Top 10 sports stories in 2010
1. BAD NEWS FOR BIG BEN
For the second time in an eight-month span, Big Ben found himself in big trouble with the law.
In March, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault by a 20-year-old college student in Milledgeville, Ga. Roethlisberger, who owns an offseason home in Georgia, was in the college town with an entourage of friends and off-duty law enforcement officials celebrating his 28th birthday. The student claimed Roethlisberger sexually assaulted her in the bathroom of a nightclub after plying her with drinks. The accusations came eight months after Roethlisberger was named as a defendant in a civil suit filed in Reno, Nev., which claimed he sexually assaulted a female hotel employee in July 2008.
After a two-month investigation in Georgia, district attorney Fred Bright declined to press charges, although he did implore Roethlisberger to “grow up.” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, citing a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy, suspended Roethlisberger for the first six games of the season. The penalty later was reduced to four games for good behavior after Roethlisberger underwent a psychiatric evaluation.
Roethlisberger returned to the Steelers on Oct. 17 and helped lead the team back to the playoffs.
2. OUT WITH THE OLD
It was the end of an era when Pittsburgh’s largest indoor sports venue, Civic Arena, shut its doors in the summer, giving way to the state-of-the-art, $321 million Consol Energy Center. Famous for its revolutionary design and once-retractable, stainless steel dome, the arena hosted Penguins games since 1967 and numerous other sporting events over five decades, but also was the oldest venue in the NHL. The Penguins welcomed the move across the street to Consol, which could seat about 1,100 more fans for hockey. The seating capacity of 18,087 at the new building is a tribute to Penguins star Sidney Crosby’s uniforn number. The Penguins also were awarded the fourth Winter Classic, a popular outdoor game held at Heinz Field.
3. WANN IS GONE
Losing the Backyard Brawl by 25 points and failing to take Pitt to a BCS bowl game in six seasons cost Dave Wannstedt his job as Pitt football coach. Wannstedt was forced to resign Dec. 7 even though he had signed a two-year contract earlier in the year that ran through the 2014 season. Michael Haywood, formerly of Miami (Ohio) was hired as Wannstedt’s replacement. Wannstedt, 57, compiled a 42-31 record at Pitt and his job appeared safe until Pitt lost games to Connecticut and West Virginia that cost the Panthers a prestigious bowl appearance. West Virginia also announced that football coach Bill Stewart would step down after the 2011 season and be replaced by Dana Holgorsen, hired from Oklahoma State in December as a coach-in-waiting.
4. GOLDEN GOAL FOR CROSBY
Sidney Crosby etched his name into Canadian folklore Feb. 28 when he scored the game-winning goal for his homeland in the Gold Medal game of the Vancouver Olympics. After the United States had tied the score, 2-2, in the waning moments of regulation, Crosby scored perhaps the biggest goal in Canadian hockey history. At 7:40 of overtime, Crosby beat U.S. goaltender Ryan Miller from the left corner with a wrist shot that gave a Canada a 3-2 victory. It came eight months after Crosby, at the tender age of 22, had guided the Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship.
5. 400 AND COUNTING
Still walking the sidelines at 83 years old, Joe Paterno became the first major-college football coach to amass 400 victories when Penn State recorded a come-from-behind 35-21 victory over Northwestern on Nov. 6 at a sold-out Beaver Stadium. In a career that began when Lyndon Johnson was president, Paterno would win No. 401 a few weeks later and is more than 150 victories ahead of the next winningest active coach. Paterno guided the Nittany Lions to another New Year’s Day bowl appearance, and he would like to continue coaching at least one more season.
6. BUCS DON’T STOP HERE
With the record for most consecutive losing seasons set in 2009, the Pirates not only added to their infamy, they lost at a historically bad level in 2010. The Pirates limped to a 105-loss season that represented the franchise’s most defeats since 1952, cinched an 18th consecutive losing season and cost third-year manager John Russell his job. Former Colorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle was hired to replace Russell, with the belief that his easy-going manner and positive attitude would change the franchise’s fortunes. Hurdle will try to right the ship behind promising youngsters Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker, Jose Tabata and Andrew McCutchen.
7. HEAD GAMES
Helmet-to-helmet hits became the hot topic in the NFL, and no team was more scrutinized than the Steelers. The issue came to the forefront Oct. 17 when linebacker James Harrison knocked two Cleveland Browns players from the game with violent hits. After being fined $75,000 for those hits, Harrison met with commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss the definition of an illegal hit. Harrison refused to change his ways and, for the season, incurred four fines totaling $125,000. Steelers players also were upset that referees didn’t give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who received several shots to the head, the same star treatment as QBs Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
8. MELTDOWN AGAINST MONTREAL
Few expected the Montreal Canadiens to put up much of a fight against the Penguins, let alone record a stunning seven-game series victory that sent the Penguins packing in the second round of the NHL playoffs. The Canadiens didn’t qualify for the playoffs until the final day of the season and was the No. 8 seed before upsetting Washington in the opening round. The Penguins took a 3-2 series lead, but lost Game 6 in Montreal to set up the decisive game at Mellon Arena. The Canadiens shocked the Penguins by jumping to a 4-0 lead en route to a 5-2 win in the final Penguins game at the fabled arena. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, playoff heroes in 2009, combined for two goals in the Canadiens series.
