It was all about bowling this year, not the one with strikes and spares, but the one with the crazy predictions, BCS rankings, and debates over the correct "national championship" matchup. Creating most of the excitement and searches early on were the popular bowl projections, which were bravely composed and updated each week by college football experts Ivan Maisel and Mark Schlabach.
NFL Draft - NFL drafts are just so predictable, aren't they? Who didn't think Mario Williams would go No. 1?
Heisman - Although Troy Smith won by a landslide, users were intrigued all season long by the always-exciting Heisman race.
World Cup - The month-long tourney ended with a classic head-to-head battle between France and Italy.
College Basketball NCAA Tournament - After weeks of the Madness, the Gators emerged as victors for the first time in school history.
College Basketball NIT - It may be considered "the other dance," but never understimate the incredible lure of the National Invitational Tournament.
NFL Free Agents - Users enjoyed following all the overconfident powerhouse teams that let their more-overconfident key players switch zip codes.
College Football Rankings - Calculus, probability, rocket science, the BCS rankings ...
World Baseball Classic - The WBC started off with much uncertainty but quickly became a hit with users who enjoyed its parity and unpredictable outcome.
Super Bowl XL - The Steelers' storybook championship run and the many SB XL side stories kept users searching in droves for info on the extra large event.
ESPN Columnist Top Searches
The Sports Guy is so popular, even people he mentions in his columns become top searches.
Tuesday Morning Quarterback - Hindsight is always 20/20 and nobody likes a Tuesday morning quarterback ... that is, unless he's the loquacious and insightful Gregg Easterbrook.
Joe Lunardi - Users too impatient to wait until March for their college hoops bracket fix thankfully have bracketologist Joe Lunardi.
Mel Kiper, Jr. - Kiper is so much in-the-know about the NFL draft, he sometimes gets bored and writes up a Pop Warner Big Board. True story.
Dick Vitale - Dickie V might have come in fifth and missed out on the trifecta, but he's a PTPer and users still think he's awesome, baby!
Uni Watch - Versace, Dolce & Gabbana ... yawn. Our users know it's all about Uni Watch's take on sports couture.
Andy Katz - Users know that anything that happens in college hoops has already been reported on and analyzed by Andy Katz. Yep, he's that good.
Todd McShay - Every NFL team heeded McShay's college football scouting advice last draft ... except for the Texans. They now realize the error in their ways.
Peter Gammons - Users were more than thrilled when their favorite MLB columnist successfully returned after suffering an aneurysm.
Scoop Jackson - Whether he's personifying the short-lived synthetic NBA ball or just waxing poetic on the latest sports controversy, users continue to show Scoop plenty of love.
Tuna, T.O. and Tony in Texas = the top search.
Pittsburgh Steelers - The defending champs are still a top search despite Big Ben's injuries, The Bus' departure and a surprisingly mediocre record.
Chicago Bears - The Bears gave new meaning to Chicago's "WINdy City" moniker in '06.
New Orleans Saints - Fast becoming America's team after their startling resurgence in the wake of the Katrina disaster.
Oakland Raiders - From great expectations to a great lottery position.
Denver Broncos - Broncos coach and fantasy football favorite Mike Shanahan has his team primed for another go at the Super Bowl.
New York Giants - The G-Men started out ballin', but later found themselves fallin'.
Miami Dolphins - Miami may not be going to the Super Bowl as predicted, but at least the Super Bowl is coming to Miami.
New England Patriots - The Pats have seen more change than a bank teller, yet they remain remarkably consistent with wins and searches.
Seattle Seahawks - Madden Curse, Super Bowl loss, just making the No. 10 top search ... the 'Hawks are the NFL's version of Rodney Dangerfield.
Top NFL Players
Terrell Owens - When it comes to creating headlines, T.O.'s the NFL equivalent of Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears ... combined.
Brett Favre - One more season, one more Lambeau leap, one more fourth-quarter comeback, one more top search ranking for Favre.
Ben Roethlisberger - '06 started off sweet for Big Ben, but even when things went sour fans kept supporting the young Steelers QB.
Michael Vick - The Falcons struggled in '06, but Vick made NFL history as the first QB to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season.
