Did you see that Chris Bosh video bomb? How many versions of "Eli Manning Looking at Things" can you name? When the soccer titans tangled on Twitter, were you #TeamChastain or #TeamSolo? Feeling a bit overwhelmed? Well, SI is here to help, highlighting 2012's good (Charles Barkley does Shaq), bad (the Olympics on tape delay) and god-awful (Terry Bradshaw goes Gangnam Style). Consider yourself back in the loop
Book of Revelation
During his years with the U.S. Postal Service team, Tyler Hamilton toiled as a kind of super-domestique for Lance Armstrong, chasing breakaways, pacing his leader up the mountains, sublimating his own ambitions to assure victory for the boss.
There was Hamilton last September, once again setting the table, not for Armstrong this time but for his archnemesis, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. Hamilton's explosive memoir, The Secret Race, written with Daniel Coyle, is a stunning and sometimes sickening account of the doping pervasive in the pro peloton. Chiefly a chronicle of Hamilton's own dependence on testosterone, EPO and good old-fashioned blood doping throughout his career, the book also details—damningly—Armstrong's journey to cycling's dark side.
Five weeks after The Secret Race was released, USADA made public its "Reasoned Decision," a summary of the overwhelming evidence it had gathered, leaving little doubt that Armstrong doped throughout his career. If The Secret Race were an earthquake, flattening what remained of the Texan's credibility, USADA's "Reasoned Decision" was the tidal wave that swept it out to sea, never to be seen again.
While Hamilton's accounts of injecting EPO along with Armstrong are certainly sensational, the book serves another important role by explaining how even a principled rider could knuckle under and make the acquaintance of "Edgar"—USPS shorthand for EPO. Consider: What if Armstrong had given up the game five years ago? What if he'd gone on Leno, apologized and explained that he doped because he felt like he didn't have a choice?
There would've been a lot of schaudenfreude—the guy made plenty of enemies on the way up. But there would've been nods of understanding. He would've earned a large measure of forgiveness. He would have avoided the stunning, Shakespearean plunge awaiting him last October, when the sport's governing body, International Cycling Union (UCI), stripped him of his seven Tour de France titles; longtime sponsors such as Oakley, Trek and (et tu, Brute?) Nike threw him unceremoniously overboard; and he was forced to cut ties with his own cancer-fighting foundation, Livestrong.
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis was fond of observing, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant." By flinging open the shutters on this sordid corner of sport, Hamilton and Coyle have helped force the ineffective, see-no-evil UCI to acknowledge the scope of its problem. In the end, that's more important than exposing a gigantic fraud.
Deny, Deny, Deny
A 1,000-page report from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency released on Oct. 10 placed Lance Armstrong at the center of a sophisticated doping conspiracy and justified the voiding of his seven Tour de France titles. After a decade of non-American outlets like The Sunday Times of London and France's L'Equipe driving the story, most of the U.S. cycling press quickly grasped the strength of USADA's findings and addressed the implications. But generalist media Stateside? Not so much.
Writer for Newsweek and The Daily Beast; author of Friday Night Lights
"He is a hero, one of the few we have left in a country virtually bereft of them. And he needs to remain one.... [E]ven if he did take enhancers, so what?"
—Newsweek, Sept. 3, 2012
From multiple meltdowns on Twitter to calling sportswriter Will Leitch "Jimmy Olsen on Percocet," prone to hyperbolic rants
BUT STILL ...
Miss the skepticism and reportorial rigor of Bissinger's Pulitzer-winning work for The Philadelphia Inquirer
Former New York Times columnist, scourge of excesses in sports and "godding up" of athletes
"[And] if all the rumors about his use of performance enhancing drugs turned out to be true? I'm willing to live with it. Let's assume that Lance's doctors have been so skillful that he never tested positive. Can we move on?"
—The New Republic, Oct. 17, 2012
Like Armstrong, a testicular cancer survivor; has confessed that cyclist is "closest I have ... to a celebrity jock hero"
BUT STILL ...
USADA report shows Armstrong to be what Lipsyte has spent entire career blasting: an alpha jock granted license to bully others with impunity
Washington Post columnist, former SI senior writer, co-author of two Armstrong as-told-tos
"There's nothing that I can learn about him short of murder that would alter my opinion on [Armstrong].... He's not the mastermind criminal the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency makes him out to be, and ... the process of stripping him of his titles reeks"
—The Washington Post, Aug. 25, 2012
Armstrong business partner on best sellers It's Not About the Bike and Every Second Counts
BUT STILL ...
Despite role as amanuensis for spin in millions of copies in print—e.g., "I would never take a substance like EPO or human growth hormone and jeopardize my health after what I'd been through"—she wrote in the Post on Dec. 16 that she's "not angry at Lance" because "the vast majority of [paragraphs in their books together], I stand by as honest."
Multiplatform commentator for ESPN and former SI senior writer
USADA was "riding roughshod on slippery rules and sketchy standards," and "all [its] evidence, is based on testimony, not tests"
—ESPN.com, Sept. 4, 2012
Had just written strident repudiation of Joe Paterno—like Armstrong, the subject of a Reilly SI Sportsman of the Year profile
BUT STILL ...
Federal judge ruled USADA protocols "sufficient, if applied reasonably, to satisfy due process"; beyond testimony of 11 former teammates, report contains extensive analytic evidence
New Yorker writer and author of human behavioral best sellers The Tipping Point and Blink
"[Armstrong] was the guy who sat down and was rigorous and focused and thoughtful and intelligent and cutting edge in how to use [PEDs] and apply them and make himself better ... so is that a bad thing?"
—Bill Simmons Report podcast, Oct. 5, 2012
Out-on-a-limb contrarianism is Gladwell's stock-in-trade
BUT STILL ...