9. HEAVENLY HOOPS SEASON
Country roads didn’t take West Virginia home. They took the Mountaineeers and excitable coach Bob Huggins to Indianapolis, site of the Final Four, behind the play of future NBA draft picks Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks. In an almost heavenly upset, West Virginia dispatched top-seeded Kentucky, 73-66, to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1959, when the venerable Jerry West was a player. The Mountaineers’ magic ran out in the national semifinals when Duke raced to a 78-57 victory.
10. CHIP CASHES IN
Fox Chapel native Chip Ganassi enhanced his credibility as a power player in professional motorsports. Already an established open-wheel race car owner, Ganassi enjoyed his most successful season out of 10 tries on the NASCAR circuit. Ganassi driver Jamie McMurray won both Sprint Cup majors — the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400. Factor in Dario Franchitti’s triumphant run at the Indianapolis 500 and Ganassi won the Triple Crown of racing events held on American soil. This unprecedented run of success led to Ganassi being honored by city hall, which proclaimed Aug. 31 as “Chip Ganassi Day.”
A TIMELINE OF PITTSBURGH SPORTS IN 2010
Jan. 3 — Steelers complete season with a 9-7 record but miss playoffs and will not defend Super Bowl title.
Jan. 25 — Duquesne University announces it will eliminate four sports — baseball, men’s swimming, men’s golf and wrestling.
Feb. 12 — No. 25 Pitt and No. 5 West Virginia played three overtimes before the Panthers prevailed, 98-95, at Petersen Events Center.
March 18 — Heavy underdog Robert Morris takes No. 2 seed Villanova into overtime before losing, 73-70, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
March 27 — The Mt. Lebanon girls basketball team wins its second consecutive Class AAAA state basketball championship.
April 12 — Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes, suspended four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, is traded by the Steelers to the New York Jets for a fifth-round draft pick.
May 6 — Mike Rice departs Robert Morris after three seasons and accepts the basketball coaching position at Rutgers.
June 10 — Former West Virginia quarterback Oliver Luck is hired as the university’s athletic director.
June 21 — Peters Township resident Alison Riske loses in the first round at Wimbledon after qualifying for the first time.
June 24 — WVU basketball stars Devin Ebanks and Da’Sean Butler fall to the second round of the NBA Draft.
July 1 — Penguins GM Ray Shero loses Sergei Gonchar to free agency, but quickly shores up the defense by signing Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek to 5-year contracts.
July 11 — Paula Creamer, dubbed the “Pink Panther” for the color of her clothing, wins the U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont. (VERIFY)
July 13 — Steelers coach Mike Tomlin signs a contract extension through the 2014 season.
Aug. 7 — Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and former assistant head coach Russ Grimm, of Scottdale and Pitt fame, are inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Aug. 8 — Pirates manager John Russell shakes up his coaching staff, firing pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and bench coach Gary Varsho.
Aug. 20 — Pittsburgh gets an Arena Football League team, named the Power, that will begin play at Consol Energy Center in 2011.
Sept. 21 — Penguins GM Ray Shero is signed to a five-year contract extension.
Oct. 17 — Greensburg native Rocco Mediate, 47, wins for the first time on the PGA Tour since 2002 and captures his sixth career tournament.
Oct. 22 — A controversial grades policy results in 15 Sto-Rox football players — nearly one-third of the team — being suspended for the team’s game against Shenango.
Oct. 23 — Pitt basketball coach Jamie Dixon rescues passengers trapped from a car accident on I-279.
Nov. 16 — The Steelers sever ties with longtime kicker Jeff Reed and replace him with journeyman Shaun Suisham.
Nov. 27 — North Allegheny, Central Valley, South Fayette and Clairton win WPIAL football championships at Heinz Field.
Nov. 29 — The Big East Conference welcomes TCU as its ninth football-playing member.
Dec. 1 — Pitt beats Duquesne, 80-66, in the first City Game held at Consol Energy Center. The win is the 10th in a row for the Panthers in the series.
Dec. 10 — La Roche College basketball coach Scott Lang, 41, collapses on the court during practice and dies.
Dec. 15 — Bill Stewart is ousted as West Virginia football coach although he will continue to guide the team through the 2011 season.
Dec. 19 — Steelers lose to the New York Jets, but secure a playoff berth, the third in coach Mike Tomlin’s four seasons.