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You know it's a sorry time in our sports history when the top three stories of 2012, as chosen by editors and news directors, were about a coach sexually abusing boys at a major university, an American icon's career ruined in a doping scandal, and a football team trying to maim its opponents.

Jerry Sandusky roamed through the Penn State campus despite allegations that he molested boys, forever staining the university and exposing late coach Joe Paterno as a weak leader who was obsessed with his legacy. Sandusky these days is roaming around a 9-by-12 prison cell while Penn State attempts to repair its reputation.

Seven-time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong's fall from grace occurred after he was found to have used performance-enhancing drugs. His titles were taken away along with seven-figure endorsement contracts. He's not even running his own charity, Livestrong.

The Saints ran a hits-for-cash program in which dirty play was encouraged, if not rewarded, in a bounty scandal. Former Bills coach Gregg Williams landed in the middle of the controversy while Saints coach Sean Payton was suspended for his role in an attempted cover-up. Four players were suspended.

They were top stories from a journalism standpoint, but it doesn't equate to the best stories from a personal perspective. Allow me to share my Top Five lists on national and local levels.

National

1. Gold Rush. Michael Phelps wins four Olympic gold medals in London, giving him 18 for his career. He's the most dominant athlete in sports history.

2. Triple Crown. Miguel Cabrera leads the American League with a .330 batting average, 44 homers and 139 RBIs to become the first player since Carl Yastrzemski to lead in all three categories. I still think Angels rookie Mike Trout deserved the MVP.

3. Chuckstrong. First-year Colts coach Chuck Pagano battles through leukemia while inspiring a young team coming off a 2-14 season. Players and several cheerleaders shaved their heads to support him. The Colts are back in the playoffs.

4. Linsanity. Jeremy Lin was an unknown free agent from Harvard before the Knicks played him out of desperation. In a matter of weeks, he took the NBA by storm and made the Knicks relevant again. He has since signed with Houston.

5. Fighting Irish. Love 'em or hate 'em, Notre Dame is always good for college football. Fans emerged from crevices across the country during their unbeaten season, which landed them in the national championship game.

Local

1. Springville Football. The small community rallied around the Griffins after the parents of three players died of cancer in a five-month span. The players' season ended in Ralph Wilson Stadium, completing one of the more touching seasons in memory.

2. Super Mario. Optimism raced through Western New York after the Bills signed defensive end Mario Williams for $100 million. It marked an exciting new age that was a long time coming for the Bills. Unfortunately, the season began.

3. Suhr's Prize. Jenn Suhr (née: Stuczynski), of Fredonia, won an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault four years after taking the silver in 2008 and eight years after being introduced to the sport by her future husband, Rick Suhr.

4. Hoop Dreams. St. Bonaventure men's and women's teams reached the NCAA tournament. The men's team, nine years after being rocked by scandal, lost to Florida State in a thriller. The women's team, making its first appearance, had a 31-3 record before falling to Notre Dame in the Sweet 16.

5. Fantastic Foligno. Marcus Foligno was promoted from Rochester and immediately sparked what became the Sabres' top line down the stretch. The Buffalo-born winger had six goals and 13 points in his final 13 games. Tyler Ennis had eight goals and 19 points and Drew Stafford had seven goals and 17 points in the same stretch.

Bills need an overhaul

If I'm running the show along One Bills Drive, my first move after the season finale would be promoting Doug Whaley to general manager. Other necessary changes would trickle down through the organization, to the head coach and quarterback. Fans should expect otherwise, of course.

Ralph Wilson will likely maintain familiarity and keep Buddy Nix, who will try selling the idea that the Bills can be successful if they kept Chan Gailey and found a new quarterback. If that's the case, the signing of Ryan Fitzpatrick to a contract extension will be chalked up as another mistake among many.

Oh well.

What would it mean for Fitz?

The Bills could waive him even though it would mean a $10 million hit against the salary cap. They would save nearly $500,000 in actual money. It makes little sense to keep him and his $4.25 million salary as a backup. He's a good soldier, but keeping him and Gailey together makes for a tough sell and a potential distraction.

