U.S. Women's Soccer Team and the 10 Classiest Losers of the 2011 Sports Year
It's not often you see a scene like this after a championship match. I'm looking at you LeBron!
It's hard to lose.
It's even harder to talk about losing.
It's just about the hardest thing ever to talk about losing to the media, with an estimated 13.5 million people watching back home in the United States and untold millions tuning in around the globe.
That's exactly what made the interviews Team USA gave to the national media after their stunning loss to Japan in the World Cup final so special.
With the victors celebrating under a steady stream of confetti just yards from them, players like Abby Wambach, Hope Solo and Heather O'Reilly gave interview after interview and not once did they proclaim to be better than the Japanese squad.
Not once did they complain about the refs screwing them out of a victory. And not once did they fail to give credit to a team that was better when it mattered most.
That's how to be a healthy loser.
But Team USA wasn't the only squad to bow out gracefully this year, and they certainly won't be the last.
Here's a look at the top 10 classiest losers from this sports year.
Kevin O'Sullivan, Loser of the College World Series Championship
It's okay unnamed Gator, you lost with class, and there's a good chance you'll be hoisting the trophy next year in Omaha.
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"It's just an empty feeling. Unless you come out here and win it, you are always going to have that feeling. When you can't achieve that goal you go after, you just feel empty."
That's as close as Florida catcher Mike Zunino came to being a sore loser after the Gators couldn't prevent South Carolina from repeating in the College World Series.
Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan had this to say about the Gamecocks.
"I want to congratulate South Carolina. They earned this one," O'Sullivan said. "They were a little bit better than us in all phases. They pitched a little bit better. They hit a little bit better. They played a little bit better defense, and they earned it...There's nothing more to be said other than that."
No excuses, no throwing blame.
That's classy, pure and simple.
Brad Stevens, Back-to-Back Loser of the NCAA Basketball Championship
For the second straight year, Brad Stevens went home without a title.
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If there was a list for least sore losers in 2010, the Bulldogs squad would have made that one too.
In one of the ugliest title matches in NCAA Men's Basketball history, UConn sent Butler home a loser for the second consecutive year, 53-41.
The effort from both teams was so ugly, in fact, that nobody would have been surprised had Butler head coach Brad Stevens chosen to avoid the media after the game. Rather, he issued this statement:
“Credit UConn for defending the way they do. They challenged shots better than any team we played all year. UConn is the best shot-contesting team we've played all year, and it's not even close."
Very classy, especially after his team put together the worst shooting performance in NCAA Championship game history.
Chip Kelly, Loser of the 2011 BCS National Championship Game
It's okay Chip, there's always that possibility that the NCAA will strip Auburn's 2011 title, allowing Oregon to lay claim to it.
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It's had to have been hard for Oregon head coach Chip Kelly to not think, "What if?"
What if the NCAA hadn't overruled Cam Newton's suspension, allowing him to finish out the season, culminating in a Heisman Trophy and a National Championship?
What if Newton's father would have fought harder to have Newton attend another school?
What if the Ducks were able to bring down freshman running back Michael Dyer?
Unfortunately for Kelly, he'll never know the answers to those questions, and unless there comes a day that the NCAA strips the 2011 BCS National Championship from Auburn due to Newton's off the field "activities," he'll have to settle for second place.
The good thing was he wasn't too bitter about it, instead finding a player (not named Newton) to lay praise upon.
"The matchup with our offensive line against their defensive line was really the changing point in the football game. I will give Auburn credit. They've got a great front four. Nick Fairley proved he was the best defensive lineman in the country. It was a tough matchup for us."
Lindsey Vonn, Loser of the 2011 World Cup Title
Vonn eased the pain of her World Cup loss with another ESPY, one that very well could have gone to her friend turned rival, Maria Wiesch.
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It's hard to have a better year than Vonn did in 2010.
For starters, she won her third Alpine World Cup championship and passed Bode Miller as the all-time winningest American in the event. She followed that up with two medals at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, including one gold in downhill.
She wrapped her year by being named the Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press.
She also won the ESPY for Female Athlete of the Year and checked in at No. 59 on Maxim's Hot 100 list.
Vonn carried that momentum over into 2011, and going into the final race of the World Cup season she trailed one of her good friends, Maria Riesch by just three points.
Vonn had closed a larger gap over the final span of races and momentum was on her side. She seemed almost a lock to clinch her fourth WC title.
And then, in one of the least dramatic championship deciding moments in history, weather forced what could have been one of the most exciting events in the history of the sport into one of the dumbest decisions in sports history.
The race would be cancelled, and the title awarded to Riesch. Talk about a buzz kill.
Still, Vonn had kind words for her just hours after finding out there would be no winner-take-all final showdown:
"Maria had an outstanding season and again proved to be my biggest competitor," Vonn said. "She's worked really hard for this. I'm happy for her."
Unfortunately, the graciousness didn't last too long. Less than a month after the WC final, Vonn refused to attend Riesch's wedding, under the assumption that Riesch didn't want her there.
That sparked a war of words that got all sorts of people involved, including both skiers husbands, their coaches and even their mothers.
Looking back, one has to wonder how much sincerity there was in Vonn's statement.
