2012 in Review: 25 Stories in Sports We Won't Soon Forget

Dan LevyNational Lead WriterDecember 21, 2012

2012 in Review: 25 Stories in Sports We Won't Soon Forget

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    Every game, every tournament, every shot or save or pitch or kick tells a story. This is a humble attempt to rank the most memorable stories in sports in 2012.

    We've covered the 50 most memorable moments in sports already, but this is more about the underlying storylines that surround those moments. If you read both lists, you will surely notice some similarities, because a moment can be, in and of itself, the story. 

    As sportswriters, it's often our job to chronicle a story that can easily fit inside one moment, or cover a story that spans months or even years. The moment may be fleeting, but the story often lingers. 

    Here are the top stories in sports for 2012.

Tragedy

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    There is no doubt the sports world has felt the pain of numerous tragedies in 2012, and there is no delicate way to include something as unthinkable as a suicide or murder-suicide or drunk-driving death into a ranking of the year's memorable stories.

    The suicide of Junior Seau, the murder-suicide committed by Jovan Belcher, the death of Cowboys player Jerry Brown Jr. after an automobile accident caused by teammate and friend Joshua Price-Brent, and the overdose of Eagles head coach Andy Reid's son, Garrett, were a few of the most notable tragedies to impact the sports community in 2012.

    There were others, certainly, and those who have left this world—and the reasons why—should not be forgotten.

Also Receiving Votes

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    Go ahead, you try to come up with 25 stories without mentioning 26 or 27 or 40. Here's the list of stories that should have been included in our list of 25 but weren't. If you read our 50 moments of the year or our 25 women in sports, some of these stories have been included in those.

    A special note should go out to Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt, who left coaching in 2012 while battling early-onset dementia, and to Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, who has stepped away from coaching this year to kick cancer's ass.

    The other ARV include: U.S. women's soccer's redemption over Japan (the moment was great but the story wasn't worthy of this list), the Florida Marlins fire sale, Augusta National Golf Course finally allowing women, Tiger Woods actually playing well, R.A. Dickey winning the Cy Young on a horrible Mets team, Bobby Petrino's wild ride, the never-ending Chelsea coaching carousel, the agreement of a college-football playoff system (not on the list officially until the playoffs start) and my personal favorite…the death of the Big East Conference.

    With apologies to Lolo Jones's virginity, that's what almost made the list. Now for what did…

25. Death to the Long Putters

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    My editor, Mark Smoyer, and I argued about this one a lot. He contends this shouldn't be on the list until the putters are actually banned. The "story" that anchored putters will be banned is bigger than when they actually will be banned.

    With three of the last five major championships being won by players using belly putters, including two in 2012 in U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson and British Open champion Ernie Els, a decision had to be made this year, even if players will have until 2016 to use them.

24. Magic Johnson Saves the LA Dodgers

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    The Dodgers are like a child caught in a horrible divorce where the parents were in court arguing for custody and the kid just wanted someone to love him. 

    In March, a group led by Magic Johnson teamed up to buy the Dodgers and Dodger Stadium from the McCourt family for more than $2 billion, the most ever paid for a North American sports franchise.

    The Dodgers owners haven't stopped spending money since, trading for high-priced players and signing others to record deals. After getting out of that horrible family, it seems the new owners felt like spoiling the kid a bit.

23. Alex Rodriguez's Benching

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    Alex Rodriguez was one of the greatest players in baseball for so long that it's hard to believe he could possibly be as bad as he was for the Yankees down the stretch and in the playoffs. Joe Girardi tried to lower him in the batting order, but when that didn't work—and when nobody else on the damn Yankees could cover up for A-Rod's woes by getting hot themselves; Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, I'm looking at you—Girardi had to bench A-Rod.

    Benched. A-Rod got benched because he was horrible, or because he was hurt. As it turns out, Rodriguez needs surgery and could miss the entire first half of the season. He'll be getting used to the feel of pine.

22. Dwight Howard Fires Coaches on 2 Coasts, Ruins Lakers Completely

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    Remember the day word got out that Dwight Howard wanted Stan Van Gundy fired in Orlando and then Van Gundy acknowledged it and Howard didn't?

    That was awesome.

    Remember how Orlando did fire Van Gundy and then still ended up trading Howard because the big man was forcing his way out of the deal he didn't have to sign but chose to sign a year earlier? And remember when Howard hijacked the entire NBA by trying to force a deal to Brooklyn or wherever else he demanded to go?

    That was awesome, too.

