Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Year End Top 20

I hate to state the obvious, but it's been an interesting year. As are most years, I suppose, but still.

This blog came into existence on March 22, born of my desire to write about something, and knowing full well that "something" probably should not be music, for my own sanity's sake. (You spend your time practicing and playing shows and writing songs and honing your craft, the last thing you want to do is write about it too.) So I went for the other obvious avenue, and zeroed in on sports. There are probably about 18,436,978 sports blogs out there on the internet; encompassing the full spectrum of excellence and mediocrity, and carrying readerships measured in single digits or in vast orders of magnitude. (There is not necessarily a direct correlation between the quality of excellence and the orders of magnitude, mind you.)

My opening forays here were almost laughable attempts at mimicry, with precious little vector or focus. A paragraph of poorly-imitated David Halberstam here, a sentence of failed Joe Posnanski humor there. Simmons, MacMullen, Schiller, Ryan, Magary, Baker, Levy, Wilbon, Carmichael, Shoals, Harper, Roth ... I had a lot of reverential influences. Unfortunately, I kept veering into their varied stylistic bents at random intervals, with no definite rudder or sense of voice. Everything on the page kept coming up as an inauthentic, disjointed train wreck. There were also periods in which I was, for a variety of reasons, not as diligent in creating content in this space as I ought to have been. But you fumble in the dark long enough, you're going to stub your toe on a lamp eventually. Or at least your eyes should adjust enough to make out some dim, purposeful shadows.

I think I'm getting there.

Thanks to all who have read (and hopefully will keep reading) while I figure this whole thing out.

Anyway, to close out my inaugural (calender) year in this whole sports blogging deal, I'm going to leave all six or so of my loyal readers with one final entry before the champagne and revelry of the 31st.

Ladies and Gents, the Top 20 Sports Moments of 2011. (Note: these are highly subjective, in no particular order, and not all choices are "Top" in the superlative meaning of the word. Some choices made the cut because they resonated personally with me, others because they resonated, for better or worse, with everyone. And some are just plain funny.)

1. Penn State. I don't want to dwell on the horrors of the accusations, the disgusting, absurd reactions of some of the students, or even the awful fact that big-time college athletics can be, in the wrong hands and with VERY wrong priorities, fertile ground for something far more shameful than a few kids milking some extra folding money out of a broken system. Suffice it to say that this was the most shocking thing that has ever happened in sports or my or, I believe, any lifetime.

For sheer revulsion, O.J. in 1994 is the only thing to ever come close. It was, perhaps, more alarming in the immediate moment, watching the car chase as garbled bits of increasingly nauseating information reached us in real time. But it was nothing on this scale in terms of deliberation and scope over years and a repeated wilfulness by those in power to ignore what was wrong.

Sadly, it would be foolish to think this is the last terrible thing we will witness in a field that is supposed to be a trivial, joyous distraction from the "real world." (Look how closely the Syracuse scandal followed it.) But we can hope. May we be more vigilant, less ignorant, and better-equipped in the future. May we never allow our love of something so unimportant to cloud our eyes from the momentous and terrible. If this can't be the end of awful moral failing and tragedy in sports, perhaps we can ensure that its limits of horror will never be approached again.

2. Brandon Roy's Last Stand. I'll spare you a recounting of the details, just click on the link. I know a performance in a first-round playoff series in which his team was ultimately eliminated doesn't necessarily jump out as "Top 20" material. But consider: Roy just announced his retirement after a career that was grossly, unfairly abridged due to his knees acting like those of a 65-year-old man. This was his last full-stop display of the transcendent abilities that made him such a joy to watch during that brief window. We will never have the opportunity to watch him on the court again, unless it's on ESPN Classic when they re-air this game. (Which they should and will.)

3. Drew Brees breaks Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage record. Never mind that it came at the expense of completely humiliating my beloved Falcons on national television, watching history being made is always worthwhile. Also, Drew Brees is ridiculously good.

4. Game(s) 162 of the Major League Baseball Season. Honestly, sometimes you just gotta say "What the &#%^?" Tampa Bay's absurd comeback, the Sawx somehow collapsing against a lowly Baltimore team with nothing to play for, the Braves self-combusting against Philly, the Cards' insane surge ... traumatic as it was for those of us whose teams were thrashed in the process, there has never been a better, more improbable, more drama-filled night of regular season action in any sport. These are the moments when the actual theater outclasses anything we could possibly concoct or manufacture in our wildest, most unhinged flights of fancy. Something we'll never forget.

