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2010 Sports Year in Review: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Posted on December 30, 2010 by Dean Hybl

The Saints winning the Super Bowl was one of the good sports moments of 2010.

2010 has been an interesting year in the world of sports. As is typically the case, there have been some wonderful and memorable moments, but also some that we all wish could be erased from the memory banks.

Below is a look at some of the good, bad and ugly from 2010:

The Good:

New Orleans Saints Win the Super Bowl: For nearly 40 years the New Orleans Saints were the NFL’s epitome of the phrase “Nice guys always finish last.”

From the time the Saints entered the NFL in 1967 the franchise seemed to spend more time on the blooper reels than in the highlight films. It took 20 years before they posted a winning season and another 13 years before claiming their first playoff victory.

When Hurricane Katrina hit the region in 2005 there were some who believed that New Orleans could no longer support an NFL franchise. Yet, when the Superdome reopened in 2006 the people of New Orleans completely embraced their team and the players did the same for the city.

They reached the NFC Championship Game that year, but lost to the Bears and over the next two seasons slipped back into mediocrity and out of the national conscious.

After posting an 8-8 season in 2008 there was little expectation that the Saints would be a serious championship contender during the 2009 campaign. However, under the direction of quarterback Drew Brees the Saints came out firing on all cylinders and reeled off 13 straight victories to start the season and earn homefield advantage throughout the NFL playoffs.

Hosting the Minnesota Vikings in what would end up being one of the most exciting NFC Championship games ever, the Saints won 31-28 and advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.

Facing the favored Indianapolis Colts, which were quarterbacked by the son of the best quarterback in Saints history, few really believed the Saints could win the title. However, using every trick they had up their sleeve, the Saints shocked the Colts with a dominating second half to win 31-17.

No team and no city has ever deserved to be called world champions more than New Orleans as the victory culminated five years of rebuilding and clawing to get back to a sense of normalcy after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. It was a great moment for the city and a great moment for the sports world.

College Basketball Still Has Shining Moments: In an era when major college sports has become such a big business, it is great to still have moments when we are reminded why we fell in love with sports in the first place.

In 2010 there were a number of stories in college basketball that brought the game back to the forefront and captivated the country.

 The NCAA has always given the “little guy” the chance to show their stuff against the giants from the major conferences, but usually at the end of the day the “big guy” is going to have the glory.

In the 2010 NCAA Tournament it seemed every time you turned around there was another small school pulling off a shocking win over one of the usual super powers of the sport. Schools such as Northern Iowa, Cornell, Ohio and St. Mary’s proved that they were just as capable of winning on the big stage as their higher profile opponents.

No school better personified the small school nature of the 2010 tournament than the Butler Bulldogs. The pride of the Horizon League, Butler clawed their way into the NCAA Championship Game with wins over major programs Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State.

Though they fell to Duke 61-59 in the championship game, just making it that far was a great story and reminder that greatness in college basketball isn’t limited to the “big time” schools.

It is a little ironic that Butler lost to Duke in the title game as Duke is often seen as being the epitome of the “big boys”, but as a private school with under 10,000 students they actually have many more of the characteristics of the small, non-major conference schools than they do with the large public universities that dominate the upper division of college athletics.

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski has built this small school in North Carolina into a national power. In 2010 “Coach K” claimed his fourth national title and also became the second winningest Division I men’s basketball coach of all-time with his 880th victory. He will likely pass Bobby Knight for number one on the list either later this season or early in the 2011-2012 campaign.

Another program on a record breaking track in 2010 was the Connecticut women’s basketball team. The winners of the last two women’s national titles, they made news in December for passing the 1971-74 UCLA men’s basketball team for the most consecutive college basketball victories.

The UConn women have now won 90 straight games and dominated their opponents by an average of 33 points per game. They appear poised to win another title in 2011.

Joe Paterno won his 400th game as a head football coach in 2010 and may coach forever.

