Shanoff's Wake-Up Call: Best Sports Year Ever?

Today's Calls: 2008 vs. 2009, Mike Shanahan vs. Bill Cowher, Eric Mangini vs. Steve Spagnuolo, Jeremiah Masoli vs. Zac Robinson, Arkansas hoops vs. Illinois hoops, LeBron's b-day vs. Celtics' slide and More. ↵

↵The Opening Pitch: Was this the best sports year ever? ↵

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↵I'm the leading practitioner of superlative-laden instant history (or hysteria, as it were), and if nothing else, 2008 makes a good case. ↵

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↵The strength of the year is at the top -- the two biggest sports events of the year had their greatest moments ever: ↵

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↵*In the Olympics, Michael Phelps did what no other Olympic athlete has ever done -- in a fashion so dramatic as to defy standard hyperbole. ↵

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↵*In the Super Bowl, not only did the Giants pull the greatest upset in NFL history, but they did it with the greatest play in NFL history -- the instantly legendary "Manning to Tyree." ↵

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↵On the basis of those two events alone, 2008 was one of the most memorable sports years ever. ↵

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↵Was the Celtics' return to title glory that dramatic? Probably as dramatic an NBA titlist since Jordan's last title in '98. Was the Phillies' World Series title dramatic? I love Philly fans finally finding relief, but the best story of the MLB season was the Cinderella Rays. ↵

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↵Was Kansas' NCAA title that dramatic? The fashion they won it in was dramatic; the rest of the tournament was more notable as Stephen Curry's personal playground. ↵

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↵Was the college football season dramatic? Less dramatic than plain old controversial -- that's hardly new, but the BCS mess found a new twist (with its own signature moment: Michael Crabtree's last-second TD to lead Texas Tech over Texas, triggering the whole mess). ↵

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↵And as detailed Monday, the 2008 NFL season was less dramatic for its winners than who didn't win (Pats, Cowboys, Favre). ↵

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↵When it comes down to it, a sports year is judged by its biggest moments. In the case of 2008, with two of the greatest moments in sports history -- in the two events that mattered most to Americans -- it is easy to make the argument that this was the best sports year ever. ↵

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↵Broncos fire Mike Shanahan: As well they should have, given their epic choke to end the season. He enjoyed his pair of glory years -- back-to-back Super Bowl wins -- but that was more John Elway and Terrell Davis and that innovative offensive line than anything Shanahan specifically did himself. And in recent years, he has been consistently out-coached by Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy ... now even Norv Turner. ↵

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↵Meanwhile, it looks like the Jets' brief flirtation with Bill Cowher is over. I doubt that money was the issue; I suspect that Cowher wanted to be GM (or have GM-like power over a toadie). If the Jets really wanted Cowher, they would have offered to fire or severely demote Mike "Teflon" Tannenbaum. ↵

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↵Hmm: Think the Jets will go after Mike Shanahan? After going with the unproven wunderkind and the feral interest in Cowher, the team is obviously looking to over-correct by hiring a "proven" head-coaching commodity. With Cowher out of the picture, Shanahan is the most likely candidate available. (If I was the Jets, I'd stay in the city and go with the Giants' Steve Spagnuolo. And is it possible that Shanahan is eyeing the Chargers job? h/t: PFT) ↵

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↵The Bills will keep Dick Jauron: I thought for sure they would fire Jauron, then go after Eric Mangini (as it happens, it sounds like the Browns are interested in Mangini -- but is that something that Scott Pioli would want?) ↵

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↵Normally, assistants who get fired don't make much news. In the case of Mike Martz being canned, though, it's a big deal. He still touts around that "genius" label from being Dick Vermeil's O.C. in St. Louis for the Super Bowl title team. He will find work somewhere, though not as a head coach. ↵

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↵Matt Ryan wins Offensive Rookie of the Year: And that's a big fat mea culpa from all of us -- um, all of me -- who jeered this pick when the Falcons made it. I have no problem saying: Wow, was I wrong. Ryan put together one of the most impressive rookie QB campaigns in NFL history. ↵

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↵CFB Bowling Last Night: Another classic Holiday Bowl shootout! It had all the ingredients: A high-scoring Oklahoma State offense, a porous Oklahoma State defense and an Oregon team with a potent offense of its own. The result? Oregon scored 35 points in the 2nd half to rally for a win. (And the Big 12 takes another hit to its rep as a defense-free league; Oregon even out-scored Texas -- how did the Longhorns barely beat this OK St. team?) ↵

