This year in sports had it all. Heartbreak, work stoppages, destinies fulfilled and everything in between. In the first of several year-end lists around our cozy corner of the Internet, we bring to the world 15 sports stories which all left their mark since January 1. Not a definitive, end-all, say-all, be-all compilation by any stretch of the imagination, it is, however, hard not to imagine the past year in the sports world without reliving the following 15.
Before moving on to the show, take a look at a handful of stories which deserved to make the cut, but didn't.
-- Pat Summitt steps down
-- Derrick Rose's injury
-- Peyton Manning becomes a Bronco
-- Robert Griffin III becomes a near biblical figure in D.C.
-- Rafael Nadal wins seventh French Open
-- Adrian Peterson's magical comeback season
-- College football has a playoff system in place
Now, for the main event...
1. New York Giants Capture Second Super Bowl in Four Years
Like they always do, Eli Manning and the New York Giants put together a late season charge (at my expense) which culminated in a dramatic Super Bowl victory. How they did it was equally as impressive. Forget the 24-2 embarrassment they handed Atlanta, the Giants went on the road and defeated Green Bay and San Francisco to earn another crack at Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. And once again, after a late drive orchestrated by Eli and another immaculate catch - this time by Mario Manningham - Patriot Nation was left wondering where the hell everything went wrong.
Say what you will, too, but from the time New York beat the Cowboys in Dallas 37-34 to the Super Bowl itself, Archie's youngest son was the most clutch player in American sports. Bar none.
2. Penn State And The Worst Year Ever
In a year for college football revealing a playoff system is officially on the horizon and a freshman won the game's most coveted individual award, there was no denying the biggest story was Penn State. First, there was Joe Paterno's death. Then, Jerry Sandusky was found guilty, and later sentenced to about 300 years too few. Then, the Freeh Report all but threw anyone at Penn State under the bus who held a position of power while Sandusky's web of evil was being orchestrated on campus. Then, the NCAA rendered their decision.
Every win from 1998-2011 never happened, the Nittany Lions were banned from bowl eligibility for four years and scholarships were sliced from 25 to 15. And on top of that, PSU was forced to fork over a $60M fine. The only question now is when's the 30 For 30?
3. Dwightmare Took An Entire League Hostage
He's going to Brooklyn. He's not going to Brooklyn. He doesn't want to go Los Angeles because of Shaqaphobia. He's staying in Orlando. He's staying in Orlando? He got Stan Van Gundy fired? Dwight Howard's flip-flop on where the hell he actually wanted to play made LeBron and Carmelo's decision-making skills appear like Cabinet members for President Obama. D12's fear of being painted the "bad guy" inversely caused him to become the most annoying player in basketball.
The end result? He ended up getting traded to the Lakers anyway for what appeared to be a mega-squad out West (and could still be by season's end). Currently, he's shooting less than 50% from the free throw line and L.A. is 9-13. Couple that with the fact he could very well walk away from the Lakers next summer and, yes, in a sense, Dwightmare is still alive and well.
4. Replacement Refs Blow Packers-Seahawks MNF
We all knew this replacement refs fiasco was going to end in a shitshow. And boy, did it ever? Week 3's Monday night matchup between the Seahawks and Packers damn near broke the Internet because of the game's final play. Russell Wilson's heave as time expired ended with an interception, but was called a touchdown. Well, one ref called it no catch, but the other signaled six. From there, all hell broke loose and "Refpacalypse" was the only topic anyone wanted to discuss at the water cooler at work for the next few days.
Thankfully, Seattle is a legit squad no team in the NFC wants to see come playoff time. And also, the real refs were back in uniform Week 4.
5. Chelsea Wins The UEFA Champion's League
Ahem, Bro. S. Cadet has the floor...
"Pundits" and Football Manager pros alike pegged Chelsea as the ultimate underdogs against Bayern Munich for the Champions League trophy. Every explanation outside of Fulham, London for Chelsea's run started with "they're a fluke" and ended with "all they do is park the bus." Well, the bros from Stamford Bridge surely did the latter all the way to victory via penalty kicks. Then-interim manager Roberto di Matteo became an instant club hero after already sealing the FA Cup. If only he knew he'd be out of the job six months later...
6. Usain Bolt, Gabby Douglas & Michael Phelps Dominate London
As much as we may want to make this about Team USA Men's Basketball capturing gold yet again, the Olympics were defined by three names. Michael Phelps became presumably the greatest Olympian of all time (the one with most hardware, at least) by securing 19 total medials in his career. Gabby Douglas became the darling of the London games - and her hair was a controversial topic for reasons I never truly cared about - by taking home gold in the individual and team all-around competitions. Meanwhile, Usain Bolt just kept running faster than any human being on Earth.
And maybe the universe because if the Monstars invade Earth again, they can get it in the 100m and 200m, too. He's only won both convincingly the past two Olympics.
For lack of a better description, the New Orleans Saints 2012 season was over before it even started. A witch hunt initiated by Roger Goodell and fueled by the media, the year long saga as to whether or not Saints coaches, executives and players conspired to inflict true harm on opponents ended Tuesday with Paul Tagliabue's ruling.
