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2011: Best Year and Worst Year For Sports

The year saw great finishes in pro team sports, but great tragedy elsewhere.

by James Leroy Wilson
November 23, 2011

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2011: Best Year and Worst Year For Sports

The completion of the NASCAR season essentially ends the "year in sports." Yes, the football season is still going on, but the BCS and Super Bowl to settle the major college and NFL championships will be in 2012.

How was the year special?

The BCS National Championship game ended when undefeated Auburn kicked a game-winning field goal against undefeated Oregon, completing Auburn qb Cam Newton's season in which he played the college quarterback position better than it's ever been played.

The Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in a dramatic Super Bowl, and Packers qb Aaron Rogers got a monkey named Brett Favre off his back.

The worst of the championship team sports came as UConn defeated Butler in an ugly, low-scoring game. But the championship was coach Jim Calhoun's third, putting him firmly in elite company.

Meanwhile, the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat in six games, giving Dirk Nowitzki his first championship and denying LeBron James his first.

The Bruins defeated the Canucks in seven.

The PGA may have relegated itself back to the niche sport it deserved it was before Tiger Woods, but it as wide-open and competitive as ever.

Men's Tennis saw Novak Djokavic win three Grand Slam titles and enjoyed one of the finest seasons since Rod Laver's 1968 Grand Slam year, dominating legends Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal in the process.

The Cardinals triumph over the Rangers in seven ended one of the best World Series ever, with the Game Six one of the most dramatic games in baseball history. Manager Tony LaRussa retired with his third championship and made a case as the greatest manager of the modern era.

NASCAR saw the two top contenders for the Sprint Cup finish #1 and #2 in the final race, with Tony Stewart triumphing over Carl Edwards to earn himself a place in history with his third championship.

All four major pro team sports enjoyed their great, dramatic finals. As did college football and NASCAR, and legends were established in other sports.

This might be the greatest year in sports, especially since we were spared the good, the bad, and the ugly of Olympic sports.

Of course, there was sadness as well. Two-time (and current) Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon was killed in a race on October 16. College football scandals saw the resignation of Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, and the "U" of Miami found itself caught in more scandals.

The NBA may not have a season this year because of an owner dispute with players. (I'd call it a player dispute with owners if it it's a strike, but it's a lockout.)

Bill Simmons may have said it best about legacies, and how the possible demise of the 2011-12 season will have us look on Commissioner Daniel Stern's legacy:

My father served as the superintendent of schools in Easton, Massachusetts, for nearly twenty years. He retired in the summer of 2009, at the age of 62, for a variety of reasons … but mainly this one. He didn't want to stay too long. When you're a superintendent, it only takes one renegade school committee member, one unexpected budget cut, one scandal or one tragedy to shift momentum against you. Once it happens, you can't get it back. Adversaries smell your weakening power the same way zombies smell blood. You start getting undermined or browbeaten into ideas you never wanted to do. By the time you finally resign or get replaced, those final years become part of your legacy, the last thing anyone remembers about you (whether you like it or not). My father never wanted that to happen. He left one year too early instead of one year too late. He has no regrets.

Those of us who always admired Joe Paterno could have said the same thing about him. He was past "retirement" age when he led Penn State to their last undefeated season in 1994. By 1999, Jerry Sandusky's last year as Defensive Coordinator, they had gone 48-14 in the previous five seasons. In four of the next five years, Penn State had losing seasons. Yes, Penn State has rebounded in recent years, with Paterno as head coach.

Nevertheless, had Paterno retired the same year as Sandusky after the 1999 season, at the already amazing age of 73, everyone would now remember him fondly.

What Simmons wrote about his father, applying it to Stern, also applies to Paterno, who left 12 years too late.

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