2010 Year-End Sports Review: What We Already Knew

Let’s be honest: Sports bloggers know everything. Just ask us. As part of our 2010 Year-End Sports Review, our list of things we already knew this year includes Brad Childress’ biggest fail, Wade Phillips’ demise in Dallas and John Calipari’s troubles. We also knew Kevin Durant was the next great superstar (who didn’t see that coming?), Roger Clemens is the ultimate windbag and that “Matty Ice” knows fourth-quarter comebacks. We should have gone to medical school…

Contributors: Anthony Stalter, John Paulsen, Paul Costanzo, Drew Ellis and Mike Farley

LeBron is a frontrunner.

We all were a little surprised that LeBron left Cleveland, but the writing was on the wall. Growing up, LeBron didn’t root for the local teams. He followed the Yankees, Bulls and Cowboys, which in the 1990s constituted the Holy Triumvirate of Frontrunning. He wore his Yankee cap to an Indians game and was seen hobnobbing on the Cowboy sidelines during a Browns game. He says he’s loyal, but he’s only loyal to winners…unless they only win in the regular season, of course.

July 08, 2010 - Greenwich, CONNECTICUT, United States - epa02241974 Handout photo from ESPN showing LaBron James (L), NBA's reigning two-time MVP, as he ends months of speculation and announces 08 July 2010 on ESPN 'The Decision' in Greenwich, Connecticut, USA, that he will go to the Miami Heat where he will play basketball next 2010-11 season. James said his decision was based on the fact that he wanted to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Brad Childress’ biggest flaw cost him his job in the end.

There were many reasons why the Vikings decided to fire head coach Brad Childress roughly a year after they signed him to a contract extension. One of the reasons was because he lost with a talented roster. Another was because he never quite figured out how to best utilize Adrian Peterson, which is a sin given how talented AP is. But the main reason “Chilly” was ousted in Minnesota was because he didn’t know how to manage NFL-caliber personalities. He didn’t know how to handle Brett Favre, which led to blowups on the sidelines and multiple face-to-face confrontations. He also didn’t have a clue how to deal with Randy Moss’ crass attitude, so he released him just four weeks after the team acquired him in a trade from New England. Childress was hired in part to help clean up the mess in Minnesota after the whole “Love Boat” scandal. But the problem with a disciplinarian that hasn’t first earned respect is that his demands fall on deaf ears. In the end, Childress’ inability to command respect from his players cost him his job. You know, on top of the fact that he was losing with a talented roster, he didn’t know how to best utilize Adrian Peterson, he…

Love him or hate him, George Steinbrenner will forever be one of baseball’s icons.

You may have hated his brash attitude, the way he ran his team or the way he conducted his business. You may even feel that he ruined baseball. But regardless of how you may have felt about him, there’s little denying that George Steinbrenner will forever be one of Major League Baseball’s icons. Steinbrenner passed away in July of this year. He will forever be a man known for helping revolutionize the business side of baseball by being the first owner to sell TV cable rights to the MSG Network. When things eventually went south with MSG, he created the YES Network, which is currently the Yankees’ very own TV station that generates millions in revenue. During his tenure, he took the Yankees from a $10 million franchise to a $1.2 billion juggernaut. In 2005, the Yankees became the first professional sports franchise to be worth an estimated one billion dollars. While many baseball fans came to despise the way he ran his team (mainly because he purchased high priced free agents with reckless abandon due to the fact that he could and others couldn’t), don’t miss the message he often made year in and year out: The Yankees are here to win. He didn’t line his pockets with extra revenue (albeit he generated a lot of extra revenue for his club) – he dumped his money back into the on-field product. Losing wasn’t acceptable and if the Bombers came up short one year, you could bet that Steinbrenner would go after the best talent in the offseason, regardless of what others thought of the approach. How many Pirates and Royals fans wish they had an owner with the same appetite for victory?

It’s tough to repeat.

The Tide were the easy selection for preseason No. 1 as they returned Mark Ingram, Greg McElroy and Julio Jones, among others. Yes, they had lost a lot on defense but this is a Nick Saban-coached team. Surely it would just plug and play, right? Wrong. Alabama’s biggest defensive weakness, the secondary, reared its ugly head in losses to South Carolina and Auburn. The 9-3 season was definitely a disappointment and the fact that it ended with a complete collapse against Auburn made things even worse.

