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Published: Sunday, 12/28/2008

Down year leaves little to applaud: Rockets, Wings, Tunnicliffe among few bright spots

BLADE STAFF
Toledo quarterback Aaron
Opelt savors the Rockets 
13-10 victory over Michigan. Toledo quarterback Aaron Opelt savors the Rockets 13-10 victory over Michigan.
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There wasn't much to cheer about in college and pro sports in northwest Ohio and the surrounding areas in 2008. College football is just one example. Michigan had its worst season in school history and Toledo won just one home game. Bowling Green started the season by beating No. 25 Pitt and ended it by firing coach Gregg Brandon. Ohio State again qualified for a BCS bowl game, but couldn't repair its poor reputation nationally after getting blown out by USC in September.

The Pistons and Cavaliers made the playoffs, but the Lions, Browns, Tigers and Indians all stunk. Driver Sam Hornish, Jr., had a rough go in his first full season in NASCAR.

But there are some fond memories of the local sports scene from this year. Tom Amstutz got one last signature victory for the Rockets in the Big House. Toledo met two new teams and continued to flock to see another. A former Perrysburg resident took home Olympic gold.

And the Detroit Red Wings hoisted their 11th Stanley Cup in the team's history. The Wings beat the Pittsburgh Penguins to claim their 11th Stanley Cup.

As for the others, with perhaps the exception of the Lions, there's always next year.

UT, BG CLEAN HOUSE: For the University of Toledo, 2008 was the year of out with the old, in with the new. After subpar seasons in men's and women's basketball and football, the Rockets jettisoned coaches Stan Joplin, Mark Ehlen and Tom Amstutz, replacing them with Gene Cross, Tricia Cullop and Tim Beckman. Bowling Green followed suit in football, firing Gregg Brandon the day after the Falcons pummeled UT in the Glass Bowl. BG named Dave Clawson as Brandon's successor.

ROCKETS CONQUER BIG HOUSE: The records for both teams were down, but the memories of Toledo beating Michigan in Michigan Stadium will still last forever. The Rockets became the first Mid-American Conference school to beat the Wolverines, 13-10 on Oct. 11. Tyrrell Herbert's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown was UT's signature play. It was part of a five-game losing streak for the Wolverines, who missed a bowl game for the first time in 34 years.

CREAMER CARVES UP FARR: Paula Creamer's pink ball sailed into Highland Meadows holes quite a bit for birdies during the 2008 Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic in July. In the first round, the 21-year-old Creamer set a course record with a 11-under par 60. She hung on through Sunday to win her seventh career tournament by two strokes ahead of Nicole Castrale. In Se Ri Pak's first attempt to become the only six-time winner of a tournament, she finished tied for 17th.

BUCKEYES BCS-BOUND AGAIN: Ohio State clinched a berth in a BCS bowl game for the fourth consecutive year after finishing 10-2, 7-1 in the Big Ten to win another conference title. The Buckeyes shook off an early-season embarrassment against USC to win eight of their next nine games, including a 42-7 domination of Michigan. A home loss to Penn State cost OSU its Rose Bowl hopes, but the Fiesta Bowl picked the Buckeyes to play in the desert for the third time since 2005.

PERRYSBURG STRIKES GOLD: Anna Tunnicliffe, a 2001 graduate of Perrysburg High School, made northwest Ohio proud when she won a gold medal in Laser Radial sailing at the Summer Olympics in Beijing. The 25-year-old native of England, who moved to Perrysburg when she was 12, captured gold in a come-from-behind effort in the last of 10 races. She was the only gold medalist in sailing for the United States this year and the first female sailor from Team USA to win in 20 years.

NFL BUSTS: The Cleveland Browns came into 2008 as hyped as they have ever been, but a nightmare soon replaced playoff dreams. Between Braylon Edwards' drops, another Kellen Winslow staph infection and Phil Savage's profane email, it was a season-long soap opera. No one expected the Detroit Lions to become a playoff team this year, but the Lions are playing their way toward making dubious history. If the Lions lose today's season finale they will become the first 0-16 team in NFL history. A few months earlier Detroit finally said goodbye to failed general manager Matt Millen.

NEW BEGINNINGS: The city of Toledo met two sports franchises this year that could be local fan favorites for years to come. In February, the Walleye was chosen as the nickname for Toledo's minor league hockey team, which will resume play next fall. In September Toledo Arena Sports, Inc., announced another tenant for the downtown arena starting in 2010, an arenafootball2 team. The af2 team was christened the Bullfrogs last month.

RED WINGS WIN STANLEY CUP: The Red Wings are no strangers to success, especially in the regular season. But recently that regular season success hasn't translated into post-season success. However this year the Red Wings finally got over the hump. The Red Wings in typical fashion dominated the regular season claiming the President's Trophy for best regualar season record. The Wings looked to be in trouble again in the first round of the playoffs, this time with the Nashville Predators. However late in game four (a loss) Chris Osgood was inserted as starter for the rest of the playoffs, the Wings then won nine straight games. The Wings capped of the season defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins, and star young guns Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in six games. The Wings captured their 11th Stanley Cup and Henrik Zetterberg captured the Conn Smythe trophy for Stanley Cup MVP.

HENS STAY HOME: Manager Larry Parrish returned after a year's absence, but for the first time in four years, the Toledo Mud Hens missed the International League playoffs. It didn't help that Detroit raided the Hens for several key players, and when they returned, the likes of Michael Hollimon, Clete Thomas and Jeff Larish seemed to have lost a step. Coupled with slugger Mike Hessman and closer Blaine Neal leaving the team for a month to play for the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing, postseason wasn't in the cards for the Hens. But they still drew nearly 585,000 fans through the gates of Fifth Third Field.

PISTONS IN CONFERENCE FINALS: The Pistons returned to the Eastern Conference finals for the sixth straight year. They have gone to a sixth game in each series as well, including this year when they lost to the eventual NBA Champion Boston Celtics. The Pistons defeated the Celtics in game two of the series, which was the Celtics first home loss of the playoffs. However the Pistons followed that up with a home loss of their own in game three. The Pistons have since moved on, by not bringing back coach Flip Saunders, and then trading Chauncey Billups during the current season to Denver for Allen Iverson, although so far this appears not to be the answer Detroit fans were looking for.

OTHER TOP STORIES THIS YEAR: Bowling Green women's basketball winning a fourth-straight regular-season Mid-American Conference title and a first-round NIT game; Savage Arena opening this month after $30 million renovations, big trades by the Pistons and the Cavaliers, and Perrysburg native Burke Badenhop making. his major-league baseball debut for the Florida Marlins.



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