It’s been a tough year of sorts for sports.
Lance Armstrong was exposed as a fraud and stripped of all his Tour de France glory.
Jerry Sandusky was convicted as a monstrous child predator and Penn State paid the price.
The NFL season has been framed by a bounty program that left both the Saints and the commissioner embarrassed.
The Americans melted down in Sunday singles to cough up a record Ryder Cup lead to Europe.
It was almost enough to blot out all of the Olympic glory and other competitive heroics that make us care so much about sports.
But there were plenty of things – good and bad – that happened around here to make 2012 worth remembering. So in honor of the outgoing year, here’s a ’12-pack of highs and lows from the season.
• SEC TITLE SPECTACULAR. Perhaps Georgia players and fans don’t see this as a high-water mark after the Bulldogs came up a few seconds and yards short of college football’s ultimate prize – a BCS title shot. But the Southeastern Conference championship showdown will long rank as the greatest conference championship performance since the expansion era began, with whiplash momentum swings and spectacular effort on both sides. Alabama survived, but the Bulldogs proved to a nation of skeptics that they were championship caliber.
• BUBBA’S GREEN JACKET. Speaking of Bulldogs, for the first time a former Georgia player won golf’s most coveted prize – the Masters Tournament. The inimitable Bubba Watson did it with a late rally and one of the most incredible shots in Augusta history – a sweeping hooked wedge from deep in the trees on the second playoff hole (No. 10) to within 15 feet of the pin. That his winning shot upstaged runner-up Louis Oosthuizen’s albatross on No. 2 speaks for the caliber of this year’s Masters.
• DEON GRANT’S TRIFECTA. With a state championship at Josey (1995) and a BCS championship at Tennessee (1998), all that was missing from the south Augustan’s career resume was a Super Bowl ring. Grant took care of that when he and teammates Kenny Phillips and Jacquian Williams swatted down Tom Brady’s Hail Mary pass to secure the New York Giants victory in Super Bowl XLVI. It was the last of Grant’s 187 consecutive starts in 12 NFL seasons.
• REESE HOFFA’S BRONZE. The former Lakeside and Georgia shotput star made the most of his third chance in the Olympics. The 34-year-old Hoffa entered the London Games with the three longest throws in the world in 2012, but his best throw in the medal round came up 14 inches short of repeat gold medalist Tomasz Majewski of Poland. Hoffa claimed bronze for his first Olympic medal. “It means absolutely everything,” said Hoffa, who hopes to be a high school P.E. teacher when the next Olympics roll around in 2016 in Brazil.
• JAGUARS STEP UP. In the last opportunity to go straight from Q-School to the PGA Tour, former Augusta State national title teammates Patrick Reed and Henrik Norlander made furious sixth-round rallies to shoot 67s and earn their full cards on the number. Reed made a name for himself as a Monday qualifying sensation in 2012. Norlander, however, made a 7-foot putt at the end to likely become the last player who will ever earn a PGA Tour card with zero prior career starts.
• EX-GREENJACKET MVP. Pablo Sandoval was an affable, chubby teenager when he played a season of first base at Lake Olmstead Stadium in 2006. He hit only one homer in 438 at-bats that year, but in October he joined the company of Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols as the only players to hit three homers in a World Series game. Sandoval batted .500 (8 for 16) to lead the San Francisco Giants to a title sweep of Detroit and .364 (24 for 66) with five doubles, six homers and 13 RBIs in 16 postseason games.
• PUNISHER ACCIDENT. In a horrifying motorcycle crash in Atlanta on the morning of his brother’s wedding in May, Aiken’s three-time world champion boxer Paul Williams was left paralyzed from the waist down. Despite his predicament, Williams, 31, remained upbeat and positive in a Showtime interview in September. “Of course I believe I’ll walk again,” Williams said. “Whether I’m walking or not walking, my game ain’t over until the Lord takes my life.”
• FURMAN BISHER PASSES. The world lost one of its greatest voices when longtime Atlanta sportswriter Furman Bisher died of a heart attack at age 93. For seven decades, he was a window to the sports world from Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe Jackson to Tiger Woods and Matt Ryan. He covered 62 Masters from Jimmy Demaret in 1950 to Charl Schwartzel in 2011. He’s dearly missed. Selah!
• ORANGE BOWL HUMILIATION. Despite winning its first ACC title in 20 years, Clemson’s 2011 campaign ended on a total downer with a 70-33 defeat to West Virginia that is the worst in the history of the BCS bowls. The Tigers bounced back with another 10-win season in 2012 but suffered a fourth straight loss to hated rival South Carolina. Still room for improvement in Death Valley.
• LATTIMORE INJURY. The gruesome-to-watch knee injury against Tennessee was the final image of the South Carolina great as a Gamecock. Doctors say it looked much worse than it was, but Marcus Lattimore decided if he’ll play again it will be for money. Here’s hoping the running back who finally delivered legitimacy to S.C. football will get his chance to be healthy in the NFL.
• VAUGHN TAYLOR FADES. Seeking a 10th consecutive season of full membership on the PGA Tour, the former Hephzibah and Augusta State golfer suffered a tough setback on the final two days of Q-School. Taylor fell from tied for second to out of top 25 with rounds of 73-74. The former Ryder Cupper and Evans resident will have only conditional status in 2013.
• KIAWAH LOGISTICS. In many ways, the first major golf championship played in South Carolina was a success. Rory McIlroy outclassed Tiger Woods and everyone else down the stretch to set a new PGA Championship victory margin record. The course was a visual stunner. But the logistics of getting 30,000 fans on and off the remote barrier island – especially when a storm rolled in – were probably enough to keep the event from coming back until access is corrected.