2012's Least Surprising Stories in Sports
The joy of sports is that they provide us all with a multitude of surprises.
But another one of the joys of sports is that sometimes, they give us exactly what we expected.
Among all of the unforeseen outcomes of this year’s sports calendar were some of the things all of us expected to see, and that’s comforting. What would we have done if the Jets’ horrendous Tim Tebow experiment had actually ended up being—gulp—a success? Or if the Knicks hadn’t managed to screw up the Jeremy Lin situation somehow? We would have had to reevaluate everything we know and love as sports fans.
Here’s a look at the most unsurprising storylines of 2012.
20. Team USA Dominates at Olympics
There were times this summer when we were led to believe the U.S. basketball team might not win the gold medal in London at the Olympics.
One of those times was when LeBron, Carmelo & Co. almost lost to Lithuania, just days after winning a game by an astounding 83 points. But in reality, Team USA was never in any danger of losing. And while close margins made the summer’s games a bit more exciting to watch, there was never any real threat of U.S. team losing when it mattered.
The guys on the roster knew it too, for better or worse. There were times when it was hard to listen to some of the players talk about how this summer’s team was better than the Dream Team (still not true). They got cocky. But maybe they had reason to be cocky. They were a team that won a game by 83 points.
Team USA may have been tested in London, but it was never threatened.
19. Ozzie Guillen Infuriates the Masses
Some people never change, and that includes Ozzie Guillen.
It didn’t take long for him to turn his new home of Miami against himself. Guillen, who was hired by the Marlins in 2011 after asking the Chicago White Sox for his release, needed only a couple of weeks into the 2012 season to infuriate virtually everyone in the United States by verbally supporting Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. He told Time magazine, via ESPN.com, that he “respects” Castro for “staying in power so long,” but quickly attempted to backtrack, telling reporters:
I will apologize if I hurt somebody's feelings, or I hurt somebody's thought. I want them to know I'm against everything 100 percent -- I repeat it again -- the way this man [been] treating people for the last 60 years.
The bitter taste toward Guillen remained throughout the entirety of his otherwise forgettable 69-93 campaign with the Marlins; he was fired in October, after one season with the team.
Guillen has never been able to prevent himself from getting into hot water by running his mouth; why would his tenure in Miami have been any different?
18. The Big East Implodes
The Big East Conference has lost so many notable members in the past decade that it didn’t come as a shock to hear that a whopping seven additional members were gearing up to leave the conference.
A source with knowledge of the situation told ESPN that DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova are the seven schools expected to depart the conference, though they haven’t yet officially informed commissioner Mike Aresco. If all seven schools do indeed leave the conference, it will make for 17 departures since 2004, according to ESPN.
And when 17 schools in the last eight years—many of which have been the league’s most competitive assets—have decided that the Big East isn’t good enough, how can we be surprised anymore?
17. Jeter and Minka Break Up (Again)
He’s Derek Jeter. Of course he wasn’t going to stay with Minka Kelly forever. It was only a matter of time before the most famous bachelor in professional sports parted ways with his most recent love.
They were together on and off for about four years, and there were plenty of engagement rumors along the way, but the Yankees shortstop and the Friday Night Lights actress called it quits—for good, this time. We all knew it was coming back in October 2011, when breakup rumors first surfaced—but Jeter and Kelly rekindled their romance in December 2011, only to give up again in early 2012.
Jeter may have tried, but he never had anyone fooled. No one thought he’d abandon his bachelorhood for good, even after he gave four of his best year’s to one of Charlie’s failed Angels. Plus, this breakup is a yearly occurrence at this point. So until 2013...
16. The Eagles (and Cardinals) Fall Apart
We should know better than to judge a team’s worth based on how it starts the first four or five weeks of the NFL season—especially when those teams that are supposed to be awful surprise us by charging out of the gates. It just goes to show how little stock we can put in the first few weeks of the year, which is why no one should have really got too excited about the Philadelphia Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals back in September.
It was surprise to some to see Philly go 3-1 in the first four weeks of the season. It is less surprising, however, to see that it is 4-10 at present. Similarly, few expected the Cardinals to start off 4-0, and yet, no one is surprised that they have only won once since then.
Meanwhile, some of the NFL's best teams at this stage—namely, the Broncos and the Patriots—started off the 2012 season looking … well, like the Eagles and the Cardinals look right now. So there's that.
