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Column: And the winner is ... Time for the Newbys

Column: And the winner is ... Time for the Newbys

Forget the Oscars or the Emmys.

It's time for the Newbys - my awards for the top people, moments and mishaps in sports from 2012.

We'll skip the lame banter on the red carpet and long-winded acceptance speeches (unless it's Les Miles). Heck, we'll even take a pass on handing out actual trophies (enough of those already).

So, without further delay, the envelopes please.

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WORST DECISION: This is always a hotly contested category, considering the abundance of boneheaded calls, trades and signings that occur in any given year. The New York Jets acquiring Tim Tebow, for instance. But in 2012, the award goes to ... NFL replacement refs, for somehow concocting a way to give the Seattle Seahawks a game-winning touchdown on a Green Bay Packers interception. Though, to some, this might have been the best decision of the year because it forced the league to bring back the real refs. We never realized how much we missed those guys.

GENDER OF THE YEAR: Men are always tough to beat in this category, given their centuries-long head start. That said, the award goes to ... women! From Missy Franklin and Gabby Douglas lighting up the Summer Olympics to Serena Williams proving she's still a tour de force with a tennis racket. And let's not forget the small but monumental step of every country allowing women to compete at the London Games, which may turn out to be the biggest victory of all.

BIGGEST FREEFALL - It's hard to deny Felix Baumgartner, who leaped from a balloon at the outer edges of space with nothing but a parachute on his back, so with apologies the award goes to ... Bobby Petrino. The former Arkansas coach/Evel Knievel wannabe wrecked his motorcycle while on a ride with his mistress, lied about what happened, and lost his job when the truth emerged. Of course, we knew some school would give Petrino another chance, but it's quite a plunge from the Southeastern Conference to Western Kentucky.

MOST IMPROBABLE COMEBACK - The English Premier League put on a thrilling pennant race, the kind we used to have in baseball before they started letting everyone into the playoffs. The award goes to ... Manchester City, for scoring two goals in extra time on the final day of the season to capture its first premiership in 44 years. The fact that Man City edged crosstown rival Manchester United on goal differential only made the title that much sweeter for the Blues.

COUNTRY OF THE YEAR - Carrying on with the royal theme, the award goes to ... Britain, for putting on a stellar Olympics that included perhaps the most inspiring races of the year - Mo Farah's sweep of the 5,000 and 10,000 meters - among a bevy of gold medals for the host country. The British also claimed the Tour de France (Bradley Wiggins) and U.S. Open tennis championship (long-suffering Andy Murray), while contributing to Europe's historic Ryder Cup rally.

HOTTEST SPORT - For its glowing presentation of the Daytona 500, the award goes to ... NASCAR. It helps to be a sport that relies on flammable liquids, but no one expected the biggest race of the year to turn into Devil's Night. Juan Pablo Montoya's car spun out during a caution period, colliding with a jet fuel-powered dryer and igniting a towering inferno. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt, and people who never paid a lick of attention to the good ol' boys suddenly tuned it to see what all the flames ... uh, fuss, was about.

BEST RANT - If he wasn't a football coach, he might be a comedian. His garbled vocabulary already has inspired its own Web site. For that reason, the award goes to ... Les Miles, the LSU football coach who was really on his game after a win over Ole Miss. In a steadily rising voice, he defended his players and urged anyone who ran into one of them ``to throw your arms around them and give them a big kiss on the mouth.'' Then with a smile, he quickly added, ``If you're a girl.'' Then, still smiling, he giddily proclaimed, ``Wow, what a game!'' Wow, indeed.

DUMBEST RULE - Who knew an NFL coach couldn't challenge a call that was already subject to review, and if he did, not only would his team receive a 15-yard penalty but the call would no longer be checked for accuracy? Truly ridiculous. But not ridiculous enough. The award goes to ... baseball's ``outfield'' fly rule. In a one-game playoff, the Braves hit a fly ball to left that dropped between the shortstop and an outfielder. The umpires called an automatic out, invoking the infield fly rule - even though the ball landed more than 200 feet from home plate. A potential Braves' rally was cut short, Atlanta fans turned Turner Field into a garbage dump, and the Cardinals won the game. Even dumber, baseball has yet to amend the rule to avoid a similar debacle.

