Welcome to my 2013 sports year-in-review. Yes, you read that right – 2013.
Though we've only just kissed January goodbye, enough happened in the wide world of sports over the last 31 days that it almost seems like a full year of stories got crammed into one month.
Let's take a look at what's happened since we stumbled out of bed on the morning (or afternoon) of January 1, 2013:
1. Donald Driver retires. It would be tough to find a football fan with much negative to say about statistically the greatest receiver in Green Bay Packers history. Not only has Driver been a phenomenal performer on the field, off the field he's been one of the most charitable players in the NFL, as well as – in case you hadn't heard – quite the dancer. And of course Packers fans have loved his loyalty to the green and gold. But I can't help but feel he's been loyal to a fault. As younger, faster, and healthier receivers like Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson have emerged, Driver's talent has been unceremoniously squandered by the Packers over the last three seasons. If a jerk like Randy Moss can enjoy a mini-renaissance with the 49ers, there's no reason to think that Driver couldn't continue to see meaningful playing time with a team outside of Wisconsin.
2. Jerks. Speaking of Randy Moss, the former Viking wasn't the only jerk who got plenty of face time in January. Lance Armstrong – who to me means less to the world of sports than the long snapper for the Toronto Argonauts – came clean, sort of, about his doping past to Oprah Winfrey. Besides reaffirming my long-held hope that Armstrong is never heard from again, the interview rekindled my wish that Oprah would return to a more prominent television vehicle. Oprah, it's just not right that we see Gayle King every morning and Julie Chen every afternoon on big-time network television but you're hiding in the upper 200s on my DirecTV system.
Oh, and equal-time honorable jerk mention goes to Ravens QB Joe Flacco for calling a cold-weather Super Bowl "retarded" and to 49ers cornerback Stanley Roper Chris Culliver for his homophobic remarks. Not to mention the jerks involved in the Mante Te'o dead girlfriend hoax story, which I think includes every member of the media who has wasted any time covering the strange, bizarre, confusing, and highly, highly irrelevant story.
3. Badgers bad. Remember that Rose Bowl game? Remember how excited we all were that Barry Alvarez was coming back to earn his fourth "Granddaddy of Them All" trophy? No? Maybe your selective amnesia has something to do with the Badgers' six second-half possessions, which ended this way: Punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, interception. The defensive struggle – only three total points were scored in the entire second half – was duller than a Neil Sedaka concert and made me rethink my opposition to ongoing NFL rule changes that consistently favor the offense. (The blowout BCS championship game was no better, but at least that game was livened up somewhat by the suddenly lecherous Brent Musberger and his peculiarly lusty comments about Katherine Webb.)
4. Badgers good? While there are plenty of question marks surrounding the Badgers' 2013 football team, there were also plenty of doubters of the Badgers' men's basketball team as Bo Ryan's club headed into conference play on January 3. But then the team opened up the New Year with four straight wins, including a shocking 64-59 victory at then-No. 2 Indiana. Things have worsened since, however, as the Badgers have lost three of four, scoring only in the 40s in three of those games (including an ugly 45-44 victory against Minnesota). That's the bad news. The good news is that the Badgers field-goal shooting and free-throw shooting almost has to improve simply because it can't get much worse, the schedule does ease up a little in the next couple of weeks, and the Badgers – with already enough big wins and tight losses in a conference almost universally hailed as the best in the country – seem to be a lock for their 15th straight NCAA tournament appearance. Oh, and though Wisconsin fans tend to take this for granted, it's not insignificant that their scoring defense is top ten in the country.
5. NHL lockout ends. This is just for those who say I don't cover hockey enough.
6. The Milwaukee Bucks are over .500. Or the NBA.
7. NFL Playoffs. The biggest sports story of most Januarys is the NFL playoffs, and this year's was no exception. While the AFC had the surprises – I would have bet my executive-level Costco membership that the Patriots and the Broncos would have met in the league's championship game – the NFC had the more intriguing games and storylines. Besides the health of Robert Griffin III and whether Redskins coach Mike Shanahan left him in the wild card game too long (he did), the biggest story was the stellar play of Colin Kaepernick. Or, more specifically, how the 49ers QB torched the Packers for 181 rushing yards, 263 passing yards, and four total touchdowns in their divisional round 45-31 romp.
While Kaepernick has been great since taking over for the not-that-ineffective Alex Smith, his performance against the Packers – particularly his rushing totals – had more to do with breakdowns in Dom Capers's defensive unit than Kaepernick's admittedly impressive talent. While Mike McCarthy (rather lamely) defended Capers after the game, fans know all too well that in three of the last four years – in short, every year Capers has been with the Packers in which the team did not win the Super Bowl – the Packers have had postseason defensive meltdowns of historic proportions. While it appears that Capers's position with the team is currently safe, certainly whatever trust McCarthy and Ted Thompson have had in him is now shaky at best. After all, how much can you trust a man who is still trying to pass off that head of hair as authentic?
8. The Super Bowl. Though few would have predicted the Ravens and the 49ers to be playing into February, the game – though short on superstars and potentially short on points – is an interesting matchup. Can Ray Lewis overcome recent allegations of PED use and the emotion of playing in his final game to go out on top? Can Joe Flacco prove his doubters wrong? Will Colin Kaepernick finally find a stage too big for him? Oh, and there's something about two brothers coaching against each other. Maybe you heard about that one.
On paper, the 49ers have a better team than the Ravens. But so did the Broncos and Patriots. I'm done betting against Baltimore. It's their year. Final score: Ravens 21, 49ers 17.
The Super Bowl should be a great capper to what has been a fascinating sports year so far. Let's hope it's good enough to get us through February, the worst sports month of the year. Yes, that's true even with the NHL being back.
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