15. Johnny Manziel Wins Heisman over Manti Te’o
Those of us who supported the idea of Manti Te’o winning the Heisman Trophy wanted to believe that this would be a contest. But in the moments before the winner of college football’s most coveted award was revealed, there wasn’t anyone watching who expected to hear Te’o’s name called.
Te’o may have deserved to win. He may have been the centerpiece of a Notre Dame team that is undefeated. He may be the most important player on the nation’s best team. But that would never be enough for the Heisman voters for the simple reason that Te’o is a defensive player, and it’s far harder to determine his true impact on his team than it is to determine Johnny Manziel’s impact on his team. Manziel is a quarterback. It’s his responsibility to carry the team on his shoulders, and he did that admirably in Texas A&M’s first season in the SEC.
But even though none of us knew it was going to happen, it would have been nice to see Te’o win. As Irish head coach Brian Kelly hinted, if Te’o didn’t win this year, no defensive player ever will.
14. Michael Phelps Dominates Ryan Lochte
Of the many overhyped head-to-head battles that took place at this summer’s Olympic Games, none was more anticipated or more hyped than the Ryan Lochte vs. Michael Phelps battle for the 200-meter IM.
There was a lot at stake in that race. For one, it was Phelps’ opportunity to win his 16th career gold medal, and most likely, it would be his last chance to assert his superiority as the greatest male swimmer ever, since he planned to retire at the end of the Olympics.
It was also Lochte’s opportunity to prove that he was the next big thing—the next Michael Phelps. And while the Olympic Trials gave us the impression that Lochte may have been able to compete with Phelps, no one really thought that Phelps could possibly lose to Lochte in his most dominant event with so much on the line. Those playing devil’s advocate wanted to make it seem like Lochte stood a chance of beating the best ever, but when Phelps submitted one of the greatest performances of his career during that 200m race—and when Lochte paled in comparison to him—anyone who doubted Phelps felt silly. And most likely, that included Lochte for thinking he ever stood a chance.
13. Hype over RG3, Andrew Luck Reaches Fever Pitch
Even before rookie quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III looked like they were on the verge of carrying their teams to the playoffs, the media was all over them. They were lionized before they even posted winning records. I’m guilty, too—it’s hard to avoid getting caught up in the hype of young QBs who resurrect their teams and make it look so easy.
For the most part, both guys deserve the praise. RG3 has one of the league’s best passer ratings and has kept the Redskins afloat despite a series of devastating injuries to his supporting cast. Most likely, when the season's over, Luck will have led the Colts to a playoff berth one season after they went 2-14.
But the way these two guys are talked about, you’d think they were the second coming of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Even if both of those guys were 2-12 right now, the media would find some way to glorify them.
12. Reality Catches Up with Alex Smith
I'll admit it: Even I started to think for a while there that Alex Smith was finally on his way to fulfilling his potential, if he still had any left.
He had most of us fooled last season, especially in the playoffs. After leading the 49ers to a 13-3 regular-season record, he knocked off a stellar New Orleans team in the playoffs, throwing for 299 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for one of his own. He was a couple of heartbreaking plays away from leading his team to the Super Bowl, but San Francisco suffered a 20-17 overtime loss to New York in the NFC Championship Game.
And then, this year, reality set in. He struggled at times in the first half of the season then got concussed, which was all Jim Harbaugh needed to bench him in favor of Colin Kaepernick, who has been pretty stellar in Smith's place.
Maybe there's something inside of you that doesn't want to see a former No. 1 pick struggle so extensively. Maybe you hoped things would turn around for Smith, purely out of pity, and that tricked most of us into believing he would turn around.
But no dice. After the way Kaepernick destroyed the Patriots on their home turf on Sunday, it's safe to say Smith isn't getting his job back anytime soon.
11. Roger Clemens Acquitted
Did Roger Clemens lie about abusing PEDs during his reign as one of the best pitchers in the history of baseball? Well, probably. The evidence against him was enormous and unsettling. But there also aren’t a whole lot of people out there who were surprised when he was acquitted on all charges of obstructing justice and lying to Congress about possible PED abuse in his past.
Clemens was one of the most high-profile athletes targeted in the infamous Mitchell Report, but apparently, the information yielded by federal investigations wasn’t enough to convict him—and a jury didn’t have enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Clemens lied to Congress about his past. Clemens’ legacy has already been trashed, so in a way, it didn’t even matter what the ruling was. We all knew what it would be anyway.
And score that one more for the guys with power and one more against the rugged pursuers of justice.
