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Sports year: Sad sagas the story of 2012

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Sports year: Sad sagas the story of 2012

Jerry Sandusky will spend the rest of his life in prison, Penn State football played under NCAA sanctions and Joe Paterno passed away.

Lance Armstrong abandoned his fight against doping allegations. Roger Clemens won his court battle, despite lingering skepticism over whether he used steroids. The impact of early-stage dementia forced Pat Summitt to step down from her coaching perch.

Again and again, it seemed, the sports world in 2012 saw the end of long tales with tragic or, at best, bittersweet endings.

And in so many cases, off-the-field news overshadowed what happened on it:

- In State College, Pa., where the Sandusky mess at Penn State destroyed lives and radically changed the face of a proud football program.

- In Washington, where Clemens emerged from court a winner, after a mistrial the first time around on charges he lied to Congress about performance-enhancing drug use.

- In Kansas City, Mo., where Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend, then drove to the team's facility in the Arrowhead Stadium complex, thanked his coach and general manager, and turned the gun on himself.

- In Austin, Texas, where the news broke that Armstrong decided to give up his long fight against doping charges, saying ``enough is enough'' but acknowledging no wrongdoing. The move began the cyclist's swift fall from his spot as cancer-fighting sports hero in the public eye. And though he maintains he was victimized by a ``witch hunt,'' Armstrong still was stripped of all seven of his Tour de France victories.

``We must create a culture in which people are not afraid to speak up, management is not compartmentalized, all are expected to demonstrate the highest ethical standards, and the operating policy is open, collegial and collaborative,'' Penn State President Rodney Erickson said the day the NCAA levied massive sanctions against the Nittany Lions including a four year postseason ban.

Erickson was speaking of his own school.

But in 2012, at least some of those lessons could have applied to any number of topics.

Sure, there were amazing moments to remember and savor. Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian in history, adding to his enormous swimming haul with six more medals at the London Games, where the United States topped the winning charts once again. Usain Bolt became the first man to win the 100- and 200-meter dashes at consecutive Olympics, Eli Manning and the New York Giants reigned supreme in the NFL, San Francisco stormed its way to the World Series title, the Los Angeles Kings hoisted the Stanley Cup (no telling if any other team will anytime soon) and LeBron James and the Miami Heat silenced doubters by winning the NBA title.

Yet in a year like this, such times of achievement and triumph seemed few and far between.

Take March 21, for example. That was the day when Tim Tebow was traded by Denver to the New York Jets, a huge story simply for the Tebowmania factor - and one that wasn't even the biggest in the NFL that day, not with the announcement that New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton would serve a yearlong suspension for his role in the bounty scandal.

Try August 15, when baseball got to experience a rarity - Felix Hernandez pitching the first perfect game in Seattle Mariners' history - and an all-too-common occurrence, that being someone testing positive for something, in this case San Francisco's Melky Cabrera basically forfeiting any shot at the MVP or the NL batting title by being suspended 50 games following a positive test for testosterone.

Or Oct. 10, when Raul Ibanez showed off a flair for the dramatic - twice - by hitting tying and winning home runs as the New York Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles 3-2 to take a 2-1 lead in the AL Division Series, an enormous moment by any measure. Of course, those blasts came on the same day that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released a report in which Armstrong was portrayed as the lead of the ``most professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.''

As stunning as Armstrong's fall was, what went on at Penn State continued to dominate the sports lexicon.

Sandusky was arrested in November 2011, but resolution didn't really begin until 2012 - part of why the case was voted the top sports story of the year by The Associated Press, based on balloting by U.S. editors and news directors.

The longtime Penn State defensive coordinator was convicted of 45 counts of abuse involving 10 boys, and later sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison, which means Sandusky is likely to die behind bars.

Paterno succumbed to lung cancer in January, and a statue of his likeness outside Beaver Stadium was removed six months later, one day before the NCAA announced a $60 million fine and four years of scholarship reductions. Still to come: civil suits brought by Sandusky's victims and the trials of former school administrators accused of neglecting their duty to report allegations.

``We can expect more fallout,'' Erickson said.

Paterno is still considered by many as a sympathetic figure, and still revered as a role model by some.

Clemens' legacy doesn't seem to resonate the same way with sports fans. It's almost like his courtroom win was one that many did not expect to see happen, and it may be his last big victory for a while. Clemens - the only seven-time Cy Young Award winner - is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year, and a recent survey of voters by the AP shows that he is likely to fall well short of the number of votes necessary for induction in 2013.