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↵The breakout star? Oregon soph QB Jeremiah Masoli. You knew about OSU's Zac Robinson; Masoli accounted for 364 yards of total offense and 4 TDs, including 106 yards rushing (6.6 ypc) with 3 rush TDs. ↵

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↵(That said: Oregon RB LeGarrette Blount's Moreno-style game-ending TD run instantly became the hot bowl highlight, displacing even UNC's Hakeem Nicks and his ridiculous behind-the-back catch.) ↵

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↵Today's Top Bowl: LSU-Georgia Tech. If you haven't had a chance to watch GT's triple-option goodness, here is your chance to watch them go at one of the best defenses in the SEC -- even if LSU is coming off a disappointing year (as disappointing as it could be, given they were defending champs). Also: Vandy! ↵

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↵New Year's Day Bowl Preview: Honestly, the New Year's Day bowl lineup is as uninspiring as I have ever remembered it. Penn State-USC is the "brand-name" headliner in the Rose Bowl, but what happens when USC romps by 40? ↵

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↵And most agree that Cincy-VA Tech is up there with last year's Orange Bowl (Kansas-VA Tech) as the lamest BCS bowl ever. (Actually, I really like Cincinnati: Brian Kelly is one of the best coaches in college football, and the Bearcats' offense is fun to watch. And it will get a compelling test in the always-fiesty Hokies defense. No one will go and no one will watch, but it could be a fun game.) ↵

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↵If anything positive, the games tomorrow feature the best trio of RBs in the country: Shonn Greene (South Carolina vs. Iowa), then Knowshon Moreno going head-to-head with Javon Ringer (Georgia-Michigan St). Judge for yourself: Who is the best RB in the nation? ↵

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↵BCS Title Game Watch: Sounds like Percy Harvin's recovery from ankle problems is ahead of schedule. It doesn't have to be ahead of schedule -- just on time ... or, more specifically, just in time for him to electrify the field in the national-title game a week from tomorrow. ↵

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↵NHL Winter Classic: Last New Year's Day, the NHL introduced what was arguably the best idea in the history of the sport -- a novelty game played outdoors, played right in the heart of college bowl mania ... which just so happened to be the NHL's biggest ratings success of the decade or more. ↵

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↵It's back, and even better: The game is at Wrigley Field. Or ON Wrigley Field. It doesn't matter who is playing. Again: It's the novelty of the outdoor game. In January. In Chicago. At Wrigley Field. 2008 was a resurgent year for the NHL; this gets '09 off to the right start. ↵

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↵NBA Instant History: God, LeBron is only 24. He is already the best player in the NBA -- and probably has been for the last 3 years. If you were starting a franchise from scratch and you could pick any player in NBA history, LeBron would probably be in the Top 3. And he's not even in his prime. ↵

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↵The Cavs' surge this season is the latest entry of LeBron myth (although as much about the supporting cast getting better as it is about LeBron raising his game). That said, even the hyper-controlling King James can't entirely manage his world: The Cavs lost in Miami to the Heat on LBJ's b-day. ↵

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↵Meanwhile, the Celtics lost to the Blazers -- Boston's 3rd loss in their last 4 games. After that unconscious 19-game winning streak, Boston suddenly looks mortal -- especially when they are losing to Portland, playing without Brandon Roy. (Steve Blake wasn't a bad replacement: 21 pts, 8/12 FG, 3 asst.) ↵

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↵CBB Last Night: Arkansas stuns Oklahoma. And the Hogs' Michael Washington (24 pts, 11 reb) even neutralized Blake Griffin (21 pts, 13 reb). Arkansas has only 1 loss, but hadn't played anyone significant this season -- but with this win, it's time to put them in the Top 25. (And it makes next Tuesday's game vs. Texas that much more intriguing.) ↵ ↵

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↵Meanwhile, after the Big Ten ran roughshod over the rest of the country the past few weeks, they now are going to beat on each other. Purdue looked like the top of the league ... right up until the Boilermakers were knocked off -- at home! -- by surprising Illinois. Going to be a fun season at the top of the Big Ten. ↵ ↵

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↵MLB Hot Stove: Mets offer Derek Lowe 3Y/$36M. This has been expected since the start of hot-stove season; is it enough for Scott Boras to advise his client to take it? ↵ ↵

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↵The Last Word: Off tomorrow for New Year's Day. But back Friday! Meet you back here for Wild Card Weekend previewing, college bowl analyzing, Wrigley hockeyfying and more. Happy New Year. Be safe. ↵ ↵

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↵Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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