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2012 in Sports: A Year of Surprises

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At this point, it's safe to say that 2012 is the year of surprises in sports. Even If nothing else happens in 2012 -- which is a distinct possibility, since the Mayans say we're all go to meet our grisly demise in a few months -- this would still go down as one of the most unusual, unpredictable years in modern history. There have been so many unusual events in the first three months of 2012 that even if we had died on March 21st instead of December 21st, my previous assessment would still ring true.

Let's look back at what we've already seen. First there was the Jeremy Lin phenomenon. Sure, it's easy to compare Linsanity to Tebowmania, which wasn't even a year ago and may have been just as large a national story. But Lin was a true underdog, an undrafted, Ivy League Asian kid, coming from the D-League, having been waived by the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. Tebow, on the other hand, might have had the most prestigious college football career in history and was a first-round draft pick. It's not even close whose rise was more improbable. We've really never seen anything like Jeremy Lin's meteoric ascension; and that he continues to play decently amidst a tumultuous, ego-driven roster of ballhogs makes the story that much better.

Then there's Dwight Howard. Yes, we've seen LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony drag out their free-agency drama for entire seasons, but Howard just did something utterly unprecedented. For all the trade demands he's made since the beginning of the season, he has inexplicably decided to drag this story out for a whole extra season by waiving his opt-out clause, a development that's as staggering as it is annoying. Even Brett Favre's sagas resolved themselves after a few months. What Howard is doing, by not signing an extension and assuring that these same trade rumors will haunt our dreams for the next year, is irritating beyond words. It's also extremely unusual. When was the last time we saw an athlete in this situation decide to stick around in a small-town city where he has less chance of winning than on another team? Had Howard not complained so much, had he not waffled at every waking opportunity, his decision to remain in Orlando could be lauded. Instead, it's just a waste of time, since we'll be witnessing this song and dance again pretty soon.

Finally we have Peyton Manning, who now finds himself on the roster of the Denver Broncos. Of all the teams Manning could have played on, he probably chose the one with the worst offense available. In Tennessee he would have had Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt; in Arizona he would have had Larry Fitzgerald; in Houston he would have had Andre Johnson and Arian Foster; in San Francisco he would have had Vernon Davis, Randy Moss and Frank Gore. And yet for all the teams he could have selected, of all the tandems he could have chosen to finish his career with, he's decided to go to war with Willis McGahee and Eric Decker.

The surprising, crazy part with Manning has nothing to do with Denver, however. We've seen a plethora of athletes land with a new organization in the final years of their career. But what we haven't seen is what the Indianapolis Colts did in waiving their franchise superstar. It's one thing for a team to ditch a star in their waning years, when they're no longer any good. But to outright waive the greatest player in franchise history, who's been medically cleared to play and who wants to play for that very team, is something new altogether. Even if it was a practical decision because of the money it would have cost to keep both Manning and Andrew Luck, the Colts have essentially thrown away their star player for a total neophyte. Manning's dismissal marks a turning point in the NFL, where it was a long-standing tradition for a rookie QB to sit on the bench for most of their first season. The days of teams being afraid to insert rookie QB's appears to be over, thanks to excellent rookie seasons from Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton, Sam Bradford and Cam Newton. And if Peyton Manning's release and the trading of RGIII's draft rights are any indication, benching a franchise quarterback to begin a season is probably now an aberration among NFL franchises.

And I didn't even mention the Sacramento Kings bypassing moving to a larger market, Tim Tebow deciding he'd rather be Mark Sanchez' backup in a media madhouse rather than the starting QB for his hometown team, and the NFL -- the league that looked the other way on Tom Cable assaulting a man -- not only suspending Sean Payton and Gregg Williams for instilling a bounty program, but punishing them harshly. If there will be an equinox on Dec. 21 that'll blow up the planet, we're already seeing signs of it. Things are happening that just don't happen in sports, and I can't wait to see what happens next -- even if I only have nine months to do it.