Wade Phillips wasn’t long for Dallas.

When the 2010 season began, the Dallas Cowboys were a sexy Super Bowl favorite. They, along with the Saints and Vikings, were touted as one of the front-runners in the NFC to represent the conference in the Super Bowl. Jerry Jones was so excited about the prospect of having his Cowboys play the first-ever home game in the Super Bowl, but then a funny thing happened along the way. The ‘Boys started out 0-2, losing to the Redskins on the road and to the Bears at home. They beat the then-2-0 Texans to get to 1-2, but then things began to really unravel. The Cowboys lost to the Titans, then were defeated by the Vikings in a matchup of 1-3 teams that were fighting for their playoff lives back in October. They followed that with a loss at home against their division rivals New York in which the quarterback-killing Giants knocked Tony Romo out for the season with a broken collarbone. Enter Jon Kitna, who played fine but still couldn’t overcome a defense that gave up 41 points to the Giants, 35 to the Jaguars and 45 to the Packers. Five losses in a row and the Super Bowl bound Cowboys were 1-7 at the mid-way point. After each of those losses, Jones was questioned about his head coach, Wade Phillips. At first Jones repeated that Wade was his guy, and that he wasn’t going to make any changes until after the season (if at all). But a 45-7 blowout in Green Bay on national TV changed all that. In a game the Cowboys re-defined the word “QUIT,” it was the last straw for Jones. Phillips, who often looked like a lost dog on the side of the freeway, was fired, and replaced on an interim basis by offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. Since then, the Cowboys have gone 4-2, with their only losses being by 30-27 scores against the Saints and Eagles. Was Wade Phillips long for Dallas? Probably not. But it’s on Jones for not letting Garrett save his team’s season earlier.

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 19: Head coach Wade Phillips of the Dallas Cowboys reacts during a 27-20 loss against the Chicago Bears at Cowboys Stadium on September 19, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Kevin Durant is the next great superstar.

KD had a great rookie season, but managed to increase his scoring average five points per season to the point where he averaged 30.2 in his third year, winning the scoring title in the process. He made the All-Star game in 2010 and carried Team USA to a gold medal in the World Championships last summer. And during a free agent period where LeBron James held an hour-long stroke-fest to announce his decision, Durant announced his contract extension with OKC by posting a simple message on Twitter. Why can’t all athletes be like this?

There is no such thing as an unbeatable fighter in MMA.

During the last 12 months we have seen a lot of the top pound-for-pound fighters beaten or pushed to the limits. The biggest surprise came when Fabricio Wedrum upset Fedor Emelianenko by triangle choke in the first round of his last bout. Fedor had not lost since 2000 and was largely considered the best in the world. He was dominating the fight early with strikes but made a “rookie” mistake by getting trapped in the triangle of Werdum. Along with Fedor, other greats like Lyoto Machida and Brock Lesnar were put down in convincing fashion while another phenom, Anderson Silva, was dominated for 4.5 rounds in his bout with Chael Sonnen before finding a way to lock in an armbar submission to pull victory out of the jaws of defeat. While Silva still won, it diminished the aura surrounding him and proved he was beatable.

Chip Kelly is a damn fine coach.

In his first year as head man at Oregon, Kelly took the Ducks to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1994 thanks to his fast-paced offense. Even with the loss of Jeremiah Masoli at quarterback, Kelly found ways to improve his team this season, and has it on the cusp of its first national championship. His high-powered offense also has the team’s mascot on the cusp of winning Mr. Universe thanks to all the push-ups it’s done this season.

A good young quarterback can make all the difference in the world.

The 2008 Falcons and Ravens proved that the misfortunes of a franchise could turn in a heartbeat if a team finds the right quarterback. The 2010 St. Louis Rams are believers of that now too after seeing what Sam Bradford has done for their organization in just a short amount of time. The Rams selected Bradford with the first overall pick in April’s draft and even though they believed he had a chance to start as a rookie, they never thought they would be challenging for a playoff spot so soon. Outside of Steven Jackson, their offense was incredibly devoid of playmakers and their defense, while talented, was highly inexperienced. Yet thanks to the emergence of Bradford, the Rams are currently in first place in the NFC West (albeit with a .500 record). Granted, he’s had a lot of help from an improved offensive line (second round pick Rodger Saffold deserves just as much praise as Bradford), an opportunistic defense and a healthy Jackson, but Bradford has exceeded expectations. Through 13 games this year, he’s thrown 17 touchdown passes to 12 interceptions while throwing for 2,884 yards and compiling a 79.1 QB Rating. Those numbers aren’t eye-popping, but they’re excellent for a rookie who doesn’t have a bona fide No. 1 receiver to throw to. Beyond the stats, he’s become a leader in the locker room and despite his age, his teammates have rallied around him. He earned a ton of respect for chasing down the Saints’ Roman Harper in the open field in Week 14 and already has the city of St. Louis believing again (not an easy task when the franchise won just three games the previous two seasons). Whether or not the Rams make the playoffs this year, at least they know they have their franchise QB.

