By C. Robert Dimitri | Miscellaneous | December 29, 2010 |
By C. Robert Dimitri | Miscellaneous | December 29, 2010 |
Think of this not as a comprehensive recap for 2010, a memorable period in the sports world that saw the two premier global athletic events in play, champions new and old, and the cult of personality in full force. You can go elsewhere for the highlights, the lists, and the stats. Rather this is just one guy’s impression of the year as it was, and for those of you Pajiba readers who are not down with the sports world, think of this as a primer that might provide you with a few answers for Jeopardy! or Trivial Pursuit someday.
Back in February the New Orleans Saints prevailed in Super Bowl XLIV over the Indianapolis Colts. You would need to be quite the grinch not to have at least some good feelings for the city of New Orleans and their heartening football championship four years after Hurricane Katrina. I have attained at least the status of minor curmudgeon, I was rooting for the Colts, and I was still happy for New Orleans. Still not convinced? Witness the irresistible charm of victorious quarterback Drew Brees with his son Baylen right after the game.
Also in February, Vancouver did the world a service in hosting the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. The United States topped the standings in total medal count, but Canada took home the most gold medals, including a colossal overtime match over the United States in the gold medal game for ice hockey, in which Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal. I am far from a hockey aficionado and not a regular fan, but that game had me on the edge of my seat.
Mike Krzyzewski led the Duke Blue Devils to another NCAA men’s basketball tournament championship, barely beating the underdog Butler Bulldogs in the final game. On the women’s side, the University of Connecticut continued their dominance, winning a second consecutive national title and posting a second consecutive undefeated season. As I type this, the 2010-2011 edition of that team is on the verge of continuing that streak and setting a new record for consecutive basketball victories (89), besting UCLA’s mark established by their men’s team back in the days of John Wooden and Bill Walton.
South Africa hosted the World Cup, the most popular sporting event the world over. After a shaky start, Spain rallied to win the title for the first time in World Cup history, edging out the Netherlands in the final. As I have written many times before, the sport is not my favorite, but I did enjoy watching many of the matches and acquired some taste for it. Three details from the 2010 event were most prominent to me: a German octopus named Paul (R.I.P.) showed an uncanny knack for predicting the results of games, FIFA became the subject of intense scrutiny with respect to referee accountability and the lack of instant replay, and the sound of thousands of vuvuzelas had a tendency to bore into your brain in the most annoying way.
Joining the Saints, two other long-suffering franchises in the major sports brought their cities championships. The Chicago Blackhawks won the NHL title for the first time in forty-nine years, and the San Francisco Giants won the World Series for the first time in fifty-six years, harkening back to the days when the Giants still played in New York.
Giving us something a little more familiar (or at least more familiar for fans of 1980s basketball), the Lakers and Celtics returned one of the oldest and most heated rivalries in all of sports back to the stage of the NBA finals, and the Lakers triumphed for their second consecutive league title, giving the two teams the last three championships between them. The storied franchises now stand at 17 titles total for the Celtics and 16 for the Lakers, with Bryant, Gasol, Odom, Bynum, Pierce, Garnett, Allen, and Rondo picking up the rivalry where Johnson, Bird, Worthy, McHale, West, Russell and many others had taken us.
A mare named Zenyatta (after the album Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police) captured imaginations by winning 19 consecutive races, only to lose by a nose in her twentieth race in November. Her exploits earned her second place in the Associated Press female athlete of the year voting (behind American Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn).
If we are to document 2010, though, three superstar names demand mention, and the very fact that they demand mention for the reasons that they do represents in my mind some of the least compelling aspects of our culture’s interest in sports. You need not exercise your brain too strenuously to ascertain the gentlemen that I reference.
Tiger Woods’ much ballyhooed and infamous marital incident happened back in November of 2009, but the reverberations carried over well into 2010. I already have little interest in golf, but I quickly found the endless blather related to Tiger’s psychology, his penance, the appropriate length of time to step away from the game, his endorsements, and the wringing of hands over when he would bounce back on the golf course to be the most tiresome sound and fury I have ever witnessed. I cannot recall any coverage that has ever prompted me to change a television channel so quickly. 2010 marked the first year that Woods did not register a single win on the entire PGA tour, much less a win at one of the four majors. I understand the guy is arguably the greatest golfer that ever lived, and I understand there are innumerable dollars tied to his success. To me, though, he is just a great golfer that probably should not have ever married so that he could have had sex with as many women as he wanted to his heart’s content. Now he also is a guy that seeks to repair his public image by opening up to the world on Twitter without the skew of the media filter. Please win again soon, Tiger, so that the sports world can just move on.
Grandpa Brett Favre drew headlines with his annual game of “Will he or won’t he retire?” just as he has for the last few seasons, but he added some spice to the mix with his own potential infidelity and sexual harassment scandal that as of yet has still not been resolved. It is too early to pass judgment on any aspect of the case with the evidence presented publicly, but the cynic in me is wondering if the NFL, which claims that it is still conducting an investigation, is procrastinating a resolution so that Favre will retire and spare their committing to a punishment for him, thus saving them television ratings in the final games that he is starting for the Vikings. As a fan of football, Favre’s departure is bittersweet. He has done some amazing things over the years, and his career spans over half of my football-watching days. Last Monday night we probably witnessed the end for his NFL career, as Favre was slammed to the icy turf at the University of Minnesota stadium by Bears rookie Corey Wootton. The injured Favre did not return to the field.
Like Favre, LeBron James teased us with a question in his sport’s offseason, but his question - as the most sought-after free agent in NBA history - was simply one of where he would take “his talents.” We were treated to an obnoxious television special on ESPN called “The Decision” and learned that James was spurning his home state Cleveland Cavaliers in the attempt to form a free agent super-team with the Miami Heat. (Incidentally, the viewers learned this fact at exactly the same moment as everyone within the Cavaliers organization.) I do not begrudge James his choice; I simply found the method tacky, even if it was shielded with the promise of profits that would go to charity. To his credit, James has expressed regret about the manner of the announcement. The brouhaha set off discussion about the benefits and evils of free agency and commentary from former NBA stars about the “right” way to build a championship team. As the Miami Heat strive to improve and compete at a championship level in spite of their new role as super-villains, it is a drama yet to be resolved.
Despite how unappealing I found those three stories to be, though, I gladly tolerate 2010 as a whole, for it did give me one of my favorite sports stories ever. A pitcher’s perfect game in Major League Baseball has only happened 20 times in the game’s history. With over 130 years of baseball in the books, that makes it an extreme rarity. In May of 2010 two of those 20 perfect games were pitched (by Dallas Braden of the Athletics and Roy Halladay of the Phillies). That alone would be notable, but just a few days later on June 2, 2010, Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers pitched a perfect game of his own, only to have the twenty-seventh and final out taken away by umpire Jim Joyce on a bad call at first base. Galarraga grinned incredulously but continued the game and registered a twenty-eighth out. After the game Joyce reviewed the play and admitted his mistake, and both Galarraga and Joyce behaved with as much inspiring class and humility as I have ever seen in the sports world. Galarraga does not have a perfect game per the annals of Major League Baseball history, but he did behave perfectly. If you are ever looking for a microcosm that would represent all the best that I could hope for in the world of competitive sports at the highest level, you could do no better than this story.
C. Robert Dimitri is nothing more than your average American sports fan that has spent far too many hours in front of the television and has absolutely no further credentials. He reserves the right to change any opinions expressed here; unlike the practice of bandwagon sports loyalty, there is virtue in shifting a position when given new information.