Earlier this week I brought you the top 10 Michigan sports stories of 2011.
Now I bring you what I thought were the top 10 national sports stories of the year. This doesn’t include international stuff, just the biggest sports stories stateside.
So here we go:
1. The NFL lockout. Wanting a bigger piece of the $9 billion that the league made in the past couple of years, the owners and commissioner Roger Goodell decided to force players to accept major concessions to their salary and benefits packages. Needless to say, the NFL Players Association and leader DeMaurice Smith were not happy, and refused to go along. When the NFL locked out the players, lawsuits flew. Fortunately both sides realized a long court fight wouldn’t benefit anyone, and settled so that we could have two pre-season games and an entire 16-game schedule. But it had the makings of being messy.
2. The NBA lockout. This was messy. NBA owners, claiming millions in losses, wanted strict controls on player salaries. Commissioner David Stern and the owners tried their best to bully the National Basketball Players Association and head Billy Hunter to accept deals that were horribly in the owners favor. They said no, so the lockout happened and as a further bullying tactic, canceled 16 games for each team. When the union pushed back with lawsuits of their own, the two sides settled. Another season saved.
3. Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky is accused of molesting children. This story is ongoing, as the trial for Sandusky hasn’t started. The scandal swept up longtime head coach Joe Paterno, causing him to be fired not long after victims came forward with the same story. Sandusky, meanwhile, has claimed innocence throughout the process, despite another assistant coach supposedly being an eye-witness to a sexual act with a boy. Everyone felt dirtier for having to see these stories.
4. The Dallas Mavericks win the NBA title over Miami. “Not five, not six, not seven,” proclaimed Mimai Heat forward LeBron James. They might want to start with one after they lost to the Mavericks. Dallas became just the ninth team in the last 32 years to win an NBA championship, defeating the L.A. Lakers and San Antonio Spurs along the way. Dirk Nowitzki finally got an MVP award after downing the supposed “team to beat.”
5. Ohio State football hit with sanctions after Jim Tressel lies to NCAA investigators. First it was five players who got cash and tattoos for some of their football gear. They were to have been suspended for five games for their bad decision. Little did anyone know until the Columbus Dispatch did some digging that Tressel had been warned about the violations before the 2010 season started, but did nothing, then lied to the NCAA in saying he didn’t know about it. Tressel lost his job after public pressure, then the NCAA hit the Buckeyes with a bowl ban to go along with an extra year of probation and four more scholarships taken away from the program. The Buckeyes still got a glimmer of hope when Urban Meyer agreed to coach them next year.
6. The Green Bay Packers win the Super Bowl over Pittsburgh. The Packers were a team that had supposedly had troubles on defense, but their trip to the Super Bowl was a combination of defense and Aaron Rodgers’ arm. And it’s not like the team they beat had been lucky to get there, because the Steelers won the Super Bowl two seasons prior and had to go through the brutal AFC playoffs – complete with Indianapolis, New England and Baltimore – to make it to the title game.
7. Tony Stewart wins the NASCAR Sprint Cup, beating Carl Edwards. OK, technically Stewart and Edwards tied for total points. But with a season-ending win over Edwards at Homestead Miami Speedway, Stewart would clinch on the first tie-breaker: wins. It capped a remarkable comeback for Stewart, who was 10th in points going into the Chase for the Cup. All five of Stewart’s wins came in the Chase, making his third Cup championship all that more impressive.
8. The Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup over Vancouver. With the title, the Bruins shed the longest active Cup drought in the NHL – a drought they were saddled with when Chicago won theirs the season prior. Boston had to go through a difficult Eastern Conference playoffs that sported Buffalo, New Jersey, Pittsburgh (minus Sidney Crosby) and Washington. The Canucks, meanwhile, were feeling it after watching Canada win the gold in hockey the year prior. They had stormed through the brutal Western Conference playoffs, only to be stopped by Boston goalie Tim Thomas and his unorthodox style of goaltending. While Beantown celebrated, Vancouver rioted in images that will be forever linked to the 2011 NHL playoffs.
9. Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine is accused of molesting children. So far this hasn’t blown up like the Sandusky case, because the statute of limitations had passed for prosecuting Fine. However there’s still some question as to whether head coach Jim Boeheim knew about the allegations like Paterno did and did nothing. Boeheim is under enough scrutiny for calling victims “liars” and “wanting money.” He backtracked on that a couple of weeks later and more accusers are coming forward to this day. Whether this reaches the level of Sandusky is still to be determined.
10. The L.A. Dodgers file for bankruptcy and are being sold. This wasn’t supposed to happen to one of the more storied franchises in Major League Baseball. But Frank McCourt’s divorce of his wife thrust the Dodgers into the public spotlight, and a TV deal that would have kept the Dodgers afloat and McCourt as owner was shot down by commissioner Bud Selig, who did everything he could to get McCourt to sell the team. McCourt declared bankruptcy against MLB’s belief that they controled the team. Lawsuits flew here also, but McCourt relented and now is looking to have an auction for the team. Interested possible owners include former Dodger Steve Garvey and Earvin “Magic” Johnson, among others.