Trouble follows John Calipari around.

In March, the University of Memphis lost its appeal of the Derrick Rose ruling, that vacated the entire 2007-08 season due to the NCAA’s finding that Rose did not take the SAT that got him into college. While this is not directly related to John Calipari (who bolted for Kentucky the following year), trouble just seems to follow him wherever he goes. He led UMass to the 1996 Final Four, but that appearance was also vacated due to his star player’s (Marcus Camby) dealings with two sports agents. Watch out, Kentucky – you’re next.

Brian Kelly will need some time to turn Notre Dame around.

Kelly inherited a team with talent at many positions, but a losing attitude. The senior class will go out as the losingest class in the history of Notre Dame thanks to the Tulsa defeat, and the Irish haven’t had a winning regular season since the days of Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija. But Notre Dame did finish strong, winning its final three games including a 20-16 win at USC, which broke a streak of eight straight losses to its biggest rival. The Irish found a defense over those last three games, something that was completely absent in the Charlie Weis years. The Irish could come into next year with as many as 19 returning starters, but they have questions at quarterback and some tough schedules ahead. The future does look bright, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.

Roger Clemens is going to see his lies through.

You have to hand it to Roger Clemens: he’s not going down without a fight. Even though there’s a mountain of forensic evidence that proves that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his playing career, he maintains that he never used. Even though he awaits trial on charges of making false statements to Congress about his use of PEDs, he maintains that he never used. You can call “The Rocket” many things (we suggest “liar”), but you have to give it to the guy for not waiving the white flag. We assume he’ll maintain his innocence from his prison cell, too.

New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens is seen in a February 13, 2008 file photo being sworn-in to testify before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on allegations that Clemens used performance enhancing drugs on Capitol Hill in Washington. Clemens has been indicted by a federal jury on perjury, for making false statements during his testimony to Congress, on August 19, 2010. UPI/Kevin Dietsch/File Photo via Newscom

The legend of Matty Ice grows.

Matt Ryan had longed earned the nickname “Matty Ice” before he got to Atlanta but thanks to more thrilling fourth quarter comebacks this season, he’s making sure that moniker sticks. In wins over the Saints, 49ers, Bengals, Ravens, Packers and Bucs this year, the Falcons were either tied or trailed in the fourth quarter and in every one of those contests, they came out victorious thanks to Ryan. Perhaps the biggest dagger came against the Ravens, who thought they had beaten the Falcons in a mid-November game on Thursday night. After trailing for the entire game, Baltimore took a 21-20 lead with 1:05 remaining in the fourth after Joe Flacco found Todd Heap on a nine-yard touchdown pass. After throwing two incomplete passes on the following drive, plenty of quarterbacks would succumb to the pressure. But Ryan hit Michael Jenkins (who made a speculator catch on the sidelines) for a 24-yard completion and a first down. Ryan then hit Roddy White for a 15-yard play and then after two incomplete passes and a huge pass interference penalty on tight end Tony Gonzalez, Ryan once again found White (who Baltimore fans will say pushed off) on a 33-yard game-winning touchdown pass with just seconds remaining. For the Ravens, it was a painful reminder not to leave too much time on the clock for “Matty Ice.” The guy thrives in those situations.

Boise State still has an uphill battle to play for a national title.

This was the Broncos best shot at getting to the title game, and even if Kyle Brotzman would have hit either of those field goals against Nevada, they still wouldn’t have made it. Forget the loss to Nevada for a moment: Boise State did everything it could have to be considered for the title. It started off ranked in the top five, it beat a BCS conference champion in a highly-anticipated game early in the season and blew out all of its opponents. But even if it had beaten Nevada, Boise State wouldn’t have controlled its own destiny. Then need to pull a TCU and get into a conference with an automatic bid.

