By Coach Ryan,
Every year as Father Time brings us to a new year we look back at the movies, music, pop culture, and sports that made the past year special. Sports like many of these things in life have the ability to bring us the ultimate highs and agonizing lows, the difference with sports moments is unlike most other things they have the ability to actually bring us out of our seats cheering, leave us crying, or can make us so angry that we can break or burn things that in the past held dear to us (for the record I’d burn LeBron’s jersey again if I could). 2012 like years past have given us dozens of amazing and terrible moments but I am going to do my best to narrow down the list to the ten best moments that captivated us over the past year. To put a small twist on it I am not honoring any team that won a championship in their respected league (i.e. the NY Giants, Heat, Kings, or the SF Giants). Sorry but every year a sport is played a championship is handed out and therefore a professional sports team can not make my “Best of” list. Let’s all get this sorted out in Coach Ryan’s first ever Best Sports Moments of the Year!
The Ten Best:
10.) Major League Perfection- Out of my list which included way more than ten great moments of 2012 this was one that I was sure wasn’t going to make it until I started breaking them down and really researching. The modern age of baseball has been around since 1903 and since then there have only been 23 perfect games in the history of MLB baseball. In 2012, there was three. Not just were there three perfect games but there was also four no hitters meaning that in 2012 teams were no hit seven times. If you look at MLB pitching over the past several years the numbers have been staggering, since 2009 6 of the 23 perfect games have been thrown, the steroid era is over but nobody could have anticipated the dominance that pitchers would have over the game. Will 2013 bring us even one perfect game or possibly four? Only time will tell but as far as 2012 goes thank you to Philip Humber, Matt Cain, Felix Hernandez, and the combined 35 batters who struck out to make 2012 a year of perfection.
9.) College Football approves a playoff– I know this isn’t exactly a sports “moment” but 2012 will have forever changed college football for the better. After last year’s National (or should I say SEC) Championship drew a whopping TV rating of 14.01 you could imagine all the old grumpy NCAA chairmen sweating in their smoking jackets. Ever since the BCS was invented for the 1998-1999 season fans have been more than slightly confused as to how a computer formula could be used to figure out who the two best teams in College Football were. All us the fans have ever asked for is a playoff to decide the National Championship only to hear excuses about how it is unrealistic with finals and how it’d be too much for the players. Somehow what they failed to remember is that the FCS implemented a four team playoff in1978 and have had a sixteen team playoff since ’87. Apparently FCS kids don’t need to take finals and can handle more than the kids who play in 100,000+ capacity stadiums. Plus why would you want to make millions of more dollars for your universities? Regardless thanks to all of our years of complaining a playoff is coming and even though it’s only four teams and you can already hear the controversy from teams ranked 5-9 it is the best move that NCAA has done in years. Is there anyway to skip 2013 and just go to the Final Four in 2014?
8.) Oscar Pistorious- Being as how this was an Olympic year you could easily pull the “Best Moments of the Year” list solely from London but out of the Olympics there was one story that may be the feel good moment of the decade, Oscar Pistorious. How much of an impact did he have? Even if you don’t remember his name you remember him as the double-amputee sprinter nicknamed “Bladerunner” because of his carbon prosthesis. The fact that a double-amputee could qualify for the Olympics is amazing but when you consider that he advanced to the semi-finals in the 400m is beyond words. Also beyond words is the fact that he had several critics who protested his competing in the Summer Games because his carbon legs “gave him an unfair advantage” over the runners who were completely able-bodied. Let’s be honest we all know if he had to choose between no legs or legs he obviously would pick being a double-amputee so he could better compete. The most inspirational and touching moment of the Summer Games happened ironically enough when Pistorious failed to advance out of his semifinal heat when eventual gold medal winner Kirani James and Pistorious swapped bibs in a show of respect and to remember the historical occasion. Pistorious may not have earned a medal during the games but it truly was a golden moment in sports.
