Ouch, what a painful year in sports

Falcons coach Mike Smith yells during the last game of a tough season.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Falcons coach Mike Smith yells during the last game of a tough season.

With apologies to Johnny Paycheck, you can take this year and shove it.

Typically, these year-end wrap-ups are a celebration of the best of the preceding 365 days. And certainly that would be the case here, were it possible to compose paeans to blueprints, schematic drawings and men in suits telling us how great 2017 is going to be.

After all the silent, slick maneuvers to move the Braves from the heart of the metro area to its Cobb appendage, after the full-contact negotiations with church elders to secure new ground for the Falcons, we were left with a single irony:

While we became consumed with replacing perfectly sound stadiums, the products within began to fall apart.

As a community, we know a little something about losing. But even by Atlanta standards, we might remember 2013 as the year of going athletically bankrupt, of becoming the sporting equivalent of Detroit.

It normally requires a lottery drawing of $300 million or more to dash so many hopes.

The Braves won 14 in a row at one time last season. They added another division title to the woodpile stacked a cord high and deep. Those may be the images pressed into the scrapbook by the cheery among us.

Yet other darker episodes interfered: The two highest-paid players were virtually worthless. Tim Hudson’s leg was snapped during a play at first. Craig Kimbrel fidgeted in the bullpen like a trapped badger as David Carpenter served up a season-ending, eighth-inning home run to Juan Uribe. Juan Bleepin’ Uribe.

It seemed the few shining moments in our midst were imports: An up-tempo Final Four victory for Louisville inside the prematurely aged Georgia Dome; Adam Scott making like Gene Kelly, classically swingin’ in the rain to win the Masters; Auburn winning a SEC championship in a game that more resembled a track meet.

Tough year for the permanent residents of the state, though.

How, pray tell, is it possible to do anything but complain about a year in which injuries were far and away the prevailing theme? Orthopedic surgeons had a banner 2013. Everyone else suffered.

Any Georgia-based fan who has been paying attention has earned at least one semester’s credit toward a medical degree, transferable to any Caribbean institution.

Blame the Bulldogs Malcolm Mitchell. Georgia’s leading receiver set the tone for an entire football season when he blew out his knee celebrating the year’s first touchdown. And it wasn’t even his own. Suddenly the excessive celebration penalty included mandatory arthroscopy.

The personnel erosion continued at Georgia, made sadly complete when Aaron Murray’s knee gave out in the penultimate game against Kentucky.

The Falcons lost five starters to injuries in a Week Two game against the St. Louis Rams, and that was just the warm-up act. The season officially crashed during a Week Five loss when Julio Jones re-injured the same foot that troubled him coming out of Alabama. The year began with the team giving back a 17-point lead in the NFC Championship, finishing tauntingly close to a Super Bowl. It ended in the hunt for a top-five draft pick. The reversal was so sudden and surreal that only Quentin Tarantino can properly do the 2013 Falcons highlight film.

There has been talk of vibrating, shuddering seats in the Falcons new stadium, to involve the fans more in the experience on the field. To recreate the feel of 2013, they should have rigged those in the Georgia Dome to rock like paint shakers until something hemorrhaged.

Granted, the principle of addition by subtraction was proven in 2013: See the Hawks jettisoning Josh Smith, which immediately made it 75 percent less likely you would throw a shoe at the TV while watching a game. But such a strategy works best when done by choice, not by attrition.

What was the worst of the worst of 2013? Oh, who has the strength to rank the disappointments?

Outside the gravitational pull of Georgia, the big stories were not much more uplifting in many cases. Although, let’s try to make the best of them:

THE F-BOMB THAT HEALED BOSTON. A powerful bomb killed three and injured hundreds at the Boston Marathon finish line. David Ortiz responded with an explosive declaration when the Red Sox returned to action at Fenway Park. "This is our bleeping city!" the Red Sox DH told the crowd, spitting in the face of cowardly terror. Never has that particular expletive been put to better use, not even by the great craftsman Samuel L. Jackson.