Argument collapses in face of Armstrong's exclusive deal with cycling's top dope doctor; the way PEDs help different people to different degrees; and Armstrong's harassment from peloton of clean riders who decried drug culture
Thinking Fan's Guide to Footy
FourFourTwo, the world's preeminent soccer magazine, has grown as outdated as the eponymous bread-and-butter formation: At the core, it's a laddy mag with little of the depth expected—in the States, at least—by such a cerebral crowd. Which makes Howler (launched in October at $15 per issue) a revelation, like the sexy 3-5-2 alignment that Man City started fiddling with this spring—ups and downs and all. Dolled up with clever charts, beautiful illustrations (Wayne Rooney and Vincent Kompany painted as 19th-century gents) and playful pullouts (a paper Clint Dempsey doll), Howler is a literary work-in-progress. Issue One was buoyed by a meditation on "What is American Soccer?" and weighted down by puffier pieces on Stuart Holden and the MLS All-Star Game. But the quarterly also represents progress for the soccer set, proof that the fan base extends beyond the pint swillers they've been associated with for decades. Onward and upward.
— Adam Duerson
Best description Of a Dallas Football owner (Not Jerry Jones)
"Billy is thinking if you took every person he's ever known in his life and added up the sum total of their wealth, this presumably grand number would still pale in comparison to the stupendous net worth of Norm Ogelsby, or 'Norm' as he's known to the media, friends, colleagues, legions of Cowboys fans and even the even mightier legions of Cowboys haters who for whatever reason—his smug, kiss-my-ass arrogance, say, or his flaunting of the whole America's Team shtick, or his willingness to whore out the Cowboys brand to everything from toasters to tulip bulbs—despise the man's guts even as they're forced to admit his genius for turning serious bucks."
—From Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain's National Book Award--nominated novel
Tim Wakefield began his professional career as a first baseman, but one season (and a .189 batting average in Class A ball) later, he had to take desperate measures to prolong his flickering major league dream: He became a knuckleball pitcher. "At first I felt like a freak show," Wakefield said years later, as he was nearing the end of a 19-year career in which he won 200 games. "Everybody asked me to throw it for them. They wanted to see it, like something in a zoo."
The knuckleball has always held novelty-act status in baseball's radar-gun-obsessed culture, but the pitch and its practitioners gained some long-overdue respect this year. It began last March with the publication of Wherever I Wind Up, a thoughtful, brutally honest memoir by then Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey. The book made headlines for Dickey's disclosure of the sexual abuse he suffered as a child, but it was also a poetic meditation on the knuckleball as metaphor for life. It's winding, unpredictable, often uncontrollable—and can only be mastered with vast reserves of cunning and cojones.
Dickey wrote eloquently about the fraternity of knuckleball pitchers, a tight-knit group of current and former major leaguers that was the subject of Knuckleball!, the acclaimed documentary that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last April. Filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg followed the now-retired Wakefield (then with the Red Sox) and Dickey through the 2011 season, documenting the ups and downs of life as a knuckleballer and the friendships that have developed among Wakefield, Dickey and older pitchers like Charlie Hough and Phil Niekro.
To master the floater, ex-pitcher Jim Bouton says in the film, "you need the fingertips of a safecracker and the mind of a Zen Buddhist." By the end of the year it wasn't only knuckleballers themselves singing the pitch's praises. In November, Dickey, who won 20 games this year and led the National League in strikeouts, became the first knuckleballer to win the NL Cy Young Award. For one year, anyway, the knuckleball was a freak show no more.
You're Learning, Baby!
The voice of college hoops (and at least one Jock Jams remix), Dick Vitale, is now giving his most frequently referenced demographic a lesson in the fundamentals with Dickie V's ABCs and 1-2-3s: A Great Start for Young Superstars. (Proceeds benefit charity.) Vitale has handpicked a variety of words for each letter; most are predictable (A is for awesome, B is for baby), but a few give a glimpse into the mind of the Hall of Fame analyst (X is for XLarge, U is for unicorn). Parents be warned: If you tire easily of Vitale's trademark enthusiasm during tournament time, just wait until your Diaper Dandy discovers the book's interactive button, which plays a selection of the announcer's most famous catchphrases.
Ray Mancini was the All-American Everyman, raised near the steel furnaces of Youngstown, Ohio. The son of a lightweight whose own title dreams had been shattered by a mortar shell on a World War II battlefield, Mancini was more than a champ: When Sugar Ray Leonard retired days before Mancini's 1982 bout against Duk-koo Kim, the fighter CBS billed as "The Last White Ethnic" became America's most marketable fighter of the post-Ali era. Until it all came crashing down.
The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini is Mark Kriegel's compelling chronicle of a rust-belt folk hero's made-for-Hollywood ascent and the battle with Kim—who died from injuries suffered at Mancini's hands—that led his downfall. An absorbing blend of psychological drama and fearless reportage, Kriegel deconstructs the sprawling consequences of that fateful day at Caesars Palace, driving at the heart of where the heady romanticism and stark reality of the cruelest sport converge.
—Bryan Armen Graham
BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS (MARONEY)
JEFF CURRY/GETTY IMAGES (DICKEY)
PORTER BINKS (VITALE)
Actually, We Are Impressed
The ironic thing about the year's funniest meme, McKayla Is Not Impressed, is that McKayla Maroney was actually the most engaging member of the gold-medal-winning U.S. women's gymnastics team. She carried the Fierce Five's interview with David Letterman and spoofed her scowl on The Colbert Report. Among her fans: Barack Obama, who did an impressive impression of the not-impressed face when the team visited the White House.
Uses of the f-word in Jeremy Roenick's memoir, J.R.
Uses of the f-word in Fifty Shades of Grey