Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! It’s almost 2012. And what a year it was. The SneakyGoodSportsGuy takes a look back at 2011.
So, in somewhat chronological order:
The Cam Newton Revolution– Two years ago no one had ever heard of Cam Newton. 50 touchdowns later he was a Heisman Trophy Winner. One improbable run by Michael Dyer later and he was a national champion. A few months later and he was a number one selection in the NFL Draft. Still, not everyone was so sure he would be an effective professional quarterback. I was certainly skeptical. Then he threw for over 400 yards in his first two games and began what might be a runaway Rookie of the Year award. In his first season he set the record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback and set the record for passing yards in a season by a rookie. He proved that he had the accuracy and the intelligence to play pro football, and to play it very well. He may be a star for a very long time. If not in for-real football, at least in fantasy football.
Go! Pack! Go!- Finally, Green Bay fans could forget about Brett Favre. After what was a confusing and frustrating decade, the Packers finally got everything to work. In what was really a great run, Green Bay won two must-win games in the regular season before an impressive postseason run that ended with a victory against a very good Pittsburgh Steelers team. You have to live in Northeast Wisconsin to really understand the Packers-mania that ensued after that win. That wasn’t enough for them, as they just decided to keep winning, until finally being defeated by perhaps the most unlikely team: The Kansas City Chiefs. No matter; Green Bay is set for another run at the Super Bowl. It helps that they’re led by Aaron Rodgers, AP Sportsman of the year (deserved, but keep in mind the great year Novak Djokovic had) and currently the best quarterback in football.
Hurt in Hockey– If non-hockey fans know anything about hockey right now, its probably either a. The citizens of Vancouver rioted after they lost to Boston or b. Their concussion problems are as bad as the NFL. I have seen few things in sports more horrifying than the hit by Zdeno Chara that sent Max Pacioretty crashing into a post at the end of one of the team’s benches. If that wasn’t bad enough, the best player in the NHL, Sidney Crosby, took a hit that ended his season. Concussions in the sport are at an all-time high. And to make matters even worse, three former enforcers died, two of confirmed suicide, the other of apparent accidental overdose. All may have been linked to brain damage. Perhaps football is not the most dangerous sport to the human brain? There was also the crash of the plane carrying a Russian hockey team and several former NHL players. While it was a good season for professional hockey, there was plenty of darkness as well.
The (First) Lockout– The prospect of no NFL season terrified this nation like few things ever have. Ray Lewis warned that crime rates would go up “if they take away our game.” Carlton Mitchell sat on the side of the street with a sign that said “Will run routes for money!” Every day on SportsCenter you would see clips of Roger Goodell walking into a meeting, then DeMaurice Smith, then maybe Jeff Saturday, and you would hear Adam Schefter of Chris Mortenson say either “sources say they’re getting closer” or “no progress was made (sources say).” In the end, only a few training camps were missed and the NFL gave us another great season. Perhaps the ridiculous passing numbers were a by-product of defenses not having time to prepare, but does anyone really mind that?
The Jimmer Phenomenon– While the very fact that a 6 foot 2 white kid from BYU won National Player of the Year is impressive by itself, perhaps Fredette’s most impressive achievement was the creation of the phrase “Jimmer Range.” That’s what shooting a ridiculously long three-point shot is called now. Kids like to say the name of a pro basketball player when they take a shot sometimes, “Kobe” probably being the most popular, but now kids go ten feet behind the line so they can throw correct shooting form out the window and chuck up a shot that ricochets off the backboard just so they can say “Jimmer!” I don’t know that we’ll ever see another college basketball player quite like Jimmer Fredette.
The Insanity of March Madness– The ridiculous number of upsets this year in the NCAA tournament was unfathomable. Most notably was the run of VCU, as they defeated USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State, and Kansas, before losing to Butler in the Final Four. That loss created the other big storyline, which was Butler’s repeat loss in the championship game, this time to UCONN, who hadn’t lost a tournament game of any sort the entire season. I like Cinderella stories, but I would be okay with just one high seed in the Final Four. The plethora of upsets almost cheapened their individual value in my opinion.