Despite the decision, New Orleans' future appears foggy. A defensive overhaul is order quick, fast and in a hurry. Maybe of more importance though, the question of Sean Payton's future looms large over the city which will house the Super Bowl in February.
8. Miguel Cabrera Wins Triple Crown
This was probably the most under-appreciated story of 2012. Not since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 had baseball seen a triple crown winner. Detroit's Miguel Cabrera's 44 home runs, 139 RBI's and .330 batting from the plate ended the drought and probably would have been a bigger story had the Tigers not been swept by the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.
Regardless, the accomplishment and Miggy's dominance all season made everyone forget about his off-the-field troubles. As it should be (in most cases).
9. Manchester City Wins The EPL
For the first time in damn near a half a century - 44 years to be exact - Manchester City brought home the English Premier League title. And to make the taste of victory even sweeter, the fashion Man City did so made the streak all worth enduring. Sergio Aguero scoring his team's second goal approximately two minutes following Edin Dzeko's which made it 2-2 proved to be game-winning strike. Pride from victory is one thing, but following through on a near $1B investment from Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Mansour - who rescued the squad four years ago - was more so like a full-circle moment.
10. Lakers Shun Phil Jackson For Mike D'Antoni
If the Lakers aren't in the headlines, just know something is wrong. Following a November loss in Utah, Kobe laid forth on Mike Brown what has since become known in Internet folklore as the "death stare." Whatever it's officially known as, Brown was gone not even 48 hours later and the quest for a new Lakers head man was immediately underway.
Phil Jackson became the obvious choice to return to the Lakers sideline, and the Zen Master appeared headed back to the City of Angels for a third stint as Kobe's skipper. Then, sort of in the vein of Al Gore and George Bush in 2000, something happened overnight and by the time the world awoke the morning of November 12, Mike D'Antoni was tagged by Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak to take the storied franchise back to the promise land.
Needless to say, as of 12-13-12, Phil Jackson won.
11. NHL Lockout Threatening to Kill Hockey
See, here's the thing. The NHL isn't covered often around these parts mainly due to a perceived lack of interest. That said, when a sport - one of the four "major" sports at that - threatens to cancel an entire season because millionaires cannot come to some sort of an agreement, it's a sad story all around. And one where the only real losers are the fans.
Oh, and did I mention, if the season is indeed toe-tagged it will have been the third time since the 1994-95 campaign (2004-05 being the other). Potentially three seasons axed in less than 20 years? That's never good for business.
12. The NFL Marred By Tragedy
The country's most popular sport was dealt its fair share of black eyes in 2012. Arguably the blackest came from Junior Seau's suicide in May, Jovan Belcher's murder-suicide earlier this month and Jerry Brown's death caused by his teammate, Josh Brent, last weekend from alleged drunk driving. Whether or not the first two were a result of head trauma, it was proof of a duo of depressing truths. One, life as a celebrity - or at least a guy who appears to be making good money to live comfortably - isn't everything as we're preconditioned to believe. And two, the human mind can be the scariest place on Earth.
I'm not sure any of us will ever erase the image of Junior's mother reacting to the news.
As if a Giants Super Bowl victory wasn't enough, the New York Knicks then became the most talked about basketball team in the world. Jeremy Lin's "ashy-to-classy" story dominated tabloids, SportsCenter and sports talk radio as if he were first cousins with Tim Tebow. His string of game-winning theatrics, scoring barrages and all around feel-good nature earned him two Sports Illustrated covers and even had him creeping into the discussion of the league's best floor generals. Right.
Lin's story was nothing short of awesome, indeed. Then that regular season game in Miami and Mike Woodson happened effectively ending "Linsanity." And one ugly departure from the Big Apple would follow months later.
14. Lance Armstrong's Titles Stripped, Public Enemy #1 In Cycling
Remember when Lance Armstrong made cycling relevant in America during the late '90s and early 2000s with seven consecutive Tour De Fance titles? Yeah, like Reggie Bush's Heisman, they never happened. The International Cycling Union - thanks to USADA mounting evidence - stripped Lance of his titles in October upon doping allegations; a decision Armstrong agreed to finally cease fighting after years legal chest bumping. UCI President Pat McQuaid drew permanent battle lines in the sand when he said of Lance following the decision, "He deserves to be forgotten."
Of note, while it appears as if everyone who ever worked with Lance ratted on him, Armstrong never once tested positive for any banned substances.
15. The Year of LeBron
No athlete before LeBron had been under the pressure to win a title in the manner he was. Riding off a previous postseason which ended with an all-time bad performance against the Mavericks, LBJ righted all wrongs in 2012 and silenced every critic (well, almost) on the way to his first NBA title. The King's playoff averages of 30 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two steals only told half of the story. His transcendent performances against Indiana in Game 4, Boston in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals and a triple double in Game 5 of the NBA Finals exorcised demons allowing S.I.'s Sportsman Of The Year to do something he hadn't in over a decade - relax.
He also became the second player in history to capture a NBA title, Finals MVP, regular season MVP and gold medal in the same year.* The other? Some guy who was allegedly halfway decent in his day, Michael Jordan.
* - And damn near took home the All Star Game MVP.
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