That Gasol trade altered the NBA landscape forever.

Think back to the 2007-08 season. The Lakers were a 42-win team, coming off of two early exits in the playoffs and Kobe Bryant made it clear that he wanted the team to make some moves or he was going to demand a trade. There were rumors swirling about Kobe heading to Chicago, but Laker GM Mitch Kupchak swung a deal that brought Pau Gasol to L.A. for Javaris Crittenton, Kwame Brown and his brother Marc Gasol. Now Marc has turned out to be a player, but that deal is still staggeringly one-sided. The Lakers went on to the NBA Finals that year, only to lose to the Celtics. But it all came together in 2009 when Kobe and Pau led the Lakers to the first of back-to-back NBA Championships, and they are once again the favorites to win the title this season. If the Grizzlies hadn’t given away their best player, the Lakers would have continued on their path of mediocrity and maybe Kobe would be a Bull right now. Perhaps Steve Nash would have a much-deserved ring, and maybe Amare Stoudemire would still be in Phoenix. If that were the case, there would be no reason for Carmelo to force his way to New York this season, would there? Maybe he’d stay in Denver or head to the Nets instead. That Gasol trade changed everything.

Roy Halladay can pitch in either league.

When the Phillies traded Cliff Lee in the deal that brought them Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays last winter, some bemoaned the decision. Lee had pitched so well since coming over from Cleveland in a 2009 midseason trade that people didn’t like the idea that he was being shipped out – even if it was for Halladay. But Halladay quickly eased everyone’s apprehension by turning in the best season of any pitcher in the National League. He won his second Cy Young award by becoming the NL win champion and he threw a perfect game on May 29 against the Marlins. In his first postseason game ever, he no-hit the Reds on October 6 and helped the Phillies get to the NLCS, where they eventually lost to the world champion Giants. Now that Lee is back in Philadelphia after signing a huge offseason deal, Phillie fans can have it all.

Mike Krzyzewski is a hell of a coach.

Heading into the summer of 2008, the Duke Blue Devils were coming of two consecutive early exits from the NCAA Tournament and hadn’t won a title since the 2000-01 season. Instead of being able to focus on the program, Coach K had the unenviable task of leading Team USA into 2008 Olympics. Anything less than a gold medal would have been seen as a failure, and that’s exactly what Krzyzewski brought home. After a regional semifinal loss in 2009, Coach K led Duke to a National Championship in 2010, giving him four in his career. The Blue Devils were talented, but they were never ranked higher than #3 on the season, a first for a Duke team that went on to win the title.

Futbol is a huge deal…in other countries.

For four weeks in June and early July, the World Cup took over the sporting world…well, most of it. While much of the U.S. became obsessed with LeBron, Wade and Bosh, the rest of the world had its eye on South Africa, where 32 teams battled it out for the world championship. The U.S. lost to Ghana, the only African team to make the Round of 16. Spain beat the Netherlands in the final to win its first ever World Cup. It was also the first time that a European nation won the World Cup outside its own continent.

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Reggie Bush didn’t buy all of those suits with his hard-earned money.

Thanks to Dan Wetzel and the team at Yahoo! Sports, we knew that something was right at USC, and the NCAA hammer finally came down on the Trojans this past summer. The postseason ban is already in place, and the limit in scholarships will eventually sting the Trojans. But the transfers from what some kids viewed as a sinking ship caused the most damage this year. Because of the low number, Lane Kiffin held non-contact practices throughout the season. This showed in the Trojans inability to tackle as they finished with a disappointing 7-5 record.

Pitching wins in the postseason.

How does a club win the World Series when it’s compiled mostly of castoffs and rejects from other teams? With four homegrown pitchers who are lights out in the postseason – that’s how. While the 2010 Giants got tremendous contributions from Buster Posey, Cody Ross, Juan Uribe, Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez and Edgar Renteria in the playoffs, they won because of their pitching. Ace Tim Lincecum beat the likes of Derek Lowe, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee (twice) throughout the postseason. Matt Cain was equally devastating, shutting out the Phillies in the NLCS and the Rangers in the World Series. Jonathan Sanchez proved to be the weak-link in the Giants’ rotation, but let’s not forget that they wouldn’t have even made the playoffs if it weren’t for his five-inning gem against the Padres on the final day of the regular season. Finally, at only 21 years of age, Madison Bumgarner turned in one of the best World Series performances (8.0 IP, 3 hits, 0 runs, 6 Ks) we’ll ever see from a player just old enough to drink. So while the Rangers were lauded for their bats, it was pitching that once again proved to be the great equalizer in the postseason. And how fitting that in the “Year of the Pitcher,” it was pitching that won the Giants their first-ever World Series in the city of San Francisco.

