There’s never a dull year in the world of sports, and 2014 was certainly no exception. While it definitely had its low points (Donald Sterling, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson), 2014 still produced more than its fair share of memorable games, performances and moments, so let’s take a look back at some of the best things that the world of sports had to offer in 2014.
What is wrong with this picture?
On Monday, Steve Spurrier announced his intentions on remaining at the University of South Carolina, where he has gone 83-45 over the past 10 seasons. Meanwhile, Bo Pelini was shown the door at Nebraska over the weekend after going 67-27 in seven seasons.
Judging by negative reaction from the football program and fans, it may be a decision Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst and Chancellor Harvey Perlman ultimately regret. During his tenure, Pelini became a polarizing but popular figure among Nebraska’s loyal fan base.
Thanks to a dramatic comeback win at Iowa Friday, the Cornhuskers joined Alabama and Oregon as the only programs to win at least nine games in each of the past seven seasons. It is a misleading stat, and obviously the Huskers do not measure up to those powerhouses. They have either won or contended for national championships, while Pelini never even won a conference title.
November went from horribly bad to even worse, starting with a historic beatdown at the hands of Wisconsin followed by a home loss to Minnesota. After losing to the Gophers, ESPN’s Brian Griese suggested that Nebraska fans accept 9-3 and 8-4 seasons as the new reality.
News of Pelini’s firing brought overwhelming backlash from players and alumni, especially because Eichorst delivered the news via email. Some believe that Eichorst is biding his time until he can become athletic director at Wisconsin.
In a written statement, Eichorst suggested factors beyond the actual win-loss record played a part in the decision, hinting that Pelini did not meet obligations off the field. Most who follow the team saw an abrasive coach at times, but also a man loyal and dedicated to his profession who appreciated the support from his fans – despite what a leaked recording may have depicted. The timing also seemed unusual coming less than a year after Pelini received contract extension while Eichorst proclaimed him as the man to lead Huskers football “into the future.”
Setting the bar to the current climate at the University of Wisconsin is reasonable. The Badgers will be playing for a fourth Big Ten title in five years against Ohio State Saturday night. The entire athletic department at Wisconsin has set a model for others to follow, and one in which Nebraska is not far off of.
But considering the backlash that may result in transfers and recruits looking elsewhere, Nebraska football may take two steps back before going forward. One only needs to look at the current status of storied programs such as Michigan, Tennessee, Texas and Florida to see where the Cornhuskers may be headed.
Maybe Eichorst has a home run hire planned. It is possible Nebraska will win the Big Ten and be in the College Football Playoff conversation in the foreseeable future.
As for Coach Pelini, he will land on his feet – likely as a coordinator at either the pro or college level (Auburn is a possibility), or he could take a sabbatical in the television world for a year.
What cannot be debated is Pelini, his staff and his players left everything on the field during their time in Lincoln.
In Gene Rayburn style, a local radio station asked the following Sunday morning via Facebook:
“Melvin Gordon’s record-breaking 408 yard rushing day is the greatest athletic performance since ________.”
Many answered Aaron Rodgers throwing six touchdowns in the first half six days earlier. Gordon’s historic Saturday remained the greatest event until Rodgers stepped back onto Lambeau Field less than 24 hours later.
I cannot think of a better weekend for the simulated warfare known as football in Wisconsin. Without debating what’s better, it is a great time to be a Wisconsin sports fan. Many will be replaying the Badgers and Packers in their minds this week to make sure they believe what they saw.
On a day with conditions at Camp Randall Stadium colder than a well digger’s behind, the Badgers’ game did not start well. The Nebraska Cornhuskers punched Wisconsin in the mouth, and a player reportedly displayed an upside down “W” sign to the student section after the Huskers went up 17-3 early in the second quarter. That would be a Minnesota M.
On Twitter I noted the Badgers were being outplayed and that Bo Pelini appeared to have a better game plan than Gary Andersen. I said it, and didn’t delete after my analysis became wrong. The Freedom Trophy appeared like it would be headed to Lincoln.
Then Gordon’s historic show began, a blizzard of 359 yards in less than two quarters as the Badgers scored 52 unanswered points. This would be the same Gordon who racked up 216 yards in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game (also against Nebraska), that’s a total of 614 yards on 34 carries against a name program that prides itself on defense. A Blackshirts practice jersey should now include tread marks, I know Adidas can make that happen. But Husker Nation still has the moral victory of Kenny Bell’s illegal block.
The Badgers’ defense is more worthy of the “Blackshirts” label, as it held Ameer Abdullah in check and is now allowing an average of 244 yards per game, leading all of FBS football over second-place Clemson (262 YPG). Not bad for an outfit that replaced eight starters over the offseason.
Coach Andersen called off the dogs in the fourth quarter, which was played in an intensifying snowfall camouflaging Nebraska’s all-white outfits, rendering the Huskers as invisible as they already been figuratively.
And how dare the two schools create a new trophy for propaganda’s sake. Arkansas and LSU started their own gimmick trophy 20 years ago, never mind the fact that Fayetteville to Baton Rouge is a long commute. But it was good for Bret Bielema to finally win something.
And if you need it, this weekend J.J. Watt recorded a sack, three TFL’s, a touchdown reception, a fumble recovery and two roughing the punter penalties in Cleveland. Hitting for a cycle reminiscent of a Gordie Howe hat trick.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers decided they would not be totally upstaged as they destroyed and embarrassed the Philadelphia Eagles just as they did the Chicago Bears.
More records fell along the way. For the first time ever, the Packers dropped 50-plus points in consecutive weeks. In its last four home games Green Bay has outscored its opposition 128-9 in the first half, and 188-61 overall. That sounds like Alabama’s non-conference results.
What does it mean for the local gridiron landscape?
