So Long 2011—It was a Strange Year
December 26, 2011

Well, for what it's worth, I did it. Not really a major accomplishment, more of a credit to sticktoitiveness than anything else, but I did it. Every Monday in 2011, I wrote and published a little something that was going through my head—usually about sports. As the final week of the year begins, you'll see and hear a lot of “year in reviews”. Here's mine...

As I said, I usually write about sports, and there was certainly a lot to write about (I write about other stuff too, so you can skip down a few paragraphs if you want). I think 40 of my 51 previous columns were sports related. I'm a fan of the Dodgers and Lakers, and they certainly had their problems. The Dodgers had a mediocre year on the field, but at least owner Frank McCourt finally agreed to sell the team, Clayton Kershaw won the Cy Young Award, and Matt Kemp was runner-up for Most Valuable Player. With no major roster changes, 2012 could be another year spent in mediocrity, but things could start to look up.

As for the Lakers, their lockout-shortened season begins with a lot of concern. Kobe's getting older, they thought they completed a trade for point guard Chris Paul, only to have the trade blocked by the league, and Paul ultimately sent to the cross-town Clippers. Also forward Lamar Odom was traded to Dallas, after 2011 saw the Lakers swept in the second round by the eventual champion Mavericks. The Sacramento Kings future in that city is in doubt. Owners say they will move to Anaheim if they don't have a deal for a new arena by March.

The sports year was strange in general. The NFL and NBA had lockouts, although football was still able to start their season on time. Baseball ended up having the greatest wild-card playoff races ever, followed by an announcement that playoffs will be expanded, something that, had it been in place in 2011, would have prevented the drama that was the collapse of the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves. The St. Louis Cardinals, who qualified for that final National League post-season berth, ended up winning the World Series, but then saw the departure of their superstar free agent Albert Pujols to the Angels. Baseball also announced its plans to ship the Houston Astros to the American League, beginning in 2013, despite 50 years of NL history and an overwhelming objection from their fans. Also in 2011, we had to get used to no Jon Miller or Joe Morgan in the ESPN Sunday night booth, Dick Enberg retired from national sportscasting, but Vin Scully will be back with the Dodgers for at least one more season.

College basketball was fun to watch this year. I even attended a San Diego State game in January. The Aztecs were nationally ranked, and were defeated by eventual champion Connecticut in the NCAA tournament. March Madness was expanded this year to 68 teams and four television networks. The title game was a disappointment, though, with UConn beating Butler 53-41—the lowest-scoring championship game since 1949.

The Super Bowl and college football championship were good games. The Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25, with former Butte College (I took some classes there) quarterback Aaron Rodgers named MVP. Auburn beat Oregon 22-19 on a field goal as time expired for the BCS National Championship. Sure, a playoff system would be better, but in 2011, the BCS actually did its job. Also in 2011, the Boston Bruins won hockey's Stanley Cup, and even the local Marysville Gold Sox (I broadcast their games), won their championship in the Horizon Air Summer Series, finishing the '11 season with a 20-game winning streak. The Gold Sox also got to see one of their former players (Anthony Bass), make it to the major leagues, and the town got an inspirational visit from former Major League pitcher and cancer survivor Dave Dravecky.

Unfortunately, a lot of sports news was made off the field. Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested and has been charged with multiple counts of sexual molestation of young boys. That scandal ended up also costing legendary football coach Joe Paterno his job, along with the university president. Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine has also been accused of molestation. There was even an incriminating audio tape. Fine was fired, but no criminal charges have been filed. A college football scandal erupted in Miami when a man in jail for part of a 930-million dollar Ponzi scheme, said from his cell that many University of Miami football players were given improper benefits, including prostitutes and cash, and that coaches knew about it. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel resigned after five players sold their 2010 championship rings for cash and tattoos. What a year.

Other than sports, it turns out I also like to write about award shows. It's hard to believe Ricky Gervais will host the Gold Globe Awards again in a few weeks, but he was a lot of fun in 2011. Hollywood Foreign Press Association President Philip Berk was probably the least amused when Gervais said he “had to help (Berk) off the toilet and pop in his teeth” before Berk came out on stage. Despite that, Gervais will be back in 2012. Billy Crystal will host the Oscars in 2012. He got a standing ovation when he presented in 2011—the audience likely hoping he would host the remainder of that evening. James Franco and Anne Hathaway didn't bring much to the table, but I did watch nine of the ten movies nominated for Best Picture. I may have a head start on 2012. I saw Moneyball in September, the night it opened.

