WHITT’S END: 12.31.21
Whether you’re at the end of your coffee, your day, your week or even your rope – OR, IN THIS CASE, YOUR YEAR – welcome to Whitt’s End …
On the final day of the year, I present my Top 21 DFW sports stories of 2021:
21. SELF-HELP – In a year dominated by mental health awareness, Cowboys legend Roger Staubach spoke out in January for the first time about his daughter’s life-long struggles.
Another Cowboys’ quarterback – Dak Prescott – also continued to be vocal about mental health issues, detailing his own struggles during HBO’s Hard Knocks in August and voicing support in September for U.S. gymnast Simone Biles after she quit the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
20. FROZEN – During February’s Winter white-out in which DFW endured ice-covered streets and record-low temperatures below 0, we were all trapped inside with … no local sports on TV. Because of transportation logjams and power-grid failures, neither the Dallas Mavericks nor Dallas Stars played a game for an entire week. In a 12-month span, the Mavs had games canceled because of a pandemic, a protest and a polar vortex.
19. CHECKERED FLAG – For my money, the best GM in DFW called it quits in May.
Eddie Gossage took control of Texas Motor Speedway in 1995, two years before it hosted its first race. During his 25-year run he transformed TMS from a desolate pasture north of Fort Worth into one of the jewels of auto racing.
A creative genius and tireless promoter, the 62-year-old Gossage retired as the face of NASCAR in North Texas. Godspeed.
18. SOC IT TO YA – Just four years removed from its historic campus being plagued by leaking ceilings and rodent infestation, South Oak Cliff High School beat Liberty Hill in the Class 5A Division II Championship Game in mid-December to become the first school from DISD to win a football title since 1958.
17. NELSON’S NEW DIGS – The Pavilion wasn’t exactly re-created. But the pizzazz certainly was. Everyone – included Dallas’ Jordan Spieth – approved of the Byron Nelson golf tournament’s move north to McKinney’s Craig Ranch in May.
16. RANGERS REBUILDING – With Jon Daniels secured at the top of the organization and Chris Young as the GM of the future, the Texas Rangers went pro-active with manager Chris Woodward, extending his contract in March. The surprising player hub of the rebuilding, however, wasn’t even on the 2021 Opening Day roster, as outfielder Adolis Garcia burst onto the scene as the only player in team history to be named Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year in the same season.
After becoming only the eighth player in Major League history with at least 30 homers, 80 RBI and 10 stolen bases, the 27-year-old was named The Sporting News’ AL Rookie of the Year.
Lost in the 102-loss rubble, the Rangers dusted off a solid building block.
15. CLIPPED 2.0 – The destination predictable. The path improbable. The Mavericks could have avoided another NBA postseason matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers, but inexplicably lost three times in two weeks down the stretch to the Lottery-bound Sacramento Kings.
In a fascinating, frustrating first-round series in late May, the Mavericks shocked the Clippers by winning Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles. They then promptly lost Games 3 and 4 at American Airlines Center – blowing a 30-11 lead in Game 3 – but somehow rebounded to win Game 5 at Staples Center. But with a chance to close out the series at home and win their first playoff series since winning the championship in 2011, the Mavs lost Game 6 and then were blown out in Game 7 despite Luka Doncic’s 46 points.
In a promising year fueled by Luka’s trademark step-back jumper, a second consecutive playoff loss to the Clippers was a definite, um, step back.
14. COVID CLOUD – The coronavirus was woefully weaved into the fabric of DFW sports all friggin’ year.
The Rangers allowed a capacity crowd of 40,218 at Globe Life Field on Opening Day in April, then immediately scaled back attendance and beefed up safety measure for all ensuing games, effectively putting on the condom after sex. They later placed three players on their COVID-IL during an August weekend at Boston’s Fenway Park.
The Cowboys’ lost center Zack Martin for their opener in September and then coach Mike McCarthy in the middle of the season.
The Mavericks have seen the virus sideline everyone from TV studio analyst Cedric Ceballos to Doncic to so many players that on Christmas night they fielded a team of emergency fill-ins that resembled a YMCA pick-up game.
We tip-toed toward normality midway through 2021, but beginning in the Fall were swatted back to shelter by the delta and omicron variants. The latest with the virus: Long-time Mavs’ radio play-by-play voice Chuck Cooperstein, who has missed only three games in 16 seasons but tested positive this week and will start 2022 in quarantine.
13. UNPLUGGED – Loud. Obnoxious. Loquacious. Venomous. Thought-provoking. And, above all else, genuine. In an era of TV sports talking heads manufacturing passion and fabricating angles to ignite faux anger, Dale Hansen was nothing if not real. The iconic Channel 8 sports anchor retired in September after a memorable 41-year career on DFW TV. With the recent retirements of Randy Galloway, Mike Rhyner and now Hansen, DFW sports media has been all but de-clawed. The last remaining dinosaur is Norm Hitzges.
12. CANTON COWBOYS – One was on the receiving end of the most famous play in Cowboys’ history. One authored the most iconic rhetorical question ever shouted in an NFL locker room. And one is named Cliff Harris. Pretty historic Hall-of-Fame weekend in Canton in August, as the Cowboys inducted Drew Pearson, Jimmy Johnson and “Captain Crash” to immortality.
11. BETTER LUCKY THAN GOOD – In April’s NFL Draft the Cowboys claim they had Micah Parsons as the highest-ranked defensive player on their board. They also, however, gambled on losing him when they traded down from No. 10 to No. 12 with the Philadelphia Eagles.