HOW DOES ONE WEDGIE A 300-POUND MAN? Football players are supposed to get their bullying done by high school, targeting the second-chair clarinet player, or the president of audio-visual club or anyone wearing skinny jeans. It is nature's way. But the rules all changed this year. One Miami Dolphins offensive lineman, Richie Incognito, was accused of bullying another, Jonathan Martin. The scale was all wrong. The fight was seemingly too fair. And we were drawn against our will into the inanities of the locker room culture.

THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT IN NEW ORLEANS. Apparently the Superdome was wired much the same as an Easy Bake Oven. Straining under the demands of the Super Bowl load, the place went dark at halftime of the world's biggest football game. This forced the CBS crew to improvise and adapt and to work off script, which it did with the ease of a roomful of startled meerkats.

Some, notably Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis after his retirement, suggested the blackout was part of a conspiracy to allow San Francisco more time to recover from a rocky first half. Can’t get more credible than that.

THE RETURN OF PEDs. And here we were thinking steroids had become so last century, drugs as passé as laudanum. No, they just won't go away — much like one of their more devoted alleged customers, Alex Rodriquez.

In the fallout of the Biogenesis investigation former MVP Ryan Braun was suspended and A Rod was elevated to new heights of revulsion.

Baseball’s Hall of Fame class of 2013 included zero former players, the induction ceremony a sad, shallow aftereffect of the Steroid Era. No Barry Bonds. No Roger Clemens. No Mark McGwire. No Sammy Sosa. They all have been sentenced to the purgatory of overwhelming suspicion.

CONCUSSION DISCUSSION RAGES. The NFL arrived at a settlement with the hundreds of former players who filed class action suit against the league, alleging a calculated indifference to the evidence that football is bad for your head. Legal experts weighed the settlement as a victory for a league that seems too big to flail. The story of the player sacrificing his mental acuity on the altar of football, however, moved to the category of journalistic staple.

The game continued to expand the rule changes designed to promote the impression of concern over player safety. Defenders were left dizzy trying to define the new limits of acceptable violence.

THE ONLY GOOD MAKE-BELIEVE GIRLFRIEND IS A DEAD MAKE-BELIEVE GIRLFRIEND. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o was embroiled in one of the certifiably creepiest stories of our time when it was revealed that the girlfriend whose death he publicly mourned never existed. Upon the revelation that she was a figment, Te'o said he had been duped. He claimed to have developed a relationship without ever having met this person in person.

Joaquin Phoenix stars in a movie where the main character falls for the disembodied voice of his computer operating system. The fact that it’s Scarlett Johansson’s voice makes the concept even more unfathomable, given that she is so much more a visual experience than an auditory one.

And, yet, even that fiction seemed tame and rational compared to the real-life twists of Te’o’s tale.

AARON HERNANDEZ DOES HIS OWN REMAKE OF "THE DEPARTED." Just when you believed there were no new ways for the gifted, privileged athlete to blow it all, a stunning variation on the theme appeared. Enter the Patriots Hernandez, who was arrested for the murder of an acquaintance who irked him. Much media effort was expended trying to decide whether Hernandez was a wannabe gangster as far back as his Florida days, or just a misunderstood soul who had merely taken the whole bad-boy image a tattoo too far.

Meanwhile, Tom Brady figured out how to get to the postseason even throwing to various cardboard cutouts.

GONZALEZ GOES OUT ON A WHIMPER. There have been few retirement parties weaker than the one thrown by the Falcons for tight end Tony Gonzalez. No gold watch for him, more like a pat on the back and a Cracker Jack prize. He arrived in Atlanta in 2009 with visions of going to the Super Bowl, being one of the few to ever confuse this town for a championship destination. Oh, brother, what a colossal bait-and-switch.

Gonzalez had to learn the hard way the truth of Atlanta and the games it plays. It is the place where promise and futility chase each other’s tail, around and around, endlessly.

Excuse the sour tone. But, really, looking back on it all, this was one of the most ridiculous sporting years yet.

The one real highlight of 2013: It’s almost over.