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Guest Post: 2011 Sports Year in Review


Penn State University head football coach Joe Paterno arrives at his house on November 9, 2011 in State College, Pennsylvania.
(November 8, 2011 – Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images North America)

(PhatzRadio / USA Today) — The tone for a sports year gone wrong was set on 2011’s first day, when Sidney Crosby took a blow to the head. He’s still struggling to recover. The sports year never did.

All sports years, by nature, are a mix of good, bad and ugly. But rarely has the bad been as ugly as this.

The Penn State child sex abuse scandal is a saga so sordid and outsized that it is like a solar eclipse, blotting out the light and warmth of the year’s other top stories.

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There was much else to lament in 2011, from the poisoned trees at Toomers Corner to the poisonous atmosphere at Dodger Stadium— where a fan was beaten senseless for the crime of rooting for the San Francisco Giants— to that other child sex abuse scandal at Syracuse.

Still, glimmers of greatness broke through the squalor. The final, frenetic night of baseball’s regular season. The St. Louis Cardinals’ preposterous Game 6 comeback in the World Series. The Dallas Mavericks’ first NBA title, the Boston Bruins’ first Stanley Cup since 1972. The U.S. women’s soccer team falling just short in the World Cup. Rory McIlroy roaring to an eight-stroke win in the U.S. Open.

Joe Frazier and Grete Waitz left us too soon; so did Duke Snider and Dave Gavitt, Bubba Smith and Al Davis.

The NBA season began this week, its early months lost to a lockout. The NFL settled its labor dispute without sacrificing games and offered a season of high drama: Tim Tebow’s near-miraculous streak of fourth-quarter heroics, the Green Bay Packers’ pursuit of perfection and suspensions for Ndamukong Suh and James Harrison.

Peyton Manning’s neck, Serena Williams’ lungs and Venus Williams’ autoimmune system put their careers on hold. Pat Summitt’s early-stage Alzheimer’s hasn’t halted hers.

This year also offered intimations of story lines to come in London in 2012 as Ryan Lochte beat Michael Phelps in swimming’s world championships and Usain Bolt was disqualified in the 100-meter finals at track and field’s worlds. Even bad years offer hope for the new one.


The news, when it broke in the first week of November, was hard to believe. Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with multiple counts of child sexual abuse. Two university officials were charged with perjury and failure to report abuse. Had the school put its image above the safety of children? Days later, Joe Paterno said he’d step down at the end of the season. Before that day was out, PSU’s board of trustees fired him, and he looked frail and drawn as he talked to supporters on his front porch that night.

The year’s biggest and most heinous sports story led to more hidden stories of abuse. Accusers of former Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine said they stepped forward because of Penn State. Accusers of former Philadelphia Daily News sports columnist Bill Conlin said the same.


When 2011 began, two leagues anticipated labor pains. Could we really face a year in which the NFL and NBA seasons were canceled?

The NFL lockout began on March 11 and lasted 18 weeks and four days. Fans cared little about the dollars-and-cents issues, only that they get their game back. The lockout wiped out much of the offseason but the only on-field casualty was the Aug. 7 Pro Football Hall of Fame preseason game.

The NBA lockout began on July 1, just 25 days before the NFL’s ended. It would prove more costly, vaporizing training camp and the opening weeks of the regular season. The warring sides reached a tentative settlement on Nov. 26 and ratified it Dec. 8, saving a truncated, 66-game regular season that began Christmas Day.


Tim Tebow emerged as the NFL’s feel-good story of the year with a six-game win streak that included four consecutive fourth-quarter comebacks. Even now, after consecutive losses, including a four-interception fiasco in Buffalo on Christmas Eve, Tebow can be the talk of the league again if his Broncos beat the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday to sneak into the playoffs. As if that isn’t enough, the Chiefs’ quarterback is Kyle Orton, Denver’s starter when the season began.

That kind of dime-store plot twist has made Tebow a national touchstone. That, and the sudden popularity of “Tebowing” — the name for kneeling in prayer as Tebow often does. He’s been praying in public since playing at Florida, where he won two national championships. True to form, after Sunday’s loss, Tebow said: “Isn’t it great that no matter what, win or lose, we have a chance to celebrate my lord and savior’s birth tomorrow? That’s pretty cool.”

College hoops

Party crashers made up half of the field in the men’s Final Four. Virginia Commonwealth’s entry was the biggest shocker since George Mason, VCU’s compatriot in the Colonial Athletic Association, made its magic run in 2006. Butler shouldn’t be such a surprise anymore, as the Bulldogs reached the championship game for a second consecutive season. In the end, though, the title went to those other dogs, the Connecticut Huskies, who won a third title in little more than a decade.

Texas A&M, which didn’t admit women until 1963, won its first national championship in women’s basketball. Danielle Adams scored 30 points, 22 in the second half, as the Aggies beat Notre Dame in the title game. “I had a little voice in my head that said ‘Don’t let this team down,’ ” Adams said.