Clemens was accused by former personal trainer Brian McNamee in the Mitchell Report on drugs in baseball of using steroids and HGH, allegations Clemens denied before Congress. Eventually, after a Justice Department investigation looked into whether Clemens lied under oath, a grand jury indicted him on two counts of perjury, three counts of making false statements and one count of obstructing Congress.

He was acquitted of all the charges on June 19 after a 10-week trial.

``I'm very thankful,'' Clemens said. ``It's been a hard five years.''

Armstrong's fight lasted even longer than that.

The testicular-cancer survivor won the Tour de France seven times, all while dogged by the stigma of he-must-be-cheating. Armstrong was never caught by a drug test, but rather was ultimately done in largely by the words of his former teammates. Armstrong continues to deny doping, but simply said his fight had gone on long enough.

Giving up has come with a price. Armstrong cut ties to his well-known charity, Livestrong, and longtime sponsor Nike - among other corporations - cut ties with him.

And as for Summitt, one of the greatest names in coaching, her last loss was against an invisible opponent.

Summitt stepped down as Tennessee's coach in April, a few months after revealing she has been diagnosed with early onset dementia. Summitt led Tennessee to eight national titles in her 38-year tenure, winning 1,098 Division I games along the way.

``It's never a good time,'' Summitt said. ``But you have to find the time that you think is the right time and that is now.''

Still, the year wasn't gloom and doom for everyone, not by a long shot.

Alabama got a chance to avenge a loss to LSU and win college football's national championship, the second for the Tide in three years. The Tide will be back in the BCS title game again in January, against rising and surprising Notre Dame.

Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers became baseball's first Triple Crown winner in 45 years. The Kings put together a stunning run through the Stanley Cup playoffs, the last celebratory moment the NHL got to enjoy before more labor strife led to a lockout. Baylor went 40-0 for the NCAA women's basketball title, while Kentucky returned to the top of the men's game. And the Giants (New York) and Giants (San Francisco) more than lived up to their names, in championship fashion.

But if there was one happy ending among all those the drawn-out sagas of this sports year, it was the year James had with the Heat.

Miami won the NBA title, beating Oklahoma City in five games for the franchise's second title and the first for James, who left Cleveland for the Heat two years earlier for moments such as that. He won the league's MVP award. He won the NBA Finals MVP award. He even helped the Americans win another basketball gold medal at the London Olympics.

After all he went through - from hero to villain, revered to pariah for his infamous ``Decision'' - James found a way to shake it all off and complete his quest.

``It's a year I know I'm never going to forget,'' James said.

Not many people will.

Thing is, in so many cases in 2012, it isn't for the right reasons.

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Brooks Orpik's time in Washington may not be over after all

Brooks Orpik's time in Washington may not be over after all

Friday's trade with the Colorado Avalanche seemed to mark the end of Brooks Orpik's time with the Washington Capitals. But that may not actually be the case.

Trading away Orpik also meant trading away his $5.5 million cap hit. That is not an insignificant amount of money especially for a team trying to re-sign defenseman John Carlson to a big-money contract.

But Orpik will not be playing out the final year of his contract in Colorado. The Avalanche placed Orpik on unconditional waivers Saturday for the purpose of a buyout, according to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.

CapFriendly has the details of the buyout. The Avalanche will pay Orpik $3 million and take a cap hit of $2.5 million in the 2018-19 season and $1.5 million in the 2019-20 season.

So why would Colorado agree to take Orpik just to buy him out and take on dead cap space? Because by acquiring him, it lowered the cost of the Grubauer trade.

What this means for Brooks Orpik is that he will become a free agent, free to sign with anyone for the upcoming season. Including Washington.

For a 37-year-old defenseman who does not boast great mobility or speed, a $5.5 million cap hit was a bit too steep for the Caps who were very close to the cap ceiling last season and who need that extra money to re-sign their free agents. But the team did value Orpik's leadership and that could be especially important as young defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos continue developing plus prospects Jonas Siegenthaler, Lucas Johansen and Connor Hobbs all try to work themselves into contention for a spot on the NHL roster.