    Then remember when Howard went to Los Angeles to play with Kobe and the Lakers and they were horrible and Mike Brown got fired and they hired Mike D'Antoni instead of Phil Jackson and people wanted him fired, too? 

    It must be…awesome…to coach Dwight Howard these days. Sometimes, it doesn't last much longer than days.

21. That One Sunday Where All Those Americans Lost to a Bunch of Europeans

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    The European Ryder Cup comeback qualified both in the top moments and these top stories, and it was just as painful in each. The U.S. loss prompted a bigger rush of reaction than any other on-field story in sports.

    I'll say what I said back then. I still don't know what happened.

20. Bay Area Baseball Is Back!

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    Which was a bigger story in baseball around the country, the A's resurgence to inexplicably make the playoffs or the Giants return to the postseason with a healthy, and MVP-worthy, Buster Posey?

    In the playoffs, it looked like an early exit for both teams, but the crazy epic comebacks were indicative of the amazing baseball season the Bay Area enjoyed in 2012. I suppose a World Series title will do that.

19. Rookie Quarterbacks Take over the NFL

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    Andrew Luck is bringing the Colts back to the playoffs in his first season, after a year that was one of the worst in NFL history in Indianapolis.

    Robert Griffin III is in position to lead the Washington Redskins back to the playoffs, if not this year—they could still win the division or miss the playoffs as of this being published—then for years to come. 

    Russell Wilson is sitting out West in Seattle somewhere smiling over the debate of which rookie is having the best season.

    There has been so much talk in my lifetime of the 1983 quarterback class. While a few others have been suggested as the next great class after early returns—1999, I look in your general direction—this year's class looks to be every bit as good as the 2004 class and maybe good enough to challenge 1983. They'll need a few Super Bowl rings first.

18. The Return of Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson

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    I hate lumping these two into the same storyline, but as the season moves along, they've become more intertwined than I expected.

    Peyton Manning looks like the surefire MVP this season, leading the Broncos back to the playoffs with potentially the best team in the entire AFC. Would anyone be saying that if Manning wasn't the quarterback and some special-teams guy for the Jets was still in Denver?

    Adrian Peterson is a revelation, coming back from knee surgery to flat-out dominate the NFL on the ground. The two are both linked not only to the Comeback Player of the Year award (which should go to Manning because he missed far more time than Peterson), but the NFL MVP as well (fact is, Peterson deserves it more than Manning, especially if he breaks the rushing record or the Vikings make the playoffs). 

17. Notre Dame's Return to Relevancy

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    Notre Dame finished the 2012 season undefeated and will play for the national title. There isn't a bigger story on the field in all of college football than that. Notre Dame moves the needle. People around the world either love or hate that Golden Dome.

    Never mind the fact that Stanford actually scored a touchdown (that wasn't ruled a touchdown) or that the Pittsburgh kicker missed an easy kick in overtime. Undefeated is undefeated and relevant again is relevant again. 

    You can sense on which side of the Dome I sit.

16. The Shutting Down of Stephen Strasburg

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    One of the most hotly debated topics in Major League Baseball had to be the decision for the Washington Nationals to shut down ace Stephen Strasburg before the end of the season.

    Columnist Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post wrote that people who doubted the Nats' ability to win the World Series without Strasburg can "kiss my press pass."

    The debate was as heated as debates can get, not that any of us had any say in the matter. Heck, the kid didn't even really have any say, as Nats GM Mike Rizzo and agent Scott Boras seemed to be making the call for him.

    Rizzo said before the season started he was going to do it, and darn it if he didn't stick to his word, even if the Nationals surely could have used a player with Strasburg's ability in the playoffs. Alas, a team that won 98 games couldn't get out of the first round of the playoffs. But hey! There's always next year with a guy who may or may not have been just as healthy in 2013 had he pitched the rest of 2012. I guess we'll never know.

15. Linsanity

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    Have you ever gone to a retreat or a camp where you don't really know anyone and then you meet all new friends and really get close with them while you are there and swear you're going to stay friends forever because it was the best time of your life and you never want it to end and the shirt you just bought at the camp store is so cool you're going to wear it every single day when you get home to remind you of how awesome the time was, hoping against hope that maybe, just maybe, life could be that awesome every single day of the year and not just for two weeks that one time?

    That was Linsanity. It was amazing while it was amazing. Now it's amazing to think it even happened.

