As the year 2012 kicks in, here are my top ten sports stories of 2011. Disagree with the list or the order? Let it be known in the comments.
10. Rematch for the BCS title game- This game is quickly approaching, but the build up during the season took up most of the talk in college football. It brought up the question of a playoff format for the game, as well as the fairness of a rematch. Due to voters letting Alabama in, we’ll never know what would’ve happened in an LSU vs Oklahoma State match-up.
9. Boston Bruins win Stanley Cup, Vancouver riots- The Bruins ended their Stanley Cup dry spell, but a beautiful city looked horrible due to one championship win. The Bruins made a remarkable run to win it all but it was overshadowed by what happened in Vancouver.
8. U.S. Women’s soccer falls short- At a time when there was very little going on during sports (the MLB All-Star break) Megan Rapinoe and Abby Wambach made a play which will live in United States sports history. The women’s soccer team made an emotional run to support their country and win the World Cup but fell short. The manner in which they lost to Japan allowed this to still be in the top ten, but had they won in penalty kicks this would’ve easily been in the top five of this list.
7. Tim Tebow- One former Heisman trophy winner polarized the country more than the nation’s politics do, so much so I had to write a post about how both sides needed to calm down and just let Tebow play. That still is the case, but Tebow’s play, both good and bad, made for compelling drama on a football field and had the NFL audience captivated. It’s because of this player that we have phrases like, “Tebowing” and “Tebow Time”. Ugh.
6. The Green Bay Packers- The Packers took the football world by storm in January 2011 by making an incredible run through the playoffs and beating the Pittsburgh Steelers. How do you follow that up? With an MVP-type season by Aaron Rodgers and threatening to go undefeated. The Packers took control of the NFL so much so that a survey during the year gave the Packers the nickname of “America’s Team” rather than the Cowboys. As we head into 2012, the Packers look to be the favorite to win the championship again.
5. Jeter and Rivera break records- Even if you weren’t a Yankee fan, you had to respect what these two accomplished during their careers and this season. Jeter’s accomplishment was especially remarkable. No previous Yankee, in the franchise’s storied history, had never had a 3,000 hits player before. Jeter reached this mark with a homerun and going 5-5 that day. While saves are sometimes considered a trivial statistic, it will be decades before someone passes Rivera’s mark.
4. Lebron James collapses- LeBron James developed a love-hate relationship with sports fans with his decision in 2010, and entered 2011 with fans hoping he would finally win his title and others wishing he’d fail. The latter got their wish, as James’ self-destruction versus the Dallas Mavericks became the punch line of many sports jokes. The whole world watched as the Finals favorites lost, and the blame was placed heavily on James.
3. Albert Pujols (finals and off-season)- The 2011 World Series was one to remember, and while David Freese won the MVP, much of the Cardinals win was due to what Pujols provided. Pujols had began the season with a huge debate on whether or not he deserved the huge contract he was asking for from St. Louis. Then, in a shocking move, Pujols surprised the sports world by signing with the Angels in the off-season, getting the big contract he was looking for from the beginning.
2. Scandals- There were far too many scandals to count in 2011: Ohio State’s NCAA violations and subsequent leaving of Jim Tressel and Terelle Pryor, Ryan Braun testing positive for steroids, David Stern denying the Lakers of Chris Paul, Syracuse’s Bernie Fine just to name a few. But nothing was more shocking and disgusting as the Penn State Scandal. If there was a list of all-time sports scandals, this would make a strong case for number one. The ignorance the university showed of the scandal, by both those involved and the students causing riots after Paterno’s firing was enough to make this a top story, but Jerry Sandusky’s alleged crimes are far worse than anything anyone could have imagined.
1. The lockouts- While the Sandusky story disgusted the country because of the alleged crimes, the biggest sports-only related story dealt with both the NFL and NBA lockouts. The NFL has become a huge part of American culture, and the threat of there being no football had fans on edge and taking sides for the players or owners. Almost every NFL off-season activity was changed in some way due to the lockout. Players, coaches, even team staffers were effected by the lockout. Finally, the NFL came to a deal and football resumed as scheduled. The NBA, however, was so dysfunctional it had to delay its season until Christmas day. It has yet to be determined just how players are going to be effected by this in-season, but it already made an impact by delaying the game, changing the schedule and giving Chris Paul to the Clippers rather than the Lakers. All in all, these two lockouts took up most of the year and had fans on the verge of an outrage if they lost their beloved sports.
Honorable mention: Peyton Manning injury, Auburn national title, Dan Wheldon death, NBA trades, Concussions, UConn men win national title/UConn women do not, Rory McElroy, Dan Marino’s single season passing yards record broken.