Top 12 Moments of the Year of the Bay Area Sports Renaissance
With the New Year just hours away, we can finally say it without fear of a buzzer-beating jinx: 2012 marks the Year of the Bay Area Sports Renaissance.
These things tend to come in cycles. The Bay's Age of Terrible Sports was a long, cold winter. Game Six in '02 was the first snow, and the blizzard came in Super Bowl XXXIV a few months later. Then came a decade or so of overall sucking. But enough of the past. Our time has come. The sun is shining and the Dodger$ mi$$ed the playoff$. The Giants are champions. The A's, 49ers, Warriors, Sharks, and Earthquakes are winning teams. Stanford is in the Rose Bowl. San Jose State football, Stanford women's basketball, and Cal men's basketball are thriving. Archbishop Mitty's Aaron Gordon is one of the five best high school basketball prospects in the country. Nonito Donaire, Andre Ward, and Robert Guerrero showed that the Bay Area might be boxing's new hotbed.
Perhaps no image symbolized the Bay Area's 2012 Sports Resurrection better than the indelible one from game seven of the NLCS: the rains purifying us, as we looked skyward, gleeful and maybe a little surprised, soaking in the moment.
And with that, as we toast to the old year and cheer in 2013, let's remember the Top 12 Bay Area Sports Moments of 2012:
12. San Jose State Wins Military Bowl
The Spartans' 29-20 victory over Bowling Green capped of the program's best year in decades. With an 11-2 record, they finished the season in the Top 25 polls for the first time since 1975. Coach Mike MacIntyre is leaving for the head coaching post at Colorado, but things are still looking up. The University of San Diego's Ron Caragher is coming north to take the job. And things worked out well the last time a USD coach arrived at a Bay Area campus.
11. Roberto Guerrero Upsets Andre Berto
It was brutal and beautiful at the same time. By the time arguably the best fight of 2012 was over, Berto's eyes were swollen shout. So was one of Guerrero's. The Oakland native won a signature decision victory that may put him in line to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr. next year.
10. Colin Kaepernick Debuts Against the Chicago Bears
In his first start as a pro, the second-year QB dropped 34 points on one of the league's best defenses and showed 49ers fans how explosive Jim Harbaugh's offense can look on the right shoulders. As we wrote the following day:
For a year and a half, Niner fans have seen their team more or less dominate the league, toppling teams led by Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. When the team made a run at Peyton Manning this summer, fans were split. The team was a competent punt returner away from the Super Bowl, pro-Alex Smith fans argued, so why switch it up for a 36-year-old coming off multiple neck surgeries?
The fundamental question with Alex Smith's recent resurgence has been: How much of Smith's success stems from his own evolution as a player, and how much is purely attributed to Jim Harbaugh's coaching ability?
Last night, Colin Kaepernick showed Niner fans what happens when you plug a talented quarterback into Harbaugh's offense.
He hadn't been known for these kind of fireworks. Ward, who won Olympic gold in 2004, has tended to control fights with guile, sliding around contact, battering the body, and picking his spots with crisp flurries. Knockout power had been the single missing piece in his otherwise flawless repertoire, the one thing seemingly keeping him from the pay-per-view mega-fights reserved for elite tier of boxers.
"In boxing right now, everybody's knockout hungry," he would say after the fight. "Everybody wants a knockout. I tell people you can still entertain without a knockout. But a knockout is always great."
And here he was, on the biggest stage of his career, on primetime HBO against perhaps his most talented opponent yet, chopping down the best light heavyweight in the world.
The Giants work the count, and put the ball in play. And, two batters into the contest, Pablo Sandoval put the ball over the wall in the deepest part of the park. His shot was an absolute bolt, a 421-foot bomb that would have endangered concessionaires in other ballparks, but barely cleared AT&T Park's center field wall. Verlander missed high with the 0-2 pitch -- and, yes, this was the first homer surrendered by Verlander on an 0-2 pitch all year.
In the third inning, Verlander's radar reading began to creep up. After hitting 94 mph out of the gate, he began flirting with triple digits. But the Giants' luck and skill got the better of him this time. Angel Pagan's two-out dribbler up the left field line kicked off the bag, a play influenced by baseball's gods, devils, the Matrix, or what have you. Marco Scutaro followed with a supreme at-bat, working the count full, fouling off a pair of monster fastballs, and sending yet another screamer back up the middle for an RBI.
