Friday, April 3, 2009

It's Been a Great 12 Months

The 2009 NFL draft is about three weeks. When it gets here it will end by far the greatest sports year of my life. While not everything that has happened impacts me on the highest of emotional levels, many of them do. It's easy where to start. After this first one I'll try to go in chronological order.

2008 Philadelphia Phillies: What could be better than this? One of the teams I love won a league championship. That's the first time that has happened to not only me, but basically all of my friends who are Philadelphia sports fans. On a personal level it is the only sport in which almost all of my friends like the sport and the team. This is the top of the mountain for the great sports year that started in April 2008.

2008 NFL Draft - I love the draft. It is just as exciting as the games to me. What made 2008 stand out? For once I knew Miami was in good hands. Plus they had the #1 overall pick. They went with mammoth LT cornerstone Jake Long who has already turned in a Pro Bowl season (more on that later). However the biggest reason the 2008 draft kick started the best sports year of my life had to do with Miami's second pick in round two, the 57th overall selection. There, a few picks form the end of the first day of the draft, the Dolphins, my favorite team my entire life selected Michigan QB Chad Henne. Why does that matter to me, a Penn State fan (and alum)? Simple. I graduated from Wilson High School in West Lawn, PA. I played football with Chad Henne. Seeing someone you know play for your favorite NFL team? I'd say that's a longshot. But it happened in 2008. Things just kept rolling from here.

2007-2008 Philadelphia 76ers: Though basketball - specifically professional basketball - is low on my sports ladder, I still follow the team and hope they perform at the highest level. The team struggles to a mediocre 41-41 record on the season. In a weak Eastern Conference a .500 record was good enough for the 7th seed. The Sixers prize? Facing the two-seed Detroit Pistons. Despite being huge underdogs, the 76ers took a 1-0 and eventually 2-1 series lead. They couldn't hold it but the team showed what their young nucleus could be capable of in the coming years.

2007-2008 Philadelphia Flyers: After their worst season ever, the Flyers rebounded and caught fire at the right time. They were able to sneak by the 3rd seed, the Washington Capitals, in seven games. Then they took it to the top seed Montreal Canadiens in five games. They ran into a young buzz saw of a team that shall remain nameless in the Eastern Conference Finals. The fact that they made an amazing run a year after being the worst team in the league makes it remarkable and noteworthy in a great year. Funny, if the Phillies hadn't won the World Series this would have just been seen as another failure. Instead it is considered a success.

2007-2008 Pittsburgh Penguins: Not on the list by choice but by default. The Penguins had a stellar year, winning the NHLs Eastern Conference and advancing to the Stanley Cup. They didn't win it all but they came close. After many dismal years the Penguins seem to be back. And PA sports are at an All-Time high.

2008 Philadelphia Soul: Football is football, whether it's the NFL, Canadian, or Arena. While the Soul may not be considered as important as the Phillies, Flyers, Eagles, and 76ers, they did have quite a good season. Actually they had the best season. The Soul won ArenaBowl XXII on July 27th. Chalk up another point for the city.

2008 Penn State Women's Volleyball: What's better than a National Championship? How about back-to-back National Championships. That's what the women's volleyball team accomplished in December 2008. Along the way they didn't lose a match. Yep, that's right. The Penn State women went 38-0. What makes it even more remarkable is that 37 of those matches were won 3-0. They only lost two games all year and they were against Nebraska, the NCAA Tournament host, in the Final Four. The Championship Match went much better this year than it did in 2007.

2008-2009 Penn State Football: Hope were high in Happy Valley to start the 2008 college football season. While the "experts" felt Penn State was again an Alamo Bowl team, fans knew better. They expected to compete for the Big Ten Championship. They did just that. The Nittany Lions finished the regular season as Big Ten Champs at 11-1, suffering only a last-second heartbreaking loss to Iowa. Though their Rose Bowl berth wasn't as successful as the one in January 1995, they still were in a BCS bowl. Quite a season indeed.

2008-2009 Miami Dolphins: The 2007 Miami Dolphins were a laughingstock. They won only one game all year. They fired their coach after one season. Things were bleak. In stepped football mastermind Bill Parcells. Things changed quickly. After a solid draft that included Long and Henne plus Phillip Merling, Kendall Langford, Donald Thomas and UDFAs Davone Bess and Dan Carpenter, Miami snatched Jets castoff Chad Pennington. The Dolphins went on to win 11 games, unleash the "wildcat" offense, and win the AFC East. The hyphen shifted and so did Miami's fortunes. This had a big impact on why the last 12 months have been amazing.

2008-2009 Philadelphia Eagles: This wouldn't make my personal list at all (since I am a Dolphins fan) but this isn't just about me; it's about the city of Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania. The Eagles made another run in the NFC playoffs, reaching the NFC title game for the fifth time since 2002. This one was unexpected, unlike the first four. The team had its ups and down during the year - much like the Phillies, Flyers, and Sixers - but peaked at the right time. They, unfortunately, ran into a team that was playing even better than they were.

2008-2009 Pittsburgh Steelers: Again, this didn't really make my year but it definitely added to the states euphoria (and my fiancees). The Steelers won their 6th Super Bowl, most by any NFL franchise, and second in four years. It was also an epic game, filled with a comeback and last second victory. It was a great game and just another reason the last 12 months have been amazing.

2008-2009 Penn State Fencing: Just two weeks ago the Penn State Fencing team (a joint men's/women's venture) captured their 11th National Championship. Four fencers earned individual titles too. The sport doesn't get much recognition but the team is downright dominant. They deserve just as much praise as any other national champion squad.

2008-2009 Penn State Men's Basketball: While I was in college the men's basketball team was dreadful. In the two years I've been gone they have started coming around. This year was a huge step forward. Though the men's team was overlooked by the NCAA selection committee, the Nittany Lions accepted an invitation to the NIT. After a near disaster versus George Mason, the men went on to vanquish Rhode Island, Florida, Notre Dame, and finally Baylor to capture the programs second ever postseason title. After the game, Talor Battle's younger step-brother Taran Buie committed to the program. Buie is ranked as the 37th best prospect in the nation in the 2010 recruiting class. Though a few key contributors leave, the team should be competitive again in 2009-2010 and could make a deep run in 2010-2011.

2008-2009 Pittsburgh Men's Basketball: Not a team I follow or care much about but, again, great for the state. They were ranked #1 in the nation at least once and made it to the Elite Eight. There they lost to...

2008-2009 Villanova Men's Basketball: The Wildcats earned a three seed in the tournament after a 26-7 record. Four wins later, including an epic one over Pittsburgh to get to the Final Fout, and Villanova has a chance to make this year even better. They now must defeat preseason favorite North Carolina to make the title game. No matter what the outcome of the game tomorrow the Wildcats helped make this year quite memorable.

Has the last 12 months been the greatest in sports history? For the state of Pennsylvania, possibly. For me, definitely. May the next 12 be even better!

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