— The year in sports had its highs and lows, but among the many storylines there are a few that should be highlighted as we close out 2010.
Tiger Woods dominated the sports and tabloid headlines for most of 2010. Even though his fender bender and cover-up took place Thanksgiving of 2009, Woods spent most of this past year trying to come to grips with his own personal transgressions. He embarrassed his wife on a world stage and quickly became a single father to his two young children. He didn’t win a tournament this past year and that would be similar to Albert Pujols not hitting a home run throughout the course of a baseball season.
Tiger continued to get bad advice from his inner circle and lost the majority of his female fans who tuned in to watch him play golf and also buy the products that he endorsed for the men in their lives. Woods was once on pace to shatter Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships, but that's no longer a certainty. Most of his peers no longer fear Woods and now look to beat him every time they compete.
LeBron James decided to take his talents to South Beach in 2010 and that choice made him an instant villain. It was a smart move to leave Cleveland, but he handled "The Decision" like a spoiled amateur who had no respect for the great fans of Cleveland. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley all went on the record and questioned his motives. King James is obviously desperate to get King Kong off his back as he tries to win his first championship, but dealing with this type of pressure might be more than what he bargained for.
Over the years I've talked with countless San Francisco Giants fans who believed that their team would never win a World Series. If Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Will Clark and Barry Bonds couldn't get a ring in San Francisco, the 2010 edition of the Giants had no shot. They ended up shocking the baseball world as Edgar Renteria won Series MVP honors and the pitching staff — led by Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain — dominated opposing batters throughout the entire postseason. Great pitching will usually beat a power lineup when the pressure is on and now all Giants fan can someday rest in peace.
Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was robbed on June 3 when umpire Jim Joyce blew the call at first base in what should have been the final out of a perfect game against the Cleveland Indians. Galarraga handled the situation like a seasoned pro and never argued with Joyce even though he realized that the moment was lost forever. Joyce admitted that he got the call wrong and clearly regretted that he took away a great moment from Galarraga and baseball fans around the world. These two men are now friends and I will never forget this unfortunate mistake that turned into a great example of good sportsmanship and class.
Cliff Lee decided to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies as a free agent, spurning the New York Yankees and more money. Fans seemed to forget that Lee was a Texas Ranger for a large part of the 2010 season and not a member of the Yankees. If New York would have signed him fans would have revolted and accused the Yankees of once again buying the best players. But when Lee decided to return to Philly, those same emotional fans ripped the Bombers for losing out on the best pitcher available in free agency.
Fans sacrificed their hard-earned money in a depressed economy to continue to support their ultimate passion. The typical American family had to find expendable dollars to attend races while trying to pay the bills and make ends meet. Jimmy Johnson continued his dominance by winning his fifth consecutive Sprint Cup title and strengthening his legacy in becoming the greatest driver in the history of his sport. He doesn't embarrass his family, he is gracious to all of his fans and meets all of his media obligations. Talk about a role model.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ran into trouble at a bar in Milledgeville, Ga., when a female student claimed he forced himself on her. Roethlisberger ended up being suspended for six games by the NFL (reduced to four games for good behavior) but there wasn't enough evidence for the police to formally charge him. This seemed to be Big Ben's final wake-up call as he finally got back on the field to once again lead his team to the playoffs.
Randy Moss traveled more than any other NFL player in 2010. He began the season in New England and complained about his contract status. That got him shipped off to his his former team Minnesota which at the time seemed like a good fit. After only four games Moss was then traded to Tennessee where he has become irrelevant and has caught five passes in seven games. He most likely has lost millions of dollars in future earnings and should be considered the biggest waste of talent in the league.
Tom Brady will easily win the NFL MVP for the 2010 season. The Patriots enter the final week of the regular season with a 13-2 record and will have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Brady enters the last game of the season with 3,701 yards and 34 touchdowns with only four interceptions. He is the highest rated quarterback in the league with a 109.8 rating and got better after Moss was traded. Michael Vick had a great season and was selected to start for the NFC in the Pro Bowl but he's nowhere near the same polished quarterback as Brady.
I watched Peyton Manning beat the Oakland Raiders this past Sunday and marveled at his decision-making skills and arm strength, but he is no Brady. I once believed Manning would someday retire as the greatest statistical quarterback of all time and arguably the best of his era. I'm now convinced that Brady is a better leader, decision maker and overall winner. If the Patriots win the Super Bowl this February, Brady will challenge Joe Montana’s legacy as the greatest quarterback in NFL history.
Sanctions came down on Southern Cal for a variety of reasons but most notably because of the mistakes made by former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and his family while he played for the Trojans. Those penalties could cause USC to become a second-tier team in the Pac 12 until they get all of their scholarships back in a few years. Bush realized that he was boxed into a corner by the NCAA and finally returned the Heisman so that he could get on with his life and career as a running back for the New Orleans Saints.
Current Heisman trophy winner Cam Newton should feel lucky that he won the award and will have the opportunity to play in the national championship game on January 10 after his father tried to shop his talents to Mississippi State. There's more to come with this story next year and Newton better hope that his father Cecil doesn't get him into more trouble as he soon takes his talents to the NFL in 2011.
What really matters
I want to end this year by thanking the troops who not only protect this country but also love sports. I've had the pleasure of interacting with hundreds of members of the U.S. military over the past several years on my radio show in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations in the Middle East. We get to talk about their teams and rivalries and how sports tie us all together. It never gets old.