The years rumble by. The games increase and multiply. Championships are remembered. Champions come and go. Only rarely does the light surpass the heat. Where will 2010 ranks in the sporting annals? It wasn’t the best of years. But it wasn’t the worst, either.
It’s that time again. But this informal summary by no means attempts to order what happened in terms of impact or importance or even entertainment value. Rather it’s a log of what one recalls having been touched by or aggravated about along the way. As years go, it was notably long and full. And something of an exception as they have become measured hereabouts for there were no more crowns claimed by avid and too often rabid New England Sports Nation. Spoiled to the core, we grumbled mightily.
The Celtics came closest, seemingly having yet another one tightly in their grasp with only 20 minutes left in the interminable season and another generation of Laker fans ripe to be traumatized. But this time the joke was on Boston as Kobe, the much despised, took charge. The historical irony was profound.
Consistent with their recent history -- dating back almost four full decades now -- the Bruins teased us even more dramatically before wimping out again, only this time their failure was epic. In taking a three-game lead against the loathsome Flyers then tanking the next four they accomplished what had only been ingloriously done twice before in their game’s entire history. A new season finds them en route to a reprise.
Alone among the Big Four the Red Sox didn’t even qualify for post-season disappointment. Injuries were a huge factor and there were enough of them to reasonably account for blame. But the season was hardly Theo the Dealmaker’s finest hour, either. At year’s end, his determination to rectify that brought big-ticket mercenaries Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Bobby Jenks to town, raising the Red Sox payroll higher than the Yankees’. If it’s probably to be only briefly, it’s no less astounding. Interestingly, the local media entirely ignored this historical moment. Nor were there any new demands by owner John Henry for a salary cap.
Of the Four, the Patriots seemed most primed to recapture eminence. In a remarkable flip-flop, the year began with Bill Belichick enduring his worst Patriot moment, thanks to the Ravens, and ends with him mapping his niftiest revival, thanks to a strong draft, shrewd personnel decisions, uncanny gifts from the waiver wire, and a fortuitous showdown with Randy Moss, a willing dupe. Early 2011 could witness the finest hour of the Brady-Belichick axis. Odds on that mount.
Bad behavior was much in vogue. Obvious cases include Ben Roethlisberger, only the latest NFL star to run afoul of night-life. Coach Rick Pitino, ex of the Celtics, was right in step. Alleged humiliating indiscretions, still unresolved, made a mess of Bret Favre’s twilight. Roger Clemens spent the whole year being stalked by the federal legal system. A trainer scandalized the Mets while a pitcher, Francisco Rodriguez, did their sagging image even more damage when he punched out his galpal’s father in the team’s ‘family room’. Chone Figgins punched his manager. Johan Santana was accused of rape. Reggie Bush forfeited his Heisman. Cam Newton should never been given his. Indiscretions, among coaches and boosters, further cheapened college athletics.
Yet, in all of the rampant mischief, the Tiger Woods tale easily dominated. Endless sordid revelations marked Woods’s colossal fall from grace. Tracing the decline of his play became the Tour’s game within the game, with schadenfreude in full flower. The annual “Anti-Sportsman of the Year” competition was thereby no contest: Tiger by a landslide.
With a tamed and toothless Tiger, Golf suffered hugely in interest and ratings. There was a rush to anoint Phil Mickelson the new face of the game, and though he flared brightly at Augusta, the lefty seemed disinclined. Golf’s best event was the Ryder Cup festival, which was deservedly won by the lads from across the pond, satisfying the legions who wanted no part of an American triumph featuring Woods.
Indeed, it was a huge year for international sport. Wimbledon, lately the finest fortnight of the sporting year, was again splendid. When two relatively unknown hackers struggled three days to complete one match, the whole word cheered. Serbia beat France in the Davis Cup. Spain beat the Netherlands in the World Cup, as the new South Africa boisterously introduced itself to the music of the vuvuzelas. The Winter Olympics in Vancouver were the most elegant yet held, and a major triumph for American kids. Spain’s Alberto Contadour won the Tour de France. America’s Lance Armstrong got hounded by the drug-busters. Qatar, an oil- soaked Gulf State little bigger than Rhode Island, got chosen over the U.S to host a World Cup. It had something to do with the politics of FIFA.
The athlete of the year was tennis titan Rafael Nadal. Top boxer was the electrifying Manny Pacquiao of the Phillippines. Top college coach of anything was Boston College’s incomparable Jerry York, who won his third national hockey championship by deploying genuine scholar-athletes who actually attend class and graduate. We said “hello” to Tyler Seguin, hotshot Bruins draft pick, and Shaq O’Neal, legendary Celtic pick-up, and Danny Woodhead, pint-size football man, along with Fenway’s Crawford and Gonzalez. We said “goodbye” to the Bruins’ Marco Sturm, to John Farrell and Victor Martinez of the Red Sox, and, of course, to the unforgettable Moss, who was so smartly used by the Patriots.
Best single game of anything was the glorious gold medal joust in Vancouver between the U.S and Canada won by Sid (The Kid) Crosby in overtime. The timeless moment brought all of Canada to its knees, weeping. Biggest opus, if you include all the folderol, was the Super Bowl, which was all about New Orleans. Best mano-a-mano moment was the four-hour Federer-Djokovich semi-final at the U.S Open. Quaintest local moment was the Bruins’ stirring win over the Flyers in the New Years Fenway Park classic. For a single lovely day, the grand game of hockey was supreme again.
But there were goats too. LeBron James made a fool of himself peddling his free agency shamelessly. Legendary for his cool, Marvin Miller lost it when he was again denied a berth in Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Presumed to be flawless, Derek Jeter badly over-played his hand trawling for another contract. A federal appeals court strongly reproached the rogue Justice Department agents who seized baseball steroid records, allowing them to be grossly mis-used. Meanwhile, the warriors of pro basketball and football advanced with leaps and bounds on the road to possible work stoppage next year in both the NBA and the NFL. And wouldn’t that be pretty?
“Turkeys of the Year” prize, however, easily goes to those swinging kids Frank and Jamie McCourt, ex of Boston and now the toast of L.A. Their divorce proceedings, full of the nasty and sordid, raised snickers even in Hollywood. Their squabble now centers on the foremost of their properties, the Los Angeles Dodgers worth an estimated $1.1 billion. It’s an embarrassing mess with no end in sight. Bette Davis was wrong. You can be too rich, too thin, and have too much time on your hands. The swinging McCourts have proved it. Never forget that they almost got their mitts on the Red Sox.
Baseball czar Bud Selig proclaimed his game to be in a “golden age” as gross revenues topped $7 billion per year and average salary topped $3 million per player. Parity got another boost as longtime losers Texas and San Francisco reached the Series. But the post-season scene was not pretty. Wild spending sprees, climaxed by Cliff Lee’s exaggerated pursuit of hundreds of millions, played poorly in a nation burdened with 10 percent unemployment.
And along the way we lost too many who once strode the fields mightily. One especially remembers Robin Roberts, Ernie Harwell, George Steinbrenner, Bobby Thomson, Doc Blanchard, Pat Burns, Manute Boll, Larry Siegfried, Ralph Houk, Walt Dropo, Ron Santo and, in the end, the illustrious Bob Feller. For those of us who were kids in a long ago and better time, Bob was a hero on and off the field. And that’s how he’ll be remembered.