Even with some disappointments sprinkled in (Ron Artest, Purdue football and no state teams in the NCAA men's basketball tournament), 2005 was an outstanding year for sports in Indiana. But 2006 will be even better. In that vein, we look back, and we look ahead:
Best local sports stories of 2005
1) The passing of the funding mechanisms at the state and local levels that led to the Sept. 20 groundbreaking for Indiana Stadium. While Reggie Miller's retirement from the Indiana Pacers and the Colts' quest for an unbeaten season (see below) loomed large, the significance of the stadium will have a lasting-and positive-impact for thousands upon thousands of Hoosiers for decades to come.
2) Miller's retirement. During his 18 years with the Pacers, Indianapolis came of age as a sports town and No. 31 led the parade. While etching dozens of memorable moments into our collective psyche, Miller's less-publicized acts of goodwill toward children and fans are as much a part of his legacy as his "boom-baby" three-pointers.
3) The Colts. They came back from another hugely disappointing playoff loss to New England to run off 13 victories and chase history deep into the 2005 regular season. Best of all, following the example of Tony Dungy, the Colts won with class and character. Still, for 2005 to be remembered for all time, the Colts will have to close the deal in February of 2006.
4) The comeback of the Indy 500, led by Danica Patrick. I've attended many 500s, but cannot recall anything close to the roar that engulfed the stands when Patrick took the lead from eventual winner Dan Wheldon on a late restart. The race capped a month in which a new schedule-augmented by the long-overdue decision to shift Carburetion Day from Thursday to Friday-paid big benefits. However, while the 500 experienced a resurgence, the fragmented world of American open-wheeled racing continued to lag far behind NASCAR.
5) Speaking of NASCAR, Tony Stewart's victory in the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard proved to be the exclamation point to a second championship season for the Columbus Comet. Stewart moved home to Columbus, found some perspective, upgraded his image and became likeable to even Jeff Gordon fans. Well, some Jeff Gordon fans.
Best local event of 2005
The Solheim Cup brought top-caliber professional golf back to central Indiana and turned pristine Crooked Stick in Carmel into a cauldron of passion and patriotism. Hopefully, it demonstrated the area has an appetite for championship golf. The Solheim also provided a fitting conclusion to the "Year of the Woman in Sports" with the Big Ten women's basketball tournament, the NCAA Women's Final Four and the VISA Gymnastics championships also coming to town. And, as already noted, Danica made a pretty impressive statement for women, too.
Worst local event of 2005
Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials were helpless when the U.S. Grand Prix turned into one of motorsports' all-time debacles and a worldwide embarrassment for Michelin. Most angry ticketholders departed well ahead of Michael Schumacher's shallow victory over the depleted field. Guess who else left early? F-1 czar Bernie Ecclestone bailed out, too, rather than face the heat.
Athlete of the Year
Peyton Manning. Don't give me that "can't win the big one" nonsense. The guy finished off an MVP year and laid the groundwork for yet another.
Coach of the Year
In his 40th year coaching at Sheridan and not that far removed from his own family tragedy, Bud Wright guided the Blackhawks to a seventh state football championship and eclipsed 300 wins for his career.
Play of the Year
Luke Zeller's buzzer-beating half-court shot gave Washington the Class 3A state basketball championship over Plymouth and almost made people forget about the travesty of multi-class basketball. Almost.
Gesture of the Year
Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis's pledge to a dying boy to let the youngster call Notre Dame's first offensive play-"pass right"-against Washington. Even when Notre Dame took possession on its own 1-yard line, Weis honored the pledge. Brady Quinn's pass went for 13 yards and a first down.
Game of the Year
Notre Dame-USC. An instant classic.
Top 5 sports stories of '06
1) The Colts win the Super Bowl, re-sign Edgerrin James and position themselves for another championship in '07.
2) Michael Andretti comes out of retirement to win the Indianapolis 500.
3) Indiana captures the Big Ten basketball tournament in Conseco Fieldhouse and Mike Davis wins enough games to keep his job.
4) The Pacers lose in the first round of the playoffs, forcing a major roster shakeup.
5) Notre Dame plays its way into the 2007 BCS national championship game.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.