It’s going to be a while before Mike Shanahan fixes the mess in Washington…

…and even then, he may not be the right man for the job. Things haven’t gotten off to a great start for Shanahan in our nation’s capital. He arrived to Washington and immediately had to deal with a disgruntled Albert Haynesworth, who refused to play in a 3-4 and demanded the team trade him. But Shanahan refused to grant the defensive tackle’s wishes and even though Haynesworth eventually reported to the team, the feud continued. Shanahan finally suspended Haynesworth for the final month of the season, but that proved nothing in the end. He’s still a Redskin, although he’d rather swim with poisonous eels then play another down in Washington again. Compounding the issue is that a) the Redskins are still losing (and in embarrassing fashion, no less) and b) the Donovan McNabb experiment was a massive failure. For whatever reason, McNabb failed to impress Mike and Kyle Shanahan and was benched in Week 15 for Rex Grossman of all people. The franchise has hit a new low, which is saying something with how bad Daniel Snyder has mucked things up over the years. They don’t have a quarterback for the future (McNabb is surely gone after the year), their roster is severely devoid of talent and the Haynesworth issue still needs to be resolved. There’s only one word to describe the current state of the Redskins and that’s “mess.”

Unfortunately, tragedy can strike on any campus.

There’s a lot of emotion put into college football each week, and often times we view what’s happening on the field as life or death. But every year there are stark reminders that what we see on Saturdays is just a game. The deaths of Notre Dame student videographer Declan Sullivan and Mississippi State defensive end Nick Bell showed us that life is so much bigger than what goes on between the white lines. While they died under very different circumstances, we should learn that football, while entertaining and a great distraction from our real lives, is far from the most important thing in the world.

You don’t have to have a top-10 payroll to compete.

Once again, a few teams proved that you don’t have to spend big bucks in order to compete. Nobody spent less on payroll in 2010 than the Pittsburgh Pirates and while they still blow major chunks, the Padres were an August collapse away from winning the NL West despite having the second lowest payroll of any team in baseball. The Rangers were fourth from the bottom and won the American League Pennant. The Rays were 10th from the bottom and won the AL East. The Reds were 12th from the bottom and won the NL Central. Even the Giants, who had the 10th highest payroll, didn’t spend nearly as much as the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and Phillies and managed to win the whole damn thing. Granted, the big spenders still have an advantage and they always will. But once again, teams like the Padres, Rays, Reds, Rangers and Giants proved that you don’t have to spend big to win big.

Mid-majors aren’t “mid” at all.

Not only did Butler make it past Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State only to lose to Duke in the championship game, but four other non-power conference schools (Northern Iowa, Xavier, Cornell and St. Mary’s) made it to the Sweet 16.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still the best 1-2 punch in the game.

People still bring up Spygate and use it as a way to undermine Bill Belichick’s status as a genius. But these are the facts: Pre-Spygate, Belichick was 87-39 (.690 winning percentage). Post-Spygate, he’s 49-15 (.766 winning percentage). The man doesn’t need to steal opponents’ signals or videotape practices to win. That doesn’t excuse Belichick and his staff from any wrongdoing, but it’s apparent that the man knows X’s and O’s. And as long as he still has Tom Brady under center, the duo will form the best 1-2 combination of head coach and quarterback in the game. Despite being largely devoid of superstar talent outside of Brady, Belichick has been able to win with the current Patriots roster. None of the big media publications had the Patriots as the top-ranked team in the league and yet, as we approach the postseason, many sites have New England at No. 1 in their power rankings. That’s a testament to Belichick and Brady, who always seem to be one step ahead of their competition. A team that many people thought would play second fiddle to the Jets this season is now the favorite to win the Super Bowl. If you’re looking for answers to why that is, start with Belichick and Brady and work your way down.

INDIANAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 15: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots speaks to head coach Bill Belichick in the fourth quarter of the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 15, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Colts won the game 35-34. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The Red Sox aren’t going to fade into obscurity.