10. Kentucky Wins the NCAA Championship
If anything, after the Kentucky Wildcats fell to Vanderbilt in the SEC championship in March, it became even more of a certainty: The Wildcats would win the NCAA tournament. They'd received one of the only two tastes of defeat they'd need to stay motivated.
There was no doubt last year that John Calipari’s team was leagues better than any other team in college basketball. For one thing, there wasn’t anyone who could stop Anthony Davis. For another, even if you did, there were too many other blue-and-white-clad weapons to contend with.
Kentucky was a well-oiled machine in 2011-12, and even though the best teams aren’t always the ones that cut down the nets at the end of March Madness, putting money on anyone other than Kentucky was a waste of time and resources. There was barely any team that came close to giving the Wildcats a run for their money during the tournament—not even second-seeded Kansas in the championship game.
And a couple of months later, in another utterly unsurprising storyline, Davis was selected first in the NBA draft.
9. Peyton Dominates in Denver
There was nobody who thought Peyton Manning was going to flop in 2012 as he attempted a comeback in the wake of a neck injury that kept him off the field for the entirety of the 2011 season. Not even the members of the Colts’ front office thought he’d flop; they were just too blinded by the promise of Andrew Luck to give their franchise’s savior a chance.
When Manning signed a massive $96 million deal with Denver after Indianapolis cut him loose in March, some wondered whether he’d be able to be the same perennial-MVP-candidate quarterback he was in 14 seasons with the Colts. And to the surprise of no one, here we are in December, and Manning is one of the few people being seriously talked about as an MVP candidate after leading the Broncos to an AFC West title and a playoff berth.
Manning may have missed a whole year, and he may have been replaced by a rookie on the team he helped to build, but there wasn’t anybody who thought he’d fail to reassert himself as one of the very best quarterbacks in the game and restore the Broncos to glory.
8. Bobby Petrino Gets a Second Chance
What Bobby Petrino did was bad. Really bad. Not only did he clearly have some issues with exercising good judgment in his personal life, but lying to your employer? Always a big no-no.
At the end of the summer, Petrino was in a motorcycle accident, after which he reported to authorities, and to the University of Arkansas, that he was alone on the bike. Turns out, 25-year-old Jessica Dorrell was riding with him—and she was most certainly not his wife. She was a former volleyball player at Arkansas and a newly-hired member of the football department. Needless to say, shortly before the start of the 2012 football season, Petrino was fired for deceiving his superiors.
But when Western Kentucky hired Petrino after the 2012 season wrapped up, no one was surprised. This is a guy who had a 34-17 record at Arkansas. He proved his mettle as a coach, and he maybe even learned his lesson as a person after what happened to him. And moreover, WKU had an opportunity to put a premier college football mind in charge of its team, which is about to make its first-ever bowl appearance against an FBS school. If WKU hadn’t given him the chance, another lower-tier team would have.
7. The One Guy Who Seemed Untouchable Caught Using Steroids
Good thing everyone in the world is already so jaded with regards to the rampant steroid use in every professional sport. That’s why no one was remotely surprised when the bells of justice rang over Lance Armstrong’s head this summer.
After years of steadfastly denying he used performance enhancers during his illustrious cycling career, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency revealed “overwhelming” evidence that Armstrong was, indeed, doping en route to winning seven Tour de France titles. And while Armstrong hasn’t publicly admitted to steroid use, his ex-friends say he has, according to NPR—and his decision not to contest the ADA’s charges is as good as an admission of guilt as is his decision to step down as Livestrong chairman.
For a long time, Armstrong was heralded as one of the most legendary clean athletes of our time, but given the PED scandals that have rocked the careers of the nation’s most beloved athletes, even this wasn’t a surprise.
6. The SEC Dominates Once Again
At the very beginning of 2012, we saw two SEC teams battle it out for the BCS national championship. And 12 months later, not much has changed in the world of college football. We may not be seeing two SEC teams in the big game (just one this year), but the same conference is still ruling the college football universe.
Whether the SEC’s perceived superiority over every other conference is due to bias or is warranted, it doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. When the 2012 season ended, there were six SEC teams ranked in the nation’s top 10. Furthermore, the six best teams in the SEC this season didn’t lose to anyone at all except one another.
Some may claim that the conference is overrated and these teams look good just because they only beat up on one other, but a cursory look at the records of those top SEC teams will tell you that they’re pretty good. And no other conference has that many teams that can realistically claim to be anywhere near as dominant.
