Those were the dark ages of password cracking. The age of enlightenment came after 32 million non-unique plaintext passwords from RockYou were leaked to the Internet. Suddenly that pinhole turned into a porthole, and for the first time in history we got a solid look at how users were creating passwords on a mass scale.
The RockYou breach revolutionized password cracking. No longer were we using crap like list_of_kitchen_appliance_manufacturers.txt for wordlists. Everyone was just using rockyou.txt, and they were cracking a significant percentage of passwords. Markov statistics, mangling rules, everything was being based off what we learned from the RockYou passwords.