14. Tim Tebow(ing)

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    I said when Tim Tebow was traded to the New York Jets that the story of his 2012 would be one of the most-covered and over-covered media circuses anyone could imagine, and even I didn't realize just how much coverage there would be for a guy who can't even get on the field. 

    That he can't get on the field is now all people seem to talk about. I totally thought that after four or five weeks the fervor would subside and the Jets could get back to being a mediocre team nobody really cares about. Not as long as ESPN and the New York media both still see value in Tebow. If they don't stop, then the rest of us won't stop reacting to them reacting to the Jets' treatment of Tebow. So it's our fault, really. 

    Who can wait for 2013, when we have to do this all over again in a new city?

13. Spain Reigns

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    Earlier this summer, I called Spain boring. I wasn't the only one, for sure. Their style of play can lull the opponents to sleep. The Spanish side is so solid on the ball that they almost seem like controlling possession is more important than scoring a damn goal. The goals do come, but the logic is that if the other team doesn't have the ball, they can't get a goal of their own. 

    It works, boring as it may be at times. Spain destroyed Italy in the Euro 2012 finals—definitely not boring—to leave no doubt which country is the best footballing nation on the planet. With a World Cup now sandwiched by consecutive European championships, it is clear that Spain reigns supreme over international football.

12. NHL Lockout

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    The NHL has cancelled games through part of January. The sides can't stop bickering in public and even their "undisclosed-location" meetings have been fruitless. Rumors have swirled for weeks that a deal is imminent and yet somehow, as of Dec. 21, no deal has been reached.

    It's truly a shame for hockey fans. For the rest of us, the sport has never been more irrelevant. Still, whenever a major—how major is debatable at this point—sports league loses games to a work stoppage, the story is too big to ignore.

11. The Great Cabrera vs. Trout MVP Debate

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    Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown, an achievement no baseball player had accomplished since 1967 (and no horse since 1978), and there was still more debate than ever before over who should win the AL MVP. 

    Why would a guy who won the Triple Crown not run away with the MVP award? Well, because Angels rookie Mike Trout actually had a better year than Cabrera. 

    Or he didn't. It depends on which numbers you think tell the best story of which player is better. The fact is, Cabrera had better numbers in the traditional categories we've always judged baseball players by. Trout, however, had better metrics in the advanced stats that have proved to give a more accurate measurement of a player's actual value. 

    Cabrera won the MVP. Trout won the Rookie of the Year. So everyone got something. The story really became more about the old way and new way of looking at the game and whether or not there is room for both.

    Can Earth be both flat and round? I guess it depends on how you measure it.

10. John Terry, Luis Suarez, Zenit St. Petersburg and Racism in Sports

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    Why can't people just get along with one another, no matter what color we are? Is it really that hard not to hate someone because their skin is a different color or their face may have a different shape? What does it matter what we look like? 

    And still, it matters. It matters because fans of Zenit St. Petersburg think it's okay to post a manifesto requesting that the team not sign non-white or gay players, suggesting they are "unworthy" of representing their city. 

    It still matters because situations with players like John Terry and Anton Ferdinand or Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra still happen (granted, that was 2011, but all the fallout, bans, court hearings and handshake controversies happened in 2012.)

    It's not just a black-white thing or a straight-gay thing, either. West Ham supporters were mocking Jews and wishing them dead in a match against Tottenham.

    This isn't 1930, folks. Respect people for who they are…the same piles of blood and bones as you.

9. Usain Bolt

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    Heading into the Olympics, people actually doubted if Usain Bolt could defend his 100-meter gold medal from Beijing. After all, the only person to ever defend the 100-meter crown was Carl Lewis in 1988, and that only came when Ben Johnson was banned after the race.

    Bolt had the weight of the world on his shoulders, making his jaunt down the track in 9.63 seconds even more amazing. Bolt then backed that up with a repeat victory in the 200 meters and anchored the world-record-breaking 4x100 meter Jamaican relay team.

    Not a bad two weeks.

8. Michael Phelps and the United States Olympic Dominance

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    The level of excellence put forth by any Olympian is amazing, but for the American Olympians, there is so much pressure to succeed that even a silver medal can be seen as a disappointment.

    The United States won 104 medals in London, 16 more than any other country. That tally included 46 gold medals, with four each going to Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin, and three golds going to Allison Schmitt, Allyson Felix and Dana Vollmer.

    It wasn't a great summer in America, with financial crises and political bickering dominating the news. Having a common interest for all Americans to rally behind helped us remember we are all in this together. Some of us just swim faster than the rest.