If Orpik does return, it will be a masterstroke for general manager Brian MacLellan. MacLellan freed up a lot of cap space to re-sign Carlson without having to buy out Orpik's contract, but could still possibly keep him on the roster at a much-reduced cost.

After a strong playoff performance, there may be other teams vying for Orpik's services next season. Getting traded to get bought out likely isn't a good feeling, but considering he just won a Stanley Cup in Washington, the defensive guru Todd Reirden is expected to be promoted to head coach and that re-signing with the Caps would mean not moving his family for what could very possibly and will very likely be the last contract of his NHL career, there are a lot of reasons why it would make sense for both the team and the player if Orpik stayed with the Caps.

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Jay Gruden know the pressure is on him in 2018

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Jay Gruden know the pressure is on him in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, June 24, 32 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The heat is on Jay Gruden

Jay Gruden knows that his Redskins need to win in 2018.

“This isn’t a two- or three-year process,” he said last week. “This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away.” 

Jay Gruden gave this answer to a question about Alex Smith, but his words should resonate with the whole team. He’s right. This is no longer a rebuilding team. It’s time for this team to get it together and make a playoff run. 

That puts the pressure on Gruden. 

This is his fifth year as coach of the Redskins. He is well beyond the point where he can credibly point a finger of blame at his predecessor for any problems that are lingering. Only five players who were around in 2013, Mike Shanahan’s last year in Washington. It’s Gruden’s show now. 

His tenure is now the longest for a Redskins head coach since Norv Turner made it nearly seven years, from 1994 through 13 games into the 2000 season. His 49-59-1 run with the Redskins spanned three owners in Jack Kent Cooke, John Kent Cooke, and Dan Snyder. 

It should be noted that Turner’s third and fourth years at the helm closely resembled Gruden’s past two years. Turner’s team went 9-7 in 1996 and 8-7-1 the next year, narrowly missing the playoffs both years. That looks a lot like Gruden’s 8-7-1 and 7-9 records over the past two years. 

Gruden does not want this year’s team to resemble the 1998 Redskins. Turner’s fifth team started out 0-7 before winning four of their last five to finish 6-10. 

Turner kept his job in part because of the team’s uncertain ownership situation after the elder Cooke passed away in 1997. Gruden will not have a similar set of circumstances to help him out if he needs a lifeline in January. 

Gruden wants his fifth year to turn out more like Turner’s sixth season. That team went 10-6, topped the NFC East standings and won a playoff game. 

To get there, he needs a lot of his decisions to go right. While the trade for Smith was not his call, every indication is that he was on board with it. 

Last year, it was his decision to say no, thanks to Wade Phillips, who wanted to be his defensive coordinator and promote Greg Manusky into the job. The results were mixed as the Redskins were sixth in pass defense DVOA but 29thagainst the run. It was viewed as a marginal improvement on defense but the unit still seeme to be more of a liability than an asset. 

This year, the Redskins re-signed inside linebackers Zach Brown and Mason Foster and added defensive lineman Daron Payne with their first-round pick after spending their first-round pick on DE Jonathan Allen in 2017. There will be no excuses for Manusky and, by extension, Gruden if the defense does not improve. 

Joe Barry, Manusky’s predecessor who also was hired by Gruden when Phillips was an option, was out after two years of failing to significantly improve the defense. Any reasonable analysis would have to conclude that Barry did not get an infusion of talent anywhere approaching what Manusky has received in his two seasons. Manusky is getting a second year but he probably won’t get a third if the defense is still considered to be an impediment to the team’s progress. 

And if Manusky has to go, you have to wonder if Gruden will get a chance to hire a third defensive coordinator. 

I’m not sure if there is a certain number of games that the Redskins have to win for Gruden to return in 2019. It feels like he would not survive a 6-10 season or maybe not even another 7-9 finish. On the other end of the spectrum, making the playoffs and winning a game when they get there would certainly punch his ticket for a sixth season. 

Anything in between would leave Gruden in some jeopardy and the call would come down to the vague “moving in the right direction” criteria. 

There are some holes on this team, to be sure. But every team has some and the ones that are well coached figure out how to overcome them. The pressure will be on Gruden to best utilize their strengths and minimize any damage brought about by the weaker points. 

From his statement, it’s apparent that he is well aware of that. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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I put out a tweet correcting the Super Bowl ring count to two.

Timeline  

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 32
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 46
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 60

The Redskins last played a game 175 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 77 days. 

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