Monson: Goodbye and good riddance to 2013
By Gordon Monson
Tribune ColumnistFirst published Dec 30 2013 12:00PM
There are good sports years and stupendous sports years, there are bad sports years and sports years like the dog we are about to slop-kiss goodbye. The best that can be said for 2013 is this: We survived it.
When the pinnacle of athletic achievement in the state is Ted Ligety dominating the giant slalom in skiing, in a non-Olympics year, it might have been a bum run. Here, then, are the lows and highs, the lasting memories and moments of two-thousand-and-thir-blah, a year most of us would just as soon blow past:
• Ligety dominating the GS. The man who was born in Salt Lake City and who lives in Park City went full-on to skiing’s legend status in 2013, doing things that hadn’t been done since Jean Claude Killy. Not only did he win his fourth World Cup giant slalom title, he also took a hat trick at the world championships, winning gold in the super G, the super combined, and the giant slalom, becoming the first skier in 45 years, since You-Know-Who, to win all three. Ligety’s word of choice to characterize his year: "Ridiculous."
• Lone Peak High School basketball. Lone Peak won the 5A boys state championship, going 18-0 against Utah teams, but it also put a whupping on opponents from coast to coast, finishing its season 26-1 and ranked atop one national poll, and near the top in others. It was likely the best high school basketball team in state history.
• EnergySolutions Arena hosting the NCAA Tournament. This had nothing to do with local teams, since none was involved in the tournament, but the teams that were invited put on a decent show at ESA. Among those teams were Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed, New Mexico, Arizona, Pittsburgh, Wichita State, Belmont, Harvard and Southern. Gonzaga lost. New Mexico lost. Arizona advanced, and the Shockers, who upset the Bulldogs, went on to the Final Four, ultimately eliminated by Louisville.
• Ziggy Ansah, Star Lotulelei picked in top 14 of the NFL draft. Ansah’s story was just this side of preposterous, a kid out of Africa coming to BYU to play some sport, any sport, getting cut from the basketball team, making the track team, then discovering football. Next thing, the defensive lineman was drafted by the Detroit Lions with the No. 5 overall pick. Lotulelei was a star from the beginning, with only medical concerns about his heart holding him back. The defensive tackle was taken by Carolina with the 14th pick. Neither the Lions nor the Panthers regret their selections.
• Jazz taking another way home. The Jazz launched into a new rebuilding period via the NBA Draft. They moved up to take Trey Burke — a terrific move — and they decided against re-signing Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap — smart moves. They correctly determined that the only path for them toward real contention was to let go of their good-but-not-great veterans, to let their young players take on major roles and to endure some short-term losing. The Jazz aren’t tanking, per se. They are allowing their youngsters to grow, and will take advantage of a high lottery pick — if those young ’uns don’t get too good too quick and mess up the whole plan. They also preserved financial flexibility by acquiring veterans with expiring contracts at season’s end.
• Utah swimming team fiasco. At a news conference in early July, a group of independent investigators hired by the University of Utah to look into allegations of misconduct by Greg Winslow, the former head coach of the school’s swimming and diving teams, announced that administrators did a lousy job of handling the situation. The committee said Winslow should have been fired early in 2012 for alcohol abuse that hurt his ability to coach. He also faced allegations of psychological and physical abuse by former athletes in the program. Utah athletics director Chris Hill admitted: "As this report indicates, we could have done better. I could have done better." He was right.
• BYU losing to Virginia. Exactly how the Cougars allowed this defeat to happen in their season opener against a team as hapless as the Cavaliers is nothing short of befuddling. Virginia beat two teams in 2013: BYU and VMI. That’s it.
• BYU’s beating Texas. A week after embarrassing themselves at Virginia, the Cougars kicked Texas all over the field at LES, winning 40-21.
• Chuckie Keeton’s injury. Gone with the bend. The Utah State quarterback was the most indispensable player in the state, and the Aggies lost him early in the BYU game to a knee injury.
• Utah beating Stanford. Simply the best performance — by players and coaches — put up by any local college football outfit in 2013. The downside: It indicted Utah for lesser play the rest of the season.
• Travis Wilson’s injuries. First it was the hand, then the head. And when post-concussion testing revealed a condition that might end the quarterback’s football career, Utah’s already sliding competitive situation in the Pac-12 slipped to a league record over the past two years of 5-13 — and uncertainty moving forward. Kyle Whittingham will have to win in 2014.
• Real Salt Lake making it to the MLS Cup final. Jason Kreis’ team was supposed to rebuild, and it came within one sliding chip shot of winning the league title.
• BYU finishing at 8-5. Other than the win over the Longhorns, the Cougars collectively did nothing exceptional this season.
• Utah State qualifying for its third straight bowl game. When the Aggies lost their quarterback, it seemed their football season would do a double-gainer straight into the dumper. Splash. Done. Adios. It didn’t work out that way. The Ags regrouped enough — against lesser competition — to qualify for the MWC championship game, losing to Fresno State, and then made their third consecutive bowl game, beating Northern Illinois, a nationally ranked team, in the Poinsettia Bowl.
At least the Aggies wrapped it all up on a positive note.