By any measure, 2010 was an outstanding year in sports in Indiana … Indianapolis, in particular.
Even though the top two sports stories of the year ended in defeats.
Here are moments and memories from the year worthy of recognition.
Top Story: Easy call ... the Butler University men’s basketball team. Coach Brad Stevens’ Bulldogs took the entire nation along for an improbable and incredible joy ride through the NCAA tournament. It ended with Gordon Hayward’s heart-stopping, half-court shot bouncing off the rim at the buzzer, leaving Butler barely on the short end of a 61-59 loss to heavily favored Duke University at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Runner-up: The Indianapolis Colts dispatched Baltimore, then defeated the New York Jets in the AFC Championship Game, to reach their second Super Bowl in four years. Unfortunately, the favored Horseshoes lost to Destiny’s Darlings, the New Orleans Saints, in the big game. Then there was the irony—the Colts were beaten by a Boilermaker (quarterback Drew Brees, who outshined Peyton Manning) and a Hoosier (cornerback Tracy Porter, who had the game-clinching interception).
Event of the Year: OK, that Butler made the Final Four that took place in its hometown five miles from campus was serendipity, but Indy—and first-time F4 venue Lucas Oil Stadium—reaffirmed that the NCAA’s headquarters city, and local organizers, didn’t take home-court advantage for granted. Longtime observers went away proclaiming it the best Final Four ever. Of course, a string of sunny, 70-degree days didn’t hurt.
Not-What-It-Used-To-Be Event of the Year: NASCAR drivers say the Brickyard 400 is the second-biggest race of their year, but the paying customers filled fewer than half of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 256,000 seats.
Comeback of the Year: Well, the Indy Racing League is at least on its way back, with a new boss (Randy Bernard), new chassis designs and Chevrolet part of the future.
Happiest Sight of the Year: Butler President Bobby Fong being bodied-surfed by students on campus in the wee hours after the Bulldogs clinched a Final Four berth by defeating Kansas State.
How The Mighty Have Fallen Sight of the Year: Only 12 months before, he had been one of the most powerful people in motorsports. So it was odd—to say the least—to see Tony George sitting apart from his mother and sisters at the Indy 500 Victory Banquet.
Nice Guys Finish Last (And Then They Get Fired) Award: Within hours of beating Purdue and reclaiming the Old Oaken Bucket, Nice Guy Bill Lynch—with a Big Ten record of 3-21 in the three previous seasons—is sacked by Athletic Director Fred Glass.
Quote of the Year: “Those who are talking don’t know and those who know aren’t talking”—Glass, predicting a covert search for Lynch’s successor, then following through with surprise pick Kevin Wilson from the University of Oklahoma.
Bad Break of the Year: One torn ACL for Boilermaker basketballer Robbie Hummel and Purdue was bad luck. The second was just cruel.
Signature of the Year: Washington, Ind., hoops standout Cody Zeller’s, on a letter of intent to attend Indiana University and play for Tom Crean next year.
Signing of the Year: Point guard Darren Collison by the Indiana Pacers, though lately coach Jim O’Brien seems not so sure.
Athlete of the Year: Despite playing on a struggling, injury-plagued team, Purdue University defensive end Ryan Kerrigan was a nearly unstoppable force and became a consensus All-American.
Coach of the Year: Indiana State University’s Trent Miles. After the Sycamores won only two of their previous 62 games, Miles guided them to a 6-5 record, their first winning season since 1996.
Sportsman of the Year: Mount Vernon High School (Posey County) football coach Paul Maier. In October, when rival Jasper High School decided to insert Zach Beckman, a senior who has Down syndrome, into the waning moments of a lopsided conference championship victory over his Mount Vernon squad, Maier instructed his defense to allow Beckman to score. Beckman then ran 41 yards into the end zone, setting off a joyous celebration—and a moment of happiness for that young man—that transcended the outcome.•
Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at email@example.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.