1. The Cavaliers: Witnesses to history
Let the haters call it a fluke. We know the truth. After all, we are witnesses, aren’t we?
So what if things haven’t gone so well so far this season? What we witnessed during the last NBA season will keep us believing for awhile longer, anyway.
We might even believe Larry Hughes or Sasha Pavlovic will actually make a jump shot before this season ends. Or that someone on the team will actually make an attempt at stopping the opposition from flying down the lane for easy baskets.
But that’s now. We’re talking about then. And then was bliss.
“Then” was LeBron James putting the Cavaliers on his oh-so-broad shoulders and carrying them to a huge win in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, scoring 48 points, including his team’s final 25 and 29 of their final 30 in a 109-107 double-overtime win over the hated Detroit Pistons.
“Then” was Daniel “Boobie” Gibson, a rookie, coming of age and taking advantage of the LeBron double-teams to score 31 points — 19 in the fourth quarter — in the series-clinching win that put the Cavs in the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
“Then” was the Cavs becoming just the third team to overcome an 0-2 deficit in winning a conference final and only the second to do so by winning four straight games.
Critics said the Cavs got a break because they only had to beat an injury-depleted Wizards team and a not-so-scary Nets club to reach the Eastern Conference final.
Maybe they were right. But who really cares?
It was a run that energized the city and its fans and put the Cavs in the national spotlight like never before.
Sure, it all came crashing down with a 4-0 sweep against the San Antonio Spurs, but it was fun while it lasted.
And it lasted a long, long while.
2. The Indians: A guaranteed stumble
A snowed-out home opener and games relocated to Milwaukee due to more wintry Cleveland weather in April, oddly enough forecasted a highly successful season for the Indians.
Not only did the Tribe return to the postseason with its first Central Division title since 2001, it knocked off the dreaded New York Yankees in the Division Series to advance to the American League Championship Series, where the Indians owned a 3-1 advantage on the Boston Red Sox.
Of course we all know what happened from there. In true Cleveland fashion, the Indians squandered the lead and the series, with Boston going on to win its second World Series title in four years after snapping the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004.
The Indians’ world title drought continues with the team’s last World Series win coming in 1948.
A little side note here: C-T assistant sports editor Scott Petrak’s column, which guaranteed the Indians would return to Boston and wrap up the AL championship and included a quote from first baseman Ryan Garko that said something about champagne tasting just as sweet on the road, drew the ire of Red Sox Nation.
The column wound up on the door of the home clubhouse at Fenway Park, and during the broadcast of Game 6 in Boston, FOX’s Chris Meyers did a segment on it, mentioning Petrak and The Chronicle-Telegram.
But, hey, don’t blame us, we still had Fausto on the mound in Game 6.
3. OSU football: Back where they started
The year began disastrously for the Buckeyes with a 41-14 BCS championship thrashing at the hands of Florida, which ignited a firestorm of Ohio State and Big Ten criticism throughout the ensuing regular season — one that ended with, ironically enough, OSU back in the BCS title game.
It certainly didn’t look as though coach Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes would get the opportunity to redeem themselves for the debacle in the desert when they lost to Illinois a week before the Michigan game, a first defeat that knocked them from the No. 1 ranking to No. 7 and appeared to end any national title aspirations.
Everything came into a more positive focus for Ohio State when the Buckeyes beat the archrival Wolverines for the sixth time in seven seasons and everyone in front of them lost to clear the way for an OSU-LSU national championship showdown in New Orleans.
4. The Browns: Surprise, surprise, they’re back
The most optimistic of Browns fans would’ve been thrilled with the idea of an 8-8 season. The most pessimistic of experts predicted a 2-14 finish.
Instead, the Browns shocked the world with a 10-6 record after four straight losing seasons.
Romeo Crennel went from the hot seat to a coach of the year candidate, and Derek Anderson made himself millions of dollars with 29 touchdown passes after replacing Charlie Frye in the opener. The future looks bright in Browns Town.
And to think, it all started when the Browns became the story of the NFL with a draft that could change the course of the franchise. After making the safe pick at No. 3 — Wisconsin left tackle Joe Thomas — general manager Phil Savage traded back into the first round to take Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, who was excruciating to watch on draft day as he slid to No. 22.
Savage added cornerback Eric Wright in the second round after another trade with the Cowboys, and fifth-round cornerback Brandon McDonald looks like a pleasant surprise.
5. Just rewards: C.C., Wedge win honors
While, the Indians didn’t win the ultimate prize, they did take home a couple of nice consolation ones, with C.C. Sabathia named the American League’s Cy Young Award winner, and Eric Wedge chosen as the league’s top manager.