7.) Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings- Although they can’t touch Pistorious as far as an emotional feeling you can’t debate the dominance these two exhibited over their careers. Beach Volleyball wasn’t just the hottest ticket at the Summer Games but it was also the first event of the Olympics that got people glued to their televisions. Since 1998 when the sport first made its Olympic premiere nobody has dominated like the duo of Misty and Kerri who seem to become household names every four years. Despite retiring after the Beijing Games Misty May decided to team up for one last golden opportunity in London even though there were doubts about their ability to stay on top after not losing a single set during their first two Olympic Games. Although they finally lost a set in London to the Schwaiger sisters from Australia, beach volleyball’s greatest team would make sure it would be the first and only set they would ever lose in Olympic play on their way to recapturing the gold for an unprecidented third straight time. What might have made their dominance even more fun to watch was the way that they approached every point in every match, with almost a child like excitement and love for the game and each other. Teammates, especially at the Olympic level have a bond that the average person doesn’t understand and during the tournament they showed that they were not just teammates but had a bond that is generally reserved for the closest friends which allows them to execute on a level that the sport of beach volleyball may never see again.
6.) US Women are Golden- It would have been easy to put Misty May and Kerri Walsh into just this category but their overall dominance let them be a part of two sections of my top ten list. Although they are included here at #6, this really is a tribute to what the entire group of American female athletes were able to accomplish during the Games. I already mentioned the beach volleyball but there were many events that were equally as appealing. Gabby Douglas and the US Women’s Gymnastics team dominated the team finals winning the event by over 5 points over second place Russia right before Douglas went on to be the first African-American Woman to win the all around individual gold and the first American to win the all around and team gold at the same games. In swimming Missy Franklin stole the heart of Americans by winning four gold medals and five overall with a spirit and determination much greater than her age of only 17. Perhaps the most dramatic gold came from the US Women’s Soccer team who had the most dramatic come from behind victory against Canada in the semifinals before taking gold from Japan in the Gold Medal Match. If you are discovering a theme here with gold medals you are onto something. Just how dominant were the US Women? Only one country, China won more total gold medals with 38 than the US Women who won a jaw dropping 29. Maybe even more impressive was the fact that the women won 58 total medals, only China, Russia, and Great Britain won more total.
5.) Josh Hamilton hits 4 homers- Number 5 on this list opens a can of worms on just what is more impressive, the perfect game or hitting 4 homers in a single game. I have Josh Hamilton’s historic feat above the three perfect games this past year based on the rarity of what he was able to do against the Orioles last May. There have been 23 perfect games in Major League history compared to 16 games in which a player hit four home runs. In 2012 there were three perfect games where the last time anyone in baseball hit four home runs was Carlos Delgado in 2003. I’m not trying to take anything away from any pitcher who has ever thrown a perfect game or even a no-hitter, they are amazing feats and worth every bit of attention they receive but let’s think about hitting verses pitching. A pitcher good or bad controls the tempo of the game. Some pitchers work fast where others work slow but they completely control the game, even a pitcher having a bad outing can get into a good groove for a few innings where they are lights out. Hitters by comparison might only get four at bats during a game and where a starting pitcher can be on the mound for at least half of the game they are playing, a hitter can wait over an hour at times to get to the plate making it much harder to establish a rhythm. Also take into account that a hitter, especially one as hot as Hamilton may only get one or two pitches to hit during an at bat. But on May 8, 2012 in Baltimore, Hamilton as able to hit the ball perfect four times and got a combined 18 total bases by doubling as well in the fifth inning. Let me make this simple for Hamilton: 5 for 5, 4 home runs, 1 double, 18 total bases, 4 runs scored, 8 RBIs, and number 5 on the Best Sports Moments of the year.
4.) Andy Murray- You could make a really good argument that Andy Murray had the best year of any athlete in 2012, and his year seemed to get better as it progressed. Most of the year’s top sports moments seemed to revolve around London, from Wimbledon to the Olympics and the UK’s most prized athlete in the middle of it all was Murray. Even though he lost to Roger Federer he still was the first British man to even make the Wimbledon Finals since Bunny Austin in 1938. Murray was cheered like a hero drawing Royal attention in the losing effort but it wouldn’t be his last chance to walk off Centre Court as a champion as a month later they would once again face off for the Gold Medal. This time, for the first time Murray was victorious against Federer in straight sets winning him the gold and instantly becoming a national celebrity. His year up till the Olympics might have been enough to make my Best of Sports list but Murray was in for one more “Major” victory of the year as he shocked the tennis world by beating top rated Novak Djokovic to win England’s first Major in 76 years. Not only has Murray had success on the tennis court but he also climbed to number 3 in the world and along with Federer, Djokovic, and Nadal has made tennis more exciting than it has been since the days of Sampras and Agassi. That’s not a bad year for someone who accomplished all that and became arguably the UK’s most famous athlete, surpassing David Bekham in many people’s mind.
