Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A great year for sports

       It's really a shame that the NFL and NBA are both in a lockout.  I cry every night before I go to sleep, knowing that, in all likelihood, the NBA will miss its entire season.  Obviously a situation like this would devastate sports fans across the world at any point in time, however I think it's especially inopportune considering the magnificent state of professional sports after a truly splendid calendar year. 
     Taking a look back at the past four champions, none of the teams were the favorite heading into the playoffs.  None of championship squads boasted ludicrous payrolls, had pompous superstars with overblown egos, or were expected to make any sort of run.  That's what makes sports so special.  Fans should always expect the unexpected, but the unexpected always comes from an unexpected place, thus it can't be expected. 
     "Not one, not two not three, not four..."  You're right LeBron, not one, not two, not three, not four...zero.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.  LeBron James, the heir to the throne, the chosen one, the next Michael Jordan, has yet to win a championship.  You've gotta love it.  The Miami Heat became arguably the most highly-scrutinized team in the history of sports.  Their journey started all the way back in June when LeBron's self-centered "Decision" shook up the entire complexion of the NBA.  The journey ended in June, when Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks defied all odds and stunned the Heat in six games.  It was a woeful ending to a roller coaster year for the Heat, but a perfect ending to a season of consistency and team-first basketball for the Mavs.  
     Dirk had been after a ring (or some other anomalous form of Mark Cuban-inspired jewelry) ever since he entered the league back in 1998.  Though he averaged 23 points per game and developed a plethora of lethal fadeaway moves, critics continued to question his toughness and ability to reach the next level.  This year Dirk silenced those critics, with the help of a strong supporting cast, including the best bench in the league.  Jose Juan Barea, Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson, and Tyson Chandler rounded out the starting five for an experienced Mavs team.  The luxury of having Jason Terry and Shawn Marion coming off the bench proved to be extremely beneficial in crunch time.  Yeah, I’d take Terry and Marion over Mike Bibby and Juwan Howard too.  The newly-adopted terrifying trifecta of the Miami Heat was not enough to overcome the deeper and more poised Dallas Mavericks.  The season ended with a well-deserving champion.
     The Boston Bruins are Stanley Cup Champs!  Like the Mavs, the Bruins entered the playoffs as a three-seed.  They also faced a team in the finals with a few stars, but, like the Heat, the Canucks’ supporting cast melted away like the Tampa Bay ice.  Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Roberto Luongo were deemed to be too much for the Bruins to handle.  Experts came to a consensus that the Heat would win in 5 of 6 and the Canucks would do the same.   The experts were not so expertly, as the balance of Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand (and his rather large nose), Dennis Seidenberg, and, of course, the best goalie in hockey Tim Thomas, sparked the B’s to the Cup.  Sports is most exciting when the favorite is knocked out, and the Stanley Cup playoffs were no exception.  It was quite a riot to see Canucks fans in such disarray…literally.
     Pack, Pack, Pack.  Filling the void left by Brett Favre and his frayed jeans and Mississippi swagger is no easy task.  Favre, with his Ripken-esque mentality and copious amount of interceptions, was the face of the Packers since the 1920s.  The retiring schtick got a little old after a while, but Favre himself seemed to never get old, as he became the quintessential iron man in professional sports and the face of the NFL (despite the fact that he really did throw a lot of interceptions).  Then came Aaron Rodgers…
     Rodgers was the complete opposite of Favre in that he kept to himself, went about his business, and didn’t throw nearly as many interceptions.  You could argue that the negative portrayal of Favre is solely a result of the media’s desire to construct convoluted images of potentially intriguing athletes, yet in actuality, Favre had a flair for the dramatics.  When Rodgers replaced Favre, people questioned whether he had what it took and whether he could fill that elusive void.  What the media didn’t focus on was the somehow unimportant fact that Aaron Rodgers is a really, really good quarterback.  His consistency and talent quickly fused into championship-caliber offense, as he fed Greg Jennings and Donald Driver endlessly for repeated touchdowns.  Charles Woodson anchored an aggressive and intelligent defense.  Again, we see the theme of the underdog winning it all, as the Pack entered the playoffs as the six-seed.  You could argue that the underdog always winning provides no consistency to sports, but in my opinion, that’s exactly what makes it such a beautiful thing.
     After the steroids controversy corrupted baseball in the 90s and 00s, baseball is back to being a pitcher-dominated game.  Thus, the San Francisco Giants had exactly what it takes to win the World Series nowadays: pitching.  With Tim Lincecum as the ace and Brian Wilson as the closer, the Giants’ semi-futile offense was enough.  The Beard was most certainly feared.  The Giants’ pitching was stellar and they knocked off the Rangers en route to their first title since 1954 .  San Fran barely even made the playoffs.  They beat out the Padres by a mere two games, but caught fire once October came around.  Like with the Packers, there is a direct parallel between superstars leaving and winning a ring a few years down the road.  Both Favre and Barry Bonds had highly-scrutinized careers.  Bonds finished his steroid-infused run with 762 home runs, 14 all-star game appearances, and 12 silver slugger awards, but never quite got that all-important ring.  The hardware has avoided tremendous athletes like Bonds, James, and Luongo, athletes with controversies and overblown egos. 
     All four winning teams this year fully deserved to win the championship.  The Mavericks, Bruins, Packers, and Giants all have hardworking players and had a team-first mentality.  Very few scandals surrounded these teams.  I think it’s safe to say Deshawn Stevenson driving drunk the day after the Mavs won isn’t as big of a deal as LeBron’s “Decision.”  (I feel the need to put “Decision” in quotes every time because it’s just so important that it deserves quotes---kind of like the asterisk next to Bonds’ name…the quotations give off an ominous “I can’t win a ring” vibe). 
     Professional sports is in a phenomenal place right now, with deserving winners and underdogs shocking the world season after season.  It’s disappointing that the NFL and NBA are locked out following two truly memorable postseason runs.     

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