A look back at the year in sports

Dec 16, 2011

Former Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren said, “I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.”

But this year, the sports page had plenty of both.

Sad to say, bad news tends to travel faster.

So let’s start with some good news.  In men’s tennis, the rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, already one of the best, was joined by a man named Novak Djokovic, who won three majors this year on a gluten-free diet – no joke. 

This might be the sport’s greatest era – and all three are true sportsmen, never resorting to the ranting and raving of past greats.

No, today’s spoiled brats are on the golf course, led by Tiger Woods, whose petulant tantrums were eclipsed by his behavior off the course.  Now he’s trying to reassemble his knee, his swing and his life.  His competitors don’t like him, but they have to hope he returns, along with their big paychecks.

The Detroit Red Wings made the playoffs for their 20th consecutive year.  If you’re in college, you can’t recall when they were so bad we called them the “Dead Things.” General manager Ken Holland is the best in sports.  Period.   

The Tigers, meanwhile, stretched their playoff streak to one. Justin Verlander starts the game throwing 95-miles per hour, and ends it throwing over 100.  He is the most dominant Detroit pitcher in four decades.  Take your kids to see him, so they can tell their grandkids one day.

The biggest surprise in the state has been the Lions – formerly known as the Lie Downs.  The last time they won a single playoff game, the Red Wings were just starting their 20-year streak of playoff appearances.  The Lions set their sights on mediocrity, and at 8-5, they might even exceed it.

The good news for Detroit basketball fans is that the lockout is over and your team will soon be back on the court.  The bad news is: Your team is the Pistons, whose odds of making the playoffs haven’t changed since the lock out started.

But this year, the media spotlight turned to college sports.   It started with a cynical game of musical chairs among colleges and their conferences.  When the music ended, Boise State somehow was sitting in the Big East – making it the biggest East you’ve ever seen.

Then the scandals started.  The NCAA gave Ohio State a clean bill of health after an eight-day investigation to play in the Sugar Bowl.  The Buckeyes won the game, but lost all respect when head coach Jim Tressel got caught lying through his sweater vest.

But the biggest scandal in college sports – scratch that, the saddest in the history of all sports – is the travesty unfolding at Penn State.  A former assistant coach is accused – and pardon me, but euphemism will not do here -- of raping young boys.  It is already horrifying – and yet, it will only get worse before it’s over.  For the victims, it will never be over.   

Michigan State’s men’s basketball team returned to the Final Four, and its football team won the league’s first Legends Division title.  In Ann Arbor, the Wolverines are winning again, and Brady Hoke beat the Buckeyes in his first season.  Sometimes, good things happen to good people, and Michigan’s senior class has a bunch of them.

Former Tigers’ manager Sparky Anderson died this year at 76. Two years ago, I asked him what’s the best advice he could give a coach.  He pointed two of his gnarled fingers at his leathery face, cracked his famous grin, and said, “Trust your eyes, son.  Trust your eyes.”

Maybe he wasn’t talking about sports, after all.