Get happy, Arizona. There's still a few reasons to look forward to 2011.
SBN Arizona's Scott Howard hit it on the head so hard that congressional inquiries are underway: 2011 will pretty much blow for the Arizona sports aficionado. The Arizona Diamondbacks won't be any good until at least 2013 and the Phoenix Suns have a better-than-even chance of pushing beyond that.
The once-and-future Arizona Coyotes of Winnipeg are challenging for mediocrity with financial chaos still not remotely calmed. The Arizona Cardinals punch timecards in a division sporting the worst collection of professional talent outside Antarctica's strip clubs ("Woo! Take off that mitten!") but still can't dream on a winning season in 2011.
Even grades at both state schools are likely to improve slightly with no particular reason to soak up the school spirit at sporting events. (Yes, those kinds of spirits.)
Still, the bleakness of the 2011 sports desert landscape has a few oases. Most of them are mirages, of course, but feel free to embrace the fantasy for at least one year. After all, you were about to construct an elaborate farce where the 2011 Arizona Cardinals took the NFC West division crown as if cardboard hats are desirable just because you got them at Burger King.
Instead, consider these worthy sports-based distractions for 2011:
There are other sports teams in Arizona, y'know
The Arizona Rattlers are back for the time being. Their season opens March 12, but don't wait: team tryouts are Feb. 5. It makes the 87-week NFL training camp look downright ridiculous. Because it is.
There's the two-time WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury. No, there's not a lot of dunking, but there's an outsized amount of winning. Isn't that what this exercise is about? If you'd like to sit close to success, visit US Airways Center this summer. Besides, you probably won't be able to see Diana Taurasi play on your Turkish vacation anyway.
The Portland Beavers are bringing back minor-league baseball to Tucson, at least for one season and possibly more. Of course, not even the Pacific Coast League wants the stink of Arizona sports on it for more than a season, desperate to get a new stadium built back "home". However, if all else fails, they may stick around. So start rooting now for your Tucson Beavers: home of last resort!
There are small traces of young talent sprinkled among the four professional sports teams. If you're into potential (and if you're not, you might want to consider a refresher course this year), here's one name for each franchise to cling to a bit too tightly this year:
- Arizona Cardinals: LaRod Stephens-Howling
Easy to spot for the scrolling name on the back of the jersey but difficult to find on the field due to the limitations of slow-motion camera work, his three kick return touchdowns in two seasons has him on the Devin Hester career path, though his high water mark will be necessarily shorter. A 99-yarder last season was bested by a 102-yarder this season, meaning you should root for the 23-year-old to line up with one foot against the back of the end zone at all times next season. Honestly, why not?
- Arizona Diamondbacks: Brandon Allen
Despite Kevin Towers' attempts to drown Allen's 2011 season with a deep pool of Proven Veterans for Proven Veteran Kirk Gibson to select instead of the powerful first baseman/left fielder, every attempt needs to be made to cheer him onto the field as much as possible. No, he's not especially young for a rookie (year-25 season), but he is 187% more likely to be part of the next Diamondbacks winning season than Xavier Nady or Geoff Blum. Plus, he has his own boomstick. That's good because Mark Reynolds took his when he was booted out of town.
- Phoenix Suns: Goran Dragic
On the other hand, Goran Dragic is still only 24 and showed signs of goodness (if not out-and-out greatness) last season. It's fine to be frustrated with him, but he's the man to hang your hat on if the Suns will be competitive after Nash leaves next season.
- Phoenix Coyotes: Oliver Ekman-Larsson
He's 19; he's beautiful; he's yours, Arizona. The Swede teenager has been called the best prospect in hockey. He's getting serious burn with the Coyotes and ice time in San Antonio when he's not getting it in Glendale. A scoring and puck-handling phenom from the back, he will eventually replace one of the ancients patrolling in front of the goalkeeper. 'Eventually' could well be 2011.
Start your All-Star boycott now!
The 2011 MLB All-Star Game will be in town this summer and everyone will be stitching "Los" in front of their team names for the big night! Look forward to a home run contest that lasts 16 hours in the Arizona night air as well as a futures game that showcases two teams that could easily go .450 against the 2011 Arizona Diamondbacks.
Upon further consideration, maybe we should all just get together and agree Burger King crowns are awesome. That's a lot less work. Have it your way, Arizona!