 Joe Paterno Wins His 400th Game and Keeps on Going: When Joe Paterno claimed his 400th victory as head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions he treated the milestone victory as if it were no different than any other victory. Instead of focusing on the past, Paterno continues to focus on the future both for himself and for Penn State football.

Though the Nittany Lions were not as strong in 2010 as they had been over the last five years, Paterno did lead a young squad to a 7-5 record and spot in the Outback Bowl. Ironically, in that game Paterno’s squad is matched against the University of Florida, whose 46-year-old head coach Urban Meyer announced in December that he is stepping down for family and health reasons.

Had the 84-year-old Paterno retired when he was 46-years-old he would have left college coaching in 1972. Instead, he has coached 38 additional season, made 32 additional bowl appearances, posted 17 double-digit win seasons and won two national titles.

Paterno has said he plans to coach in 2011, though there have been some recent rumors to the contrary. Regardless of whether he continues coaching beyond this year, Joe Paterno will go down as one of the legendary figures of college athletics and as someone who always recognized that athletics was an important component of college life, but not the only component.

Other Good Moments:

- Roy Halladay tossing a no-hitter in his first post season start.

- Army, Navy and Air Force all earning bowl appearances in the same year for the first time ever.

- Canada and the U.S.A. playing a memorable Gold Medal hockey game at the Winter Olympics.

- Kim Clijsters repeating as U.S. Open Champion and Rafael Nadal finally breaking through to win his first U.S. Open.

- Car owner Chip Ganassi having cars win the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca Cola 600 on the same day after also becoming the first car owner to win the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 in the same year.
The Bad:

Does FIFA Really Want Americans to Like Soccer?: Perhaps it is an illustration of the American arrogance, but it is generally believed that FIFA (the governing body for international soccer) has been trying for decades to increase the popularity of soccer in the United States.

If that is truly the case, then they didn’t do a very good job at it in 2010.

An officials call that has still never been fully explained cost the United States a victory over Slovenia in the World Cup.

While still nowhere near as popular as American Football or Major League Baseball, the 2010 World Cup did enjoy significant popularity in the United States as fans watched the matches on television and kept up with the festivities despite some weird time differences.

However, being able to watch may not have actually been a good thing as some of the actions on the field frustrated and alienated many fans.

In the opening round match between the U.S.A. and Slovenia, the U.S. rallied from two goals down to tie the contest. In the 85th minute it looked like the Americans would claim victory as they scored off a free kick. However, the goal was waived off by the referee, who called a foul that has still not been seen or explained.

Just days later, controversial calls that impacted the results in matches between England and Germany and Mexico and Argentina led to discussions about the possible use of instant replay. However, FIFA immediately and emphatically said that using instant replay or other technology was not likely part of their future plans.

What this means for Americans is the continued perception that soccer is a game with confusing rules that provide too much discretion for individual interpretation by game referees. Unlike the NBA, which moved quickly to make adjustments and embrace the use of technology after the possibility was raised that officials were impacting the outcome of games, FIFA has not been quick to squash the perception. Until they believe the game is above reproach, Americans are not going to truly vest themselves in a sport that seems to make game decisions on a whim.

Then in December, FIFA has a great chance to stamp their mark on the United States for the next decade by awarding the 2022 World Cup to America. It would have built on the gains soccer has made in the country in the 16 years since the U.S. hosted its first World Cup in 1994.

But instead of giving the United States the bid, FIFA shockingly chose Qatar as the 2022 host meaning they will be the first Arab nation to host the World Cup.

What seems the strangest about this decision is that most of the venues Qatar would need to host the games have not yet been built and the average daytime temperature in Qatar during the time the games will be played in 104 degrees (average low of 86). While the plan is to build air conditioned indoor stadiums for the games, it remains unclear how they intend to keep visitors comfortable when not watching the matches.

Evidently the United States was climbing uphill as there has been pressure building in recent years to host the World Cup in the Middle East. However, the United States has previous experience hosting the championships and most of the venues that were proposed for use already exist and exceed the general standards.