Liar, Liar, Vest on Fire!- Ohio State went from being one of, if not the, premier college football programs in the nation, to losing its coach, best player and a bowl game. All over a few tattoos. The NFL showed college football to be its farm-league when it suspended Terrelle Pryor because he would have been suspended had he played. Jim Tressel went from being, according to Bob Knight, the best coach in sports, to an instant replay consultant with the Colts. Perhaps it was all for the better, as Ohio State hired Urban Meyer as their new head coach. Still, the Ohio State scandal was just the beginning of the nightmare college football would face for the rest of the year.
The Mavericks Win it All- As if sweeping the Lakers and fending off the much younger Thunder wasn’t enough, a rag-tag bunch of wiley veterans took on a team with more stars than Orion the Hunter and beat them in 6 games. Dirk Nowitzki finally proved he wasn’t a big soft European big. In fact, he reminded everyone how unstoppable he really is when he is locked in. Joining him were the Jet, a midget, a defensive center, a grown man who shoots like a five-year-old, some guy with a tattoo of Abe Lincoln, a pure shooter from the former Yugoslavia, an ancient point guard, possibly the worst free-throw shooter in history and The Custodian (and I almost forgot Ian Mahinmi!). One of the most interesting NBA seasons ever was capped off with one of the most interesting champions. And through it all Mark Cuban was silent.
Boston Wins and Vancouver Burns– One franchise had never won, the other hadn’t won since 1972. The
Vancouver Canucks might have won the Stanley Cup if not for the incredible goalkeeping of Bruins’ goalie Tim Thomas, the Finals MVP. Still without a championship, the citizens of Vancouver rioted and got Steve Nash really angry. Meanwhile Boston reveled in its glory as the best city in sports. Just wait until we talk about baseball….
Rory McIlroy replaces Tiger Woods– First was the Masters. Rory MicIlroy, the next big thing in golf, completely collapsed and ended up losing to the eventual winner, Charl Schwartzel, by ten shots. Perhaps more amazing was Tiger Woods nostalgic run to fourth place. After a third round 74, he came storming back, and for a while I watched and thought “Could he really be back? Will this be another one of those awe-inspiring moments the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 2008 U.S Open?” In the end, it wasn’t. And he would not a win a tournament until December. However, McIlroy would be back. Two months later he set the course record at the U.S Open and won in a dominating fashion. The 22-year-old proved himself to be among the games’ elite. While he may continue to soar, we may never see the old Tiger Woods again.
New York Yankees Enter History– First Derek Jeter hit his 3,000th hit, a home run en route to a 5 for 5 day, then Mariano Rivera set the all-time saves record. The two most important Yankees in the last ten years proved that they, not New York, made their legacies.
U.S Women’s Soccer Miracle and Collapse– It took the 2010 World Cup and Landon Donovan’s dramatic goal against Algeria to make soccer relevant in the United States. That created just enough interest for people to realize that the Women’s World Cup was taking place in the Summer of 2011. Accustomed to the men’s team failing against soccer-nations and local rival Mexico, they expected the women’s team to not be all that great. It came as a surprsise that the U.S was actually ranked number one in the world. Then one of the most incredible goals (Wambach) in recent soccer history set the sports world on fire. Suddenly Hope Solo was a celebrity. People remembered the ’99 team. The country actually cared about a women’s sport. Unfortunately the U.S had to play Japan in the final. The U.S was playing for a championship; Japan was playing to bring hope to a nation. Normally we love to cheer for the underdogs or the feel-good story, but that’s tough to do when they’re playing your team. Throughout that game it was clear that the U.S was the better team, but they squandered several goal opportunities and Japan scored a miracle goal of their own to send the game to penalty kicks, and the U.S choked. There is no way to get around it; they should have won, and they didn’t. That set off complaints about the penalty kick system, when there had been no such talk after the U.S defeated Brazil in the same way. The United States of America is pretty good at sports, if you didn’t know, and it’s hard for us to admit that we lost, fair and square.