Sabathia, who went 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA, led the majors in innings pitched (241) and was second in the AL in wins and complete games (4) and fifth in strikeouts (209). He became just the second Indian to win the coveted pitching award, the first since Gaylord Perry in 1972.
Wedge, whose Indians won 96 games in his fifth season, joined Mike Hargrove (1995) as the only two Cleveland managers to win the manager of the year award.
6. Ohio State hoops: A Matta of talent
Ohio State fans knew when Thad Matta landed the nation’s top prospect, 7-foot center Greg Oden, the Buckeyes would certainly improve, but nobody expected their unlikely run to the national championship game.
With standout freshmen Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook and David Lighty bolstering the roster, the Buckeyes went 30-3 during the regular season and captured the Big Ten conference and tournament titles.
After a blowout win over Central Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament opener, the Buckeyes needed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by senior captain Ron Lewis to force overtime against Xavier, before winning the game and advancing to the regionals in San Antonio. Ohio State picked up a thrilling one-point victory against Tennessee in the regional semifinal before easily beating Memphis to advance to the Final Four in Atlanta.
The Buckeyes had no problem downing Georgetown in a national semifinal, but couldn’t complete their run to glory as they were dusted 84-75 in the final by — who else? — Florida.
The guess here is the Buckeyes didn’t drown their sorrows with Gatorade.
7. Elyria’s Les Miles: Bye Michigan, hello bayou
Elyria’s own Les Miles grabbed the national spotlight like never before in his stellar playing and coaching career.
Not that he liked the glare all that much.
Miles, a member of the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame, had his LSU Tigers at No. 1 in the BCS standings, only to suffer losses that threatened his chance at winning a national title.
But much like the Buckeyes, circumstances fell in the Tigers’ favor and Miles is right where he wants to be — in the BCS title game awaiting a matchup with the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Of course, the part of the spotlight Miles didn’t much care for came about because people just couldn’t believe he actually was where he wanted to be. When Lloyd Carr retired as coach of the Michigan Wolverines — and current Ohio State punching bag — it was just assumed Miles, a Michigan grad and disciple of the late Bo Schembechler, would be the man for the job.
That became a dicey proposition though, with his team in the hunt for a national title.
In the end, Miles lambasted the media for erroneously reporting he was Michigan-bound, declared his undying love for LSU and eventually stayed with the Tigers, signing a nice contract extension along the way.
8. Elyria softball: Anybody got a second?
Elyria won a school-record 30 softball games and advanced to the Division I state championship game for the second straight year. But the season ended somewhat less spectacularly when the Pioneers were blanked by Hudson, 4-0, in the state final.
With the loss, Elyria became the first Lorain County school to lose softball state finals in consecutive years.
In the 2006 final, the Pioneers were shut out by North Canton Hoover, 2-0. When the ’07 season ended, they had completed 15 consecutive innings without scoring in a state championship game, dating to 2002.
There was a bright side. The Pioneers lost just three seniors. They return their No. 1 starting pitcher, Megan Bashak; starting catcher Jen Bower, and the versatile Tess Sito, their top hitter, a starting infielder and No. 2 pitcher.
9. Far from a drag: Dave Connolly’s amazing run
Even the veterans were calling it incredible. Elyria’s Dave Connolly had the National Hot Rod Association in a buzz from August-October as he put together an amazing five-race win streak in Pro Stock. Following a victory in Reading, Pa., he went on to win at Indy, Memphis, Dallas and Richmond. The run tied the 24-year-old Elyria High graduate for the second-longest win string in NHRA Pro Stock history behind now-retired veteran Bob Glidden’s nine straight in 1978-79.
Amazingly, the streak may not have been the highlight of Connolly’s season. That may have come in early July when he won his class at the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals — the inaugural NHRA event at Norwalk Raceway Park … his home track.
“To come back home like this and win the race in front of all my friends and family is great,” Connolly told NHRA. “Even my mom (Elaine) was here today.”
In all, Connolly won seven titles in 2007, bringing his five-year career total to an impressive 17. After leading the POWERade point standings for most of September, he ended up third in Pro Stock for the second year in a row.
10. Prep wrestling: Expect the unexpected
The state high school wrestling tournament combined the usual — area St. Edward wrestlers Collin Palmer (Columbia Station) and Chris Honeycutt (North Ridgeville) dominating their ways to state championships — and the unusual — Black River heavyweight Jesse Campbell capping his personal rivalry with Chanel’s Cameron Wade with an exciting win in the state final. For Palmer, it was his second state title in as many tries, keeping him on pace to join his brother, Lance, among the state’s elite who have won four.
Kevin Aprile, Chris Assenheimer, Shaun Bennett, Linda Cudlin, Bob Daniels and
Scott Petrak contributed to this story.