Heat shines light on region in 2012

Marlins rise and fall during period

'Tis the season of lists. The Weather Channel lists the 20 Top Storms of 2012 (I survived one). The New York Times Book Review, the year's Top 10 books ( I've read one).

But on the simple, annual, personal list of Top 10 South Florida Sporting Events for 2012, any self-respecting local fan ingested every one. We can argue the order after the first one. What we won't argue is that the Top 10 local sports stories were:

1.The Heat are champs

That smile. Do you remember that sideline smile and jumping-bean dance by LeBron James as the final seconds ran out of the NBA season?

Considering the battered, two-year storyline around the Heat, that genuine joy atop the mountain became the portrait of the most successful sports season in South Florida since the Dolphins' Perfect Season.

Everything uncertain is certain around the Heat because of this title: It's OK to like LeBron nationally again. The Big Three works. LeBron really can close games. Chris Bosh is the second-most important Heat player, not a third wheel. LeBron and Dwyane Wade really can play together. Erik Spoelstra is an innovative thinker with his position-less line-up.

The Heat should go on to win other titles. None will be like this. Not two, not three, not four, not five …

2. The Rise of the Marlins and …

It seems like just yesterday, but it was nearly nine months ago the Marlins opened their new stadium with new uniforms, new logos, a new $110 million payroll, a new, loud manager and a shiny new hope for tomorrow. Maybe it was an omen, the uncomfortably sad way Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria had to act as a human seat belt for Muhammad Ali as they rode a golf cart across the field for an opening-day cameo. Because the season fell flat that preceded ...

3. … the Fall of Jeffrey Loria

All that newness? Never mind. It was trumped by the old story of the Marlins' performing a fire sale of players in the most egregious example of an all-out money grab in modern sports. Less than a year after their publicly funded stadium opened, six of their Opening Day starters and three top starting pitchers had been traded away. This was touted by the front office as a return to "the Marlins Way." Yep, the lowest payroll in baseball and biggest profit margin possible. The Marlins Way.

4. The First Year of Ryan Tannehill

It's worth remembering the buildup to the Ryan Tannehill Era — yes, the capital letters are inflated with hope — started when Jay Fiedler replaced Dan Marino in 2000. Seventeen quarterbacks later, the Dolphins decided to draft one in the first round. They'd tried everything else, right?

This spring even brought loud flirtations with Peyton Manning (he said no) and Matt Flynn (the Dolphins weren't sold) before the Dolphins took Tannehill with the eighth overall pick. This summer brought loud discussion of playing David Garrard (hurt) or Matt Moore (last year's team MVP). But Tannehill started from the start. Despite minimal college experience and half a receiving corps, he's taken good, progressive steps forward and has 12 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 76.9 rating entering Sunday's final game.

5. LeBron's saving Game 6 at Boston

Every year needs a defining game to stand the test of memory. This was it for 2012. In fact, this may be the greatest individual accomplishment in South Florida sports history. In-the-moment hyperbole? The background: The Heat just dropped Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Finals at home to Boston, had lost three straight to the Celtics and were one game from being laughed at for another off-season. Enter LeBron. He beat the Celtics, saved the Republic and sent the Heat on their way to the Finals with 45 points, 15 rebounds and 45 straight minutes until, the decisive win in hand, he sat down. He had a 40-18-9 (assist) game against Indiana in Game 4 to change that series.

6. Ozzie Guillen says, "I love Fidel Castro"

Are there four more flammable words in South Florida? The Marlins manager was hired in part to bridge the reinvented team to the Little Havana ballpark. Instead, he burned the bridge in a Time magazine interview. Protests. Controversy. Headlines. Even the most heartfelt apology you'll hear in sports by Guillen couldn't make all the sting of the words go completely away.

7. Attendance at Games

There's no better place to be a sports fan: every sport is played here, tickets always are available, and the traffic is rarely a worry. This year set that standard. Orange seats dominated most University of Miami games. The Marlins didn't hit their new-park attendance hopes. And how many tens of thousands of tickets did Dolphins owner Steve Ross buy most games to financially lift the blackout and have games televised locally? The Heat proved again how everyone loves a winner. "They took $30 million in ticket-buying money from the other teams,'' one South Florida team executive said.

8. Panthers make the playoffs — and lose a season?

Wouldn't you know it: the Panthers finally get it together behind general manager Dale Tallon, make the playoffs for the first time since 2000, have a rousing, seven-game playoff series (and loss) to New Jersey — and the 2012-13 season is a lockout thus far. Just when it's fun to go back to the ice, there is no ice.

9. NCAA sanctions loom over the "U"

Since it's a school of higher learning, we'll bring in a Shakespearean reference and say the impending NCAA sanctions hung over Miami football like the ghost of Banquo (look it up, kids). Al Golden couldn't think, talk, move, coach or even ban his team from a bowl without translating what the NCAA would think. And the sanctions are still looming. Uh, any year now, NCAA.

10. Joe Philbin: Quiet Tough Guy

He came. He saw. He boldly ran off big-name players. That's not the typical first impression of Joe Philbin, of course. That's of a quiet, cerebral coach starting his way. Think again. The decisive manner he didn't want Brandon Marshall, moved for the trade of Vontae Davis and laid down the law before ultimately cutting Chad Johnson showed a no-nonsense coach who knows how he wants to build a culture and a team. Can he do it? Well, it's understandable why each decision was made on the three aforementioned names. But you need talent. The question is whether Jeff Ireland can find and Philbin develop enough talent to win. Wait 'till next year.

Connect
Advertisement

VIDEO