The first improbable comeback in the world of sports in 2008 was not in the Super Bowl. The LSU Tigers somehow made it into the BCS National Championship game in January in spite of two losses. The second loss, to Arkansas the day after Thanksgiving 2007 in double overtime, appeared to derail any such hopes on the Louisiana bayou.
That Thanksgiving weekend brought Missouri’s defeat of previously undefeated Kansas, opening one door for LSU. Then, Missouri lost to OU in the Big 12 Championship Game. Then in early December, LSU bounced back to defeat Tennessee in the SEC’s championship game, leaving only Ohio State as a major conference team with one loss. LSU was left as the highest ranked two-loss team and somehow squeaked into the #2 spot in the BCS rankings.
As you surely remember, LSU beat Ohio State, who has never defeated an SEC team, thus LSU became the first team with 2 losses to win the mythical college football national championship. No team had ever lost that late in the season and been crowned national champs.LSU’s win started a trend of unusual developments in the world of sports in 2008.
In early February, the latest Super Bowl ever was supposed to be a coronation of the New England Patriots becoming the first NFL team to ever go undefeated in a 16 game regular season and eclipsing the 1972-73 Miami Dolphins. Those Dolphins were the first NFL team to go undefeated through an entire NFL season, but, alas the regular season was 14 games then, so the Patriots would be alone in the record books. Or so everyone thought. However, someone forgot to tell the New York Giants. I wouldn’t have bet the house against the Giants winning, but I would have been tempted to bet that no NFL team would hold the high-scoring Patriots to 14 points. No other NFL team last season came close to that feat.
The Final Four in 2008 was the first ever in which all four #1 seeds from the four regionals made it to the Final Four.That was a big story in itself. In the semi-finals games Memphis thumped UCLA and Kansas jumped out to a huge first half lead against the favored North Carolina Tarheels. UNC seemed set to make a huge comeback, cutting the lead way down in the 2nd half, only to see Kansas pull away and win by 18 over the ‘Heels, coached by former Kansas coach Roy Williams. In the final game 2 days later, The Memphis Tigers appeared set to make 2008 the year of the Tiger, building a seemingly insurmountable lead. With Kansas forced to foul as their only hope, Memphis threw up enough bricks from the free throw line to build another pyramid, handing the NCAA Championship to the Kansas Jayhawks.
June brought more than just the start of summer, but two of the Top 10 sports stories of 2008. At the PGA’s U.S. Open, Tiger Woods, limping and grimacing due to a bad knee, somehow held off huge underdog Rocco Mediate. Tied after 72 holes, the U.S. Open calls for an 18 hole playoff on Monday. So, Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate teed up again at Torrey Pines in San Diego for another 18 holes. Still tied after 18 holes, the two men went to a one hole sudden death playoff, finally won by Tiger Woods on the 91 hole of the 2008 U.S. Open. The next day, Tiger Woods announced that his 2008 season was over due to reconstructive surgery on his knee, the day after winning his 14th Major, second only to Jack Nicklaus. Some jackals had suggested that Tiger Woods was faking the injury, trying to have an excuse in case he lost. To those people I say: look outside, there is a black helicopter circling your house…
The month of June also brought another Top 10 sports story of 2008, the Boston Celtics NBA Finals victory over the L.A. Lakers. The NBA Finals was a remake of a few battles in the 80’s between the two powers, minus Bird, Magic and Kareem. The Boston Celtics had a nondescript season in 2007, and the NBA has been dominated in the last decade or so by the Western Conference. There were several things that made the Celtics unlikely NBA champs. By the Celtics winning the NBA Finals, the Patriots were all that kept Boston area teams from sweeping the championships of the three biggest sports, with the Boston Red Sox winning the previous World Series in Oct. 2007.
I’m not normally a big fan of swimming as a spectator sport and the month of August is usually one of the slower months in the world of sports. However, in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, swimmer Michael Phelps won a whopping 8 gold medals for the U.S. team, breaking Mark Spitz’ 1972 record for gold in a single summer olypiad. I don’t care what sport you play, the breaking of records a century old or older has to impress. Michael Phelps is the holder of 7 world records to boot. No list of the TOP 10 sports stories of 2008 would be complete without this one. Kudos, MP!
The following month, the U.S. Ryder Cup team was the subject of much hand-wringing in the golf world. “If you can’t beat the Europeans with Tiger Woods, how can you beat them without him” was the conventional wisdom. The Europeans had dominated recent Ryder Cups, which are held every two years. The Euros did a lot of whining the last time the U.S. team won in ’99. (The 2001 Ryder Cup was pushed back to a year later due to 9/11). The smug Europeans had won the last 3 Ryder Cups in convincing fashion. Led by the team of Phil Mickelson and Asian sensation Anthony Kim, the U.S. forged a slight lead in the two man team events on friday and saturday. With strong performances by J.B. Holmes, Boo Weekley and others, the U.S. team and Captain Paul Azinger defied the critics on both sides of the pond and won the Ryder Cup for the first time in almost a decade. The highlight was Anthony Kim’s smoking of cocky Spaniard Sergio Garcia, who didn’t wait until the 18th hole to fold, for once.
Also in September, an event occurred that shook up the NFL with the season-ending knee injury of Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. This ranks as one of the Top 10 sports stories of 2008 due to not only shaking up the standings in the AFC, but fantasy football teams all over the world, as well.Tom Brady had never missed a game since taking over for Drew Bledsoe early in the 2001 season. This blow combined with the “spygate” scandal of 2007 and the Pats upset loss in Super Bowl XLII would have broken most teams. However, with new QB Matt Cassel improving with every game, don’t count the Patriots out just yet in 2008.
In October, the Philadelphia Phillies won their first World Series since 1980 and the first championship in any major sport in the “City of brotherly love” since the 76ers in 1983. This ranks as one of the Top 10 sports stories of 2008 in spite of the humdrum World Series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Finally, the tenth of the Top 10 sports stories of 2008 is the current BCS Mess going on in college football. With Oklahoma’s recent thrashing of previously undefeated Texas Tech, Utah and Boise State are the only major college undefeated teams. Neither of them play in a “power conference”, leaving a bunch of 1 loss teams vying for the Top 2 spots in the BCS standings. Hopefully, there will be such an outcry from all the 1 loss teams that don’t get into the championship game that a movement to lead college football out of this wilderness and into some sort of playoff system, like every other sport, will gain traction. President -Elect Barack Obama has even joined in, once the night before the election in an interview with Chris Berman of ESPN, and again after the election on CBS’ 60 Minutes.
That’s all folks. 2008 was a pretty good year in sports, with a lot of firsts, or at least some things that hadn’t happened in a number of years. Let’s hope 2009 can be nearly as good.