Free food fixes

The price of Sixers coach Doug Collins' commitment to his old-school ways added up to more than $70,000, not to mention some 9.9 million calories.

Philadelphia had the ball and a 99-80 lead over Atlanta in the final seconds last week, leaving the 76ers one point from earning home fans a free Big Mac. Collins ordered guard Evan Turner, against the wishes of fans, to dribble out the clock.

Collins signaled to the scorer's table and moments later this announcement from the public-address announcer: “Free Big Macs courtesy of Doug Collins.” I would imagine McDonald's, the Sixers and Collins will share the cost.

Awards competition

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, with his recent surge, forced his way into a tight race for NFL offensive Rookie of the Year. Some believe he moved ahead of rising stars Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.

Wilson, a third-round pick, has 2,868 yards passing with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season. His touchdown total is second-most ever for a rookie, one fewer than Peyton Manning had in 1998.

Luck has 4,183 yards passing with 21 TDs and 18 INTs with the Colts while RG3 has 3,100 yards, 20 TDs and five INTs this season with the Redskins. RG3 has the highest quarterback rating among the three. It looks like a tossup.

The same goes for Comeback Player of the Year.

Adrian Peterson returned from a career-threatening knee injury and had 1,898 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns through 15 games. He needs 208 yards in the finale to break Eric Dickerson's single-season record. Peyton Manning stormed back with 4,355 yards and 34 TDs after undergoing four neck surgeries.

If I had a vote, I'd go with RG3 and AP.

Knicks have a dilemma

Amare Stoudemire wasn't in a position to moan about playing time with the Knicks off to a terrific start without him, but his tone could change if he's riding the bench longer than expected. He's expected back from a knee injury within the next week and will likely be used in a reserve role, which makes for a dicey situation.

The Knicks, after Tuesday's loss to the Lakers, are 20-8 without Stoudemire and transformed into a perimeter team. Carmelo Anthony leads a cast of long-range bombers while Tyson Chandler handles the paint. Coach Mike Woodson's challenge will be getting Stoudemire enough minutes without disturbing Anthony and Chandler.

In the right situation, Stoudemire and Chandler would give the Knicks the option to play with a bigger lineup that can help on the defensive end. If he has the right attitude, Stoudemire can make a very good team even better.

“You guys know me,” Stoudemire said. “Ever since I've been here, I've been all about winning and been a total team player. So whatever it takes to win, that's the goal.”

Stats Inc.

• 1 – Players in Seahawks' history who have worn No. 12, which was retired in 1984 to honor the 12th man. Backup quarterback Sam Adkins was the last No. 12 in Seattle.

• 15 – Christmas Day games, the most in NBA history, played by Lakers star Kobe Bryant.

• 6 – Players who are 30 or older and expected to be regular infielders or outfielders for the Yankees, not counting injured 37-year-old Alex Rodriguez.

Quotable

Giants receiver Victor Cruz after visiting with the family of 6-year-old Jack Pinto, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings: “Never take anything for granted because just a day at school can change all that.”

Quick hits

• The Tim Tebow Experiment with the Jets was a colossal failure. Look for him to wind up in Jacksonville if the Jaguars give him an opportunity to challenge for the starting job. Four years ago, I suggested Tebow had the potential to be a solid NFL player ... if he switched to tight end. My opinion hasn't changed.

• Now that we're past the 100-day mark of the lockout, the NHL should cancel a season that's already been compromised. Players who intend to take legal action against owners could score a major victory, but their strategy comes with major risks. If the court rules against them, guaranteed contracts is one of many perks players can kiss goodbye.

• Oregon coach Chip Kelly could be on the fast track for the NFL, but any team interested should first examine his character. He's facing allegations of recruiting violations and a seedy relationship with talent evaluator Willie Lyles. At best, it looks like Lyles was paid to, ahem, encourage players to play for Oregon. Bucks for Ducks?



email: bgleason@buffnews.com