7. Lionel Messi Can't Stop Scoring

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    Lionel Messi has scored 90 goals in 2012. Ninety. And he still has a game to go.

    Whether or not the 90 goals broke the record for most in a calendar year is suddenly up for debate, but there's no debating the fact that Messi is the most prolific scorer in the modern game.

    So much is written about the rivalry between Ronaldo and Messi, and while you can make the case that Ronaldo is a more complete player, he can't possibly be a better scorer than Messi. Nobody can. What the man can do with a ball is otherworldly.

6. The Year of LeBron James

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    There was a time when people said LeBron James couldn't win the big game. That time wasn't 2012, or at least it wasn't after James led the Miami Heat to the NBA title and Team USA to the gold medal in the London Olympics.

    LeBron also won the NBA MVP for the third time in his career. Oh, and the guy rides his bike to work, too. He truly is the king in 2012.

5. Concussions in Sports

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    This is not here to preach about player safety. This is not here to provide statistical data on how many players end up with severe health issues after their playing careers end because of concussions. We know all that stuff already. It's never going to change if players don't make the effort to demand change. 

    I think it's come to the point where this is on the players. The leagues and the schools and the teams and the trainers can only do so much to protect players from injury.

    If football helmets all came with giant metal spikes on them and players were constantly missing games because their arms, legs and eyes were getting gouged by these sharp spikes, wouldn't some player somewhere stop and ask if there's maybe a way to make the helmets without spikes?

    Wouldn't some player get a bunch of his friends and teammates together to demand the league do a better job of providing safe equipment so they don't get gouged by sharp spikes? And if the league came back with the reply that it is doing all it can to keep the players safe but can't figure out a better option than a helmet with spikes, wouldn't it be prudent for the players to refuse to play until a safer resolution could be found?

    I don't even really care if the NFL players want to scramble their brains in helmets that clearly don't protect them well enough. They get paid a ton of money when they choose to put their lives on the line. I'm more concerned about the mentality that trickles down from the NFL and college (and all professional sports, mind you) that toughness is rewarded over good sense. And that idea leads to our nation's youth trying to emulate the "rub some dirt on it" mentality at ages far too young to take that kind of beating.

    Yeah, this became a "what about the kids" moment. It wasn't going to be, but hell, what about them?

4. Bountygate

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    Wouldn't the Bountygate story have been a lot lower on this list if Paul Tagliabue was in charge from the start? I bet Saints fans would agree.

3. Replacement Referees Tried to Ruin Football

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    I did an interview last week and wondered what rules would change if every league started over from scratch instead of trying to constantly rework old rules that no longer fit within the evolving league-player relationships. The host of the show told me the NFL wouldn't change a thing, as it is a money-making machine. 

    I reminded the host about Bountygate, about the player lockout last year and about, most notably, the replacement referees that nearly ruined the integrity the NFL spent decades building in a matter of one painful month. 

    In reality, 2011 and 2012 have been horrible years for sports commissioners, but none—even Gary Bettman—have done more damage to their product than Roger Goodell.

    Goodell can make the case the player lockout was for the long-term growth of the league. Fine, whatever. Nothing can convince a real NFL fan that the referee lockout was necessary. Goodell is one big scandal away from losing control of a league that, agreed, is a freaking money-making machine. Let's hope the referee issue was the end of a run of gaffes, not a continuation of a pattern.

2. Lance Armstrong

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    Lance Armstrong may never admit he took performance-enhancers, but after this year, he no longer has to. Every other rider in the last, what, dozen years told investigators that Armstrong was the ringleader of a widespread network of cheaters. 

    His Tour de France titles are gone. His good name is gone. His legacy is gone. At least all that money he raised for cancer research is still around. That would be a far bigger crime than cheating in a couple of bike races. 

1. Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky

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    Joe Paterno died in January 2012 amid horrifying revelations that his former friend and fellow coach, Jerry Sandusky, was charged with sexually abusing and assaulting children over the course of decades, some of which took place on Penn State's campus and in Penn State's football facility.

    Paterno's name has been dragged through the mud and back again, with many blaming the head coach for not doing more after he found out about Sandusky's indiscretions.

    Wait, I just fell into the same trap. The biggest story of the year wasn't Paterno. It was Sandusky. And they weren't just indiscretions. The man is a monster.

    The trial of Jerry Sandusky wasn't just the biggest story with a sports connection of the year; it was one of the five biggest stories in news this year.

    Here's hoping the top story of 2013 is far more positive.