3.) Miguel Cabrera wins the Triple Crown- Let me make this clear, had there not been an Olympic Games this would hands down be the Greatest Sports Moment of the Year and many people will argue that even with the Games it should still be. Baseball’s Triple Crown has been even more elusive than the Triple Crown of Horse Racing with Affirmed winning the last one in 1978. For baseball the last one came eleven years earlier in 1967 when Carl Yastrzemski won the prestigious award for Boston. Winning a Triple Crown in baseball doesn’t just make Cabrera good, it puts him in the same company as Mantle, Williams, and Gehrig. How special of a feat is it? Not even Babe Ruth was able to accomplish what Cabrera did in 2012. Although the season ended on a down note for Cabrera by losing in the World Series to the Giants his 44 home runs, 139 RBIs, and .330 average compliment his MVP and his season that puts him in elite company. To see how much it meant to win the Triple Crown all you had to do is look around and see how much it meant to his teammates along with Manager Jim Leyland who got choked up after he wrapped it up on the very last day of the season. For someone like Cabrera who came into the league as a home run threat and has dealt with his own demons his ability to bounce back and accomplish something as prestigious as a Triple Crown in a year he had to move from first to third is a tribute to his work ethics and definitely good enough to be the third best sports moment of the year.
2.) Michael Phelps becomes the most decorated Olympian- Once again I would like to emphasise how Miguel Cabrera typically would be number 1 on a best of the sports year list. The difference with the top 2 is that what they have accomplished has never been done in the history of sports and Michael Phelps deserves every bit of credit he earns with his spot at number 2 on this list. Even though his Olympics started off by missing out on the medal stand in his best event Phelps was able to bounce back very modestly to end his London games with four golds and two silvers. To win a single gold medal is an achievement that the top 1% of the top 1% of athletes can ever realistically dream about, when you are talking about Phelps he ended his career winning 18. If you want to put that into perspective, in Olympic history the second most medals won overall was by Larisa Latynina who was a gymnast for the Soviet Union. She won a total of 18 medals; 9 were gold, 5 were silver, and 4 were bronze. In comparison Phelps has won a total of 22 medals; 18 gold, 2 silver, and 2 bronze. Think about that for a second, Michael Phelps ended his Olympic career with as many golds as any other athlete total medals in the modern age of Olympics which spans 116 years. Not just does Phelps end his swimming career with more medals ever he is also an athlete who transcended his sport, making Olympic swimming one of the most popular events over the past three Olympic games. Moving forward it’s fun to speculate whether or not Phelps’ air apparent Ryan Lochte will be able to keep the interest in Olympic swimming going but one thing is for sure Michael Phelps’ Olympic record or even his 2012 will be hard to replicate by anyone, ever.
1.) Usain Bolt- You’re lucky if a country or a generation gets to see an athlete accomplish or memorize people the way that Usain Bolt did in 2012. No offense to Michael Phelps or Miguel Cabrerea but what I am referring to here is on a completely different level, he cemented himself as a National Hero for Jamaica in 2012. Let me put it plainly, in 2012 Bolt put his level of greatness on par with the way that Wayne Gretzky is admired by Canadians or Muhammad Ali is idolized by Americans. Like Phelps however his legacy was sealed this year by what he has done leading up to this year and 2012 transformed him into a living legend who unlike Phelps still may have more to deliver. It wasn’t just that Bolt won three golds at the London games or even that he is the first person in history to win the 100m and 200m in back-to-back Olympics as well earning gold in the 4x100m relay as well in both games, that’s definitely part of it. Another aspect of it was the way that he went about doing it. Bolt lost the Olympic Trials only months earlier to teammate Yohan Blake only to rebound and beat not only Blake but blow away everyone else. In typical Bolt fashion he set the second-fastest time in history of 9.63 seconds in the 100m, second only to his World Record time of 9.58 at the 2008 games. In the 200m he had time to slow up on his way to the gold in a time of 19.32 seconds. The world watched leading up the races as Bolt joked with competitors, played the crowd, and showed his natural joking nature in a way that could come off as cocky but instead seems to represent the attitudes and lifestyle of his home country of Jamaica where he was adored upon his return like John Lennon returning to Liverpool. Even though Bolt’s 2012 Olympic events took a combined time of just over a minute (65.79 seconds), it was just fast enough to become one of the most idolized athletes of all time and number 1 on my Best of 2012.