Top 10 sports stories of 2011

Published: Saturday, Dec. 31 2011 8:00 p.m. MST

RSL keeper Nick Rimando after 1-0 loss to CF Monterrey in the CONCACAF Cup Championship at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Wednesday, April 27, 2011. Mike Terry, Deseret News

Mike Terry, Deseret News

From Jimmer to Jerry, Utah was home to some sensational sports headlines in 2011.

The Deseret News staff took a look at some of the state's top sports headlines from this past calendar year, and asked a few local sports commentators and reporters for their thoughts and observations on the phenomenal and the phenoms. Hope you enjoy.

1. Jimmermania.

Jimmer Fredette became more than a star player, he became a phenomenon. His ability to score points when BYU needed them most — and from the longest of ranges — made him a household name. In fact, his name became a verb (meaning one has just been smoked, humiliated, smacked down, etc.) and his ability became legend.

"I compare it to the hype of Justin Bieber," said Hans Olsen, former BYU and NFL player and co-host of the "Hans and OC Show" on 97.5 FM. "My dad, who is 70 and lives in the back woods of Idaho and couldn't hate pop music more, knows who Justin Bieber is. And the same could be said of Jimmer. Little old ladies who'd rather watch Matlock (than college hoops) know who Jimmer is."

Adds Alema Harrington, co-host of "Powerhouse" (1320 AM) and "Jazz Live" (KJZZ), "I played with Ty Detmer; I played on the national championship team in 1984. I've never seen anything like what happened with Jimmer. It was an absolute phenomenon, a movement, and I don't think that we'll ever see it again."

Deseret News columnist and sports writer Dick Harmon, whose covered BYU since he was a student there in 1976, said some of Jimmermania can be attributed to the rise in social media.

"It was all the ways it could be covered — Facebook, Twitter, the Internet — with even NBA players chiming in," he said. "It was massive coverage and it built a foundation of launching this kid."

And for a journalist, it infused a very familiar game with surprises.

"Every night there was magic," he said. "The expectation was that as soon as he crossed half court, he could shoot and make it … It almost became like a fable, something you'd read in a storybook. It was unreal."

2. Sloan RETIRES

Jerry Sloan's retirement didn't come as anyone would have expected. On Feb. 10, in the middle of his 23rd season as the head coach of the Utah Jazz, Sloan abruptly resigned. His long-time assistant Phil Johnson resigned with him, leaving fans wondering if he'd secretly been fired or was fed up with the egos of NBA stars. He said simply that he didn't have the energy the job required anymore and denied any behind-the-scenes trouble.

"Who would have thought a guy who never relents would quit in the middle of a season?" said Deseret News columnist Brad Rock. "This is a guy who didn't back down from Wilt Chamberlain, who played with torn plantar fasciitis, and who broke his nose half a dozen times playing."

Sloan stepping aside was monumental because he wasn't just a sports icon to Utahns.

"He was a cultural part of the community," said David Locke, Jazz play-by-play announcer and co-host of Boler, Locke and Gerrard (1320 AM), who felt Sloan retiring was the state's top story. "He was a bedrock … He's in the Hall of Fame. The amount of people who were given a guiding light by Jerry of how to do things, and not just his players … I think Jerry represented what we all want to achieve."

Spencer Checketts, co-host of the Bill and Spence Show (700 AM) said it was an unfortunate end to a storied career.

"He was the face of a franchise that did not embrace change at all," said Checketts. "In three weeks, they got a new coach and traded away a star player … I think it was a sad day, and I think he deserved better."

3. Utes begin play in Pac-12, BYU goes independent