Matt Painter, Loser of a Second-Round Upset in the NCAA Tournament
Even after VCU beat the ever-living crap out of Purdue, head coach Matt Painter had kind words for the victors.
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As team's were laying down at the feet of Virginia Commonwealth, the darling of the 2011 NCAA tournament, the further the Commodores got the more respect they earned.
And Purdue coach Matt Painter was arguably the most outspoken in his praise for the program that advanced to their first ever Final Four on the wings of victories over USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas.
He had this to say:
"If you watched VCU a certain time in the season you wouldn't see what you just watched out there," Painter said. "Then you watch them during a four- or five-game stretch and you literally think, 'They can beat any team in the country.' ... I made that statement—VCU can beat any team in the country on a neutral court. And I believe that. ... I was hoping that team wouldn't show up, but that team from VCU did show up."
Roger Federer, Loser of the 2011 French Open
Throughout his career, Federer has been as classy a loser as they come.
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Federer has always been a very gracious loser, especially when suffering defeat at the hands of his greatest rival, Rafael Nadal.
Once again Nadal was victorious this year at the French Open, defeating the elder statesman for the fifth time at Roland Garros in the title match. He's now 17-8 against Federer, who is widely considered one of the top men's tennis players of all time.
After falling to Nadal 7-5, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-1, Federer had nothing but kind words for the 25-year old Spaniard:
"He plays better against the better ones, and that's what he showed today," said Federer, owner of 16 Grand Slam trophies. "He's a great champion, on clay especially."
As a non-tennis fan, it's been quite awesome to witness a rivalry as friendly as the one these two tennis greats have engaged in.
United States Men's Soccer Team, Loser of the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup
Bradley and Donovan had nothing but kind words for the Mexicans.
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During post-game interviews, every single member of the U.S. squad, which lost the CONCACAF Gold Cup final to Mexico, was incredibly gracious and equally impressed with the Mexican team's effort.
U.S. team coach Bob Bradley had this to say:
"We certainly congratulate Mexico. Give credit to them for some of the soccer they put together and like I said we put a good amount into it and we’re disappointed to let one slip away.”
Mid-fielder Landon Donovan issued this statement:
“You have to give Mexico a lot of credit. They are difficult team to play against, and they have a bunch of guys that can make special plays. Tonight I thought Gio was excellent, Barrera was excellent.
Actually of all things we did a good job with Chicharito, preventing his chances, but they just had too much for us and they were good.”
Goalie Tim Howard echoed both Bradley and Donovan's sentiment:
“They’ve got some special players. I thought we’d knocked the stuffing out of them at two-nothing, really hit them where it hurt. Take your hat off to them. They are a good bunch of players.”
Adrian Gonzalez, Loser of the 2011 Home Run Derby
A Yankee embracing a Red Sock!?! What the hell?
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I wouldn't know from personal experience seeing as how I'm an Orioles fan, but if I was a Red Sox fan, I think the last thing I would want to see is one of my team's star players laying praise on the my most hated rival...the Yankees.
Who cares if the praise is about a rival's performance in the Home Dun Derby?
After falling short in the final round of this year's HRD, Gonzalez had this to say about Cano:
“That was a lot of fun,” Gonzalez said. “I had a blast with it. You’re tired by the third round. Cano did an unbelievable job to get to 12 home runs, and he still had four outs left. He just swung the bat great.”
Hasn't Gonzalez seen this David Ortiz-Jorge Posada ESPN commercial? Why would he want to bring upon the wrath of Wally, the Green Monster.
Honestly, though, if Cano's dad was facing off against me, I'd probably say whatever I needed to to get away too.
Phil Mickelson, Loser of the 2011 British Open Championship
Mickelson and Clarke had a bond that was greater than the frustration created by the former's final-round collapse.
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It's a lot easier to swallow a catastrophic collapse in a one-man sporting event when the guy holding the trophy at the end of the day is one of your very closest friends.
Such was the case for Phil Mickelson, who's terrible showing on the back nine this past Sunday all but clinched the victory for Irish journeyman Darren Clarke.
It just so happens that Mickelson and Clarke are very close friends. So close, in fact, that Clarke was one of the first people that Mickelson called after he found out his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2009.
Clarke's own wife, Heather, died as a result of the disease back in 2006.
So it only made sense that nobody was happier for Clarke than his good buddy.
Sidney Crosby, Loser of the Majority of the 2011 NHL Season
Crosby took a cheap shot to the head in the Winter Classic on New Year's Day, played one more game four days later, and missed the remainder of the NHL season due to a concussion.
And while that really made his team, the Penguins, the biggest losers of all, in the sense that they lost one of the top players in the league, you have to give some kudos to Crosby, who was one of the first people to utter that he might miss the remainder of the season.
It takes a lot for athletes these days to suck it up and not play hurt. Especially when you're dealing with a big thing like a head injury. But, despite his efforts to get back onto the ice, he knew it was best to take it slow and not risk his career for the sake of half a season.
You can tell from watching Crosby play that he truly loves the game as much as anyone on the ice, so it must have been incredibly painful for him to watch the rest of the season from the bench/locker room, further compounding the pain he felt from having his head smashed in.
Still, he took his beating gracefully, and hopefully he'll be back at full-health for the start of the 2011-12 season.