2008 was a great year for sports. Michael Phelps’ record-setting 8 gold medals highlighted the most exciting Olympic Games of my lifetime, which also included a gold medal for the Redeem Team in Men’s basketball as well as excitement in gymnastics from Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson and on the track from Usain Bolt.
In the NFL, the New England Patriots started the season 18-0 only to lose in one of the most dramatic and surprising Super Bowl outcomes of all-time against Eli Manning and the New York Giants.
The NBA saw the resurgence of its two most storied franchises when the Boston Celtics met the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals, won by Boston in six games.
College sports featured another upset-filled football season that saw a slew of top teams knocked off down the stretch, eventually setting up an LSU vs. Ohio State matchup in the BCS title game, which LSU won handily. And in basketball, Kansas ended the David-and-Goliath-like run of Davidson before upending Memphis thanks to a clutch shot from Mario Chalmers that will be replayed every March from now on.
Major League Baseball featured a season in which the previously-forever-futile Tampa Bay Rays removed the ‘Devil’ and beat out the Evil Empire New York Yankees and their Boston brethren to win the AL East and, eventually, the pennant before losing to the Philadelphia Phillies. For the City of Brotherly Love, it was their first title in the major four sports since 1983.
And in the NHL (yes, hockey reporting on MattHubert.com), Sid Crosby grew up as he led his Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals where they fell to the Detroit Red Wings.
Yes, it was a good year for sports—just not for my teams in sports.
Most of my teams failed, plain and simple. But even those that had good seasons ended up breaking my heart.
The Lakers exceeded preseason expectations, but their Finals performance was disastrous—blowing a 24-point lead at home in Game 4 and folding to lose Game 6—and the series—by 39 points. The fact that this happened against archrival Boston was what hurt most of all, though, and all the year’s successes were mitigated by six lackluster games leaving me feeling empty and betrayed.
Likewise, in college hoops, UCLA had a strong season, riding freshman Kevin Love to the Final Four. It was the Bruins’ third straight trip to the Final Four, and with Love filling the void that had seemingly cost them in two previous losses—a formidable presence down low—it seemed like this was the year. But Love shot just 4-11 and Memphis outscored UCLA 40-28 in the second half to pull away for a victory that the Tigers controlled pretty much the whole way.
And if the Lakers and Bruins’ season-ending losses stung, at least they had some wins to get them there. The Raiders finished out the ’08 campaign with back-to-back victories to salvage something from a lost season, but they still finished 5-11, which made them the first team in NFL history to have five seasons in a row with at least 11 losses. They also fired coach Lane Kiffin, making interim Tom Cable the Raiders’ fifth head coach in six years.
Things were no better in the college ranks where Michigan won just three games, lost five games at the Big House, and missed a bowl for the first time since 1974.
In baseball, the A’s weren’t even relevant, and though they’ve been competitive in the decade, have never made a World Series appearance during the Moneyball era.
But 2008 is over, so it’s time to focus on the future.
Here now are 10 predictions, fears and dreams for 2009—five for the sports world at large and five focusing on my teams—the Lakers, Raiders, Michigan, UCLA and the Athletics.
- The Raiders will not make it a sixth straight year of 11-or-more losses, but they won’t break the .500 mark either.
- Lamar Odom will not be a Laker at the start of the 2009-10 season.
- Michigan will play in a bowl game in 2009.
- In basketball, Michigan will not only make it to the tournament, they’ll advance to the Sweet 16, further than my other team, UCLA, who will see its run of Final Four appearances snapped by an upset on the first weekend of the tournament.
- With a few call-ups to bolster their staff, the A’s will return to the postseason.
- Tim Tebow will return to Florida and attempt to become a two-time Heisman and three-time national champion.
- With teams aware of his singular talent, Stephon Curry and Davidson will get tripped up in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
- LeBron James will supplant Kobe Bryant as NBA MVP.
- Tiger Woods will once again be the best golfer, winning two majors. (For the record, that’s hockey and golf in the same post.)
- Matt Cassell will start Week 1 for the New England Patriots—not Tom Brady.
- Jamarcus Russell fails to develop as a quarterback in 2009, forcing the Raiders to start over (again) at quarterback.
- Andrew Bynum will reinjure himself, handicapping the Lakers’ playoff chances again this year.
- Terrelle Pryor will be to Michigan what Troy Smith was with the added pain that he almost chose to play for the Wolverines.
- Jrue Holiday will follow Kevin Love’s lead and be one-and-done, off to the NBA after his freshman season.
- The Angels become the Yankees of the West, leaving Oakland in the dust when it comes to money for free agents.
- The Celtics sign Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett wills him to play as well as he did when the two took the Timberwolves to the playoffs in the 90s.
- Tom Brady makes a full recovery, and the Patriots regain their 2007 form.
- College football signs a 10-year extension to keep the current BCS system in place.
- USC’s football team stays focused for a full season.
- The Steelers win the Super Bowl, bringing out the annoying droves of fair-weather Steelers fans in all their black and gold glory.
- Al Davis sells the Raiders organization to give them a fresh start and a chance to win again.
- The Lakers find a way to combine the defense and athleticism of Trevor Ariza, size and three-point shooting of Vladimir Radmanovich, and basketball IQ and passing ability of Luke Walton to form a complete small forward.
- Michigan finds a freshman quarterback with the skills to run Rodriguez’s offense and the mind to handle Big Ten defenses.
- Michigan re-hangs the banners from the Fab Five’s Final Four appearances.
- A prominent free agent spurns the Yankees to sign with the A’s for less money because he prefers the A’s green uniforms to the Yankees’ green.
- My team wins a fantasy football championship.
- Major League Baseball institutes a salary cap to level the playing field and keep the Yankees in check.
- Sportscasters stop pointing out the obvious and provide actual insight.
- A Web site develops a jersey shop where you can order any player from any team from any era. My first order? Pooh Richardson circa 1990 with the Minnesota Timberwolves. I don’t know why, but that’s my dream.
- The Lakers host (and win) Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Beyonce is the halftime entertainment. And I have courtside seats next to Jack Nicholson to take it all in.
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