By: Bob George/BosSports.net
January 01, 2013

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The way this year went, it's a wonder that the recently fired Red Sox manager's first name was Bobby and not Sandy.

Most people in these parts will see 2012 as a year defined by Sandy. Hurricane Sandy devastated the northeast corner of the USA, bringing lots of wind and rain in its onslaught. Then you had the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut a few weeks back, which gripped the entire nation and has shed new light on gun control, criminal management and affection for your children. Famous people passed away, the nation is on the verge of falling off a fiscal cliff, but "Sandy" will remain in everyone's memory as they look back on 2012.

For sports in this region, nothing really astounding happened. The fall from grace of the Red Sox is perhaps the most compelling ongoing story in the region, though the Patriots continue to be the standard bearers of excellence. The Celtics should have at least made it to the NBA Finals, and the Bruins are still on hold with this ongoing NHL lockout. As 2013 dawns, not much looks to change unless you have some surprise out there which no one has any idea will happen.

That said, here are the top ten sports stories for the region for 2012, and as always, our best wishes for a prosperous and enjoyable 2013.

#10 -- Patriots win AFC title

The two best teams in the AFC duked it out at Gillette Stadium on January 22. The Baltimore Ravens came in and played the Patriots tough all game long, as expected. But the game turned on two plays: Sterling Moore, a mediocre cornerback, broke up a touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith, and Billy Cundiff yanked a 32-yard field goal wide left with time running out to give the Patriots a 23-20 win. Most everyone was expecting overtime at the least, and if Moore doesn't break up that pass to Smith, the Ravens would have gone to Indianapolis and not the Patriots.

#9 -- Bruins Cup defense ends in first round

Trying to win their second straight Stanley Cup, the Bruins ran into a Washington Capitals team which came up with the NHL version of the Four Corner Offense that Dean Smith used to run at North Carolina. It brought about the shot clock in NCAA basketball, but it didn't save the Bruins from going down in seven games to a team they should have beaten easily. All seven games were one-goal games. The Capitals dinked and dunked the puck down the ice without icing all game long, laying back and playing for the one break they needed to win the game. They knocked out the Cup champs in overtime in Game 7. The Bruins have not played a game since.

#8 -- UMass begins play in FBS

This may not turn out to be all that everyone thinks it will be. UMass now plays in the Mid-American Conference, and its home games are now at Gillette Stadium instead of McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. The thinking was to tap into a large Boston area alumni body, forsaking a current student body that tailgates at the games but doesn't actually go to them. The problem is that UMass doesn't have any potential rivalries with teams like Eastern Michigan, Toledo or Bowling Green. They do with Boston College, UNH or UConn. Those three teams will draw big crowds to Gillette Stadium. Those Midwest teams will not. It may turn out that after a few years, UMass will give up this experiment and move their home games back to Amherst, even if they do start to produce winning teams in the FBS level.

#7 -- 100th anniversary of Fenway Park

This turned out to be regional ridicule instead of regional celebration. Given how badly the Red Sox played in 2012, how much into marketing the team upper management is, and John Henry's seemingly stronger interest in BPL soccer than the Red Sox, the Fenway Park Centennial was more about scorn than pride. The phony sellout streak, the bricks, the contrived ceremonies, all of them seemed annoying when the on-field product was so flawed and at times awful to watch. But the fact that Fenway Park became the first professional facility to turn 100 years old in the history of the USA is no small deal. It just would have been nice if the Sox had also been involved in a pennant race like they should have been.

#6 -- NHL in lockout

Donald Fehr might soon want to realize that the NHL is not MLB. He is playing hardball with the NHL owners like he did as Marvin Miller's successor as head of the MLBPA. The result is the cancellation of many NHL games, including the iconic Winter Classic, and possible cancellation of the entire regular season. Remember when all the baseball umpires resigned and the league accepted them? You may be looking at something worse than that with this lockout. Other than diehard cold weather hockey fans in pockets of the USA, it's doubtful anyone misses hockey in general. Fehr obviously does not see this, or perhaps he chooses to ignore it.

#5 -- Celtics Win Game 5 of East Finals but lose series

The Celtics had just won Game 5 of the 2012 East Finals in Miami. They came home for a Game 6 that was supposed to send them to the NBA Finals. The Celtics had handled LeBron James many times over the years. No way should he have gotten away with what he did. He dropped 46 points on the Celtics, the Heat win Game 6, and then finished off the Celtics in Game 7 in Miami on their way to the NBA Championship. Game 6 was a game the Celtics had no business losing. Even with James being as hot as he was, how do you figure the Celtics not even showing up that night? That is what cost the Celtics their season, not James. Game 7 was the official end of the Big Three, as Ray Allen defected to the Heat in the offseason in a fit of pique over not fitting in with Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley.

#4 -- Raisman, Harrison win Olympic Gold

The women's gymnastics team got their due props at the 2012 London Summer Games, despite being part and parcel to a mostly overhyped sport in general. This all hit home as Aly Raisman of Needham won two Gold Medals and a Bronze Medal. Her Gold Medal in floor exercise was perhaps the most memorable of the three medals she won. But the gymnastics team overshadowed many other athletes who also did well, most notably Kayla Harrison in judo. Harrison hails from Middletown, Ohio but trains in Wakefield. She overcame sexual abuse from one of her former coaches to win a Gold Medal in women's half-heavyweight division, the first American to win Gold in judo. The shot of her running into the stands to hug her fiancé after winning Gold was just as indelible as Raisman crying at the end of her floor exercise routine.

#3 -- Red Sox fire Bobby Valentine, hire John Farrell

An out of control clubhouse and a C&W video featuring the entire Red Sox starting rotation brought about the firing of the greatest manager in Red Sox history. Bobby Valentine was not a popular choice to succeed Terry Francona, and he presided over the worst Red Sox season since 1965. Now going into 2013, the Red Sox have a popular choice in former pitching coach John Farrell, who was allowed to move to the Red Sox by the Blue Jays. That in and of itself can be telling, why Toronto would let Farrell go to a division rival. But the Red Sox think Farrell can restore order in the clubhouse, and resurrect the careers of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz in general.

#2 -- Red Sox Pull Off Mega-Trade with Dodgers

It is still staggering that the Dodgers would agree to a trade like this. It didn't bring them a postseason berth, Carl Crawford may never become what the Dodgers hope (and Red Sox hoped) he would become, and Josh Beckett will never regain his old form again. But the Dodgers are trying to purge themselves of the awful McCourt era, and the Red Sox got a gift of less salary to deal with. How the Red Sox deal with that gift will define Ben Cherington and the team for at least the next ten years.

#1 -- Patriots lose Super Bowl XLVI

Mario Manningham became the new David Tyree, the Patriots could not stop the Giants when they had to, Tom Brady was betrayed by sure-handed receivers who made key drops, and the Patriots once again lost a Super Bowl to an inferior Giants team on paper. The Giants became the third straight six seed to win a Super Bowl, while the Patriots still need to remember what it took to win the season's last game. Defensively, the Patriots can still be thrown on but they have shown a little bit of improvement. Whether or not it can prevent another miracle catch or NFC win in February remains to be seen.
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