The Norman Transcript

December 31, 2011

A year full of big stories

By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The past 12 months have went by rather fast. However, jam-packed into those 365 days were some of the most unique, sad and interesting sports stories many of us have ever seen.

My top-8 list have stories that got a lot of attention, while others went under the radar. Regardless which category they fall into, they helped shape 2011.

8. Lockout City: In an unprecedented move, both the NFL and NBA endured lockouts in the same year. The NFL, the most prosperous of all sports league, was smart enough to make a deal without losing any games. The NBA was not.

7. Change of scenery: Conference realignment has changed the way college athletics will look for the foreseeable future. Boise State is now in the Big East, while Missouri is now a member of the SEC. Those are just a couple of examples of how location is no longer a prerequisite to being in a certain conference.

The Big 12 was almost broken up as universities went looking for more money and television revenue. There is no guarantee it wont happen again next year or the year after that. As long as their is a chance to make more money, school presidents are going to listen.

6. Smokin’ Joe shuts it down: He was best known for being Muhammad Ali’s foil in the greatest trilogy in the history of sports. But Joe Frazier struggled his entire adult life to prove he was more than that. Because Ali had become an icon, the world needed Frazier to be a villain. In reality he was anything but that. But he could never escape Ali’s shadow or the demons he carried with him from the taunts and insults he took from the now beloved Ali and his fans.

The 67-year old Frazier died in November after a brief battle with cancer.

“Not only was he a great fighter but also a great man. He lived as he fought with courage and commitment at a time when African-Americans in all spheres of life were engaged in a struggle for emancipation and respect,” Don King said of Frazier. “Smokin’ Joe brought honor, dignity and pride for his people, the American people, and brought the nation together as only sports can do.”

5. The Heir Apparent: While much of the world has been focused on another young quarterback out in Denver, Cam Newton has quietly taken the NFL by storm. One year after leading Auburn to a national title, Newton has shown his detractors why he was worthy of being the No. 1 overall pick. Heading into his final game of the season, Newton has thrown for 3,893 yards, 20 TDs and 16 INTs. He also has accounted for 14 rushing touchdowns, which is a new record for quarterbacks. Newton is quickly changing the way the quarterback position is going to be played in the future.

4. Mavs win NBA title: Normally a team winning a title wouldn’t make a list like this. However, considering where the Dallas Mavericks came from, it truly was an amazing story. Except for a brief run in the 80s, the Mavs were never considered an elite team. Even years when they had the best record in the NBA, they found a way to fade away once the playoffs arrived because they were the softest team in the NBA.

But this past season, they went on a run that saw them knock of the Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat to win the franchises first NBA title. All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki did something no one thought he could do. He elevated his game and outshined the likes of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade.

Now all that is left is to see if the Mavericks are a one-hit wonder or a dynasty in the making.

3. Paper chaser: Some things are just so big you can’t turn them down. St. Louis Cardinals fans found this out when their beloved Albert Pujols left them for the big money of California. After winning his second world series with the Cardinals, Pujols shocked baseball fans when he signed a $254 million, 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels. It’s the second-highest in baseball history. It was too much for the 31-year old to turn down.

2. Tebow-mania: His name has become a verb. That is really all we need to say about the phenomenon known as Tim Tebow, Tebowing or getting Tebowed. It can’t be explained, it can’t be justified. Yet, American has become enamored with a below average quarterback who was fourth on the Denver Broncos depth chart when season began. Yet, in a recent poll, he was voted America’s most desirable neighbor.

Even though he didn’t set out to do become a lightning rod of controversy, Tebow has done just that. America has just been Tebowed.

1. Down fall of a legend: In a year that has seen college sports take several hits to its image, none did more damage than the saga at Penn State. Former coach Jerry Sandusky has been charged with more than 50 counts of sexually abusing at least 10 boys. Many of them took place while he was a member of the Penn State staff and under the watch of legendary coach Joe Paterno.

Watching Paterno go from an Icon in college football to a confused old man was sad to watch. But not as sad as hearing the stories of the young boys who needed him to step up save them, yet he chose not to.

For better or worse, the stories of 2011 have left an indelible mark on the sports landscape.

Michael Kinney 366-3537 mkinney@normantranscript.com