What defines a sports season as being a success? If the only answer is winning a championship, there is scant room for intermittent rapture in between bleak swaths of failure.
However, if the definition is generating excitement and entertainment, 2013 should be classified as a raving success around here.
Other than Aquinas sweeping to its first state football championship, Palace Malice racing to a blanket of carnations at Belmont Park and various local golfers winning tournaments on their respective tours, ultimate success was in short order.
Yet the whole of 2013 was an exhilarating ride of challenges and near misses that was worth every bit of the emotional investment fans make in their favorites. This year in sports could have been summed up by the blazing pace that Aiken’s Dogwood Stable star Palace Malice set through the first three-quarters of the Kentucky Derby. It was a lead run doomed to fail, but it was fun while it lasted.
Palace Malice redeemed itself by winning the Belmont Stakes, but not every “horse” got that chance. It doesn’t diminish the fun they all delivered along the way.
Take the Falcons, for instance. While there is nothing of redeeming value in this season’s 4-11 campaign, it’s hard to forget the wild playoff ride Atlanta took its fans on in January. First came the game-winning rally after blowing a 20-point fourth-quarter lead to the Seahawks. Then came the gut-wrenching elimination after blowing an early 17-point lead in the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome, with the 49ers holding on fourth down at the 10 to deny the Falcons a Super Bowl trip. Fans in Cleveland or Detroit would give anything for a chance to experience that kind of meaningful pain.
Of course the Braves provide that kind of experience fairly regularly, but this year still seemed like a satisfying endeavor even if the ending was all too familiar. For the first time since Atlanta’s run of 11 consecutive division titles ended in 2006, the Braves were crowned NL East champions. Along the way to 96 wins, the Braves started 12-1 and enjoyed a 14-game summer winning streak after the All-Star break. They scored a lot of runs, boasted quality pitching in both the rotation and bullpen and played some sublime defense. That it ended with a seventh straight first-round playoff elimination is something folks in Chicago or Kansas City wouldn’t like hearing complaints about.
And let’s not hear too much whining about our college football fortunes either. A year that started with all four of our major programs winning bowl games for the first time ever didn’t end with anyone hoisting anticipated championship trophies or snagging their first bowl choice this season. Yet 2013 was an unforgettable spin anyway.
Clemson, Georgia and South Carolina all rose as high as the top six. Each fell and climbed back into the top 10. Each was involved in some of the year’s most meaningful and memorable games. Each displayed arguably the best quarterback in school history. Each left its players and fans clutching armfuls of “what-ifs” that will reverberate for years to come. There will be seasons hence when you wish you had it so good.
There is one sport around here that never fails to deliver drama – golf. The Masters Tournament is always a showcase highlight, but every now and then one outdoes itself. This was one of those years.
The overtime performance put in by Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera was everything that is great about golf and Augusta. Between the spectacular skill and sportsmanship they each displayed, it was easy to forget it was raining. The only thing their show couldn’t erase was lingering debate about Tiger Woods’ unfortunate bounce and subsequent improper drop/controversial ruling that managed to overshadow a slow-play penalty to a 14-year-old kid.
Augusta stayed on the radar from beginning to end on the golf calendar thanks to the talent of players the region produces.
There was the week when former Louisville, Ga., resident Brian Gay defeated Augusta’s own Charles Howell in a playoff with a Masters berth on the line. There was the Sunday when Palmetto Golf Club reps Scott Brown and Kevin Kisner won on the PGA and Web.com Tours, respectively. There was the odd double where former Augusta State teammates Patrick Reed (PGA) and Mitchell Krywulycz (eGolf) each won tournaments at Sedgefield in Greensboro, N.C. – Reed defeating rookie phenom Jordan Spieth in a playoff to secure a berth in the Masters.
There were also weeks when 48-year-old journeyman Scott Parel won his first Web.com Tour event in Kansas (though he ultimately came up less than $7,000 shy of earning his PGA Tour card); Aiken’s Matt Hendrix won the eGolf Tour season opener; and former Jaguar Scott Jamieson was threatening to sweep his way through the early events on the European Tour. The golf talent pool runs so deep around here that every week has some local representative holding your attention over an 8-foot putt somewhere.
So before anyone judges this year to be something less than perfect because their particular team or player missed whatever brass ring they were aiming for, we should count our blessings that so many kept us holding our breaths as they reached.
In that respect, it was a lucky ’13 indeed.