Chad Johnson - Ocho Cinco ranks in at numero cinco.
Steve Smith - Twelve TDs for Carolina last year, and somehow managed to get 8 TDs for USC and an exclusive AI interview this year. Amazing!
Ricky Williams - Now that's love when you can be a top NFL search even when you're not playing in the NFL.
LaDainian Tomlinson - Wow! There actually is something in which LT doesn't rank No. 1.
Peyton Manning - Our users like 6-5, 230-pound quarterbacks with laser-rocket arms.
Randy Moss - Randy must not be in a good mood after ranking as only the No. 10 search.
No World Series or MVP, but still tied for the best record in '06 and, more importantly, No. 1 in ESPN.com MLB searches.
New York Mets - The "other" New York baseball team finally got some respect after tying the "evil empire" for the best record in the majors.
Boston Red Sox - The Red Sox fell short in '06, but their struggles had no ill effects on their popularity.
St. Louis Cardinals - The Cards' improbable run to win the World Series gives all fans of perennial playoff teams hope.
Detroit Tigers - Despite falling short of winning the World Series, the Tigers made an incredible turnaround, going from 71-91 in '05 to 95-67 in '06.
Atlanta Braves - It's been quite a while since the perennial NL East leaders placed third.
Chicago Cubs - Having the worst record in the NL has no effect on the Cubs' enduring popularity.
Minnesota Twins - Even though they fell short of reaching the World Series, these overachievers can claim an MVP as well as a top search ranking.
Chicago White Sox - The '05 champs couldn't quite make it happen in '06, but their excellent play and infamous manager kept them in the top searches.
Cincinnati Reds - Power and speed characterized this scrappy '06 Reds squad that became a top search despite missing the playoffs.
Top MLB Players
Barry Bonds - Whether he's chasing Ruth or Aaron, or chasing away reporters and steroids allegations, Bonds remains a fascinating figure to our users.
Alex Rodriguez - A-Rod might attribute his finishing second in searches behind Bonds to users' jealousy over his good looks.
Derek Jeter - So many searches for Jeter, but he really isn't that hard to find--just ask Jessica Biel or Scarlett Johansson or Jessica Alba...
Roger Clemens - Even though he played only half of a season, The Rocket remains a top search with our users.
Albert Pujols - MLB's most feared slugger achieved the ultimate goal this year ... making our top 10 searches. Oh yeah, his team also won the World Series.
MLB MVP - Albert Pujols says MLB MVP searches should be considered only if they make the top 10. Thankfully, that is the case.
Ryan Howard - Playoffs! Playoffs? We're talking HR Derby champ and NL MVP here.
David Ortiz - Big Papi kept the Sawx in the running all year long by continuing to be more clutch than a standard transmission
Sammy Sosa - Even without taking a swing all season, Sosa managed to keep users searching for his playing status throughout the year
Manny Ramirez - Trade rumors, bizarre injuries and "Manny being Manny" all add up to one popular search term with our users
Kobe, Phil, Jack, Diane ... Hollywood & hoops. What's not to love about the Lake Show?
NBA Draft - Sharpshooters Morrison and Redick highlighted an exciting '06 draft.
Team USA - Possible new Team USA slogan: Going for the bronze.
Miami Heat - The Heat come in right behind No. 3 ... how appropriate.
Detroit Pistons - After failing to make the Finals in '06, only one Wallace remains.
Cleveland Cavaliers - The "witnesses" probably won't have to wait too long before LBJ takes them to the NBA promised land.
Dallas Mavericks - The NBA championship was pulled right from their grasp, but Dirk & Co. are still as popular as ever.
Chicago Bulls - The Baby Bulls grew up fast with last year's playoff run and got a lot bigger with their acquisition of Big Ben Wallace.
Phoenix Suns - Easily the most exciting NBA team to watch, the Suns look to build on their '06 playoff success.
Philadelphia 76ers - Only 51% of Sixers searches were Iverson-related. The other 49% was for their mascot Hip-Hop ... people love that guy!
Top NBA Players
Kobe Bryant - No. 8 is now No. 24, and much like Jack Bauer he always manages to pull off the impossible in the toughest circumstances.
Allen Iverson - Although he's now breaking ankles in Mile High country, Philly fans have never questioned The Answer's heart.