5. Eric LeGrand leading his Rutgers teammates out of the tunnel in a motorized wheelchair. If you didn't cry when you watched this, you may well be dead inside and I feel bad for you. After a horrific injury on the field paralyzed him, LeGrand became the voice of inspiration and optimism for the year. Not a voice, THE voice. In a sport which has seen so much go so horribly wrong this year, this was a moment that said everything about the better angels of our nature. As a matter of fact, it might have left even the angels slack-jawed with admiration and reverence. Here's a young man deprived of not only the game he loves, of speed and strength as release, but of normal, simple actions as a human being. Yet he has remained unwaveringly dedicated to the idea of surmounting his problems, and of smiling and laughing and savoring the things he can in life while he's at it. He's willing himself to constantly create joy out of awfulness, and to beat the steepest of odds getting back to a standing position. LeGrand's tweet after exiting that tunnel:

"So I left tire tracks in the snow yesterday as I led my team out next time will be footprints"

New Year's resolution we should all make: be more like Eric LeGrand.

6. Al Davis passes away. Has there ever been a death that produced a more high-profile and conflicting crop of press clippings? Davis was eulogized and derided; his innovations were praised and his faults were loudly, scornfully proclaimed. The ultimate take away was probably somewhere in the middle. This was a complex man who, for better and for worse, was tremendously important to the NFL, and without whom the landscape of football will never quite be the same.

7. UGA managed to do this. Keep your eye on the down-and-distance numbers in the bottom right, then watch the yellow line on the punt. THE EFFING PUNT doesn't even make it to the first down marker!!!!!! Hilarious.

8. The Bruins snapped a 40-year drought to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup. Which, you know, was cool.

9. On the NFL's opening Sunday, Cam Newton proves every doubter wrong. After a season's worth of dazzling highlights and otherworldly rookie numbers have essentially made him a lock for Offensive ROY, it's easy to forget how loudly many of us, myself included, were laughing when Newton went #1 overall in the NFL draft this year. Personally, I thought he was going to be a novelty/Wildcat guy; Tebow 2.0. But then, nothing we saw of his lone season at Auburn or during the abbreviated preseason screamed "super-clean, super-calm pocket passer." I was on the couch with a bunch of buddies watching Red Zone when they flashed Newton's final numbers (24/37, 422 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT) and a few highlights across the lower half of the screen. No one spoke for a full minute before someone finally said what were were all thinking: "Holy &^%#!" And all this was (relatively) devoid of the overt displays of athletic freakishness he unleashed as the season continued, but it was the precursor, the warning bell: this cat is for real.

10. Pat Summit's announcement of her early-onset dementia. Forget the easy delineations of men's/women's or college/pro, this is one of the five greatest basketball coaches of all time. During her announcement, and all the press conferences and interviews that followed, never once did she bemoan her fate, ask for sympathy, or behave for an instant in a manner that did not exude dignity, class, and the competitor's will to compete in the face of all odds. It would have been only human to exhibit grief and rage at the situation; only human to tread the road of the maligned, broken, and bitter. And since she chose not to exhibit those things or walk that road, we must conclude that Pat Summit is, in that respect, superhuman. And salute her for it.

11. Vin Mazzaro's May 16 stat line. Here we have a true encapsulation of the ridiculous and the awful. Here's the cringe-worthy portion of the box score:

Vin Mazzaro, LHP, Kansas City Royals. 2 1/3 IP, 11 H, 14 ER, 3 BB, 2K, 77 Pitches. Oof.

12. Novak Djokovic, who did not so much have a defining moment in 2011 as make all of 2011 his defining moment. 10 tournament wins, 3 Grand Slam victories, a record-breaking 5 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles, more money than anyone has ever made in a tour season, and utter dominance over pretty much everyone and everything in his path. The man finished his year 70-6. 70-6!!!!!!!!! That's inconceivable. (You keep on using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.) Everyone from Sampras to Becker to Nadal declared Djokovic's 2011 the highest sustained level of tennis they've ever witnessed. Which means it was probably the greatest season of tennis that any of us have ever witnessed.

13. Peyton Manning's Neck. Has there ever been a single injury that altered the dynamics of an NFL conference so drastically? In the blink of an eye (and the repair of some vertebrae), the Colts went from Super Bowl contenders to almost surely picking first in the 2012 draft. Meanwhile, the Texans, Pats, Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals reap the benefits, while the Colts probably get to reload with Andrew Luck next season. Sheesh.

