As the curtain closes on another year, there is plenty of reason to look back on the highs and lows of 2013. In the world of sports there were plenty as always. Bayern Munich dominated European soccer in a historic manner. The U.S. Men’s National Team had their best year in history, which was doubly nice considering U.S. Soccer is celebrating 100 years of existence. The Baltimore Ravens weathered a Superdome blackout to win the Super Bowl in a rocking New Orleans. Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide won its second straight national title. They looked to be well on their way to a third, until an Iron Bowl for the ages that saw Auburn escape with a flabbergasting upset (oddly that word is appropriate there). Baseball saw the Pirates return to the postseason for the first time in two decades, a Cuban sensation light up the sport with immature antics and absurd skill, and the Red Sox go from yuck to yay on the backs of an undersized Japanese man and oversized Dominican one. Lebron James somehow became a better basketball player, and led his Miami Heat to their second consecutive championship, much to the chagrin of much of the country. Tiger Woods won five tournaments, but didn’t win a Major so was considered by many to be a disappointment. Roger Federer had his worst season in what seems like a lifetime, while his greatest rival Rafael Nadal had a comeback for the ages, taking home two major titles. The Blackhawks beat the Bruins in a matchup of Original Six members. A year after Kentucky won the NCAA tournament, Louisville took the 2013 title, proving that North Carolina has serious competition for best college basketball state. Phew. That was just the big stuff.
Enough of the nostalgia. As a sports fan, 2014 poses some big excitement and apprehension. All the usual suspects will be in play, including the NFL circus, the Heat’s quest for the elusive three-peat, a new season of baseball, and the madness of the NHL Playoffs. Tiger will look to get back in the major win column, and Fed will try to pull a thirties comeback. Despite all that sports appeal, 2014 provides some sizable add-ons from the typical calendar. The first big one comes February 6th with the Sochi Olympics. So far most of the press has been on the Russian government’s crackdown on gay rights. Much speculation has arisen about what will happen, and the ante was upped even further when the U.S. announced that Billie Jean King, tennis great, and openly gay woman, would lead their delegation to the games. Recent bombings in Volgograd have shifted focus from the gay discussion to the much more cheery possibility of terrorist attacks at the games. Nothing like hate and violence to get you in the mood for speed skating and ski jumping.
The other major event of the year appears to be more festive, but isn’t without concerns of its own. Brazil is a soccer country. However, it is also a country of political turmoil, and great wealth inequality. Those two identities came to a head last summer at the Confederation’s Cup. The Cup, which is essentially a mini dry run for the World Cup, featured mass protests and riots over the billions being poured into World Cup arrangements and construction, while many of the nation’s issues like education and overall infrastructure were being ignored. All signs indicate that more protests are likely to occur when the tournament kicks off in June. Concerns have also arisen over working conditions at the sites of the many new stadiums being built, most recently after two workers were killed in a crane accident this past November. The beautiful game sounds less beautiful in that light.
Despite the unease surrounding both Sochi and Brazil, both events are sure to have their thrill of sporting exciting and disappointment to go along with the political spectacles. The Russians will be looking for a good showing on home soil…or should I say snow. The Brazilians, coming off a convincing win in the Confederation’s Cup, will be desperate to replicate that success in front of their adoring, if often unruly fans. The most popular sporting event in the world will see the defending champions Spain vying for their fourth straight major international title, an unprecedented feat.
Maybe the other largest change coming in 2014, is the end of the BCS. Next season college football will be implementing a four team playoff to decide the national champion, after years of grumbling from fans, players, media, and often times coaches. By no means will the controversy be gone from the sport, but the new format should at least provide some appeasement.
2013 was a great year in the world of sport (even if my teams largely stunk). Here’s hoping that 2014 will provide more excitement, and less controversy. In the meantime have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve and Day!
(Pardon the worse than usual grammar. I blame the piña coladas, my noisy family, and the poolside setting. Vacation life!)