Then Sandoval launched an opposite-field shot just over the left field wall; the high-powered cameras caught Verlander mouthing "wow!" along with the 43,000-plus fans in the stadium (Sandoval would later add a third dinger off reliever Al Alburquerque; all three homers came on pitches that perhaps only the bad-ball-hitting savant Sandoval could have put over the fence).
7. A's Win AL West on Last Day of the Season
They were 13 games out of first place at one point. They had five rookie pitchers in their rotation. And they were in first place of the AL West for no more than one day during the regular season. It was the only day that mattered.
It's not just that the Warriors beat the defending champion Miami Heat; not just that they led after every quarter. The Wizards, after all, have also beat the Heat. The win turned heads because it showed the world how the Warriors have won 12 of their last 15 games, including five straight on this East Coast road trip.
It's fitting that the signature play of the Warriors' season -- last night's game-winning bucket -- involved Jarrett Jack and Draymond Green. Jack and Green, along with Carl Landry and Festus Ezeli -- four new faces in the Bay -- have helped mold the team's new identity to fit head coach Mark Jackson's vision. This is a tough team that plays physical, swarming defense and rebounds way more effectively than their collective size suggests.
Buster Posey's fifth-inning grand slam will be forever etched in Giants lore. The silky swing. The extra-long stare, eyes following the ball to the second deck. The been-there-before bat toss. The stadium's patrons collectively taking their seats.
The sweetest of images, though, was Red's pitcher Mat Latos despondently walking toward the dugout milliseconds after his sinker collided with Posey's bat. He didn't have to look back. The crack from the bat told the story.
Donaire at his finest -- bouncing around the ring, popping shots with his rangy arms, rushing in for lightning fast combinations, and punctuating his flurries with his always-frightening left hook.
Donaire knocked down the highly decorated Arce two times before the knock out. In the second round, he landed a one-two combo -- jab-straight right -- that sent Arce to the canvas. Then early in the third round he followed a right hand with a left uppercut that staggered Arce, who stumbled into the ropes.
The knockout punch, which came just before the end of the third round, landed flush on Arce's jaw. It was classic Donaire: a wide-swinging counter left hook with the speed of a whip and the power of a hammer. The referee ended the fight almost immediately after Arce hit the mat.
In Monty Python's Life of Brian, a moment of hilarity is achieved when a massive crowd chants, in unison, "We are all individuals. We are all different."
[W]atching the tension of Cain's climb to the pinnacle dissolve into the euphoria of grown men wrestling on the field like children, the words of Monty Python made sense. Viewed as a statistical phenomena, perfect games are losing their six-leafed clover rarity. There have been 22 overall -- but five have come since 2009 (no-hitters are growing far more common as well).
Still, when watching the actual drama unfold -- and drama there was; Cain struck out 14 Houston Astros and was saved by a pair of spectacular outfield catches -- it became a moment unattached to a larger trend. When it comes to perfect games, they are all individuals. They are all different.
2. Alex Smith's Playoff Touchdown Run Beats the Saints
It was a perfect call with perfect blocking. And for Smith, it was the perfect climax for his often-rocky journey to San Francisco glory. Of course, we now know that that run will likely mark Smith's short, thrilling peak in 49er red. But, with that moment, he will always have a place in city lore.
Sergio Romo's fastball popped into Buster Posey's mitt for strike three. Sit down, Triple Crown -- and everyone was dancing on top of the tables. A Caltrain engineer leaned hard on his horn and the fans swarming the streets answered in kind. Thousands of orange-clad revelers descended upon Third and King to celebrate the San Francisco Giants' second championship by damaging municipal property and spraying one another with champagne ill-suited for any other purpose save christening a ship.
A Parking Control officer sped past in his three-wheeled vehicle; the euphoric crowd had, in its enthusiasm, smashed his front windshield. He was, however, grinning ear to ear. "I'm not too worried about this," he said. "This is replaceable."
The relief and joy from watching your team cap off one of the most improbable, surreal, and satisfying playoff runs in the history of the game -- is not.