5. The Jeremy Lin/Knicks Divorce
The New York Knicks and Jeremy Lin had something really good going in 2011-12. And even though Lin entered the offseason as a restricted free agent, there was still an inkling that somehow—despite Lin’s good nature, despite the Knicks’ apparent affection for him—he and the Knicks would manage to suffer an ugly breakup.
The chickens came home to roost in July, when Lin took a meeting with the Houston Rockets, signed an offer sheet with them and then watched as the Knicks decided that they couldn’t or wouldn’t match it. And just like that, one of the NBA’s happiest new marriages was over.
Lin was great for the Knicks. He got the fan base energized. He was an easy guy to root for, to get behind. He seemed, all in all, like a great person, and he seemed to love the Knicks. And yet none of that could eradicate the bad feeling that as soon as free agency struck, everything would turn into a pumpkin.
4. Dwight Howard to the Lakers
The rumors were never-ending all year. There was a constant stream of speculation about where Dwight Howard would be traded and when it would happen, and for a while, nothing happened at all—but hey, at least it gave Stephen A. something to blow a gasket over.
And even though it took awhile for the NBA’s best center to be moved, we knew it was coming the second we saw Howard sling an arm around Stan Van Gundy’s shoulders at that shootaround back in April. We knew then that Howard would get his way, no matter what. So when Howard and the Lakers decided they were a match made in heaven this summer, it was only a matter of time before they united to form the next great superteam.
We knew that sooner or later, Howard was going to be a Laker. The surprise, however, is just how much of an “abomination,” in the word of good old Stephen A., the Lakers have become in the aftermath.
3. Bobby Valentine Only Lasts a Year in Boston
There was a better chance of Brandon Weeden winning a Super Bowl in 2013 than there was of Bobby Valentine lasting more than a year in Boston.
The moment the Boston Red Sox hired Bobby Valentine to replace the beloved Terry Francona, the long-term plan was completely and utterly transparent.
So here's my theory: Valentine, whose best managing days came when he was in exile in Japan, was hired to run the Red Sox just about as far into the ground as they could go, thereby giving Boston’s management someone to hold them over until they could lure John Farrell away from Toronto at the end of 2012. Valentine was guaranteed to be so bad that firing him after just one season and bringing in Farrell would be completely appropriate.
There was no way Valentine was going to succeed, and everyone knew it—most likely, even Valentine. He wasn’t going to succeed with that personality and that roster. He was merely there to hold Farrell’s place, and every single disaster that occurred during his brief reign—including but not limited to Boston's abysmal 69-93 record and the fact that he alienated each and every member of the roster—could be seen coming from a mile away.
2. Miami Heat Win the NBA Title
There were people out there (like me, for instance) who were hoping that the Miami Heat would somehow implode despite the fact that they are the best-looking on-paper team the NBA has seen in years. There would have been no excuse for it if LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade hadn’t managed to win an NBA title in 2011-12. Erik Spoelstra tried everything he could to prevent it from happening, but when the NBA season concluded, the Heat were the ones popping bottles, to the surprise of absolutely nobody.
For about a second, it looked like it could possibly be a battle. The Celtics may have looked like they were giving Miami a serious run for its money, but in actuality, they were only awakening the beast. They were doing the Heat an enormous favor: They reminded Miami of just how much it wanted that ring, and the superstar-studded team succeeded, even when faced with young, hungry Oklahoma City.
All wishful thinking aside, nobody stood a chance against Miami in 2012.
1. Jets’ Tim Tebow Experiment Fails
The minute most of us heard that the New York Jets had acquired Tim Tebow in March and yet still planned to hold on to Mark Sanchez, we knew what would happen: It would implode in the Jets’ faces.
There are some quarterbacks who manage to thrive in the face of enormous pressure. Sanchez is not one of those quarterbacks, and if we didn’t know it pre-2012, we know it now. Even though team management has said countless times that it has full faith in Sanchez, and that he would retain the starting job by any means necessary, Sanchez has played much of the 2012 season with a demeanor similar to that of Denzel Washington at the very end of Flight.
He has played terrified, the Jets have been awful and Tim Tebow has been completely and utterly irrelevant to this team, for the most part. The Jets' loss to the Titans on Monday Night Football—which officially eliminated them from playoff contention—was all the proof we needed that this idea was terrible.
But what did we expect to happen when two starting QBs ended up on the same roster?