14. Kemba Walker doing this. And this. And this. I cannot wait to watch this kid in the NBA.

15. Sunday, October 23. Tim Tebow gets his first start of 2011 on the road against the Miami Dolphins. Thus begins Tebowmania, an extended period of time during which all other sports storylines become secondary to an overtly religious, very humble young man winning a few football games. With awful mechanics. And awful-er stats. And largely thanks to a fantastic Broncos defense and a clutch kicker. The degree to which it subsumed everything else was ludicrous, but at some point you just have to ride the wave out. I was as guilty as anyone of buying into the hype, because it was fun and polarizing and interesting. And I suppose I'm still buying in by puttin gthis on the list, but it was a big honking deal before the Pats and Bills deflated the budding myth, and we were all along for the ride.

(15a: The X > Tebow ESPN Invasion. Because holy crap was that funny.)

16. The NBA Finals. After all the hype surrounding talents being taken to South Beach and the incessant, high-pitched media drone around the Miami Heat all season, we finally reached a moment of unanimous public relief/catharsis. Dallas played such beautiful basketball, and so completely destroyed the team that everyone wanted to see get destroyed ... it was a breathtaking culmination to a phenomenal season. We reveled in the grand pageantry of Dwayne Wade playing like a freaking boss (and LeBon not doing so), of Dirk's transcendent(al?) rain of fall-away J's, of Jason Kidd still having that much in the tank. And also the little things, like Tyson Chandler's unbelievable defense, Shawn Marion giving LeBron all he could handle, and of course, J.J. Barea being the most compact form of pure ballin' since Spud and Mugsy. For the Mavs, it was sweet victory and revenge for 2006. For everyone else, it felt like a signifier that perhaps not everything in sports was morally bankrupt, that karma counts for something, and that the good guys still win every once in a while. Which is patently absurd, of course. But that's how it felt.

17. David Freese's staggering Game 6 in the World Series. I'd like to thank whoever put that slo-mo montage with the fantastically cheesy music out into the world. Because it's fantastic. Hometown kid saves the season and then crushes the game-winning walkoff 2 innings later? Are you kidding?!?!?! And Joe Buck managed to not be Joe Buck-ish and instead turn the simplest, most wonderful phrase possible in the moment, a replication of his father's call 20 years ago after Kirby Puckett hit a World Series, Game 6, extra-inning walkoff. Perfect. I defy you to watch highlights of this game and not get chills. Possibly my favorite moment of the year.

18. Any time a concussion or sub-concussive impact was sustained by an athlete. Actually, scratch that: any time anything at all happened that looked like it might have rattled someone's brain even a little bit. I've read enough on the causes and effects of CTE to be sufficiently terrified of it, and what it might do to many of the people we watch performing feats of athletic wonderment on our televisions or tablets or however we consume sports these days. If I have kids, I swear they are never playing football or hockey or dodgeball or riding bikes or going skiing or doing anything that might translate into repeated impacts to the cranium. Ever.

19. Women's World Cup: USA vs. Brazil. God bless Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo. And especially the dervish/spark plug/dynamo that is Megan Rapinoe. This was such a wonderfully fun team to watch. They had style and swagger in abundance and a sheer joy on the pitch that was infectious. USA! USA! USA!

20. Bama/LSU. "Remember, remember the fifth of November ..." In retrospect, there's a certain poetic symmetry to this game having occurred on Guy Fawkes day. A whole bunch of gunpowder did not, in fact, blow up, and precisely nothing was proved by its non-detonation. At least where the BCS polls were concerned. Nonetheless, the defensive battle, and particularly the play in the trenches, was undeniably fascinating and beautiful in its own right. When people talk about the SEC being bigger and faster and stronger than everyone else, games like this are what they're referring to. Which is why we're going to get Round 2 in the BCS Championship Game. And why I can't wait to watch it.

Honorable mentions:

Albert Pujols signs with the Angels. Not really a "moment", but any time the greatest player of his generation leaves his longtime franchise and inks the biggest, most absurd contract anyone has ever seen, it's certainly important. 10 years, $250,000,000 for a (supposedly) 32-year-old 1B? I know he's "The Machine" and all, but I have a hunch they're going to regret that deal in about five years.

David Stern blocks the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade, then allows a trade sending him to the Clippers to go through. I may have to retroactively bump something out and put this on the list retroactively if the Lakers manage to fall apart and the Clips wind up being legitimate contenders this season.

The Tiger Woods Hotdog Incident
. Just because.

Happy 2012, folks!!!! Thanks for reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment