Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Most memorable nationals sports stories of 2012

Here are my top five national sports stories for 2012.

This is my list. It might not be yours. No Jerry Sandusky or Lance Armstrong here. Just the good stuff.

Counting down:

5. Every (under)dog has its day: If you'd told me the New York Knicks and Denver Broncos would become appointment television for me - however fleeting - well, I'd tell you no chance. But there I was, checking the local listings to find opportunities to watch Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow defy the odds. Lin's in-your-face, buzzer-beating 3-pointer against the Raptors on Feb. 24 and Tebow's 80-yard touchdown pass to knock the Steelers out of the playoffs on Jan. 8 encapsulated "Linsanity" and "Tebowmania."

4. Return of the madness: Early-round upsets are the NCAA tournament at its best, and the 2012 edition featured two huge ones. Norfolk State over Missouri and Lehigh over Duke sent a pair of No. 2 seeds home and rekindled the wonder of bracket unpredictability.

3. Clint's sprint: This one makes very few lists, but I enjoyed the heck out of it. During the fall Phoenix race, Jeff Gordon snapped after what he perceived to be a season's worth of disrespect from Clint Bowyer and intentionally wrecked the longshot Sprint Cup contender on the final lap. A melee ensued between the crews. Bowyer popped out of his ride, hopped the inside retaining wall and started sprinting for Gordon. The best part? Bowyer runs past several security guards, who did nothing. Have at it, indeed.

2. Youth is served: As a baseball fan, nothing's more exciting than seeing a wave of young talent storm the stage. Bryce Harper and Mike Trout dazzled in all phases of the game, each claiming the rookie of the year award in his respective league. Trout produced the highest Wins Above Replacement figure since Barry Bonds in 2002, but you didn't need advanced statistical analysis to see this guy was going to captivate the sport for years to come.

1. The rebranding of LeBron: I'll admit it: I was a LeBron hater. The "taking my talents to South Beach" announcement was an unnecessary jab at a city that embraced him, an act that showed immaturity and insensitivity with regard to the connection between athletes and fans. But LeBron has since showed contrition, grown up and become the brightest star in sports. A third MVP? An NBA title? An Olympic gold? Yeah, you can't do much better than that in one year.

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