports consciousness more in 2007 than any other year.

The scandals had been building for more than a decade. As much as fans and professional leagues may prefer to downplay or simply deny the infiltration of artificial chemicals on the sports landscape, the problem has become impossible to ignore.

It happened because Giants slugger Barry Bonds (above) finally became the home run champion, with questions about how he was able to achieve the mark dogging him the whole way. It happened because sprinter Marion Jones was finally spurred to tell the truth about her drug use, which helped her claim Olympic titles.

It happened because of the Mitchell Report, as government and Major League Baseball finally acknowledged how widespread the problem is and stepped in for the sake of the game and athletes from the youth leagues to the pros.

Drugs were one of the biggest sports stories of the year because a movement is finally being made to stop the abuse. It's not OK to look the other way and deny responsibility at any level anymore. We finally had that confirmed.

Yeah, I know they still have to win five more games to make perfection official, but you can't deny that the New England Patriots (14-0) have been the talk of the NFL.

Actually, it started on the first day of the NFL Draft, when they acquired disgruntled but talented receiver Randy Moss from the Oakland Raiders for a fourth-round pick. This added him to a corps that already had pulled in Wes Welker and Donté Stallworth.

Since the season began, the Pats have had more than their share of highlights:

They were heavily fined for "Spygate," where it was found they were filming the New York Jets' defensive signals during a Week 1 victory.

Quarterback Tom Brady (below) is putting his stamp on the record books. He has 45 TD passes, four short of tying Peyton Manning's 2004 record.

Moss has 19 TD catches, three short of Jerry Rice's mark (although the ex-49er only needed 12 games to do it and Moss may get 16).

They've been accused of running up the score on many occasions. As a result, the Pats need 34 points to top Minnesota's 1998 mark of 556.

The Patriots are just weeks away from history. Of course, me writing this probably jinxed it. I wouldn't have a problem with that.