LeBron James - What more can you say about LeBron? The kid is wise and all about his business.
NBA MVP - "Is your game MVP like Steve Nash?" - Nelly Furtado.
Michael Jordan - Nothing could be finer than MJ back in Carolina.
Sebastian Telfair - After highly publicized incidents with airport security and a shooting at Justin's Restaurant, Telfair has truly been through the fire in '06.
Dwyane Wade - Black and red uni, takes over games, NBA champion and Finals MVP ... could Wade actually be the true "Air apparent"?
Steve Nash - Can you say "MVP squared"?
Ben Wallace - Joins Shaq in proving that free-throw percentage has absolutely no bearing on how big of an NBA contract one can obtain.
Ron Artest - Ron-Ron had a quiet year, both on the court and on the music charts.
Being bounced from the playoffs by the eventual champs motivated the Sabres, as they have been on an early tear this season.
NHL Trade Deadline - A record 25 trades took place on the March 9 trade deadline in '06.
Pittsburgh Penguins - Excitement and scoring abound with the young Pens, although the team's eventual new home remains a mystery.
NHL Free Agents - Anxious fans always want to know what final piece of the puzzle is still available for their favorite team.
New York Rangers - After Jagr's resurgence and adding Brendan Shanahan in the offseason, there is a lot of excitement in Gotham.
Colorado Avalanche - Despite being swept by the Ducks early in the playoffs, the Avs remain as popular as ever.
New Jersey Devils - After an amazing 11-game win streak going into the playoffs, the Devils looked invincible ... until they met up with the Hurricanes.
Philadelphis Flyers - The Broad Street Bullies looked good early in '06, but after squeaking into the playoffs they were bullied out by the Sabres.
San Jose Sharks - Blew a 2-0 lead over the Oilers and were bounced from the playoffs after losing four straight to the eventual Stanley Cup runners-up.
Carolina Hurricanes - With the help of nostalgic Hartford Whalers fans, the Stanley Cup champs just managed to make the top 10.
Top NHL Players
Alexander Ovechkin - The no. 1 draft pick from the lost '04-05 season totally overshadowed all others and has been the best Russian import since Stoli.
Sidney Crosby - Sid the Kid proved that all the hype was worth it, as he and Ovechkin led an exciting rookie class.
Wayne Gretzky - Even as a newbie head coach, The Great One manages to remain a top search.
Jaromir Jagr - Jagr had more goals in '06 than a high school valedictorian
Eric Lindros - The always-popular winger returned to his native Canada as a Toronto Maple Leaf in '06.
Evgeni Malkin - Russian rookie sensation made history scoring at least one goal in his first six NHL games for the Penguins.
Peter Forsberg - In '06 the Swedish sniper finally joined and played for the Broad Street Bullies, who originally drafted him back in '91.
Ryan Miller - Young goalie's brilliant play had the Sabres on the brink of earning the right to compete for Lord Stanley's Cup in '06.
Joe Thornton - To Bruins fans' dismay, Thornton was traded to the Sharks and enjoyed a career year dishing out more assists than Steve Nash.
Mario Lemieux - Super Mario's retirement in '06 gave users a chance to look back and marvel at his incredible career.
The Buckeyes' dominant season has kept the storied program at the top of the polls as well as the searches.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish - When a school has a major network exclusively airing its home games, is it really a surprise that it's a top search?
Michigan Wolverines - Many thought the Wolverines should have been in the championship after battling OSU to the end.
Florida Gators - After already dominating college hoops in '06, the Gators look to become college gridiron champs in '07.
Texas Longhorns - Even McConaughey's undying support wasn't enough to get the Longhorns back to the championship after VY's exodus.
Miami Hurricanes - The U's dominance on the field has waned, but not its propensity to make headlines.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights - Cinderella team caught everyone's attention after defeating then-No. 3 Louisville.
LSU Tigers - The Bayou Bengals' great season in the highly competitive SEC earned them a hometown showdown bowl against the Irish.
Arkansas Razorbacks - The Razorbacks enjoyed a remarkable resurgence behind star RB Darren McFadden
Tennessee Volunteers - Three-pointers were his uncle's specialty, but QB Erik Ainge prefers six-pointers in his quest to take the Vols to the 'ship.