Thanks to the early season loss to LSU and hiccup at Northwestern, the Badgers don’t have to worry about the elitists running the College Football Playoff. Wisconsin does control its own destiny in the Big Ten West Division, and would advance to a probable meeting against Ohio State with wins at Iowa and against Minnesota.
Then there is Melvin Gordon, who went from Heisman hopeful to probable Heisman finalist and possible Heisman front-runner in an hour and a half. At the very least he is now a household name nationally and his final two or three games will be followed closely.
I cannot think of a NFL team playing better ball than the Packers, with the possible exception of the Arizona Cardinals, who went to 9-1 with a methodical 14-6 victory over Detroit.
Outside of a home date against New England, the Packers schedule remains favorable. I see a possible No. 2 seed and an eventual trip to Arizona for the NFC Championship Game.
That game would result in the Packers either evicting the Cardinals out of their own locker room for the Super Bowl or Aaron Rodgers and several others returning the following week for the Pro Bowl.
And to think Wisconsin basketball’s quest to return to the Final Four also began this weekend, and even the Milwaukee Bucks sport a 5-5 record.
It will be mayhem in Dairyland for the next couple months.
Week One of the 2014 Big Ten football season is here. I’ve already given you my picks for the three early games this upcoming week, but what about the games that are being played when they’re supposed to be, on Saturday? Click on, pilgrim; I’ve got some picks for you.
It was not a good day for embattled head football coach Bo Pelini, as the University of Nebraska closed out the 2013 football season with a 38-17 loss to Iowa. Pelini also snapped at ESPN reporter Quint Kessenich in a brief segment at the end of the first half before picking up a 15-yard penalty later in the game for swinging his cap in the direction of an official.
Things were already simmering before a four and a half minute press conference that may very well seal his fate as coach of the Cornhuskers. Here is the transcript:
Bo Pelini: “It’s been difficult, this team had a lot to persevere through, stick together through – and they did that and I’m proud of them. Regardless of how it ended today, it was unfortunate, we shot ourselves in the foot a number of times, there are things that go against us, and it is unfortunate. We’ll take questions.”
Reporter: Asks question about mistakes that cost his team in 2013 and previous years.
Pelini: “Those mistakes plague any football team. You turn the football over you are going to have some difficulties.”
Reporter: Asks about failed fake punt in third quarter.
Pelini: “We thought it was there, we missed a block, we liked the look they were in, and we whiffed on a block, the most important block. We took a chance and it didn’t work out, it was my fault.”
Reporter: “What did they tell you on the unsportsmanlike conduct?”
Pelini: “Well, I thought that was a chicken sh*t call. Excuse my language on that. I’ve never seen anything like that before. I’ve seen a lot worse than that. I saw Kirk Ferentz on the other sideline acting worse than I was acting, I didn’t see a flag come out on him. The bottom line is they knew they blew the call. They blew it. They blew that call over there, on that third down, and everybody in the stadium knew it. They didn’t man up enough to pick that flag up.”
Reporter: Asks question about perseverance and what the team had gone through with injuries.
“It’s been incredible with what we’ve gone through. Like I said, I told those kids in there, who were hurting, I said, ‘You don’t need to apologize to anybody, you need to walk out with your head held high.’”
Reporter: Asks a question on Pelini’s job status.
Pelini: “I really don’t concern myself with that. You guys can concern yourself with that.”
Reporter: “Was that a distraction today for the coaching staff?”
Pelini: “I really don’t.”
Reporter: Asks if he has been informed on what the university’s possible timeline is.
Pelini: “That’s not my decision. So why are you asking me the question? Talk to somebody else.”
Reporter: When? (Pelini does not answer)
Other reporter: “Can you tell us about Quincy Enumwa’s 10th touchdown catch?”
Pelini: “Quincy has been a stud all year. He’s been big time.“
Reporter: “When you went into the tunnel today, there were a lot of fans saying how much they loved you. How much did that mean to you?”
Pelini: “It’s great.”
Reporter: “Do you feel comfortable about your job status? Do you feel like you have made your case?”
Pelini: “I don’t coach to make a case. You guys have chosen to make a story out of it all year. And that has impacted our football team. It’s hurt our football team. Let’s call a spade a spade. If they want to fire me, go ahead. I believe in what I’ve done. I don’t apologize for what I’ve done, I don’t apologize to you, I don’t apologize to anybody. Myself, or this staff. Our record since I’ve been here speaks for itself. And this program is heading into a good direction. You choose not to think so, that’s your prerogative. All I know is myself, the staff, the people who have been associated with this program since I’ve been here can look themselves in the mirror and feel good about what they’ve done.”
Seconds later, Pelini got off his chair and left the podium.
Good luck with that.
By throwing the media under the bus, Pelini likely sped up his exit process.
As I’ve said in previous columns this year, Pelini is a good coach and a good man. And his six-year body of work at Nebraska is solid. But this was a trying 8-4 season, although injuries did play a huge factor. It would have been a 7-5 season if not for the Hail Mary that beat Northwestern, who is winless in conference play this year.
Remember Pelini’s reaction in real time in that moment. He chose not to celebrate, instead he had the look of someone who received a stay of execution.
Pelini also went off today on a sideline analyst, then went after the media. This time, it was not Pelini venting off-the-record to someone who happened to be recording it for public consumption two years later.
The relationship between Pelini, the university, the media and portions of the fan base is now beyond repair. And he’s correct in saying it impacted his team this year. It is also already impacting the 2014 recruiting class.
At age 45, Pelini will quickly resurface in the coaching world, at the very worst as a coordinator at the college or professional level.
But at this point it is likely best for both parties to go their separate ways. The university is going to lose a man who may not have totally succeeded, but brought a ton of passion to Nebraska’s program and athletic department.
Video of the post-game press conference is below: