10. IRISH EYES WERE SMILING - In a Tiger-like performance, a young, curly-quaffed Irishman blew away the field in June. Rory McIlroy not only won the U.S. Open in 2011, he set the Open scoring record and obliterated the field, making Sunday anti-climactic except for his final score. While Woods searches for his game, young players like McIlroy are taking advantage and giving a glimpse of the next era on the links.
9. A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN - Auburn capped the 2010-11 College Football season with a Championship. Then the 2011-12 season came and the SEC ruled once again, giving us our first conference re-match in a Championship Game in the BCS era. Whether right or wrong, one can not argue with the dominance of the SEC. One can argue about the flaws of the BCS. One can only hope the BCS has two years remaining in its lifespan.
8. CAPTAIN 3000 - The club is still exclusive and Derek Jeter is a welcome member to it. The Yankee shortstop joined the 3,000 hit club in style with a home run, becoming only the second player to do so (Wade Boggs). In a career full of leadership and rings, Jeter now has a personal accomplishment to add to his team success for those rare days when he chooses to be a little selfish.
7. CONFERENCE PING PONG - For a second consecutive year, schools are jumping ship to new conferences without a blink of an eye. Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC, Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC, TCU and West Virginia to the Big 12 and anyone with a pulse to the Big East. Wake me when its all done please.
6. GRIDLOCK!! - The NFL and NBA both experienced pro-longed work stoppages which had unemployed workers and worried fans wondering which greedy hand would grab the most dollars. The NFL got things done under the wire, with a long overdue change to the rookie wage scale and concessions to workouts and practices for players. The NBA lost games and the agreement lacks real progress, but they are back on the court and in the end, that is what fans want.
5. PARTING GIFT - A second World Series title in 6 years for the St. Louis Cardinals was not enough to coax Albert Pujols to stay. Money, Money, Money. Albert is taking his talents to Anaheim, talents that undoubtedly will decline during the length of his contract. He gave Cardinal fans one more magical run, capping a great World Series and riveting month of baseball.
4. 4TH QUARTER MAGIC - It isn't pretty, but is anything more unexplainable than Tebow? The man with higher powers has willed the Broncos to the brink of the playoffs, overtime victories and last-second scores the norm. Experts are not sold on his long-term prospects, but for one season, #15 was the talk of the nation.
3. 4TH QUARTER DISAPPEARANCE - Where is LeBron? He took his talents to South Beach, but for many a 4th quarter in the 2011 NBA Final, King James was catching some rays and deferring to teammates. The result was a surprise champion in the Mavericks and Dirk Nowitzki finally able to win the big one, cementing his status amongst the games all-time greats.
2. THE PACK IS BACK - The year started with the return of the Lombardi Trophy to Titletown, an unthinkable title run from the wildcard spot for the injury ravaged Packers. Aaron Rodgers became both superstar and celebrity. To follow it up, the Green and Gold ended 2011 at 14-1 after a 13-0 start. Green Bay is favored to repeat as Super Bowl Champs for the first time in 44 years.
1. A LEGEND TARNISHED - The Penn State child sex scandal and impending firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno is hands down the biggest sports story of the year. There is much still unknown, but what we do know is that it wasn't supposed to end this way for JoePa. It is the unfortunate reality of sports, that real human beings are involved, some tremendously flawed, but on the field we put that aside. How individuals could put aside what they new regarding this story for so long is unfathomable and still makes my stomach churn.