Top CFB People
Marcus Vick - Trouble just seems to follow the former Virginia Tech star QB like a shadow.
Reggie Bush - The '05 Heisman winner's college runs and high school highlights amazed users, and his NFL rookie season is proving to be just as incredible.
Vince Young - Longhorn legend is proving all doubters wrong and is aimed on making everyone remember the Titans in his NFL rookie campaign.
Matt Leinart - The USC QB was shocked by his draft position, but he has brought plenty of excitement to the Cardinals with his brilliant play.
Brady Quinn - Quinn's excellent season and stats weren't enough to beat out all-world Buckeyes QB Troy Smith for the Heisman.
Lendale White - Thunder to Bush's lightning at USC primed to make his mark in the NFL.
Vernon Davis - Davis' 4.40 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine was the fastest ever for a tight end.
Troy Smith - It seems the '06 Heisman winner can do no wrong
Adrian Peterson - Heisman favorite suffered season-ending injury but still amassed nearly 1,000 rushing yards in only six games for the Sooners.
Tom Zbikowski - Notre Dame defensive back/professional boxer gives new meaning to the term "hard-hitting safety."
Coach K's squad fell short of the championship but users love following the Dookies just as much as those Cameron Crazies.
Florida Gators - The Gators surprised many with their championship win and even managed to steal the spotlight from the football team for a few months
Kentucky Wildcats - Like celeb fan Ashley Judd, the Wildcat faithful support their team in the good and bad times
Syracuse Orange - Unfortunately, the Orange's strong play in the Big East tourney didn't carry over to the NCAA tourney
North Carolina Tar Heels - The young Heels shocked everyone, except the UNC faithful, with how quickly they became top-ranked competitors
Gonzaga Bulldogs - The Zags' 20-game win streak came to a sudden and tearful stop in the tourney at the hands of UCLA
UCLA Bruins - The Bruins looked unstoppable throughout the tourney but met up with the Gators' juggernaut in the championship game
Villanova Wildcats - Randy Foye's brilliant game wasn't enough to get 'Nova past eventual champ Florida in the tourney
Kansas Jayhawks - Powerhouse program was bounced early from the tourney by upstart Bradley
Indiana Hoosiers - Though the Hoosiers were game competitors in the tourney, most searches for Indiana were regarding the change in the coveted coaching spot
Top CBB People
J.J. Redick - After tormenting opposing defenses and winning every POY award imaginable, how could he not be the most searched player?
Adam Morrison - Don't shed any tears for the 'stache, he's a top search on ESPN.com
Greg Oden - Man-child Oden has OSU fans, NBA scouts and ESPN.com users salivating over his big-game potential
Ryan Wedel - Users loved the story about the Arkansas State guard who scored 25 points in 2:02 of a high school game when he was a senior.
Bobby Knight - The General had his own reality show, chin-checking controversy and victory milestone in 2006
Gerry McNamara - The 'Cuse's tenacious 3-point shooter's last-second heroics in the Big East tournament made him a fan fave and top search in '06
Brandon Roy - Washington Huskies standout capped off a great year by being the first guard picked in the '06 NBA draft
Rudy Gay - Former Big East ROY's average jumped 4 points his sophomore year, then he jumped to the pros as the eighth pick
Joakim Noah - Tennis legend's son made a name for himself as the heart and soul of the champion Gators
Tyler Hansbrough - High-scoring, big-boarding Tar Heel PF was unanimously voted ACC Freshman of the Year in '06
Carl Edwards - Edwards didn't quite make The Chase, but remains extremely popular -- largely due to his ESPN The Magazine cover.
Tony Stewart - "There can't be two No. 1s; that makes 11." Stewart finished 11th, just missing The Chase, but he had a strong showing in search.
Jeff Gordon - Speed Racer's real-life twin had an excellent comeback year finishing 6th in the Nextel Cup and 4th in ESPN.com searches.
Ricky Bobby - Our users either never realized Ricky Bobby isn't a real person or they just loved our cool "Talladega Nights" promos.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - Junior enjoyed a comeback in '06, placing fifth in the Nextel Cup standings after finishing 19th in '05.
