Since we're doing a year-end recap on Wednesday's show, I'll stick with the theme and give year-end grades out this week. This is for the best and worst from the last 366 days of 2008. To listen in, check out WGEM SportsCenter presented by Hardee's from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. every day on ESPN 1440. We'll break down the grades around 8:15 or so on Wednesday.
A — Michael Phelps. He was an easy pick as the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. Winning eight gold medals in one Olympiad will do that for you. He captivated a nation and pulled a lot of people into swimming, if only for a week. We'll see where he goes from here. NBC has signed on to telecast a lot of swimming events between now and the London Games. Phelps, no doubt, will be at the forefront of that coverage.
B — Padraig Harrington. Yes, Tiger's win on one leg at the U.S. Open was the most impressive feat in the sports world this year (apologies to Phelps and Usain Bolt). But, Paddy quietly went about his business. He came from behind to win at the British Open and again at the PGA Championship to nab Player of the Year honors. What will the focus be when the majors season starts at Augusta National? Tiger or the fact Harrington is halfway to a Paddy Melt — a run of four straight major championships? I'll take Tiger in that battle.
C — Chicago Cubs. Yes, the Cubs had a fantastic regular season. No one in the National League won as many games in the regular season than the North Siders. They had the NL's Manager of the Year (Lou Piniella) and the Rookie of the Year (Geovany Soto). They also won as many postseason games as the Pittsburgh Pirates — a big fat zero. How will the Cubs bounce back in 2009?
D — University of Illinois football team. The Illini's blowout loss to USC on the first day of the new year in the Rose Bowl was a sign of things to come for Ron Zook's crew. After earning a BCS bid last season, the Illini couldn't even earn enough wins to get a spot in one of the 34 postseason bowls this season. The Illini finished 5-7, including a loss to Western Michigan of the MAC. And the Illini almost lost to Louisiana-Lafayette. Zook's seat isn't hot yet, but another sub-par year like this one and it may start to get warm.
F — Dallas Cowboys. I know the Detroit Lions finished 0-16, but that was only about four wins short of what was expected of them. (And the Rams and Chiefs could land here, too.) But the 2008 Cowboys are one of the biggest groups of choke artists in recent memory. T.O. killed another coach, who has no leadership skills anyway. Pacman made no impact. The team gave up valuable draft picks for Roy Williams, who was another non-factor. Tony Romo stunk up the place in December — yet again. Thank goodness he got his money last year. He'd better start saving some of it. So much for that Super Bowl run.