MOST CALLOUS FRANCHISE - We're long past believing that professional teams really care about the fans, but one franchise took its cavalier approach to new lows. The award goes to ... the Miami Marlins, who persuaded their city to foot most of the bill for a new stadium, signed a bunch of high-priced players, then promptly traded most of them away after one disappointing season. So far, there's been no offer to settle up with the taxpayers, who were under the mistaken impression the Marlins would actually try to field a competitive team for more than a year.

PERSON OF THE YEAR - Saving the best for last, the award goes to ... Chuck Pagano, coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Stricken with leukemia early in his first season as the head guy, he stepped away for three months to undergo treatment. Inspired by his struggle, a team that went 2-14 a year ago has won 10 games, clinched a playoff berth and made shaved heads a fashion statement. Pagano returned to work the day before Christmas, just in time for the postseason. He's already a champion, showing us what's truly important in life. And, no, it's not sports.

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Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org and www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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5 takeaways from the neutral arbitrator’s ruling on Tom Wilson

5 takeaways from the neutral arbitrator’s ruling on Tom Wilson

Tom Wilson finally made his season debut on Tuesday after his 20-game suspension was reduced to 14 games. The suspension was reduced by neutral arbitrator Shyam Das, who issued his decision Tuesday in a 42-page ruling.

Wilson was originally suspended for a hit he delivered to St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist.

Just as Bettman did in the first appeal, Das sheds light on several fascinating aspects of the process and various arguments used. Here are my five biggest takeaways from Tuesday’s ruling.

Think Sundqvist hit shows that Wilson is a dirty player? No one else seems to

Wilson has developed a bit of a reputation among some fans for being a dirty player and many have used this incident as evidence of that. Behind closed doors, however, it seems like everyone is in agreement that Wilson was making a hockey play and just missed.

Das wrote, “The NHLPA stresses that Wilson had no intent to injure or target Sundqvist's head, as [head of the Department of Player Safety George Parros] acknowledged. It is agreed that he was making a hockey play. His hit, even assuming it was a violation of Rule 48 -- which the NHLPA disputes -- was off ‘by inches,’ as recognized by the DPS.”

It used to be fairly common for a player who cut across the middle in the offensive zone to get blown up by the opposition. It’s not that way anymore, but there’s nobody seems to question that Wilson was simply back checking and going after the puck carrier and not simply head-hunting.

Careful what you put in an email

In a footnote, Das detailed how the NHLPA tried to argue both Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly attempted to influence the DPS’s decision of whether or not to suspend Wilson.

The NHLPA cites an email Daly sent to Parros at 5:05 p.m. on September 30, 2018 stating: "Looks like a big one. The Emergency Assistance Fund [which receives forfeited salary of penalized players] is going to be happy." Immediately prior to sending this email, Daly had been copied on five emails sent to Parros by other DPS personnel all stating that in their opinion Wilson had violated Rule 48. The NHLPA also cites Parros' testimony that the day before the DPS hearing on this incident he was at an unrelated meeting at which the Commissioner said something to the effect: "You're going to do the right thing or Do the right thing.

Conspiracy theorists are going to run away with this as proof that the NHL is somehow out to get the Caps, but I think it is important to note that the neutral arbitrator—the key word being neutral—did not buy the NHLPA’s argument. Das wrote, “The evidence as a whole, including Parros’ testimony, does not establish that the DPS was improperly influenced by the cited comments of League officials.”

Patrick Kaleta mattered a lota

Who is Patrick Kaleta? Kaleta is former player with an extensive history of supplementary discipline. His name appears 34 times in Das’ ruling so you know he must be important.

The NHLPA argued Kaleta was the “most appropriate comparison” to Wilson because he was suspended three times and fined once over the course of 94 games and with less total ice time. Despite his extensive history, the DPS issued a suspension of only 10 games in 2013 for a hit he delivered to the head of Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson. That 10-game suspension was reached by doubling his prior suspension of five games.

The DPS made a point of saying that because Wilson was facing discipline for the fourth time in 105 games, his history was “unprecedented.” The reason why the DPS felt that way was because it drew a distinction Wilson was suspended all four times whereas Kaleta was fined once in his four violations during the comparable period and it was not taking the fine into account. Once you add that in, it is easy to see the argument as to why the length of Wilson’s suspension seems extreme in comparison.

