Right Field: The good, bad and ugly of 2012
Despite dire predictions that the world would come to an end, it turns out the Mayans were only talking about the NHL
The apocalypse came and went and, phew, here we are still in one piece left to both reflect and genuflect, to give thanks for what has gone before and for what awaits. The end of a 5,125-year cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar was on December 21. It was supposed to be curtains for Planet Earth but apparently we dodged a huge bullet, at least temporarily. So with 2012 set to end, albeit not quite in the fashion that the Mayans had predicted, we are awash in gratitude because while the planet may not be here to stay, it is here today. And even though the Mayans may have whiffed on one big prediction in 2012, they were not totally off in some others, particularly as they pertained to planet sport.
Over the past three years the NHL has crowned champions in Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles, three of the biggest media markets in the US. For a league that openly yearns for significance beyond its Canadian roots, this would seem like manna from the Gods. So what does the NHL do with all this momentum? It shuts the game down in order to help cost certainty in smaller, dubious hockey markets in the US. Just as the Mayans were right to fear Spanish incursions into their fiefdom back in the eighth and ninth centuries, so too were hockey fans right to fear the arrival of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman 20 years ago. Today the NHL is as dead as the Mayan civilisation.
All was not lost though in 2012, because a king was finally crowned on the hard courts when the incomparable LeBron James won his first championship by leading the Miami Heat to the NBA title over the Oklahoma City Thunder. While James has proven to be one of the most likeable and grounded superstars in sports, his primetime move to Miami from Cleveland two years ago garnered endless scorn. His actions in 2012 helped to remove some of the hate, not all of it mind you, and he was eventually named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year.
In 2012, Rory McIlroy left no doubt who the best golfer in the world was, while Tiger Woods left no doubt who the second-best golfer in the world was. McIlroy is all of 23 years old, while Woods is a very creaky 36. It looks like the boy called "Rors" is set for an extended golden run atop the game. And while he is an affable and courteous young lad with incomparable skills, his four-putt on his last hole of the Hong Kong Open to miss the cut in a tournament he looked like he wanted out of almost from the get-go, left a bad taste in many a mouth around here. Woods is a lot of things, some good and some bad, but he would rather gargle with razor blades than miss a cut regardless of his mood on any particular day.
In 2012, the NFL began with a dynasty blighted and perhaps a dynasty knighted when the New York Giants once again upended the heavily favoured New England Patriots in the Super Bowl for their second title in four years. But far more portentous for the NFL was the fact that for the first time in the history of the game, two rookie quarterbacks, Indianapolis' Andrew Luck and Seattle's Russell Wilson, will lead their teams into the play-offs while a third, Washington's Robert Griffin III, looks as though he will as well. On the college side, Notre Dame waited almost 20 years to get back to a number one ranking and will play Alabama in what figures to be the most-watched national championship game in years.
In 2012, Manny Pacquiao lost twice, including a bone-jarring KO, while Manchester City did the unthinkable and upstaged their celebrated cross-town rivals in an extraordinarily dramatic final day to win their first English Premier League title.
But all of my Mayan friends know that I am first and foremost a baseball guy and in 2012, the game was gigantic on both sides of the Pacific. The Yomiuri Giants, the Yankees of Japan, restored order to their country by winning their 22nd Japan series over the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. In the US, the San Francisco Giants confounded legions of analysts and bookmakers to win their second World Series in three years by sweeping the Detroit Tigers in four games with a lethal mix of stellar pitching, air-tight defence, timely hitting and unshakeable camaraderie. And for the 104th straight year the Chicago Cubs did not win the World Series and most likely will not in 2013 either.
But now that the next 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar seems to have rolled over once again, there may yet be time for the Cubs to get it done.