2010 Year-End Sports Review: What We Learned

Years from now, when people look back on 2010, what will they remember as the defining sports moment? Uh, they can only pick one? We discovered that Tiger Woods likes to play the field and that Brett Favre doesn’t mind sending pictures of his anatomy to hot sideline reporters via text message. We found out that LeBron listens to his friends a little too much and that Ben Roethlisberger needed a serious lesson in humility. But we also learned that athletes such as Michael Vick and Josh Hamilton haven’t blown second chance opportunities (or third and fourth chances in the case of Hamilton). It was also nice to see a certain pitcher turn down bigger money so that he can play in a city that he loves.

We’ve done our best to recap the year’s biggest sports stories, staying true to tradition by breaking our Year End Sports Review into three sections: What We Learned, What We Already Knew, and What We Think Might Happen. Up first are the things we learned in 2010, a list that’s littered with scandal, beasts, a Decision and yes, even a little Jenn Sterger.

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

Tiger Woods gets around.

We hesitate to put this under “golf” because the only clubs involved were his wife’s nine-iron hitting the window of his SUV and the various establishments where Tiger wined and dined all of his mistresses…over a dozen in all. This was the biggest story of the early part of the year, but it got to the point that whenever a new alleged mistress came forward, the general public was like, “Yeah, we get it. Tiger screwed around on his wife. A lot.” He has spent the rest of the year attempting to rebuild his once-squeaky clean image, but it’s safe to say, we’ll never look at Tiger the same way.

LeBron wilts when his team needs him most.

Say the words “LeBron” and “Game 5” in the same sentence and NBA fans everywhere know exactly what you’re talking about. In the biggest game of the season, LeBron looked disinterested, going 3-of-14 from the field en route to a 120-88 blowout at home at the hands of the Celtics. There were rumors swirling about a possible relationship between LeBron’s mom and his teammate, Delonte West, and there’s speculation that LeBron got that news before tipoff and that’s why he played so poorly. Regardless of the cause, LeBron played awful in that game, and it turned out to be his swan song in Cleveland as a member of the Cavaliers. Talk about leaving a bitter taste.

You can auction off your talented son’s athletic abilities and get away with it.

The NCAA set a strange precedent this season while dealing with the Newton family. The always inconsistent and completely morally uncorrupt NCAA decided in its infinite wisdom that despite discovering that Cecil Newton shopped his son Cam to Mississippi State for $180,000, and that is a violation of NCAA rules, that Cam would still be eligible because it couldn’t be proven that he knew about it. Conference commissioners and athletic directors around the country spoke out about the decision, while agent-wannabes and greedy fathers everywhere had a light bulb go off in their own heads: As long as we say the player doesn’t know about it, it could go off without a hitch. What was Cecil’s punishment in this whole thing? Limited access to Auburn for the last two games of the season. Easy with that hammer there, NCAA.

The Packers made the right decision by picking Rodgers over Lord Favre.

Depending on who you are, this topic could also fall under the “What We Already Knew” category. Many Green Bay fans made GM Ted Thompson out to be the villain when he didn’t bow down to Lord Favre when Brett finally changed his mind (for a third time, mind you) and wanted to come back to Green Bay. But what those people never grasped was that Thompson had to do what was right for the Packers – not Brett Favre. So he committed to Aaron Rodgers and never looked back. While Lord Favre did lead the Vikings to the NFC Championship in 2009, his 2010 season in Minnesota has been an utter disaster. As of this writing, it’s the Packers who are still in playoff contention for the second straight year, while Favre looks like he’s ready to pack it up for good. Rodgers, meanwhile, has developed into a MVP candidate and a true leader in every sense of the word. Because of him, the Packers’ future is bright and had Thompson broken his back for Favre in ’08, who knows where Rodgers (or the Packers) would be today. He made the right decision.

Ron Artest is clutch.

Coming off an NBA title in 2009, the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t bow to Trevor Ariza’s demands when he hit free agency. Instead, they signed Ron Artest to take Ariza’s place, and Artest had to listen to the comparisons all season long. Ariza was a better fit. Ariza is a better shooter. Ariza is a quicker defender. Those things may or may not be true, but when the Lakers’ season was on the line, Artest came up big. First, in the closing moments of a tied Game 5 against the Suns in the Western Conference Finals, Artest gathered Kobe Bryant’s airball and put it in for the game winning bucked at the buzzer. If that wasn’t enough, with a minute remaining in Game 7 of the Finals, and the Lakers nursing a three-point lead, Artest made a huge three-pointer to push the lead to six, effectively keeping the Celtics at bay and ensuring that the Lakers win their second consecutive title. The only possible follow-up was Artest’s now-famous post-game press conference. Good singing? Yeah, we think so.

Athletes aren’t always about the money.

Any reasonable non-athlete or celebrity would view $120 million and think to themselves, “Yeah, I think that’s good enough.” But athletes in contract years have rejected $100-million-plus contracts before in hopes of getting more. That has led many to believe that athletes are always about the money. But Cliff Lee is just one example that that’s not always the case. He left roughly $30-50 million on the table to sign with the Phillies instead of the Rangers or Yankees. He liked his time in Philadelphia before he was traded to Seattle in the winter of 2009 and he wanted to return to the “City of Brotherly Love.” He had the opportunity to make more but like he said, “How much money does a person need?” Money isn’t always the driving factor for players, which is why the Yankees and Rangers are currently scrambling for pitching help while the Phillies have added to an already rock-solid rotation.

Urban Meyer probably should have walked away last year when he first wanted to.

It turns out that Nikki Meyer did get her daddy back – it was just a year later than she had expected. Meyer made like Brett Favre a year ago, saying he was resigning, then saying he was taking some time off, then just saying screw it and coming back. He came back to a team without his savior, Tim Tebow, an anemic offense led by the most hated offensive coordinator in the country, Steve Addazio (type that name into Google and check out the most popular searches), and ultimately a 7-5 record. Meyer definitely has had a great run at Florida, and likely will have another good run somewhere else in the next four or five years. But his diva act and this latest season will put a small stain on what he’s accomplished.

We knew Vick had talent, but what we learned is that he could mature.

It’ll be a while yet before Michael Vick proves that he can behave off the field. Right now he must be on his best behavior because his football career and financial security is on the line. But in terms of on the field, there’s no question he’s matured as a player. There used to be a time when Vick was only viewed as a running back posing as a quarterback. But with the help of Eagles coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, he’s finally developed into the dual-threat that he was supposed to be coming out of Virginia Tech in 2001. He still has a long way to go in his decision-making and with his mechanics (particularly with his feet). But he isn’t being viewed as a MVP candidate solely based on his running ability. He has more pocket presence now than earlier in his career with the Falcons and he’s becoming a pass-first quarterback instead of one that rushes through his reads and takes off running. Simply put: he’s matured.

The UFC is on the verge of having a tremendous 2011.

With the announcement of the UFC absorbing the WEC and creating two new weight classes in the bantamweight (135 lbs.) and featherweight (145 lbs.) divisions, along with adding a crop of exciting new lightweights, the top promotion in MMA is going to have a busy year with a lot of blockbuster cards. The addition of the WEC will bring more exciting fights as the smaller guys always have explosive matchups and it will also give more main-stream attention to some of the best pound-for-pound fighters like Jose Aldo, Dominick Cruz, Anthony Pettis, and Urijah Faber. The UFC is also discussing the possibility of adding a flyweight (125 lbs.) division, which would give the organization more great bouts to play with. It will be likely that 80% of the UFC pay per views this year should feature at least one title fight with this new addition.

Maybe Josh Hamilton is proof that athletes can change.

Rangers’ outfielder Josh Hamilton is not a perfect man. Given his track record, he probably wouldn’t be a parents’ first choice to be a role model for their children, although his success story will inspire anyone. By now, most people have heard Hamilton’s story. The former first overall pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays fell victim to the life of drugs and alcohol abuse early in his career and he almost lost baseball (not to mention his family) several times over the past decade. But this past year he was incident-free and he helped the Rangers make their first World Series appearance in club history. He also appeared in his third-straight All-Star Game and won the 2010 AL MVP award. There’s no guarantee that he won’t have another slip up, but if his 2010 season is any indication, maybe he’s proof that athletes (and people for that matter) can change.

Texas Rangers' slugger Josh Hamilton talks to the media as the Rangers prepare to take on the New York Yankees in the ALCS at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas on October 14, 2010.  Game one of the best of seven series will be on October 15, 2010 in Arlington.  UPI/Ian Halperin Photo via Newscom

Rich Rodriguez can win with a quarterback that fits his system. He just can’t win enough…

…because he still doesn’t know how to recruit — or find a coordinator who can coach defense. Denard Robinson put up ridiculous numbers, and other than the Ohio State and Michigan State outings, Michigan’s offense scored enough points to win games. Of course, Ohio State and Michigan State are the two games that mean the most to Michigan fans. So yeah, not so good. We may never find out what happens when Rodriguez has experience to go along with explosiveness at the quarterback position at Michigan, because the Gator Bowl could be his final game. And if it is, not many people would blame Dave Brandon.

Brett Favre is kind of a creep.

Brett Favre is a first ballot Hall of Famer and his consecutive starts streak is easily one of the most respected streaks in all of sports. But everyone saw a different side of Brett this year thanks to a 27-year-old former Jets’ sideline reporter named Jenn Sterger. The “junk mail” scandal cast new (horrifying) light on this NFL legend, one as a total perv. Hey, nobody would blame a guy for pursuing a hot chick that usually has her, um, “assets” out for the world to see. But Brett is married with kids and his measures were a little extreme. After all, if he can’t land a chick just based on him being Brett Favre, why would he think photos of his junk would win her over? If, “Hey, I’m Brett Favre and I’m a NFL legend,” doesn’t work, then it’s probably time to move on. No creepy phone messages and photos of your ruler are going to save you. While this story is still ongoing, it’s officially moved to the nobody-gives-a-damn section of the world. But while people will always remember Brett for his fourth quarter comebacks, his consecutive starts streak and his “boy, he sure has fun out there!” style of play, he’ll also be known as the weirdo who e-mailed photos of his rod to some broad.

Tyreke Evans is a star in the making.

We thought Tyreke would be good, but we weren’t expecting him to be this good this quickly. He was named 2010 Rookie of the Year after posting 20.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game, which made him just the fourth player (Oscar Robinson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James) to average 20-5-5 in his rookie season. The sky is the limit for this kid.

Stephen Strasburg has the potential to be great but he’s also highly injury prone.

Once he was called up to the big leagues, Nationals’ starter Stephen Strasburg did exactly what many pundits predicted he would: Dazzle and frustrate hitters with his amazing stuff, all while packing the seats at Nationals Park. In 2010, he finished with 92 strikeouts in just 68 innings while compiling a sparklingly 2.91 ERA. The problem is that he only pitched in 12 games because he was placed on the disabled list with an inflamed right shoulder in July. He returned to action on August 10 but in his third game back, he was pulled from a start with what turned out to be a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Unfortunately the injury requires Tommy John surgery, which may cost him his entire 2011 season. It’s a shame that one of baseball’s best young stars is already being shelved before his career really got going.

Iowa had a baaaaaaaaaaad year.

The loss at Arizona to start the season was a sign of things to come for the Hawkeyes, who struggled in close games and stumbled to an incredibly disappointing 7-5 record and a spot in the Insight Bowl. But little did we know, that would be the least of Kirk Ferentz’s problems. He’ll be without star running back Adam Robinson, who has been suspended for violating team rules. They’ll also be without fellow running backs Jewel Hampton and Brandon Wegher, who both will be transferring. But wait, there’s more. Star receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos was found to be running an operation Charlie Sheen would be proud of. All of this in one year? Iowa fans can’t wait for the season to be over.

Peyton Hillis is a beast.

The trade Josh McDaniels made earlier this offseason with the Browns could go down as one of the worst trades of all-time if Peyton Hillis continues to run like he has in 2010. A seldom-used halfback/fullback hybrid in Denver, Hillis rarely saw the field thanks to McDaniels. He was traded to Cleveland in the offseason in exchange for Brady Quinn, who couldn’t even beat out rookie Tim Tebow to be Kyle Orton’s back in Denver. Meanwhile, Hillis has eclipsed his first 1,000-yard rushing season and ranks 10th in the league in rushing yards. He’s gaining 4.5 yards per carry this season and most of the time he needs three defenders just to take him down. He has a major fumbling problem (his eight fumbles lead the league) that needs to be corrected before he can become an elite back, but he’s well on his way. He’s proof that McDaniels couldn’t spot talent if it walked right up to him and hit on his wife. (We couldn’t resist.)

CLEVELAND - NOVEMBER 28: Running back Peyton Hillis  of the Cleveland Browns scores a touchdown as he runs from safety Sherrod Martin  of the Carolina Panthers at Cleveland Browns Stadium on November 28, 2010 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Giving money to charity does not make a dumb idea any better.

LeBron’s fans and critics can agree on one thing: “The Decision” was a very bad idea. Before he announced he was going to “take his talents to South Beach,” we were wondering – why would he go through all the trouble just to announce that he was staying with the Cavs? Then we wondered, why hold an hour-long special just to break up with the city of Cleveland? LeBron’s camp still justify the decision by referring to the money they raised for the Boys & Girls Club, and that’s fine, but “The Decision” was a public relations disaster, and LeBron’s image has paid dearly. He has gone from one of the most revered athletes in the country to one of the most reviled. Cavs fans may disagree, but for most of us, it’s not the fact that LeBron left Cleveland – that was his right – it was the way that he left the city and the team that rubbed us the wrong way.

MLB is scared of Mark Cuban.

Back when George Steinbrenner was still alive, the thought of his competing against Mark Cuban every offseason must have been enough to keep most current MLB owners up at night. That’s why they fought hard (and succeeded) to keep Cuban out of baseball and from possibly spicing things up ruining things in MLB. In July of 2008, he officially submitted an initial bid of $1.3 billion to buy the Cubs and was invited to participate in a second round of bidding along with other potential ownership groups. But he was not awarded the team and instead, the Cubs and Wrigley Field went to the Rickets Family for…$900 million (which is obviously significantly less than the $1.3 billion that Cuban was willing to fork over). Cuban also lost his bid to buy the Texas Rangers and now it seems that he’s getting further away from owning his very own baseball club. By the looks of things, it appears as though MLB wants it that way, too. Cuban isn’t afraid to speak his mind and mix things up, which is exactly what “the good ol’ boys” club of major league owners don’t want. They prefer the way the current structure is (i.e. the Yankees drive up the cost of everything and then have to pay out their ass in luxury tax). Cuban would only serve to ruin that, which is exactly why owners will fight to keep him out of Major League Baseball.

Pete Carroll has great timing.

Not only did Carroll avoid being the head man at USC while it was under NCAA sanctions, but he also found himself in the worst division (maybe of all time) in the NFL, and could win it with a 7-9 record. Carroll won’t have to deal with the reduction in scholarships or the eventual break-up with Snoop Dogg. Nope, those are issues for Lane Kiffin to deal with now.

It’s going to take time in Miami.

It takes time to build chemistry and when one of your three stars misses most of preseason due to injury, those growing pains are going to last that much longer. Throw in two more injuries to projected big-minute guys (Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem), and its clear that things didn’t start out smoothly in Miami. The Heat got off to a 9-8 start, but went on a long winning streak as things started to click. They’ll be a major factor in the playoffs, though unless they’re playing at full strength, it will be tough to get past a motivated and revitalized Celtics squad.

Philip Rivers is a miracle worker.

The job Philip Rivers has done keeping the Chargers in contention is nothing short of a miracle. Antonio Gates has missed most of the season due to injuries and No. 1 receiver Vincent Jackson spent most of the year away from the team because he was upset about his contract. Yet even without having his two best playmakers at his disposal, Rivers has thrown for the second most yards in the league (he’s just 116 yards behind Peyton Manning, who ranks first) and has compiled a 105.7 QB Rating (only Tom Brady’s 109.9 rating is better). Due to the Chargers’ record, Rivers isn’t being viewed as a serious MVP candidate but maybe he should be. If the Bolts go on to make the playoffs and better yet, advance a couple of rounds, they have Rivers to thank. He’s been amazing this year.

Steve Spurrier still has what it takes to get to the SEC title game (even though they lost).

Sure, he was helped out quite a bit by the SEC East being way down this year, but Spurrier did beat Alabama and play Auburn down to the wire (the first time). How did he do it? He finally found some elite SEC weapons on offense in Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery. A more consistent quarterback would be nice. Stephen Garcia is finally graduating, — We think. We also thought the same thing the last three years — so Spurrier should be able to groom his successor. He just may end up proving Lee Corso wrong, after all.

Just because a head coach seems like he can motivate doesn’t mean he can win.

We admit – we hopped on Mike Singletary’s bandwagon right from the start. We bought his “I want winners” speech hook, line and sinker. But he’s proven that there’s a difference between a motivator and a head coach in the National Football League. You can be both, but you can’t just be a motivator because that’s all Singletary is at this juncture in his coaching career. Singletary makes for great sound bites and he was a tremendous football player. But he is greatly overmatched week in and week out despite the fact that he usually has better talent. How can a team comprised of star talent like Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Patrick Willis be so bad? Coaching, coaching, coaching. Players have to execute, but if they’re already behind at kickoff because their game plan isn’t sound, then they’re doomed. And while there’s always been this notion that Singletary can motivate his players, do they play hard for him every week? Or are they as inconsistent as ever and in the midst of another losing season with Singletary at the helm?

Dec 16, 2010; San Diego, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary reacts at press conference after the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers defeated the 49ers 34-7. Photo via Newscom

It’s good to be a Russian billionaire…usually.

Mikhail Prokhorov is wroth an estimated $13.4 billion, but we have heard of him because he bought the Nets. Nicknamed the “Russian Mark Cuban” by ESPN’s Bill Simmons, Prokhorov is/was determined to turn the Nets around quickly. He had dreams of landing the #1 pick in the 2010 Draft and picking John Wall, but he ended up with the third pick and Derrick Favors instead. He thought he’d be able to woo LeBron James and or Dwyane Wade to New Jersey/Brooklyn, but ended up with Travis Outlaw and Jordan Farmar. He seems determined to build a championship-caliber squad, but it’s going to take time…even for a billionaire.

Brad Stevens is a loyal guy.

When 33-year-old Brad Stevens led Butler to the title game against Duke, there was a lot of speculation about his future. Oregon was just one of several interested parties, but shortly after the Bulldogs lost to the Blue Devils, Stevens signed a 12-year extension that will keep him at Butler through the 2021-22 season. Stevens was grateful to Butler for giving him the opportunity to be a head coach at a very young age, and he rewarded him with some serious loyalty.

Randy Moss lays out a blueprint of what not to do in your contract year.

If ever there were a way for a player not to act during a contract year, Randy Moss in 2010 laid out the blueprint. Moss started angling for a new contract from the Patriots early in the season when he told the media that he had felt disrespected by New England’s lack of commitment. Things only spiraled downward from there, as Moss continued to complain (even after Bill Belichick had told him to shut his mouth and wait until the end of the year) about a new deal until he was finally traded to the Vikings in Week 5. Following a loss to his former team in New England in late October, Moss told the media in a press conference after the game how much he respected Belichick and the Patriots. If one didn’t know better, Moss was almost trying to make a case for New England to take him back. Vikings coach Brad Childress released him days later (even though Minnesota parted with a third-round pick to acquire him just four weeks earlier) and before Moss caught on with the Titans, reports surfaced that he had told the owner of a local restaurant catering service that he would not “feed the food to his dog.” Classy. The Titans picked him up off waivers on November 3, but that was the last time anyone has seen and heard from Randy. To say he’s been unproductive in Tennessee would be an understatement and here’s the kicker: He still needs a new contract. He’ll be begging for the Patriots to take him back once the season is over.

Terrelle Pryor does have it within himself to improve as a passer.

Pryor completed 65.8% of is passes this year, which is a huge improvement over his first two seasons. He also had his best season yardage- and touchdown-wise. This is partially due to just growing up, but a big part of growing up is Pryor starting to stay in the pocket and trust his arm as much as his feet. Sure, he still takes off and is a very dangerous runner — that’s a part of his game he should never get rid of — but he’s starting to find out that in this offense, he needs to be a passer first and a runner second if the Buckeyes are ultimately going to be successful.

Roger Federer isn’t washed up, but Rafael Nadal has passed him.

After a couple of early exits in Wimbledon and the French Open, tennis fans were wondering if Roger’s skills had declined to the point where he wouldn’t win another Grand Slam. But he bounced back Down Under, defeating Andy Murray in the Australian Open to win his 16th slam, a mark that some believe will never be matched. However, there’s a certain 24-year-old Spaniard who is well on his way. Rafael Nadal has won nine Grand Slam titles, including three this year (the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open). Now that his biggest competition is entering his twilight years, Nadal is going to have to find his next rival to push him to greater heights. At this point in his career, Federer only had five Grand Slam titles, so barring injury, Nadal has a great shot at eventually breaking Federer’s record.

It’s easy to lose your job if you make every wrong decision you can possibly make.

Experts say that it takes three years to properly grade a NFL draft class. Josh McDaniels’ first draft class hasn’t even finished their second full season and he’s already out of work, so what does that say about him? It’s not difficult to see why the Broncos fired a head coach that they hired just 23 months earlier. Not when he makes every wrong personnel decision a coach could possibly make. McDaniels hadn’t even been in Denver for three months before he attempted to trade for his former New England pupil Matt Cassel. The problem with that of course, is that the Broncos already had a starting quarterback in Jay Cutler, whom they had to trade to the Bears for a first round pick and Kyle Orton after McDaniels pissed him off with the Cassel trade talk. All was fine in Denver when McDaniels’ Broncos started the 2009 season winning their first six games, but a 2-8 finish had everyone wondering if the perfect start was a fluke. Then McDaniels really got busy. He managed to lose defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to the Dolphins, trade Brandon Marshall to that same Miami team (that made two offensive stars McDaniels lost in two years since being hired), trade feature back Peyton Hillis to the Browns for Brady Quinn (who is buried so far down the depth chart that nobody remembers he was once a first round pick) and trade multiple picks in order to reach for massive project Tim Tebow in the 2010 NFL Draft. The book is still out on Tebow but it’s safe to say that the rest of McDaniels’ moves have not panned out, which is why he finds himself unemployed this holiday season. He’ll resurface as an offensive coordinator somewhere next year, but it may be a while before he’s hired as a head coach again.

The steroid era is officially over.

We’re not naïve to think that players aren’t still juicing or will stop juicing any time soon. But this past year proved that the “steroid era” in baseball is finite. The league-wide batting average in 2009 was the lowest its been in 18 years and there were a whopping six no-hitters or perfect games compiled. Roy Halladay earned only the second no-hitter in postseason history (that’s 107 years of baseball, mind you) and Tim Lincecum threw a complete-game, two-hit shutout that may have statistically been more impressive than Halladay’s no-hitter (if you can believe that). It was only fitting that in the “Year of the Pitcher,” the team with four homegrown arms won the World Series. While chicks will always dig the long ball, it appears as though baseball’s juiced days are over (for now, anyway).-TAB–TAB–TAB-

Raheem Morris can coach.

There were many people who felt as though Raheem Morris wasn’t ready to coach in the NFL. After he and the front office ushered in the youth movement last year and finished 3-13, people were already calling for Morris’ job. But he and the Bucs stayed the course and at press time, they’re playoff hopes are still alive in the NFC. If they can win one of their remaining two games in 2010, Morris will secure his first winning season as a head coach. Granted, the wheels can always fall off quickly in the NFL. A winning season doesn’t always mean future success and even though Tampa has eight wins to this point, none have come against a team with a winning record. But keep in mind how much youth and inexperience this team has. Quarterback Josh Freeman has made major strides in his development and rookies Mike Williams and LeGarrette Blount look like future stars. Many folks believed that firing Jon Gruden was a major mistake and maybe it was. But at thispoint, it’s hard to argue that the Bucs aren’t sailing in the right direction with Morris at the controls.

Colin Kaepernick and Vau Taua can beat Boise State.

Thanks to some voodoo on kicker Kyle Brotzman. Kaepernick and Taua are the most prolific rushing duo in the history of college football, and the comeback they engineered against the Broncos the day after Thanksgiving was remarkable. The Nevada defense deserves a lot of credit, too, in slowing down that Boise State offense in the second half and allowing the comeback to happen. But Boise’s defense was perhaps as impressive as the offense this year, and this Nevada duo shredded it, ending the Broncos’ BCS dreams.

The Giants have the pitching to contend for years to come.

While he’s frustrated Giants fans for years with poor free agent signings and bust trades, there’s no denying that GM Brian Sabean has put the G-Men in great position to win thanks to their pitching. Thanks in large part to player personnel chief Dick Tidrow’s keen eye, Sabean and the Giants spent first round picks on Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumargner – their top three performers in the 2010 postseason. They also found a couple of diamonds in the rough in starter Jonathan Sanchez (27th round/2004) and Brian Wilson (24th round/2003), who weren’t selected until deep into their respective drafts. All of these pitchers are under team control for years to come, meaning the Giants shouldn’t be a one-hit wonder (assuming Sabean doesn’t muck everything up with his free agent moves, that is).

Ben Roethlisberger learned some humility.

Sometimes it takes a while for someone to learn humility. After winning two Super Bowls in just his first six years in the league, Big Ben got a big head. He admits to buying into the whole “Big Ben” persona and that he was larger than life. Trouble first found him in June of 2006 when he nearly died from a motorcycle accident because he wasn’t wearing a helmet. In 2009, he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman named Andrea McNulty in a hotel room while he was staying in Lake Tahoe for a celebrity golf tournament. He escaped charges from that situation just in time to be investigated for an unrelated sexual assault case after a 20-year-old college student accused him of being inappropriate with her in a women’s restroom inside a nightclub. Fortunately for him, the details of her story were sketchy at best, so he avoided legal trouble again. But he didn’t escape punishment from the NFL, which suspended him six games (it was later reduced to four) for the 2010 season. It was finally clear to Roethlisberger that he needed to take more responsibility for his actions off the field and since then, that’s what he’s done. He’s avoided trouble and once again has the Steelers knocking on a postseason berth. Only time will tell if he can stay out of trouble, but it appears as though he’s learned some valuable lessons.

Joey Votto can carry a team by himself.