As the Patriots and Celtics continue to stay in the championship hunt in their respective sports, the Red Sox are coming off their worst season since they finished third in the AL East in 2006. Thanks to a couple of shrewd moves by GM Theo Epstein, Boston is already being considered the team to beat in the American League next season. Shortly after trading for former San Diego slugger Adrian Gonzalez, Epstein signed five-tool playmaker Carl Crawford (formerly of the Rays). Epstein also threw money at one of Boston’s biggest problems in 2010: its bullpen. First he signed former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks to a two-year, $12 million deal and then added former Rays’ reliever Dan Wheeler. Finally, he signed former Baltimore reliever Matt Albers, who could eat up innings if a starter gets yanked early. While the Yankees failed to land Cliff Lee, Epstein has been able to sign all of the other players he was targeting in the offseason. Chances are he isn’t finished either and it’ll be interesting to see how the “2011 Boston Makeover” looks once it’s complete.

The 2009 Saints thank you for choosing Daunte Culpepper, Dolphins.

After injuring his shoulder in the 2005 Pro Bowl, the Chargers were only willing to offer quarterback Drew Brees a five-year, $50 million contract that would pay him a $2 million base salary for the first year and the rest was heavily based on performance incentives. After deciding to test the open market, Brees set his eyes on two teams: the Dolphins and Saints. Miami was his first choice, but team doctors told the Dolphins that his surgically repaired shoulder would never hold up. So Miami ended negotiations with Brees and traded for Vikings’ QB Daunte Culpepper instead. Whoops. Culpepper was the one whose previous injury didn’t hold up and he was out of Miami after only one year. Brees, on the other hand, has gone on to set passing records for most completions in a season (440 in ’07), highest completion percentage in a season (70.62% in ’09), highest career postseason completion percentage (66.67%), lowest career postseason interception percentage (0.89%) and most completions in a Super Bowl (32 in Super Bowl XLIV, a mark he shares with Tom Brady). Thanks to not only his play on the field but his leadership off of it, the Saints won the 2010 Super Bowl by beating the Colts, which was just another reminder of what a colossal mistake the Dolphins made in 2006.

It’s better to lose early and not late.

Just ask 1993 Notre Dame and 2000 Miami or Washington about this. Head-to-head results mean nothing if a team loses later in the season. Michigan State found this out the hard way by losing its one game to Iowa a few weeks after beating Wisconsin by 10. So despite having identical records and a head-to-head win, the Spartans will be watching the Badgers in the Rose Bowl. To add insult to injury, Michigan State was passed over for the Big Ten’s second BCS bid by Ohio State, which also had one loss — to Wisconsin. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, got its losing out of the way early, falling to Boise State and James Madison — easily the most shocking result of the season — before rattling off 11 straight to win the ACC.

No matter what place the Braves finished, Bobby Cox would go out on top.

Even though the Braves came up well short of their goal to win the World Series and send Bobby Cox (who has decided to retire) out on top, nobody can say Bobby went out a loser. Cox is one of only four managers to win Manager of the Year in both the American and National League. He’s also the only person to have won the award in consecutive years and he currently ranks as the fourth-winningest manager in MLB history. He also holds the all-time record for most ejections, which is arguably a cooler record than his win total. He’ll walk away from the game a four-time Manager of the Year winner, a two-time World Series winner and one of the most recognizable figures in Atlanta sports history. We’ll miss you, Bobby.

Kurt Warner meant a lot to the Arizona Cardinals…A LOT.

It’s no surprise that the Arizona Cardinals have fallen off the map now that Kurt Warner dresses in a suit these days and not a uniform. But it takes a season like they’re having in 2010 to fully appreciate how much Warner meant to their franchise. With him, they were a perennial playoff contender and made their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. Without him, they’re the only team that managed to be eliminated from playoff contention in the NFC West before Week 15 and no team currently has a winning record in the division. In one word: Embarrassing. Making matters worse is that they’re no closer to finding a quarterback now than when Warner retired. They cut former first round pick Matt Leinart in preseason and realized too late what everyone already knew: that Derek Anderson isn’t the answer. They’ve tried rookies Max Hall and John Skelton, but both are long shots to win the starting position next year. And speaking of next year, they better find a quarterback soon or else who knows how long Larry Fitzgerald will want to hang around. He can’t be too happy that his former partner in crime Anquan Boldin is living it up on a winning team in Baltimore while he rots in NFL hell out in Arizona. The Cardinals need to start over and finding a quarterback should be priority No. 1. Hey, is Kurt Warner available?

