SPORTS: 2006 was a year of sports highs-and lows

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What a mixed bag 2006 was. For every yin, there was yang.

Yin: The Indianapolis Colts claimed home-field advantage in the NFL playoffs. Yang: They then lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers when mouthy M i ke Va n d e r j a g t gagged on the gametyin kick.

Yin: The city hosted a simply extraordinary Final Four at the RCA Dome and welcomed to town a genuine Cinderella, George Mason. Yang: The games were one-sided, and, speaking of blowouts, the One Indiana Square building suffered one on Final Four weekend.

Yin: The U.S. Track & Field Championships returned to Michael Carroll stadium at IUPUI with world-record holding sprinter Justin Gatlin as the headliner. Yang: A month later, we learned Gatlin competed despite a prior positive test for drugs.

Yin: The Indianapolis 500 made progress in recapturing some of the lost magic and the winner was the popular and deserving Sam Hornish Jr. Yang: The month-and the year, for that matter-came and went without a joining of hands between the Indy Racing League and Champ Car, and open-wheel racing and its fans continued to suffer because of it.

Yin: The U.S. Grand Prix returned after the 2005 debacle. Yang: Much of the field was wiped out in a first-turn-of-the-firstlap melee and Michael Schumacher won again in a race that defined tedium.

Yin: On his way to the Nextel Cup championship, Jimmy Johnson won the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. Yang: Empty seats were plentiful in the IMS grandstands.

Yin: With the Indiana Pacers, there really weren’t many bright spots, except for the promising play of young Danny Granger. Donnie Walsh and Larry Bird vowed changes after the turmoilfilled ’05-06 season concluded, and delivered by bringing in 11 fresh faces. Yang: Training camp wasn’t even three days old when newcomer Marquis Daniels joined veterans Stephen Jackson and Jamal Tinsley for a late-night excursion to the now infamous Club Rio. And within minutes, an off season filled with goodwill gestures and complemented by a public relations campaign went up in (gun) smoke.

Yin: The Colts started out a second season at 9-0, becoming the first NFL team in history to do so in back-to-back years. Yang: The team staggered toward the new year with four losses (all on the road) in its last six games and a defense that seemingly couldn’t stop Switzerland. Barring a miracle as this is being written, a firstround bye is lost and the Colts will enter the postseason being given little chance of reaching the Super Bowl.

Yin: The framework of Lucas Oil Stadium filled the downtown skyline. Yang: Stadium developers took a big public relations hit when they tried to evict the familyowned Hurst Bean Co. Then came the news that there’s no budget for operating costs when the stadium opens in 2008.

Yin: The Big Ten men’s and women’s basketball tournaments returned to Conseco Fieldhouse. Yang: Once again, both Indiana and Purdue were gone before the men’s final. And in the women’s final, Purdue lost to Ohio State, then later lost its coach, Kristy Curry, to Texas Tech.

Yin: IU did the right thing in showing Mike Davis to the door of the men’s basketball coaching office. Yang: The new hire, Kelvin Sampson, arrived with his Sampsonite luggage filled with secondary NCAA violations and a poor graduation rate at Oklahoma.

Yin: North Central’s Eric Gordon’s committed to Indiana, and Matt Painter has had two straight years of outstanding recruiting classes. Yang: The future isn’t now.

Yin: Purdue and Notre Dame are in bowl games. Yang: Other than Notre Dame’s season-opening road victory at Georgia Tech, they didn’t have a quality win between the two of them.

Yin: Terry Hoeppner survived another brain surgery and had the Hoosiers bowleligible until the 12th game. Yang: Losses to Southern Illinois, Connecticut and the season-ender at Purdue.

Yin: Warren Central won a record fourth straight Class 5A football title. Yang: Its two best players, Mr. Football Darren Evans (Virginia Tech) and safety Jerimy Finch (Michigan) are going out of state.

Yin: Lawrence North, New Castle, Forest Park and Hauser won state boys basketball championships. Yang: Hardly anyone outside those communities cares anymore.

Of course, there was some yin that came with no yang. The Big Ten chose Indianapolis and Conseco Fieldhouse over Chicago to host the women’s and men’s basketball tournaments from 2008-2012, and Carmel’s Crooked Stick got the Western Open/BMW Championships from Chicago in 2010.

And Barry Collier returned to Butler as athletic director while Todd Lickliter guided the Bulldogs to wins over IU, Notre Dame and Purdue and the preseason NIT Championship.

Which leads me to my toast for the New Year:

May 2007 bring more yin and less yang.

Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column,go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to Benner also has a blog,

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