Joey Votto picked a great time to produce his best season to date. While helping the Reds win the NL Central, Votto hit .324 with 113 RBI, 106 runs scored and 37 home runs, which included a grand salami off Braves’ starter Tommy Hanson on May 20. He finished the season as MLB’s leader in on base percentage (.424), slugging percentage (.600) and on-base plus slugging (1.024). His efforts helped earn him the 2010 NL MVP award and he also took home the Hank Aaron Award in the National League, which is given to the top hitter in each league. While his Reds failed to advance past the Phillies in the NLDS, they have a bright future as long as Votto is around.

Everyone’s Super Bowl darling never pans out.

Each year, we all look at last year’s NFL standings and playoff results. We take into account offseason moves, retirements, draft picks and free agent signings and we pontificate about who will reach the postseason and who won’t. And though it’s ridiculous to predict who will reach the Super Bowl in August, we all do it, because it’s fun, gives us hope for our own team and it gets everyone fired up for the new season. Sexy picks in 2010 were Dallas, Green Bay, Minnesota, New Orleans and (gulp) San Francisco in the NFC; the NY Jets, New England Baltimore, Indy and San Diego in the AFC. And oh yeah, several analysts had the Houston Texans in the Super Bowl, which looked genius when the team started 2-0, but doesn’t now as they sit at 5-9 and are on the verge of sending coach Gary Kubiak packing. The most likely Super scenarios seemed to be Cowboys/Jets, Cowboys/Ravens, Packers/Jets and Packers/Ravens. Nobody expected the Bears, Bucs, Jags or Chiefs to make as much noise as they have, or even the Raiders for that matter. No one expected that the Seahawks and Rams would be tied at 6-8 and sitting in the 4-seed spot either, while the 5-9 Niners control their own playoff destiny. Did anyone see Michael Vick contending for MVP, or Brett Favre bringing the whole Vikings’ franchise down with him, or the Cowboys starting 1-7, or the Chargers starting 2-5, or the Bengals falling to the depths of NFL purgatory? Still, for as wacky as this season has been, some of the aforementioned teams are still very much alive. The Packers, Jets and Ravens are still fighting for playoff berths and have the talent to make a run. Then again, something will probably happen to make everyone’s preseason favorites go down in flames again.

One-and-done’rs are a major issue.

The NBA’s age-limit rule essentially forces kids to go to college that wouldn’t otherwise go. Over the past four years, 19 freshmen have been drafted in the lottery, and a vast majority of those wouldn’t have gone to college if not for the NBA’s age-limit. While players like Kevin Durant and Kevin Love were able to make the move from high school to college to the NBA without incident, Derrick Rose apparently had someone else take his SAT so he could get into the University of Memphis. This is what happens when a kid plenty good enough to make it in the NBA is forced to spend a year in college. This wreaks havoc on the college ranks as teams are forced to spend more time recruiting because there’s more turnover within the program. And forget stability – coaches have to deal with a brand new set of faces every fall. The NBA should change its rule to allow 18-year-old draftees, but if a player goes to college, he has to stay for a minimum of two years before declaring himself eligible for the draft. There, everyone’s happy.

Hope is not lost for the Pirates and Royals.

While the continue to hope that one of their team’s 4,000 youth movements will eventually pay off, it’s hard to blame fans in Pittsburgh and Kansas City for thinking their clubs are doomed. But if the Rangers can make the World Series, maybe there’s still hope for the Pirates and Royals. While everyone knew Texas would get another great year out of its offense, nobody thought the Rangers’ pitching would perform like it did in 2010. Thanks to the emergence of C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and the midseason trade acquisition of Cliff Lee, the Rangers blew through the regular season and claimed first place in the AL West. Then they beat the Rays to clinch their first postseason series victory in club history and then tossed the Yankees in rather easy fashion to reach the World Series. Unfortunately for them, their fate was sealed by the Giants in the Fall Classic, but the Rangers gave hope to doomed franchises everywhere. Yes, including the ones in KC and Pittsburgh.

Learned | Knew | Think

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