This is the week of the year when we all look back on what happened in the past 12 months. It’s a chance for reflection before we all focus on what’s to come in the new year.
Nationally, the top sports story of the year is undoubtedly the scandal at Penn State. I can’t imagine anything coming close to the magnitude of the allegations against Jerry Sandusky. It’s frankly made all of us sick to hear what allegedly happened at what is now an inappropriately named Happy Valley.
The year in sports in the state of Georgia has once again come and gone without a championship in any of the major sports. And for me the story of the year has to be a team that looked to be a contender for a title, only to instead produce one of the greatest collapses in the history of baseball.
The Atlanta Braves had a 9.5-game lead on the Cardinals for the wild card lead in early September. Atlanta looked like one of the four or five best teams in baseball after a pretty solid month of August. But then the unthinkable happened -- the Braves choked.
There was a show on the MLB Network the other day that had the 10 best games of the year. The final game of the season, when the Braves lost to Philadelphia in extra innings to get eliminated, was second on the list. It was truly difficult to relive a game that was an incredible ending to a dramatic collapse.
Just like many of the games in the final month, the Braves had so many chances to win the game. They had Dan Uggla thrown out at home plate by Hunter Pence. They had Michael Bourn thrown out trying to steal third (although he looked safe), only to have Uggla hit a home run on the next pitch. It was just not meant to be.
We lost two of the best sportscasters in Georgia this year, as longtime Bulldogs voice Larry Munson and legendary Braves announcer Ernie Johnson passed away. For so many years, they told us what happened with perhaps the two most popular teams in this state.
There was a loss of a different kind when the Atlanta Thrashers left for Winnipeg. While the Thrashers never really caught on across the state, it was still embarrassing for the city to lose a professional sports franchise again. And for the hockey fans in Georgia, it was devastating.
The comebacks of the Georgia and Georgia Tech football teams have to be on this list. Remember, a year ago we were wondering what the future would hold after both teams went 6-7 in 2010. But the Yellow Jackets came back to win eight games, while the Bulldogs survived starting 0-2 with a 10-game winning streak that has them back in a decent bowl game next week.
The Falcons’ successful season (not including what happened Monday night) is something to be proud about for this year. They will head to the playoffs for the third time in four years, which is something this franchise has never done before. We’ll see in January if they can do something to make this list next year.
Georgia Tech provided the biggest coaching change of the year when Paul Hewitt was bought out and replaced by Brian Gregory. So far, it has been a challenge for the new coach, as he has struggled to find more talent to get back into the middle of the ACC.
Locally, the survival of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame is at the top of my list. While the Music Hall unfortunately didn’t make it, the Sports Hall is still here. It still needs your support to survive for the long term, but it’s still standing and is an asset to this area.
It was an eventful 2011 in Georgia, and on Sunday, we’ll look ahead with predictions on what will happen in 2012.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com