2013 was a down year for Utah sports, frankly. You had a few high points -- and a ton of lows. In terms of ranking 2013 to other years, the blah is literally off the charts -- and it made things more difficult for a writer like me to stay motivated at times. Consider: no college basketball team in this state made the NCAA Tournament; no college football team played in a BCS bowl game; no pro basketball team made the playoffs; and no pro soccer team won a title -- though that team did play in two title games, the U.S. Open Cup and MLS Cup, losing both in heartbreaking fashion.
Nope, 2013 was strictly a year for the little guys, the teams and players you never believed would do anything based on their lot in life -- but they did. One even capped off a rather forgettable year by upsetting a BCS-buster and Heisman Trophy finalist in something called the Poinsettia Bowl.
Like seven days in the week, I had my favorites.
Union High School football coach Matt Labrum had had enough. His team needed to be sent a message in the worst way. According to this story written by Deseret News reporter Amy Donaldson he had tried just about every method at his disposal -- yet he still had players skipping classes, flunking out and even being charged with petty crimes. And so, Labrum suspended not just the kids responsible for reckless behavior -- he suspended the entire team. The move sent shockwaves through the country, drawing national attention to the tiny school in Roosevelt, Utah. But the kids responded and all but a handful fulfilled the requirements set forth by Labrum to play football again.
Rarely do you ever hear about a BYU football player going off the deep end in a such a way that you actually feel sorry for the guy. Perhaps some of that has to do with the school's stringent Honor Code that forbades the use of almost anything you or I take for granted. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that even IF a BYU athlete gets into trouble, we journalists rarely hear the real story. Well, in THIS particular story, we did. It was somewhat funny but it was also a bit sad because here you had a kid in Hadley who really did feel remorse for what he did in Las Vegas -- and later made amends to better not only his situation but that of others as well. It was a train-wreck that became a feel-good story, thanks to excellent reporting by a Sports Illustrated writer. Honorable mention: Utah football players performing a fake baptism.
Former Utah star quarterback Alex Smith has had a rough go in the NFL since he was drafted No. 1 by the San Francisco 49ers in 2005. In fact, in 2012 Smith's pro career looked to be over after suffering multiple concussions as a 49ers quarterback, supplanted by rookie Colin Kaepernick -- who has since become a superstar. But Andy Reid, himself a Utahn for a time as BYU's offensive coordinator in the 1980s, was named as the new head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. He reached out to Smith and the rest was NFL history, as Alex led the Chiefs to nine straight wins and a playoff berth. Honorable mention: former Utah star Matt Asiata loses his father but finds his game in Minnesota.
Where do we start? In the previous week, Utah State lost badly to Boise State; BYU beat Georgia Tech; and Utah just knocked off Stanford. How could anyone follow THAT? Well, those three teams had to -- though the Believer (me) and Non-Believer (actor/comedian Jim Stevens) were wondering if WE could. So Jim and I sat down and scrawled out this masterpiece, which gave credit where due -- yet poked fun at USU, the Y and U and their letdown road games. What followed was our most popular column to date. Honorable mention: our Mormons (BYU) vs Catholics (Notre Dame) column -- featured nationally.
Utah's past two years in the Pac-12 Conference have been rough going, as the Utes have suffered mightily in conference play undergoing growing pains in a new league. Nothing changed this year in that regard for the Utes who again missed out on going bowling -- for the second straight year. But for one Saturday afternoon in October, Ute fans had their day in the sun, flooding the Rice-Eccles Stadium field with red and white like it was 2004 again -- after a goal-line stand helped their team stun then-No. 5 Stanford, 27-21. After finishing with a 5-7 record and this memorable moment from senior captain Trevor Reilly the Utes needed anything to brag home about -- and the upset over Stanford was it. Honorable mention: Utah basketball defeats BYU for first time in seven tries.
People can say what they want about Real Salt Lake choking in big moments and you know, they might be right. RSL lost in stunning fashion to the absolute worst team in Major League Soccer in D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup final -- then watched a second MLS Cup title clank off the crossbar in frigid Kansas City. If that weren't enough, longtime head coach Jason Kreis walked out on the team most thought he'd never leave -- for the coaching opportunity of a lifetime with some mega-rich Arabs, the New York Yankees and Manchester City FC. Other than that, Real Salt Lake had its best regular season record ever, later stunning the LA Galaxy and Portland in the playoffs.
After Gary Andersen bolted Logan for mighty Wisconsin -- and offensive coordinator Matt Wells took the Aggies reins as head coach -- Chuckie Keeton went down with an injury in a loss to BYU. Pay no mind, whippersnappers, cause Wells, being he's a native Oklahoman -- and former USU QB -- grabbed them Aggies by the horns by golly ... and led em to seven straight wins. Aint no five injuries to his offense gonna hold him back; he just threw in some young buckaroo at Q (Darell Garretson). This pup got his fool head knocked off in a loss to Fresno but bounced back against No. 23 Northern Illinois who had Heisman finalist quarterback Jordan Lynch -- and gave the Ags their biggest win in program history. So much for Gary, right? Wells was named conference coach of the year for his efforts too.