Kasey Kahne - Made the three ladies who destroyed his car in the Allstate commercial search for him enough times to make the top 10.
Marco Andretti - It must be the genes. The IRL ROY made history in '06 becoming the youngest to ever win an open-wheel major (at 19).
Michael Schumacher - Seven-time champion retired in '06, ending his remarkable 16-year career.
Jimmie Johnson - No. 1 in the 2006 Nextel Cup standings, but only No. 10 in the year's top searches.
The month-long tourney ended with a classic head-to-head battle between France and Italy.
Brazil - Arrived in Germany as the prohibitive favorite, left as one of the biggest flops in history
Liverpool - Disappointing year on the field, but search numbers prove the team still doesn't walk alone
Barcelona - Captured the imagination of the public with beautiful play and added Champions League title
Italy - Proved to be world beaters in Germany, whether Sepp Blatter likes it or not
Real Madrid - Another trophy-less year for world's most famous club
Juventus - Match-fixing scandal kept the Old Lady in the news for all the wrong reasons
Arsenal - Fading in England, but came within minutes of European crown
Chelsea - Proved money can buy everything except European success
Manchester United - No longer winning titles, but thanks to Chelsea, no longer England's answer to the Yankees
Top Soccer People
Zinedine Zidane - Zidane's heady World Cup play made his swan song one that fans will never forget.
Cristiano Ronaldo - Portuguese star emerged as one of the world's best -- and most controversial -- players in '06.
Ronaldinho - Despite a miserable World Cup, Ronaldinho remains as popular as ever.
David Beckham - Soccer's pretty boy could soon be coming to an MLS club near you.
Wayne Rooney - Rushed back from injury to lead England in the World Cup, proceeded to injure opponent's groin.
Kaka - Brazil's answer to David Beckham was one of country's least disappointing players in Germany.
Freddy Adu - Lately there's been much ado about which club Freddy might end up with.
Thierry Henry - Arsenal and France star continued to bang in the goals in '06, except in the two biggest games of his life.
Miroslav Klose - Popular German led all scorers with five goals in the World Cup.
Landon Donovan - ESPN.com users were not the only ones searching for Donovan during the World Cup; Bruce Arena was, as well.
Being the top search makes Maria feel pretty ... oh so pretty.
Michelle Wie - Fired her caddy after he didn't search for her enough times on ESPN.com.
Danica Patrick - Still hasn't forgiven Dan Patrick for having her car towed after she parked in his spot.
Candace Parker - Standout Lady Vol had a higher dunk rate than Adam Morrison.
Martina Hingis - The Swiss Miss' return to the court kept competitors nervous and users searching for her latest triumph.
Serena Williams - Her injuries may have hurt her time on the court, but certainly not her popularity in search.
Natalie Gulbis - Although her game is usually under par, many users consider Gulbis to be above par.
Maggie Dixon - The untimely death of the young beloved Army coach touched many users.
Epiphanny Prince - Kobe who?
Tanith Belbin - Voted Page 2's hottest female athlete ... which could be hazardous in her profession.
The Contender - The boxing reality show is so good, Don King keeps asking ESPN if he can promote it.
720 Degree Dunk - What's even more amazing than the dunk is the fact that Air Up There is only 6-2!
College Baseball - Users are already maniacs for college football and basketball ... looks like the collegiate diamond isn't far behind.
Poker - The only thing growing faster than searches for poker is the ever-increasing annual World Series of Poker pot.
Jason McElwain - J-Mac's late-game heroics inspired and amazed users, and soon the autistic teen's story will hit the silver screen for all to see.
Laura Quinn - Received more searches than brother Brady and hubby A.J. Hawk combined! Maybe it was that spiffy jersey of hers.
Cricket - The posh sport continues to grow in popularity.
Ultimate Fighting Championship - You can't stop the ever-growing popularity of ultimate fighting, you can only hope to contain it.
Paintball - Users love that ESPN airs the World Paintball championships; they think it's to dye for.
NOTE: Results listed are the summation of actual search results on ESPN.com in 2006. All results are grouped by clustered variants, including clustering of equivalent terms, requests for web results, requests for local news, and requests for sponsored links.