Pop culture and television are other favorite topics. On September 19, Ashton Kutcher replaced Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men. I watched the first two episodes, then gave up on the show. I'm not sure how it's doing in the ratings. On May 1, it was announced that we finally got Osama bin Laden, but I chose to write about the royal wedding instead. I mean, after all, I stayed up all night just to see two British people kiss. A friend of mine said that cost me several man points, but it was an event, so I had to watch. I suppose it should also be noted that 2011 marked the retirement of Regis Philbin from his talk show. I don't normally watch that program, but I saw his farewell.

There were a lot of things I didn't write about this year. I stayed away from hard news, but certainly the world has changed. Not only did we get bin Laden, but Libyan President Moammar Qaddafi (that's the spelling I'm going with) was killed, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il died of natural causes. Those along with the beginning of the “Occupy” movement, the numerous Republican presidential debates, the economy, and devastating earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan (along with the ensuing tsunami) are the top news stories of 2011.

I also didn't write about the 72-day Kim Kardashian marriage to NBA player Kris Humphies. I should have, not only because it was sports and pop-culture related, but it would have justified putting a big picture of Kim on my website. I guess I blew it with that one. The marriage lasted only half as long as the NBA lockout, and for some reason, Humphies has been voted by fans as the most hated player in the league, ahead of LeBron James.

There were some big anniversaries in 2011. There was the tenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, which included the opening of a memorial at Ground Zero. This year also saw the final mission of the Space Shuttle program, 30 years after its first launch, and 2011 marked 30 years since my father's death, and for some reason I took this anniversary a lot harder than many of the others. I'm almost as old now as he was then, so maybe that has something to do with it.

This year was a tough one for me. Five people I knew died this year, and I don't know that many people. A good high school friend John Ochoa sent me a birthday message on Facebook, and was gone 48 hours later. My cousin Diane's mother-in-law Young-Suk Hong lost her battle with cancer in May. John Olson was my downstairs neighbor when I moved to Marysville, high school classmate Don Barnett, and local newspaper reporter Rob Young—all gone.

After being told by a friend that my column is best read with an “Andy Rooney voice” because I complain a lot, we lost Andy this year at the age of 92, just a month after retiring from 60 Minutes. 2011 also saw the deaths of movie stars Peter Falk and Elizabeth Taylor. Among others, the sports world lost Al Davis, Joe Frazier, Walt Hazzard, Harmon Killebrew, Bubba Smith, and Duke Snider. Musicians Clarence Clemons, Gerry Rafferty, Phoebe Snow, and Amy Winehouse also left us this year.

I'm still struggling a little bit technologically. In my first column, I wrote about the Top Ten things I needed to upgrade into the 21st century. I only really accomplished one of them, purchasing a digital camera in April (I am getting free wi-fi from my neighbor, so maybe I could count that). A smart phone is next on my list, maybe even in the next week or two. I should say, though, that one of the benefits of not shopping—I wasn't anywhere near a mall on Black Friday, so I didn't get pepper-sprayed. People are crazy when it comes to their bargains.

My favorite story of 2011 (and certainly the most fun), was doomsday predictor Harold Camping. The 89 year-old Christian leader of Family Radio, predicted that the world would end precisely on May 21, at 6pm Pacific Time. It didn't, of course, and it turns out that Mr. Camping had an ill-calculated Armageddon prediction before, so he's now 0-for-2. People who actually contributed money to spread his apocalyptic message didn't get refunds, but at least no one killed themselves.

There were definitely some fun things in 2011. Besides a trip to San Diego to see an Aztecs game in January, I went to Seattle for a couple of days in September. My cousin Andy got married in the San Luis Obispo area on 11/11/11, and I can't remember the last time I was at a wedding. Despite rain having to move the ceremony indoors, the whole day was a blast. I also had a quick visit to Sebastopol to my cousin Gayle's a couple weeks later, with a stop in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district on the way home. I won my very competitive fantasy league in baseball, after coming close the last two seasons. My football team was awful, though, and I finished last.

But last of all, I have my mother to thank for the best time of the year. In April, to celebrate her 85th birthday, we went on a hot-air balloon ride—Mom, Uncle Marty, my cousin Korey, and me. Soaring over the Antelope Valley at about 2000 feet was quite an experience, and I wasn't quite as nervous as I thought I would be. Mom was more worried about getting in and out of the basket than the altitude. She is still talking about it, mentioning it to all her friends in her Christmas cards.

So, with the calendar about to turn to another year, it was fun to look back over the past 52 weeks. Some good memories, some sad ones, and even some odd ones. I'm not promising myself that these Monday ramblings will continue, but we'll see. My resolution for 2012 is to work, even if that includes a “real job” for maybe the first time in my life. To those of you who read these rants throughout the year, I thank you, and appreciated any feedback. I hope you had a good 2011, and that 2012 is much much better.

Photo: 2011 was the "Year of the Rabbit" on the Chinese calendar. Have a Happy "Year of the Dragon" everyone!

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