Remembering '11 before it happens
2011 will be known to future historians as the year without sports
Patriots will win Super Bowl, Phillies will win Series, Dennis Rodman will turn 50
Of course, the biggest events in 2011 will be lockouts in the NFL and NBA
Let's look back at the year ahead and remember 2011 now, before it happens. It was, in foresight, an eventful 12 months, especially considering how few events there actually were. That's because 2011 will be known to future historians -- as it's already known to me, a historian of the future -- as the year without sports. Every athlete, it seemed, was locked out with his jock out.
The Chinese called it the Year of the Rabbit, but 2011 also belonged to the rabbit's Loony Toon nemesis, the lowly duck. In 2002, scientists at the University of Hertfordshire confirmed scientifically that the world's funniest animal is the duck, which explains Daffy Duck and Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck and the line "Did somebody step on a duck?" from Caddyshack, and why a duck fell from the ceiling on the game show You Bet Your Life, which was hosted by Groucho Marx, who once made a film called Duck Soup.
In 1999, AFLAC ushered in a dyspeptic, aggressive duck as its mascot, which in turn ushered in a new decade -- a new duckade -- in which the Anaheim Ducks would win the Stanley Cup.
So the duck is no longer laughable. But it became terrifying way back in January, when the Oregon Ducks faced the Auburn Tigers for college football supremacy. Oregon's victorious offense was a revelation -- a feathered blur of first downs, touchdowns and duck down.
Which brings us to the Pat-down that New England gave Atlanta in Super Bowl ... XLV? (Nobody knows how many Super Bowls have been played, because no living person can count in Roman numerals, which are appended only to the most gravely important institutions: Catholic popes, British monarchs and Super Bowl games.) No matter: Millions of people watched the Patriots win Super Bowl XLV, each of those fans staring catatonically at a flat screen TV, feeling almost -- but not quite -- as if they were in attendance. And those were just the ticketholders at Cowboys Stadium.
Late spring witnessed Duke's inevitable march to the college basketball title, and coach Mike Krzyzewski's inexorable rise up the list of the game's all-time winningest coaches. In inching ever closer to eclipsing Bob Knight, Coach K became living proof that every successful brand must endure several failed iterations on its way to perfection. This explains why Dr. J, Mr. T and Preparation H are household names -- and Dr. A, Mr. B and Preparation I are not.
On May 13, 2011, Dennis Rodman turned 50 with a subdued celebration in Las Vegas. This milestone reminded me of my Uncle Pat, a gambling man of outsized appetites who turned 70 in Reno in December 2010. "Seventy was always the over-under," Uncle Pat said of his life expectancy. "And I bet the under." This is an updating of Groucho's line "If I'd known I would live this long I'd have taken better care of myself" -- a sentiment Rodman echoed at his 50th.
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter got his 3,000th career hit on June 8, at home, off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. As Cinco Ocho looked on, aggrieved, play was halted and Jeter was immediately installed as a living monument in Monument Park, where fans can now make pencil rubbings of his face during visiting hours.
Three weeks later, at the end of June, NBA players were officially locked out -- literally so in the case of LeBron James, who couldn't find the keys to his three-story, 12,000 square-foot mansion with two yacht docks on Biscayne Bay, forcing him to spend the first night of this "labor dispute" in his Ferrari F430 Spider.
The lasting images of late summer, of course, were all those padlocked NFL training camps. Even though the season was cancelled, Brett Favre still stepped up to that microphone outside his house in Hattiesburg and told reporters that he wouldn't rule out playing in the NFL in 2011. Only they weren't reporters, they were a stand of sweetgum trees. And it wasn't a microphone, it was a Chick-Fil-A Spicy Chicken Biscuit. Very sad.
Fortunately, the fall brought other thrills, namely the World Series, which saw the Phillies sweep the Yanks behind four consecutive shutouts by Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, whose name is an anagram of Camel Holes, which is what chain smokers called their mouths in 2011. All National League managers, and many hitters, were chain-smoking unfiltered Camels when facing the Phillies in 2011.
Then baseball abandoned us to face November alone. Even with the NFL, November was never a prize. The poet Robert Burns wrote of "chill November." T.S. Eliot called the month "somber November." Herman Melville likened depression to "a damp, drizzly November in my soul." Axl Rose wailed about the "cold November rain." Without football on Thanksgiving, Americans were forced to speak to their own relatives, making for an unendurably damp, drizzly, November of the soul.
Mercifully, December brought hope. Resigned to life without the NBA and NFL, we discovered other pursuits. Americans who didn't know a Canuck from a Tkachuk, who couldn't tell their Xavis from their Xabis, discovered hockey and soccer and books and board games and -- unbelievably -- each other. It wasn't fun, 2011. But now that it's behind us, we can say with certainty: It made us better people.