How the suspension went from 20 to 14

How the DPS reached 20 games for the suspension was detailed in Bettman’s ruling, but here’s a quick refresher. Parros took Wilson’s last suspension of three games and doubled it to account for the weight of a playoff game (6), tripled that number because Wilson is a repeat offender (18) and added two more games because the hit caused an injury (20).

The sticking point for Das was tripling the last suspension which Das said there was no precedent of the league doing in the past.

“I conclude that Wilson's suspension should be reduced to 14 games,” Das wrote. “I have arrived at this length by treating his most recent prior 3 playoff game suspension as the equivalent of 6 regular season games, as Parros did, doubling that based on all relevant circumstances to 12 games -- which certainly constitutes more severe punishment consistent with the CBA -- and adding 2 games, as Parros did, based on the injury to Sundqvist.”

The change was that instead of multiplying the past suspension by three, Das though it appropriate to double it instead just as the league did with Kaleta.

This wasn’t a win for Wilson

Getting Wilson back was good news for the Caps and it saves him $378,048.78 that he would have otherwise had to forfeit, but let’s be clear, this was not a win for Wilson.

A 14-game suspension is still a significant suspension and it would have felt massive had the league originally given him 14 games on Oct. 3. It just doesn’t seem that way now because the original suspension was for 20 games.

The neutral arbitrator ruled that Wilson’s hit was illegal and worthy of a significant suspension. The only issue was basically that he didn’t like the NHL’s math. Das’ ruling should in no way be considered vindication for Wilson. Everything that has been said about Wilson in the wake of the suspension remains true. He still has to change the way he plays because the next suspension will be greater. Even if the NHL is beholden to the double modifier Das determined to reach 14 games, the best case scenario for the next suspension will be 24 to 28 games depending on if the DPS takes into account the extra two games tacked on for injury or not. That’s the best case scenario. Neither he nor the team can afford that.

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3 things to watch for improved Wizards vs. Cavs

3 things to watch for improved Wizards vs. Cavs

The Washington Wizards still have John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. The Cleveland Cavaliers no longer employ LeBron James. That makes Wednesday’s first meeting of the season between the Eastern Conference foes curious. The radical change for the visitors also requires a preview. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Sustaining the surge

Monday’s 117-109 victory over the Orlando Magic extended the Wizards’ winning streak to a season-high two. Don't knock the modest uptick after a 2-9 start. John Wall’s stat line took a big leap over the last three games: 24.0 points, 10.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 45.5 percent on 3-pointers. Beyond the numbers, the point guard appears to have knocked off the remaining rust physically. We’re used to his aggressive end-to-end pushes, but now Wall is firing up the court immediately after makes or misses, helping Washington quickly enter its offensive sets. Another strong outing from the five-time All-Star could propel the Wizards to their first three-game winning streak since Feb. 10-22.

Bench support

Starters Wall, Beal, Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris had solid games against the Magic, but it was the Wizards’ second unit playing above previous season norms. All five reserves finished with a plus-minus of plus-8 or better. Jeff Green continued his sizzling shooting, sinking 4 of 5 from beyond the arc en route to 18 points. The 6-foot-9 forward is 9 of 13 from beyond the arc overall during the last four games, and 21 of 28 overall. Backcourt partners Austin Rivers and Tomas Satoransky, slow to develop chemistry this season, showed increased comfort during the winning streak. Washington needs more from the pair to help keep minutes for Wall and Beal at reasonable levels. That Green and Rivers, in particular, have provided steady help has contributed to Porter sitting out the fourth quarter in three consecutive games.

Cleveland doesn’t rock

From four consecutive NBA Finals appearances to the NBA’s worst record (2-11, tied with Phoenix). Yeah, the Cavaliers miss LeBron James just a little. They also are down Kevin Love (toe surgery), leaving Jordan Clarkson (15.2) and Rodney Hood (12.9) as Cleveland’s top scorers. That’s not ideal. The Cavaliers are 27th in scoring (103.3) while giving up 113.1 points per game, which is better than Washington’s league-worst 118.5. Rookie point guard Collin Sexton, the No. 8 overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft, is filling in for the injured George Hill. Sexton is averaging 17.0 points over the last three games.

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