Time for the second half of the year in review. This time we go from the summer to the end of the year, looking back at five more events that I won’t soon forget:
Cliff Lee’s emergence – If I could be one thing in sports it would be a starting pitcher. That means that I love seeing guys that are in a groove. No one was in a better groove than Lee this year, and the truly improbable nature of his emergence made it all the more impressive. He had every excuse to flounder – he was pitching more than he was used to, the rest of the rotation was gutted around him, and his team was truly lousy. Through it all, Lee just kept winning and winning. The most remarkable part was that he seemed to avoid the ebbs and flows that mostpitchers face throughout a season. Memorable.
Jacksonville’s collapse – Every year in the NFL there are teams that do much better than I ever thought they would (Atlanta), and others that don’t have anywhere near the form I anticipated (Minnesota, Dallas). It has been a long time since I was as wrong about a team, or as disappointed by their performance, as I was by the Jaguars this year. They had everything they needed to succeed coming into the year, but they failed miserably. They had the injury issues that got in the way, but instead of fighting to find a way to get past them as other teams did, they used them as an excuse to quit. A pitiful waste of a good opportunity.
Matt Cassel in week 11 – My perception of few players have shifted as dramatically and swiftly as it did for Cassel this year. I was unimpressed early, and I didn’t come around as the season progressed. That all changed in week 11, though, and I am now quite convinced that Cassel has a bright future ahead of him. It was week 11, an overtime loss to the Jets, in which Cassel seemed to figure out the whole football thing. He had 400 yards passing and three touchdowns. He was even better the next week, and was one of the best pivots in the league in the second half of the season. Time will tell if I am right or not, but right now it feels like that week 11 game was the birth of a very solid career.
Michigan’s win over Wisconsin – As you may know, I live and die with the Wolverines. Needless to say, this was a very difficult, challenging year. Things started off badly, but the win over Wisconsin, then ranked number eight, allowed us fans to believe for a brief moment that everything was going to be okay. It wasn’t. In the end, Wisconsin was just a lousy, overrated team, and we were totally flawed and without a quarterback (or much else, for that matter). For a while, though, we were able to dream and look ahead to a much brighter future. That was almost enough for this year, but here’s hoping that we will have much more to live for next year.
Texas Tech over Texas – I could pick pretty much any of the big Big 12 games here. No group gave us more tense, exciting, meaningful games than the Big 12. The best of the lot, though, was the Texas loss to Texas Tech. It had everything. Texas looked shaken early. Texas Tech asserted themselves. Then Colt McCoy woke up and dragged his team with him. He almost certainly should have won the game with a late TD, but then Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree connected on the score of the year. Through it all, the rabid Red Raiders fans rushed the field three different times. The most enduring image from the game, though, was seeing McCoy pick himself off the turf for the umpteenth time and wiping the blood from his mouth.