The Florida Gators knocked off top-ranked Oklahoma in early January for their second national championship in three years. Gators quarterback Tim Tebow rushed for 110 yards and threw for 231, including two touchdowns.
Ole Miss had upset the Gators earlier in the season, prompting Tebow's now famous apology and vow: "I promise you one thing. A lot of good will come out of this. You will never see any player in the entire country play as hard as I will play the rest of the season. . . . You will never see a team play harder than we will the rest of the season."
The championship win would have been a perfect end to a storied college career for the Heisman Trophy winner. But Tebow elected to return for one more season, one last shot at undefeated perfection. It didn't turn out as planned. The Gators lost to Alabama in the SEC title game Dec. 5, eliminating any championship hopes. Tebow wept.
On Dec. 1, just weeks removed from his 80th birthday, Bobby Bowden announced the end of an era. The longtime Florida State coach, who once quipped, "I guess I'll retire someday, if I live that long," leaves the game with two national championships, 12 ACC titles, and the second most victories for a head coach in the game's history.
More than that, Bowden leaves behind a legacy of "aw, shucks" folksy appeal that endeared him to much of the football world. With an annual award from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes named in his honor, Bowden tried to instill lessons of character and integrity in his players-though the program suffered its fair share of scandal. At present, the university is awaiting word on whether it must forfeit 14 victories from past seasons due to the academic ineligibility of some players.
Still, a father of six and grandfather of 21, Bowden played the patriarch in many players' lives over his 44-year career. Reflecting on the coach's exit, former FSU fullback William Floyd called Bowden "the first true father figure most of us had."
The decisions of four college stars to resist the lure of NBA money for one more year paid off in early April in the form of a national championship. North Carolina teammates Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Ty Lawson, and Danny Green returned as upperclassmen to produce one of the most dominant teams in college basketball history.
The Tar Heels plowed through the brutal NCAA tournament with hardly a competitor in sight. They won all six of their games by at least 12 points, and their 89-72 blowout of Michigan State in the tournament final was never much of a contest.
The four teammates' return not only yielded collegiate glory, but also raised their draft stock. Might that example encourage more college players to delay their NBA dreams? Don't count on it.
With the most people tuning in to watch in U.S. television history, the Pittsburgh Steelers staged a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl 43. More than 151 million viewers watched all or part of the telecast, outdrawing the M*A*S*H finale that set a long-standing national record back in 1983.
The game's success frustrated the conventional wisdom about the need for big-market teams to draw big national audiences. The Pittsburgh-Arizona matchup bested the previous year's contest between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots by more than 3 million viewers.
And the game did not disappoint. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found Santonio Holmes in the back corner of the end zone with 35 seconds left to play to grab the 27-23 victory. Only two minutes earlier, Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner had completed a 64-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald, the final piece of an improbable comeback after trailing 20-7 in the fourth quarter.
The most-watched Super Bowl in history deserved it.
In June, Kobe Bryant put to rest any questions of whether he could win a championship without fellow superstar Shaquille O'Neal at his side. The L.A. Lakers downed the Orlando Magic in five games to claim the storied franchise's 15th NBA crown. Bryant was named Finals MVP, averaging 32.4 points and 7.4 assists in the series.
Of course, Bryant hardly did it alone. Fellow all-star Pau Gasol dominated the middle with 18.6 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. And teammate Lamar Odom shot 54 percent from the field and 50 percent from the 3-point line en route to solid numbers. Why then all the fuss over Bryant finally winning the big one without Shaq? Maybe because fans and media pundits have long stopped considering NBA basketball a team game.
It was a bad year for baseball romantics. Money talked: The New York Yankees spent nearly half a billion dollars on long-term contracts for Mark Teixeira and pitchers C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. They all performed well and their team won the World Series for the first time in the 21st century. Teams that relied on cleverness faltered. The Boston Red Sox added some "bargain" players and learned they were discounted for a reason. Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, star of the influential book Moneyball and hailed earlier in this decade for great success with low payrolls, saw his team lose most of its games for the third year in a row.