Top Five of 2012 – Sports

Saint Ignatius taught us that in order to see God at work in our life, we need to review our day and savor God’s presence. This is what the Examen is all about. With such savoring in mind, I think it’s only fitting that we review the year to call to mind God’s activity in our lives. I love sports, and when I see the majesty, skill, and beauty of sports, I can’t help but realize that God actively abides in athletics. 

I’d like to share with you the five most important sporting moments of 2012. These are plays that are not simply amazing (like Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s stunning overhead kick). These are plays that are not simply out of this world (like Felix Baumgartner’s jump from space). These are plays that demonstrate tremendous talent and skill while also (1) occurring in pivotal moments in games and seasons and (2) affecting their respective sports and society for years to come.

5. Kevin Durant FTW

There is nothing better in basketball than the buzzer beater. In the 2012 NBA Playoffs, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder demonstrated why he is one of the league’s clutch players. First, with Oklahoma City trailing the Dallas Mavericks in the first game of the first round of the playoffs, Durant gets the ball with 9 seconds left on the clock. He had already driven a buzzer-beating stake in Dallas’ heart earlier in the year and he does it again here:

In game 4 of the next round of the playoffs, Durant and company faced the NBA’s most glamorous franchise: Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers. Again, with Oklahoma City trailing at the end, the ball ends up in Durant’s hands:

So many NBA draft lottery picks never pan out, including the one taken #1 overall in 2007, Greg Oden. Durant was selected #2 that same year. Ever since, he’s only guided a franchise mired in mediocrity to the greatest NBA heights, showing that he is the NBA’s Mr. Clutch. These two shots put the old guard of the NBA on notice that the future of the league is in the Sooner State.

4. Super Mario Manningham

The New York Football Giants trailed the Axis of Evil New England Patriots late in Super Bowl XLVI. On 1st and 10 and with under four minutes remaining, Giants QB Eli Manning dropped back and spotted WR Mario Manningham running a fly route along the left sideline. Manningham was covered tightly, with man corner coverage and a safety over the top. Manning would need to put this on Manningham’s outside shoulder, and Manningham would have to make a difficult over-the-shoulder catch – here’s the play, courtesy of the NFL.

This amazing completion picked up 38 yards and put New York in position to take a late lead against New England, a lead they would not relinquish. You be the judge: was Manningham’s catch as good as New York Giant WR David Tyree’s against the same New England team four years’ previous?

Yes, Eli Manning and the New York Giants have proven themselves to be the biggest thorns in New England’s side, depriving them of two Super Bowls. And yes, it is amusing that two unlikely catches have propelled mediocre Giants teams to Super Bowl glory – remember, the Giants best regular season in recent memory (12-4, 2008) ended prematurely at the hands of the rival Philadelphia Eagles.

Manning’s late game heroics against heavily favored teams matter most here. Eli has shed the dopey little brother label and stepped out of big brother Peyton’s shadow. While he does not have his big brother’s acting chops, he does have twice as many Super Bowl rings. As Giants fans enjoy reminding this Eagles fan, you can’t spell “elite” without E-L-I.

3. Getting Stood Up Twice

Notre Dame will play Alabama in the BCS National Championship on January 7. This was Notre Dame’s first undefeated, untied regular season since 1988, and the first time that the Fighting Irish were ranked #1 since 1993.

The Domers got this far because of a dominating defense that allowed 10.3 points per game. Very few teams could run the ball against that Irish defense this year. Just ask #8 Stanford:

Stanford has built its program recently on a tough, two tight-end offense that bullies its way to victory. On fourth down in overtime, Stanford gave the ball to its best player, RB Stepfan Taylor. On fourth down in overtime, Notre Dame’s best player – LB Manti Te’o – motivated his crew to hold their ground. That toughness sent the crowd into a frenzy and let the nation know Notre Dame was a legitimate contender for a national title.

You could also ask preseason #1 USC about Notre Dame’s rush defense. After Marquise Lee’s 53 yard reception took USC to the Notre Dame two yard line with five-plus minutes left in the game, USC had this golden opportunity to regain momentum and end the Irish hopes for a title.

