Florida’s Olympics Dominance Shines Atop the 2012 Year in Sports
Around the State
The University of Florida and Florida State University both were back among college football’s elite teams, landing just short of the top echelon.
The Miami Marlins opened a new taxpayer-funded ballpark and would go on a season that managed to disappointed fans both on and off the field.
Most prominently, the Miami Heat NBA Championship, a year after falling just short of what the big three -- LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh -- were brought together nearly two years earlier to do: give South Florida a crown.
Still, it was athletes from Florida that shone brightest on a global stage in the 2012 London Olympics that should be viewed as the state’s top event of 2012.
Athletes who call the state of Florida home or have ties to the Sunshine State collectively hauled in 32 pieces of hardware in the recently completed games, including 18 gold medals (won individually or shared).
The accumulation of medal would have stood Florida fifth place among the list of nations in the overall gold medal count -- 12th on the overall medal scoreboard, behind the Ukraine and the Netherlands.
Athletes that spent time at the University of Florida brought back enough hardware that the Gainesville campus could claim ninth place on the gold medal list.
The Sunshine State could count 24 athletes, including seven that were multiple winners who got to stand on a podium during the Games, for sports ranging from swimming, track and field, tennis, basketball and soccer to archery, taekwondo, volleyball and gymnastics.
Ryan Lochte, a Gator swimmer from Daytona Beach, picked up five medals on his own, which was more than 43 nations.
The Miami Heat
The Heat, which fell two wins shy of the title in 2011, easily dispatched the Oklahoma Thunder in five games of the NBA Finals, were paced by James, who took the MVP for the Finals and would go on to be named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year.
In the process of taking the title, the Heat became the first team in NBA history to have trailed in three separate post-season series while en route to winning the trophy.
The Miami Marlins
Renamed after the city that helped fund the new $640 million salsa-pulsating stadium -- $2.4 billion amortized over 40 years to Miami and Miami-Dade taxpayers -- which the club moved into next to Little Havana, the Marlins had spent the off season in a rare display of pursuing and signing top free agents.
But as the games began they did little to win over fans.
Less than two weeks into the season, Manager Ozzie Guillen told a magazine “I love Fidel Castro.”
The club would break out to a 29-22 record after two months, but were unable to muster much the rest of the way, finishing 29 games behind the Washington Nationals in the NL East.
Before the season ended, some of the teams higher priced and high-profile players were sent packing. On Aug. 12, only one player from the opening day roster was in the starting lineup: Jose Reyes.
Reyes would be part of a final mass salary purge to Toronto after the season ended. Guillen too had been dismissed as the games wrapped up.
Florida State University, still in the ACC, finished 11-2 defeating Georgia Tech 21-15 for the conference championship.
But while the Seminoles started the year the state’s highest ranked team nationally, the Florida Gators took the in-state bragging rights as the regular season wrapped up.
The Gators, 11-1, defeated FSU in Tallahassee on Thanksgiving weekend 37–26 and finished the regular season ranked third nationally in the computerized BCS poll and fourth in the AP poll.
The Seminoles are ranked 12th in the BCS and 13th in the AP, with both teams heading into January bowl games: FSU-Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl on Jan 1; UF-Louisville in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2.
The University of Miami, which finished the season 7-5, is sitting out the post-season, as the university’s administration decided to impose their own sanctions with the NCAA expected to unleash some of their own justice on the ACC school because of its ties to Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro who reportedly gave about $2 million in illegal benefits to at least 72 current or former football and basketball players and coaches between 2002–2010.
The University of Central Florida Knights, 9-4, are also bowl bound, heading to the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg on Dec. 21 against Ball State.
The Knights will also be moving from Conference USA to the Big East next season.
The FIU Golden Panthers, 3-9, will be moving from the Sun Belt Conference to Conference USA next season.
The Panthers will be joined in Conference USA a year later by the Florida Atlantic Owls, 3-8, which will also be moving from the Sun Belt Conference.
Florida’s three pro teams continued to have lackluster years -- to say the least. One of the biggest story lines of the off-season was the prospect of former UF standout Tim Tebow playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Tebow landed instead with a dysfunctional organization in New Jersey, the Jets, and infrequently got to step between the lines.
Reach Jim Turner at email@example.com or at (772) 215-9889.