Deja U– Everyone had forgotten about the University of Miami’s involvement with Luther Campbell, right? Well if that was bad, how do you describe their involvement with Nevin Shapiro? A lot of really good NFL players went to the U, and a lot of those players at some time accepted gifts from Shapiro. Did they actually like this guy? This short little guy who looks like a goof running around on the field all fired up? Or was he just a guy with a lot of money who was willing to splurge for his homies playing for the Canes? Forget a few hundred dollars here and there; Shapiro dished out thousands and even paid for an abortion. Like Campbell, he put dangerous bounties on opposing players. Yahoo Sports did an outstanding job making sure they had the entire story before reporting it. 73 players is a big deal.
The NFL Loses Manning– Whether or not Peyton Manning is the best player in the NFL is a question to be argued. However, he is indisputably the most important and most recognizable player, and his absence has made an impact on the league. Besides no commercials, I think most people have realized he’s actually a likable guy. Those who dislike him just do because he’ so good and probably beat their team a few times. He also appears like he will handle a situation with Andrew Luck/RG3 better than Favre did with Rodgers. I think people just miss having him play every Sunday, and they can’t get used to a bad Colts team. The NFL and its fans can only hope that he is able to return to the game.
Superconferences– Texas A&M going to the SEC along with Missouri, TCU to the Big East then to the Big 12, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia want out of the Big East, a bunch of teams from west of the Rocky Mountains go to replace them. It’s the day of the Superconference, and there is no telling when or where it is going to stop.
Ridiculous WildCards and the Fall Classic- The most bizarre ending to any baseball season ever sent Atlanta and Boston home in shame and the Rays and Cardinals to the playoffs. This was followed by what was really a pretty good postseason (besides the rain delays). Then the World Series did not disappoint, with some of the most dramatic baseball I have ever seen. For further reading from the SneakyGoodSportsBlog, see Baseball in the Fall and the Fall of Baseball and 5 Things I Learned from the World Series.
The Deaths of Al Davis and Dan Wheldon– Each of them notable in their own right. Al Davis was as important to the NFL as just about anyone, and Dan Wheldon’s tragic death serves as a reminder of the unpredictability of life and its end.
The (Second) Lockout– For a long time (the entire summer) most sports fans were worried about the NFL lockout. The season was fast-approaching and some were getting nervous. The NBA lockout hardly warranted any notice. It didn’t take long into the autumn months for those fans to realize that the NBA lockout was a different beast entirely. References to slavery, calling out union presidents and commissioners, walking out of meetings, trying to get the people’s support; it sounded more like a presidential election than a labor dispute. The season was saved, but it is unknown whether or not the abbreviated schedule will produce good basketball, or even a stable future for the league. The lockout also seems to have created animosity between players, owners, and David Stern. At least we won’t have to deal with this for maybe another ten years.
Brandon Roy’s Retirement- Watch the video. I know there are much more tragic things in the world, but it’s still sad.
The L.A. Takeover– Lost amid the NBA free agent frenzy, the L.A. Angels made themselves a contender again with the signings of the game’s best player, Albert Pujols, and a very solid starting pitcher, C.J. Wilson. That may doom the Rangers to a wild-card race with the second place team in the AL East for the next several years, and the St. Louis Cardinals may struggle to keep up in the NL Central. Then, after the questionable vetoing of a trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers, the game’s best point guard ended up going to the Los Angeles Clippers. Now there’s talk of a new best team in L.A. Maybe.
Penn State and Syracuse Scandals- The Penn State scandal is a scary, confusing, and difficult subject. Who knows what the Bernie Fine scandal will show? What makes that all the more embarrassing is Jim Boeheim’s adamant defense of Fine, going so far as to call the accusers liars. This fall was a dark time in college sports.
So, there it is. Mostly anyway. As always, it was a great year in sports. As WordPress states it: “It’s just a game, right? Hardly. Riveting, inspirational, devastating — that’s sports. On a more basic level, it’s how we burn off extra energy and kill extra time. But there’s also a huge psychological component to athletics: It’s fun to brag about winning, especially in the company of thousands of fellow fans. Attending massive sporting events and rooting for our favorite team brings us together, and watching amazing athletes show off their skills inspires us in a way few other things on earth can.”
True, but keep in mind what is most important in life.
But sports are freaking great.
What did you think about 2011? Like, comment, subscribe, post to facebook, re-tweet, e-mail the SneakyGoodSportsGuy at firstname.lastname@example.org.