USC had seven – seven! – plays inside of Notre Dame’s five yard line. Score a touchdown, and USC is within a field goal of dashing Notre Dame’s dreams. USC came away with zero points, as again Notre played tough run defense, played shrewd pass (interference) defense, and were glad fullbacks aren’t regular receiving targets. A little luck and a lot of good defense has returned Notre Dame to elite levels, and could keep them there after January 7.

2. Hail Mary, Refs of Grace

The Seattle Seahawks hosted the Green Bay Packers on Monday, September 24. It was not considered a marquee matchup, as Green Bay was a Super Bowl contender and Seattle was in rebuilding mode with a rookie quarterback. However, on this night, Seattle’s defense wreaked havoc on Green Bay, sacking QB Aaron Rodgers eight times in the first half alone. It was this tenacious D that kept Seattle alive throughout the game, as they trailed 12-7 with :08 left in the fourth quarter. From that spot, Seattle rookie QB Russell Wilson scrambled and launched a desperation Hail Mary to the end zone.

Oh, it should be noted that the NFL had locked out its regular referees and replaced them with folks whose previous experience included NCAA Division II and III football and the always exciting Lingerie Football League. Some of the calls by the replacement refs spiked the blood pressure of NFL players, coaches, and fans. Calls like this. And this.

And this:

This disputed call gave the Seahawks not only the 14-12 victory, but now as the playoffs approach, the tiebreaker against the Packers. Now going into Week 17 of the season, if Seattle wins its last game and San Francisco and Green Bay each lose theirs, then Seattle gets the #2 seed in the NFC playoffs. (Seattle: 11-5, Green Bay 11-5, San Fran 10-5-1). Green Bay would then have to return to the Puget Sound and the loudest stadium in the NFL as the #3 seed – not an easy task. Just ask the Saints what it is like to play versus Beastmode in Seattle in January.

Whatever happens this postseason, Seattle proved itself this year to be a force within the NFC with a fiery coach, great rookie quarterback, punishing running back, and ferocious defense. The Hail Mary game signalled Seattle’s resurgence, but consecutive 50+ point performances against Arizona and Buffalo and a 29-point thumping of Super Bowl contender San Francisco show Seattle will contend for a while. I guess Mary’s favor rests in the Northwest.

The NFL, meanwhile, ended the lockout against the regular referees on September 27 and learned its lesson the hard way: you get what you pay for.

1. Ladies (fort)Night

Going into the 2012 Summer Olympics, sports fans were expecting the spectacular. We all knew Usain Bolt and expected lightning – and we received just that. Again. And again. We all expected history from Michael Phelps – and we witnessed that.

However, women stole the show in London. This fortnight empowered girls all over the world by providing the healthy role models so needed in a country where women still cannot earn equal pay for equal work, as well as in a world where striving for girls’ education is hazardous to your health.

Take Olympic beach volleyball legends Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings, for example. They went undefeated for the third straight Olympiad and cemented their place in Olympic history.

The Olympic swim trials were all abuzz with the USA women’s swim team and seventeen year old sensation, Missy Franklin. She and her women teammates stole the show from Ryan Lochte and Phelps, as they broke the records for the 200m breaststroke, 200m freestyle, and 200m backstroke races. Check out their sheer dominance in the 4x100m medley relay.

I and the rest of American soccer buffs all held high expectations for the US Women’s National Team. After a pulsating and cardiac-arresting 4-3 victory over Canada in the semi-finals, the USWNT defeated arch-nemesis Japan 2-1 for the gold. Hope Solo’s heroics and an entertaining, relentless attack showed girls – and men – the right way to play soccer.

But what were we to expect from gymnastics? The veterans from the 2008 games were not on the women’s team. Shawn Johnson’s injuries and Nastia Liukin’s fall prevented their participation. New heroes emerged like Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber, who helped guide team USA to its first team gold since 1996. The shining moment? “The Vault” – Don’t worry, Buzzfeed has all your angles covered.

McKayla, there are girls all over the world who live in poverty and face discrimination, violence, and illiteracy each day. Feats like these inspire girls and alarm those who perpetuate hate. They and all of us are impressed.

Happy New Year and God Bless you and those you love!

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