Dirk Nowitski and his Dallas Mavericks won their first NBA championship and the hearts of a nation mostly rooting against the star power of the Miami Heat. Nowitski, long criticized for playing a so-called “soft” brand of basketball, certified his greatness with the Finals MVP trophy. But this week LeBron James and his Heat served notice that they are this season’s favorites with a season-opening blowout of the defending champs in Dallas. Nowitski’s early line: “We look old.”


Sidney Crosby collided with David Steckel in last season’s outdoor Winter Classic on New Year’s Day in Pittsburgh. Crosby, and his sport, has not been the same since.

Four days later his head struck the boards on a high hit that seemed unremarkable at the time. But Crosby would miss the rest of that season with post-concussion symptoms. He would miss the beginning of this season, too, more than 10 months on the shelf. When at last he returned last month, Crosby seemed to score at will. He was back with a vengeance.

But days later, after a couple of collisions in a game against the Boston Bruins, Crosby found himself back on the shelf. He played in only 10 games during 2011. And no one knows when he will play in 2012.

Auto racing

Dan Wheldon died in a fiery, 15-car pileup when his car clipped another and went airborne, bursting into flame as it crashed into a fence at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Wheldon, 33, one of IndyCar’s most popular drivers, was driving from the back of the 34-car field for a chance at $5 million. Wheldon, who came to the U.S. from England in 1999, won his second Indy 500 this year. Drivers returned to the track for a memorial ride hours later, some sobbing, as the sound system played Danny Boy. Said businessman Chip Ganassi, for whom Wheldon once drove, “Everybody in IndyCar died a little today.”

Women’s basketball

The news that Pat Summitt was suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s was shocking. Less so was the news that she would continue to coach, as if she were staring down the disease with the same icy glare she made famous while winning eight national championships at Tennessee. This season Summitt gets cheers at opposing arenas. Stanford fans waved “We Back Pat” towels at last week’s game.


The world’s fastest man was too fast off the starting line, resulting in the DQ heard ’round the world.

Usain Bolt bolted out of the blocks in the 100-meter final at the IAAF world championships only to be disqualified for a false start. He pulled his shirt over his head, hiding his face, and then pulled the shirt off completely, burying his face in his hands.

Bolt wasn’t the only one fretting. The crowd in Deagu, South Korea let out a collective cry of disappointment. He has been perhaps the world’s most intriguing athlete since winning gold at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.

The rule in effect from 2001 to 2009 charged a first false start to the field with the next bringing disqualification. Since 2010, it is one false start and you’re out.


Yani Tseng of Taiwan won two majors in 2011 — the LPGA and the British Open— for a career total of five, making her the youngest player ever, male or female, to win five majors. She’ll be 23 next month.

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland suffered a historic collapse after leading the Masters for three rounds, then recovered to win the U.S. Open by eight strokes. He’ll be 23 in May.


Abby Wambach scored late to tie Brazil in a thrilling quarterfinal of the World Cup and the U.S. women’s soccer team won on penalty kicks. Japan returned the favor in the finals, beating the USA on penalty kicks and winning for its tsunami-wounded land.


Al Davis: Renegade owner of the Oakland Raiders. Just win, baby.

Joe Frazier: Smokin’ Joe, who always believed he was greater than The Greatest.

Duke Snider: The Dodgers’ Duke of Flatbush, forever a boy of summer.

Bubba Smith: Lived up to Ogden Nash’s immortal tribute: When hearing tales of Bubba Smith, you wonder, is he man or myth?

Seve Ballesteros: Rival Nick Faldo called him “golf’s Cirque du Soleil” for his swashbuckling style.

Dave Gavitt: Founder of Big East was big man on campus in Providence and elsewhere.

Harmon Killebrew: Hit more homers than any right-handed American League slugger in history not named Alex Rodriguez.

Grete Waitz: Norway’s gift to running and a nine-time winner of the New York Marathon.

Walt Hazzard: Point guard for John Wooden’s first national championship team at UCLA.

Matty Alou: One-third of San Francisco Giants’ all-Alou outfield of 1960s, with brothers Felipe and Jesus.

Kent Hull: Beloved center of the Buffalo Bills’ Super Bowl teams of the early 1990s.

Jeret “Speedy” Peterson: High-flying, risk-taking freestyle skier and Olympic silver medalist.

Chuck Tanner: Manager of 1979?s World Series-winning “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates.

Lee Roy Selmon: Youngest of three All-American brothers at Oklahoma (bumper sticker: “God Bless Mrs. Selmon”) and history’s greatest Tampa Bay Buccaneer.

Margo Dydek: 7-2 Polish center and nine-time WNBA leader in blocked shots.

Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak: Three enforcers gone in NHL’s summer of sorrow.

Peter Gent: Ex-Cowboys receiver and author of “North Dallas Forty.”

2011: Sports year’s dark side overshadowed all else is a post from:

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