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Professional and collegiate athletics were rocked by scandal and uncertainty in 2011 with longtime Penn St. football head coach Joe Paterno being fired in the wake of a child molestation scandal and the NBA delaying the beginning of its season until Christmas day because of a lockout, among other digressions in the sporting world.
On a more positive note, Major League Baseball delivered one of the most exciting World Series in years via the St. Louis Cardinals’ victory over the Texas Rangers, and the PGA annointed its newest superstar in the form of Northern Irish champ, Rory McIlroy.
Concussions continue to leave a black mark on the NHL and IndyCar lost one of its own, Dan Wheldon, during an October race.
Other notable deaths from the world of sports this year included boxing champ Joe Frazier, Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, actor/athlete Bubba Smith, former UCLA and NBA star Walt Hazzard, wrestling’s Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Spanish golf great Seve Ballesteros, and former Dallas Cowboy Peter Gent, who wrote the novel North Dallas Forty, which later became a feature film starring Nick Nolte.
St. Louis Cardinals Game 6 World Series Comeback
The come-from-behind victory is one of the most exciting aspects of sports and the St. Louis Cardinals delivered one for the ages during Game 6 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers.
Down to their final strike in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Cardinals’ David Freese hit a two-run triple to tie the game and send it into extra innings.
Freese became the hero of the series with a home run at the top of the 11th that lifted the Cards 10-9. The four hour, 33 minutes game effectively broke Texas’ spirit and St. Louis went on to win the Series.
Man Who Threw Hot Dog at Tiger Woods Blames Ryan Gosling Movie ‘Drive’
A man who threw a hot dog at Tiger Woods during the Frys.com Open in October blamed his behavior on the movie Drive.
The video of the incident shows a man throwing a hot dog onto the green and then lying on the ground as security rushes out to him.
Indy Champ Dan Wheldon Dies After Las Vegas Motor Speedway Crash
Two-time Indy 500 champ Dan Wheldon died Oct. 16 after being part of a 15-car pileup during an IndyCar race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The crash occurred only minutes into the race, and Wheldon, who started at the back of the 34-car field, couldn’t avoid a wreck that began when two cars’ tired touched. Within seconds, several cars were on fire, and debris covered a good portion of the track.
When the actual accident occurred, ABC was broadcasting from an in-car camera, but quickly cut to a shot high above the track that showed Wheldon’s car on fire. Rescue workers were shown running to his car and signaling for more help.
J.R. Hildebrand and Pippa Mann were also injured in the crash and hospitalized.
Rory McIlroy Implodes at the Masters, Wins U.S. Open
Northern Ireland golfer Rory McIlroy went from choking at the Masters to triumphing at the U.S. Open in one of 2011’s most dramatic professional sports turnarounds.
The montage below chronicles the 22-year-old’s journey from meltdown to victory — complete with images of him hugging his father, who worked three jobs to support his son’s passion — all set to Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain.”
Derek Jeter Reaches 3,0000-Hit Milestone With Home Run
New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter became the 28th player to reach 3,000 hits on July 9, and the first to do so at Yankee Stadium.
Jeter punctuated the feat by delivering it via a home run and going 5-for-5 during the game against the Florida Tampa Rays.
It’s estimated that the ball would have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars if sold at auction.
Blake Griffin Wins NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest by Jumping Over Car
Okay, he actually jumped over the hood of a car, but nevertheless, Los Angeles Clippers rookie Blake Griffin impressed with his winning slam dunk at the NBA All-Star festivities in February.
Not only was there the Kia to contend with, but Griffin caught the pass for the shot from teammate Baron Davis, who threw the ball from the vehicle’s sunroof. There was also a gospel choir and midcourt singing “I Believe I Can Fly” and the assorted distractions that accompany the NBA competition.
“I could have clipped my foot, I guess. That’s what I was afraid of — just clip my foot on the side and smash my face into the car. Fortunately, it worked out.”
Joe Paterno Fired From Penn State in Wake of Jerry Sandusky Molestation Scandal
“JoePa” has left the building.
Penn State University’s longtime head football coach Joe Paterno was fired on Nov. 9 in the wake of his former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky being charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of children. Penn State president Graham Spanier was ousted along with Paterno, and assistant coach Mike McQueary was put on administrative leave as the result of one of college athletics’ biggest sports scandals.
Sandusky might have benefitted from taking the so-called “JoePa class,” as he made a major media fumble by basically incriminating himself during an interview with Bob Costas.
When pressed by Costas if he was “completely innocent and falsely accused in every aspect,” Sandusky replied: “Well I could say that, you know, I have done some of those things. I have horsed around with kids. I have showered after workouts. I have hugged them and I have touched their leg. Without intent of sexual contact.”
Sandusky insisted that he is not a pedophile but admitted that there are some actions he regrets.
“I shouldn’t have showered with those kids,” he said during the bizarre exchange.
Penn State plays Houston in the TicketCity Bowl on Jan. 2.
Japan Defeats U.S. in Penalty Kicks at Women’s World Cup
The U.S. women’s soccer team captured fans’ attention with an exciting World Cup tourney that ended with a loss to Japan in the July 17 championship game.
Hot off a quaterfinals win over Brazil and semi-final victory over France, the U.S. team was the first in 12 years to reach the finals but blew their momentum throughout the game — Japan tied the match 2-2 in the 116th minute and went on to outshoot the U.S. in penalty kicks.
The U.S. hadn’t lost to Japan in 25 games until that point.
Novak Djokovic Defeats Rafael Nadal at the U.S. Open
In the world of men’s tennis, Novak Djokovic ruled 2011.
He won three of four of the sport’s Grand Slams, defeating players like Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Andy Murray along the way. He also lost only six of his 76 matches this season, with two of those defeats coming after he retired from matches.
NHL’s Sidney Crosby Blindsided at Winter Classic, Later Diagnosed With Concussion
Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby was diagnosed with a concussion in early January, and while his team said the injury occurred when Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman boarded him on Jan. 5, it seemed more likely that his fall in the 2011 Winter Classic hockey game led to the injury.
As the SBNation website points out, “Viewers of the HBO series 24/7 got to see the Pens captain in the locker room during the subsequent intermission and Crosby appeared quite dazed, admitting he did not know what happened. His mannerisms and overall look were a bit ‘off.’ Despite that, Crosby played his regular shift during the third period of the Winter Classic.
“Some have pointed to events at the end of the game as evidence Crosby was not mentally in the game. Specifically, in the game’s dying minutes, when Marc-Andre Fleury skated to the bench, Crosby did not immediately jump on the ice, which is unusual since he’s known to be a very smart player and usually knows when to get on the ice.”
Chris Pronger, Claude Giroux, Milan Michalek and Jeff Skinner also suffered concussions in 2011. Crosby returned to the ice in late November.
Tim Tebow Mania Spreads, ‘Tebowing’ Now Used as a Verb
Tim Tebow, the Jesus-loving Denver Broncos quarterback, is boosting ratings and racking up endorsements while spearheading fourth quarter comebacks for his team.
At the same time, he’s become a cultural phenom, being parodied on Saturday Night Live, mocked on Tosh.0 (below), inspiring Christmas cards and even spawning his own verb — “tebowing” — that now has its own website.
The 2007 Heisman trophy winner typically “Tebows” after engineering a touchdown but the practice has spread to non-athletes and opponents alike.
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