You think it's rough in the serious parts of Canada's National Newspaper? Spend some time back here as we head into the one-year anniversary of what could effectively be the end of Sidney Crosby's career. If only you'd stolen a peek the other way, Sid. If only you'd raised your head for a millisecond during that last shift of the second period at the Winter Classic and seen ham-and-egger David Steckel. If only that trademark, sixth-sense awareness on the ice hadn't let you down …
We've had off-season body counts and in-season career counts and that's just in the NHL. It just seems as if it's all been about fighters taking their own lives and Crosby's stillborn return from the fog of concussion, but there's been so much more: the usual labour intrusions, drug arrests, and failed tests in almost every sport, and alleged odious sexual assaults on young boys at Penn State.
Yet on the field or the ice, it was the good guys who ruled as never before. So on the eve of 2012, let's raise a toast to the Green Bay Packers, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Bruins and Dallas Mavericks for giving us satisfying champions in four major sports.
Credit the Packers with getting it started in their 31-25 Super Bowl win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The character and integrity of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers are more in the mould of Bart Starr than his predecessor, the tiresome and egomaniacal Brett Favre. Rodgers scored one for the white hats in beating the Steelers and their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who missed four regular-season games after violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy. Roethlisberger thus avoided sexual-assault charges, but was still shown to be an out-of-control, sexist oaf worthy of derision, surrounded by the usual coterie of enablers endemic to the NFL lifestyle.
The Packers set the tone. The Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 in a riveting best-of-seven Stanley Cup final, with rags-to-riches goaltender Tim Thomas the face of a team that was transformed from the big, bad Bruins of yore by its proximity to the Canucks, an unlikable and of whiners who spend an inordinate amount of time sniffing out imaginary, league-orchestrated officiating conspiracies and carping about a lack of respect.
The Canucks are a star-crossed team destined to become the Chicago Cubs of the NHL; they are the only people on the planet unaware that they won't win until they tie the can to goaltender Roberto Luongo; they are a team cheered on by folks who have twice celebrated failure by laying waste to their city. Canadians are parched for a Stanley Cup winner, but not bad enough that they'd want their thirst satiated by that lot.
Bless the Dallas Mavericks for snatching the NBA title from LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat, whose odd combination of entitlement and false bravado had worn thin and who became the Wall Street bankers of the sports world. No team in recent memory has been as reviled.
And shout-outs, too, to the McMaster Marauders for their improbable, crazy-quilt, double-overtime win in the Vanier Cup over the powerhouse Laval Rouge et Or, as well as the B.C. Lions for sifting through the ashes of a 0-5 start and conjuring a home-field Grey Cup win.
Resiliency was also a trademark of the 2011 World Series champion Cardinals, who were something else in winning what was forecast to be a sexless, benign, white-bread showdown with the Texas Rangers. Twice the Cardinals won despite being down to their last strike, and they overcame a monumental by manager Tony La Russa during a pitching change, which he blamed on a bullpen phone.
There has never been a team quite like these Cardinals in the long history of baseball: 10 ½ games out on Aug. 25, eight games out in September … World Series champions. “Destiny” is a cliché, but when the Cardinals' Skip Schumaker stared into a sea of reporters and offered it as an explanation, all anybody could do was look down at his notebook or tape recorder and nod.