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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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NHL All-Star Skills: John Carlson puts his title on the line

NHL All-Star Skills: John Carlson puts his title on the line

ST. LOUIS -- The NHL's All-Star weekend kicked off on Thursday with media day. On Friday, we have the first competition as the players take part in the NHL All-Star Skills. Compared to the regular season, not much is on the line on Friday. Teams are not battling for two points in the standings, rivalries are pushed aside and the quest of the Stanley Cup is put on hold. But Friday's event will pit the best hockey players in the world against one another as they show off some of the skills that got them there. For Capitals fans specifically, there will be plenty of reasons to tune in.

Here is what you should be watching for in Friday's All-Star Skills:

T.J. Oshie's reception

You thought he was just a fan favorite in Washington? Oshie spent the first seven seasons of his NHL career with the St. Louis Blues and those fans have not forgotten. Oshie received a thunderous ovation from the fans on hand when he was introduced at Thursday's media day and you can expect that again on Friday anytime he is on the ice.

Unfortunately, with the shootout no longer included in the competition -- something in which Oshie excels -- he will not be specifically competing in any event himself. He will, however, participate as a shooter in the Bud Light NHL Save Streak so at least he can show off his skills there.

Holtby goes for the save streak

The majority of Friday's event -- and, let's face it, the All-Star Game itself -- is geared towards the offense. The one event for the goalies is the save streak. Braden Holtby and each of the other seven other goalies invited to the All-Star Game will take part in the save streak competition.

Each goalie will face shooters from an opposing division. All nine skaters will shoot with the divisional captain shooting last. If the goalie stops the captains' shot, the shooters continue shooting until the next goal. The goalie with the longest consecutive save streak wins.

Regardless of who you may cheer for, everyone should be keeping their fingers crossed for a tie. Why? The first tie-breaker is the total number of saves made, but if there remains a tie after that, then the tied goalies will compete in a sudden death round of goalie goals.

Yeah, we all want to see that.

Holtby is making his fifth consecutive appearance at the All-Star Game. He is the only active goalie to do so and one of only four players in franchise history to make five all-star appearances. It still must feel bittersweet as he has not had a great season thus far, but Friday's event -- as well as Saturday's game -- will be his opportunity to show that he remains one of the top netminders in the league.

Carlson defends his hardest shot title

The Caps player with the most at stake on Friday will be John Carlson who will be defending his title in the Enterprise NHL Hardest Shot. Should Carlson lose, it will be the first time in three years a Cap has not won the event as Alex Ovechkin won it in 2018 with a shot of 101.3 MPH.

Carlson faces stiff competition this year as Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber returns for the event. Weber is a three-time winner of the hardest shot, winning it in three consecutive years from 2015 to 2017. His best shot cames in 2015 when he fired a blazing 108.5 MPH to win, very close to Zdeno Chara's 108.8 MPH record.

Carlson and Weber should be considered the two favorites. Also competing against them will be Mark Giordano, Seth Jones, Victor Hedman and Elias Pettersson.

3-on-3 women's event

The All-Star Skills will feature two new events this year and easily the most highly anticipated will be the Elite Women's 3-on-3 presented by Adidas. One of the best rivalries in all of hockey, Team USA women and Team Canada women, will be renewed as all-star teams from each country will face-off in a 3-on-3 game.

The game will consist of two 10-minute periods with a running clock. All penalties will result in a penalty shot.

One of the biggest criticisms of All-Star weekend is that the skills and the game are not competitive enough. If you have ever felt this way, then this is the competition for you. The women's game will likely be the most competitive event of the entire weekend. Women's hockey does not often get the spotlight and you can beat these all-stars are going to take full advantage of the chance to promote their game. Add in the fact that they get to play against their biggest rivals and you can expect a pretty intense performance.

Shooting Stars

The second new event added to this year's competition is the Gatorade NHL Shooting Stars. Players will be positioned on an elevated platform behind the goal, about 30 feet up and shoot at different targets on the ice. Each player will attempt seven shots.

There will be eight shooters from the NHL All-Stars and an additional two women, one from the U.S. team and one from Canada, will participate. The women will be selected by social media vote.

With all events the NHL experiments with, we have no idea just what this will look like or how good it will be until we see it. Maybe it is the next big thing and maybe it will be a total flop.

But hey, nothing could be worse than watching the players try to shoot on the mini nets as they have in the past so at least it's not that.

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Kevin Long dissects Juan Soto’s World Series Game 1 home run off Gerrit Cole

Kevin Long dissects Juan Soto’s World Series Game 1 home run off Gerrit Cole

Before the Nationals faced off with the Houston Astros in the 2019 World Series, Washington’s hitting coach Kevin Long sat down with FOX Sports analyst Tom Verducci. Long told the veteran reporter that he guaranteed young phenom Juan Soto would hit a home run off a high fastball from Gerrit Cole.

It was considered a lofty prediction, as Cole was in the midst of a Cy Young-caliber year and had allowed just one earned run in 22.2 postseason innings thus far that October. But sure enough, four innings into the first game of the series, Soto did exactly that.

In his first at-bat, Soto looked overmatched and struck out on three pitches. He got his second look three innings later and must have learned something, because he took Cole’s 1-0 pitch—a fastball high and outside—and sent it 417 feet to the opposite field.

At the Nationals’ annual WinterFest event, Long spoke with NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas about what went into that prediction and why he felt compelled to make it.

“First and foremost, I do believe that Juan Soto is one of the best high fastball hitters in baseball,” Long said. “I’ve seen him numerous times take high fastballs and take care of business. Gerrit [Cole] doesn’t pitch in much, so I figured it was going to be out over the plate.

And the other factor there is, we weren’t getting much credit. They basically were cashing that game in as a loss. ‘We can’t beat Gerrit Cole. Gerrit Cole is too good. Gerrit Cole hasn’t lost since May.’ So I just said, ‘You know what? Let me just make a prediction, because I’m sick of hearing about how we’re not going to be able to do anything against this guy…and it ended up working out, it’s pretty cool.”

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW ON THE NATIONALS TALK PODCAST BELOW

The Nationals entered the World Series facing the longest odds Las Vegas oddsmakers had given to an underdog since 2007, when the Boston Red Sox were heavy favorites over the Colorado Rockies. Given that Washington went on to stun the baseball world and win in seven games, it isn’t surprising that most national fans didn’t quite yet understand what kind of player Soto is when the series began.

“I’ve had numerous people come up to me and say, ‘That was one of the most impressive home runs I have ever, ever seen,’” Long said. “As a left-handed hitter, number one. A 97-mph fastball and how far he hit it was remarkable. It truly was.

“We were putting together pretty good at-bats off him in those big situations you just need one guy to come through and that was Juan Soto’s moment. He got the pitch, he didn’t miss it and I don’t know if Gerrit was admiring it—I’m sure he wasn’t—but he was probably like, ‘Wow, this kid is pretty special.’”

Now, Soto is entering the 2020 season as the undisputed top hitter in Washington after Anthony Rendon departed for the Los Angeles Angels in free agency. Long doesn’t want Soto to change his approach too much, but rather just focus on what got him to this position in the first place.

“He doesn’t have to do a whole lot extra, he’s just got to basically be the Juan Soto he’s been,” Long said. “His swing is really, really good. He makes adjustments really well. He’s smart. He gets it, and at 21 years old that’s what makes him certainly unique.”

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