GLENDALE, AZ - AUGUST 14: Quarterback Matt Leinart  of the Arizona Cardinals watches from the sidelines during preseason NFL game against the Houston Texans at the University of Phoenix Stadium on August 14, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Texans 19-16. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Hawks aren’t close.

For a time, it seemed like the Atlanta Hawks were on the verge of breaking through in the East. Year after year, they continued to improve, but always wilted in the playoffs. Last spring, the Andrew Bogut-less Bucks took them to seven games before they were swept unceremoniously by the Orlando Magic. What did they do this summer? Believe it or not, with all the big name free agents on the market, Joe Johnson got the biggest contract of them all. They’ll be a playoff team, but that’s about it.

Even in a capless offseason, parity still rules.

Oh, if you could have heard some of the crying coming from fans before last offseason. “The Cowboys are going to buy everybody!” Or, “The NFL is going to turn into MLB where there’s the haves and have nots!” Yeah, or parity still reigns supreme and once again, teams nobody expected to make the playoffs are doing just that. A capless offseason made fans nervous but it turned out to be much ado about nothing. The Cowboys didn’t buy everybody (ironically, the usually frugal Bears did) and teams were actually overly cautious about signing free agents to big deals with a potential lockout coming in 2011. The offseason came and went without much of a roar and when helmets and shoulder pads started cracking, it was teams like the Chiefs, Jaguars and Bucs making a playoff push while the Cowboys, Vikings and Bengals (three playoff teams from a year ago) sunk to the bottom of their divisions. The 2010 NFL season once again proves that parity rules.

Stephen Curry can shoot.

He didn’t win Rookie of the Year, but one could make an argument that he should have. He averaged 17.5 points on 46% shooting from the field, 44% from 3PT and 89% from the free throw line. He also averaged 5.9 assists and 4.5 rebounds. After the All-Star break, he averaged 22.1 points while shooting at the same (or better) levels. The guy can stroke it.

The Mets are still a mess.

Now that the Mets have a new general manager in Sandy Alderson, who hired new manager Terry Collins, the team was recently able to turn its attention to 2011 and beyond. But Alderson, with orders from ownership, was told he did not have an open checkbook to work with, nor did he have the prospects that could bring in worthy talent in a trade. So let’s look at this messy franchise for a minute. After the Mets last contended — in 2006 when they lost the NLCS to the Cardinals — they suddenly became mired in a two-year slump that saw utter collapses in 2007 (a seven-game lead with 17 games to play evaporated on the last day of the season) and 2008 (lost the wild card on the last day of the season). In 2009, half the team, including key starters like Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and Johan Santana, missed significant playing time with injuries, and the Mets finished in fourth place in the NL east at 70-92 – their worst record since 2003. Daniel Murphy also led the team in home runs with a paltry 12. TWELVE. 2010 didn’t show much promise, as the Mets signed free agent outfielder Jason Bay and pretty much nobody else. But a strong start led by a resurgent Mike Pelfrey, knuckler RA Dickey and hitters like Ike Davis and Rod Barajas as well as a healthy David Wright, helped the Mets get to within three games of first at the All-Star break. But then it all unraveled, as injuries (along with just terrible hitting and pitching) doomed them, and the Mets finished 79-83, which again was good for fourth place. So Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel were fired, and all was about to be right with the world. Except that in the December before the start of the 2011 season, it’s not. The Mets, unless they make some blockbuster moves, will send a rotation of Pelfrey, Dickey, Jon Niese and Oliver Perez to the hill on a weekly basis, and they will continue to mix veterans (Beltran, Wright, Luis Castillo, Reyes) with youngsters (Davis, Nick Evans) at the position spots. The Mets’ big free agent acquisitions so far in the Alderson era have been catcher Ronny Paulino, and pitchers DJ Carrasco and Boof Bonser. Ooohhhhhhh. Meanwhile, the rich keep getting richer, as the Phillies have added Cliff Lee to a rotation that already boasts Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. Are you kidding? All of the talk was how Lee shunned the Yankees, but in reality, he hurt the Mets more. So the Mets have clinched at least second place in the NL East, but more likely fourth or even last place for 2011. With seemingly no hope on the horizon, the Mets remain one of the bigger messes in MLB.

Learned | Knew | Think

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