My review of Utah’s 2012 sports year is all about me — well, in the sense of reliving my favorite moments and stories the way I experienced them. These are the scenes that resonated with me:
• Gordon Hayward’s hometown of Brownsburg, Ind.
My purpose in visiting Brownsburg, just outside of Indianapolis, in January was to gauge how this small town shaped the Jazz’s forward into the athlete and person he became. The trip included the usual stops, including Brownsburg High School, Butler University in Indianapolis and his parents’ home, talking to the coaches, teachers and teammates who influenced him and witnessed his development.
Ultimately, the research focused on a wedding photo album. Hayward’s mother, Jody, believes the essence of her son could be captured in one scene: the dance he shared with his twin sister, Heather, during her wedding, with tears rolling down his face. Hayward represents a lot of things to a lot of people in Indiana and Utah. In that moment, he was just Heather’s brother, and that’s all that mattered.
• Stewart Stadium, Ogden
It was the first day of Weber State’s preseason football practice, and a Wildcat assistant coach had a story that I just felt compelled to pursue, whenever he was ready to share it.
Ted Stanley, a Skyline High School graduate and former University of Utah staff member, had lost his wife, Jocelyn, in late June as a result of pregnancy complications. She died four days after the birth of their daughter, Emmerson.
Stanley thoroughly detailed the sequence of events, in a tribute to his wife. I haven’t talked to him since then. But I’ll always have a bond with Emmerson as a football coach’s kid, and I never was more happy about a victory than when Weber State beat Southern Utah in late October after starting the season 0-7.
Even more satisfying was having the school retain interim coach Jody Sears and most of the staff after a 2-9 season. Sears had told me in August, “Whatever it takes, we’ve got to get this little girl raised.”
• Maverik Center, West Valley City
At some point during the NHL playoffs, it hit me: The Stanley Cup could be coming to Utah.
The iconic trophy has made periodic visits here, but never in the 24-hour custody of a player from the championship team, as recent hockey tradition dictates. Los Angeles Kings forward Trevor Lewis, a Salt Lake City native, became a big part of his team’s unlikely run to the title. And he brought the Cup to the Maverik Center for a public appearance as part of his day with the Cup on Aug. 30.
Only seven other former Utah high school athletes have won major championships - and those were in the more traditional Utah sports of football, basketball and baseball. Lewis, who played as a Brighton freshman in 2002, made it happen in hockey.
And now, four months later, he’ll skate this weekend for the Utah Grizzlies, having signed an ECHL contract during the NHL lockout.
• Romney Stadium in Logan in September
As of early September, nobody knew what Utah State’s football season would become, or how the Aggies’ 27-20 overtime defeat of Utah ultimately would cost the Utes a bowl bid.
The victory was a huge breakthrough for coach Gary Andersen and the Aggies, causing me to declare it the school’s biggest win in 30 years, coming against a Pac-12 school. One play made it possible, in the end. USU quarterback Chuckie Keeton dropped back and, with the Aggie receivers flooding to the right, Keeton looked to his left and saw no defenders in front of him. He was knocked out of bounds at the 1-yard line, and Kerwynn Williams scored a touchdown on the next play.
• Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City
Here’s a little secret: Whenever the media protest that late kickoff times are unfair to fans, we’re mostly worrying about how they affect us, amid deadline pressure.
So imagine my horror in mid-September when it’s 11:58 p.m. and the field-goal attempt from BYU’s Riley Stephenson is in the air on the last play of regulation, with the Cougars trailing Utah 24-21. Let’s just say I’ve never been more thrilled to see a ball hit the goalpost and bounce away.
Even now, I’m picturing a sports section coming off the presses with a bunch of blank pages, while the Utes and Cougars kept playing overtime in the early hours of Sunday.
• EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City
Sensing a theme here? When the Jazz beat San Antonio 99-96 in mid-December, the victory was very significant, mainly because of the way they had exited meekly against the Spurs in the NBA playoffs in May.
Mo Williams’ 3-pointer at the buzzer gave coach Tyrone Corbin the most meaningful win of his career and saved me from agony, after a late tipoff for ESPN.
• Romney Stadium, Logan
Andersen was accommodating to the end. In what became my last interview with him in his USU tenure, regarding the Aggies’ 2011 comeback at Hawaii that truly launched the program’s turnaround, Andersen supplied complete details — right down to the song that accompanied the highlight video compiled by recruiting coordinator Zach Nyborg.
The song was “The Show Goes On,” by rapper Lupe Fiasco.
I would say that title and the artist’s name provided a perfectly ironic ending to Andersen’s time at USU, amid the disillusionment about how he had announced he was staying in Logan. But at some point, folks around here are going to have to give Andersen credit for personally calling all 106 of his USU players to tell them why he was headed to Wisconsin. He didn’t have to do that.