If FIFA was really interested in continuing to grow the sport in America, it would have been an easy decision to award the 2022 games to the United States. However, they have instead decided that spreading the opportunity to host to other places, even if not necessarily ideal locations, is in their best interest.

It might make one start to think that instead of growing the game in the U.S., FIFA is happy taking the television money from ESPN and keeping the game at its current levels. Perhaps they see the capitalistic way America is destroying some of their own sports as reason enough not to let this country get too enamored with their own sport.

Decision or Disaster?: In one week, LeBron James went from one of the most loved and respected athletes in professional sports to public enemy number one. Unlike Michael Vick, Roger Clemens and Tiger Woods his decline wasn’t the result of personal indiscretions or criminal activity. Instead, he was a result of one of the worst public relations disasters in recent memory.

After years of anticipation, the time finally came in July 2010 for James to test the NBA free agent waters. Many expected he would stay with his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, but there was also some thought he might end up in New York, Chicago or Miami.

Since he never enjoyed the experience of being recruited by college programs, many believed this was James chance to revel in that type of experience.

The ultimate decision by James to leave Cleveland for Miami would have been a relatively short-term PR issue had the announcement not been done in a manner that angered and turned off fans across the NBA regardless of whether or not they liked the Cavaliers.

Spending an entire hour to announce the decision about LeBron James' basketball future was without question his worst decision of 2010.

Instead of graciously thanking Cleveland for their support during his seven years in the city and making his announcement during a press conference in Miami, James instead made a spectacle of himself and “The Decision.”

The program was broadcast live on ESPN, but ESPN had very little say in how the program would be coordinated. They didn’t even get to pick the person who would interview James as it was dictated that Jim Gray would be the stooge on stage with James.

After spending more than 10 minutes throwing softball questions at James, the television audience finally found out that James was spurning his former team in favor of the Miami Heat.

While many were certainly disappointed in the choice, what really turned things for James was the perceived arrogance of having an hour long television special to announce his choice as well as his decision not to inform the Cavalier management in advance that he was leaving for another city.

Then the next night, James, along with new teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were paraded out for Heat fans in an event that was taken as a slap to the face by Cleveland fans.

In the ensuing days, weeks and months, James has received much criticism for his approach. While it has not been reported that James has lost significant advertising endorsements, the airwaves have been largely without his image in recent months after years of constant exposure. There was an ad by Nike in which James seemed to try and embrace his new image, but it has not received major air play.

It seems likely that over time James will return to being one of the favorite players of NBA fans outside of Cleveland, though he may now never reach the legend status for which he seemed destined. If James and the Heat are able to win multiple championships, as James said was his goal, then his popularity will take care of itself. However, don’t expect another sports star to make the follow-up “Decision II” anytime soon as this was an act that doesn’t need a sequel.

Other Bad Moments:

- Weather playing havoc with the Ryder Cup and forcing the final matches to be played on Monday.

- Sports Illustrated devoting only two covers to female athletes (Lindsey Vonn and Serena Williams) a year after not having a single cover featuring a female athlete (swimsuit issues don’t count).

- Eventual National League MVP Joey Votto having to earn his way onto the National League All-Star team through the final player fan voting after not being selected by the fans, players or manager in the initial selection process.
The Ugly:

This Time Brett Favre Better Mean It: When Brett Favre announced in August 2009 that he was returning to the NFL to play for the Minnesota Vikings I wrote that his situation seemed destined to either have a storybook ending or end as a train wreck. Who could have predicted that it would experience both over the next year and a half.

The 2010 season definitely did not go as planned for Brett Favre.

In 2009 the 40-year-old Favre enjoyed one of the best seasons of his illustrious career. He tossed 33 touchdowns with only 7 interceptions while leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game. It looked like they were headed to the Super Bowl before a late Favre interception derailed the trip and started the spiral of events that led to the recent train wreck.

Because the Vikings came so tantalizing close a year earlier there was little doubt that Favre would be back in 2010. It supposedly took some late arm twisting by Viking teammates, but sure enough Favre was under center for the start of the season.

From the beginning, 2010 was a nightmare for Favre and the Vikings. They dropped their first three games and Favre never looked comfortable.

Then in October the story added a completely surprising plot twist when Favre was accused of sending inappropriate text messages to a team employee when he had been playing for the New York Jets in 2008.

That element finally reached a semi-conclusion this week when the NFL said that because Favre never cooperated they were unable to determine if he had acted inappropriately. Instead of punishing him for any actions, they fined him $50,000 for not cooperating with the investigation.

The on-the-field career for Favre seems destined for an equally unfulfilling conclusion. After having his record streak of 297 starts stopped due to a shoulder injury, Favre returned dramatically for a Monday Night Game against the Chicago Bears. After leading his team down the field on an opening touchdown drive, he suffered a concussion in the second quarter and never returned.

He was unable to play earlier this week against the Philadelphia Eagles and it is unclear if he will be able to play in the season finale against the Detroit Lions.

Favre will go down as one of the top quarterbacks in NFL history, but the ending was definitely not out of a fairytale.

Thanks Dad!: There have been few stories in recent sports memory that have been quite as strange as the story of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.

We may never know exactly what Cecil and Cam Newton knew and didn't know about how Cam became an Auburn Tiger.

After leaving the University of Florida following the 2008 season for reasons that are still slightly fuzzy and spending the 2009 season at Blinn Junior College, Cam Newton was the feel good story of the early portion of the 2010 college football season.

Possessing an infectious exuberance both on and off the field, Newton led Auburn University to some dramatic comeback victories and an undefeated start to the season.

There was a wonderful article in Sports Illustrated that talked about how Newton’s father had challenged him to take advantage of his second chance and live up to his full potential.

Then in mid October reports started to surface that Newton’s father, Cecil, may have been shopping around Cam’s services to the highest bidder following his year at Blinn.

It was slightly curious that most had expected Newton to enroll at Mississippi State, but at the last minute his father told him he should go to Auburn so he went.

The allegations were coming from folks with ties to the Mississippi State athletic department and focused on that program, rather than Auburn.

Though there has never been evidence that the Newtons were ever paid, but the NCAA reportedly did discover conclusive evidence that Cecil Newton (who by the way is a minister) was indeed trying to receive payment for his son’s college football service.

You might have thought this indiscretion would have stopped the storybook season for Newton and the Auburn Tigers in its tracks, but then you would think the NCAA was about logic and fairness rather than making as much money as possible.

The NCAA said it could not find conclusive evidence that Cam Newton knew anything about his father’s plan. Thus, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner was not required to even sit out even one game due to the situation.

Of course Auburn ended up undefeated and Cam Newton will be under center when the Tigers face Oregon for the BCS Championship on January 10th.

It is certainly possible that Cam Newton really didn’t know what his father was doing. However, there are still many in the sports world who are very skeptical and believe that one day soon (but not until after January 10th), evidence will mysteriously appear that conclusively show that both father and son were aware of the plan.

That is one reason that 105 voters for the Heisman Trophy chose to leave Newton completely off their ballots.

In the year in which Reggie Bush became the first Heisman Trophy winner ever to return their trophy, everyone associated with the award is hopeful that Newton doesn’t soon become the second former winner to eventually be found to have been ineligible.

Regardless, this story and situation has unquestionably cast a shadow on the 2010 college football season and continued to illustrate that major college athletics are now a big business and the players are a commodity.

Other Ugly Moments:
 
- Former sports legend Tigers Woods struggling through a dismal year that was played out on television and in the tabloids for all to see.
 
- The NCAA suspending five Ohio State football players for the first five games of the 2011 season, but allowing them to play in the 2010 Sugar Bowl after discovering violations that occurred in 2008 and 2009.
 
- New York Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez being charged with assault after attacking the father of his girlfriend following a game at Citi Field.

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