We know now that they targeted the draft’s primo cornerbacks, Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II. When they were off the board, Dallas traded down for value and wound up “settling” on Parsons … who will win NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year, get consideration for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and is garnering comparisons to Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor.
Not a bad consolation prize. Said Jerry Jones, “We thought he was the best defensive player in the draft, and that’s why we didn’t cut our throat when we didn’t get a corner.”
10. JUST QUINN, BABY – Didn’t feel like it at the time, but Jerry Jones’ January hiring of Dan Quinn to be the Cowboys’ new defensive coordinator re-routed a season. Under Quinn, a defense that in 2020 (with Mike Nolan) surrendered the most yards and touchdowns in franchise history produced two Pro Bowl starters (Parsons and cornerback Trevon Diggs and his league-leading 11 picks) and leads the NFL in interceptions in 2021.
9. GALLO, GONE – After disappointing with a Home Run Derby-worst 19 homers – none 500 feet – earlier in the month, in late July Rangers slugger Joey Gallo was traded to the Yankees. Though it seemed like he hit bombs in Arlington forever, Gallo’s 145 homers don’t even rank him in the Rangers’ Top 10. If you need to feel better about the trade, the Yankees lost to the Red Sox in the Wild-Card Game, meaning Gallo won as many playoff games in 2021 as the Rangers: 0.
New York took Gallo and Alex Rodriguez and Derek Harper and Everson Walls, but gave us Tom Landry. Call it a push?
8. basKIDDball – Back for a third act with the Mavericks after two playing stints, Jason Kidd was hired in mid-June to replace the second-longest tenured pro coach in DFW sports history behind only Tom Landry – Rick Carlisle.
Kidd, a Hall-of-Fame player blessed with an unquantifiable basketball IQ on the court, got the job despite a losing coaching record in the regular season (183-190) and playoffs (9-15) and promptly geared-down the Mavs to the NBA’s slowest-paced offense.
7. HARD KNOCKS – To be honest, HBO’s docuseries inside Cowboys’ training camp was downright boring. Other than, that is, the two stars of late Summer’s five-episode show:
1) The drone that flew through the team’s Star headquarters in Frisco;
6. MAV-WRECKS – When you haven’t won a playoff series in 10 years, tweaks are obviously begging. But no one predicted the extreme makeover, Mavericks edition, that occurred in June. After promising “(Carlisle) isn’t going anywhere” after the team’s playoff loss to the Clippers and calling a report about various in-house rifts “Total bullsh*t”, owner Mark Cuban within 24 hours fired 24-year general manager Donnie Nelson and then watched as Carlisle abruptly quit despite Doncic on his roster and two years, $14 million left on his contract.
5. HOT-STOVE HAUL – Not easy for a 102-loss baseball team to attract attention the day after a Mavs’ 32-point win and in the midst of a Cowboys’ playoff push, but the Rangers grabbed us all by the short hairs by spending an eye-popping $561 million in two days at baseball’s Winter Meetings.
Making one of the biggest splashes in offseason history, Texas signed slugging star infielders Marcus Semien and Corey Seager.
4. UT + OU = SEC – The Irving-based Big 12 Conference was shaken to its core in late July when it was revealed that cornerstone schools Texas and Oklahoma had secretly agreed to bolt for the SEC. Texas-OU in the Cotton Bowl will survive, and Longhorns-Aggies will eventually be resurrected.
3. DAK ON DOTTED LINE – A three-offseason cliffhanger just this side of “Who Shot J.R.?” finally climaxed in March when Prescott avoided another season playing under the franchise tag by signing a four-year, $160 million contract with an NFL-record $66 million signing bonus.
For a moment, it made us forget the most obscene deal in DFW history: Alex Rodriguez to the Rangers for 10 years, $252 million in 2000.
2. COWBOYS CROWNED – A season that began with uncertainty about Prescott’s health and heartbreak over a last-second loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers peaked in last Sunday night’s record-breaking blowout of long-time rival Washington. The 56-14 shellacking on a national stage clinched the NFC East, guaranteed a home playoff game, kept alive the possibility of earning the No. 1 seed and set a zillion records, including Prescott becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw touchdown passes in the same game to a receiver, tight end, running back and offensive lineman.
1. LONG LIVE LUKA – Though not nearly as dramatic as the Cowboys’ drawn-out signing of Prescott, the Mavs’ locking-up Luka is DFW’s most important sports transaction of 2021.
When he signed a five-year, $207 million supermax extension in early September, it guaranteed the Mavs a long-term future with one of the five best players on the planet and a chance to remain a relevant franchise and perennial playoff team. Over the life of Doncic’s deal he’ll make $41 million per season; Dak $40 million.
*In 2021 we said goodbye to former Highland Park High School, SMU and Dallas Cowboys player John Roach, and the iconic founder of Texas Football, Dave Campbell.
*Looking ahead to 2022, there will be the Mavericks’ Jan. 5 retirement of Dirk Nowitzki’s No. 41 at AAC, a late January Cowboys home playoff game (or two) at AT&T Stadium, and the unveiling of the Rangers’ new lucrative sluggers on March 31, Opening Day at Globe Life Field against the Yankees. Some folks are so excited about a prosperous and love-filled 2022 they couldn’t wait …
*This Weekend? Friday is for partying. Saturday is for rehabbing. Sunday is for watching … Cowboys-Cardinals. Happy New Year! As always – and still in 2022 – don’t be a stranger.
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