Top 10 2008: Utes' Sugar Bowl run is year's top local sports story

Published: Thursday, Dec. 25 2008 12:03 a.m. MST

The preseason talk was about a "Quest for Perfection," on and off the field preferably. A pummeling of a football powerhouse — mighty Northern Iowa of Division I-FCS-AA, or something like that — did nothing to quell the on-the-field quest. Neither did two straight victories over Pac-10 teams — one thanks to a controversial celebration penalty that led to a blocked 73-or-so-yard PAT attempt in the 28-27 win over Washington, and the other thanks to UCLA sending its tackling dummies and Norm Chow-coached waterboys to face BYU in a 59-0 rout at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

There was even some early season talk about a national championship — and not of the mocking-the-1984-schedule variety, either. BYU soared to No. 8 in the coaches poll, had a 6-0 record and held its BCS destiny in its own hands.

Ah, life was good — until, of course, speedy, revenge-seeking TCU grabbed the football, fame and fortune from BYU, and left the Cougars wondering what race car had just hit them and raced away with their happily-ever-after ending.

BYU bounced back with four wins in a row to set up "The Greatest BYU-Utah Match-up EVER!!!"

You might not want to ask BYU quarterback Max Hall what happened after that. (To sum it up: five passes to the guys in red, one fumble and a humiliating 48-24 loss).

That, however, didn't keep the Cougs from their annual week-before-

Christmas tradition of playing in the Las Vegas Bowl. You might not want to ask kicker Mitch Payne, the defense or the rest of the Cougars what happened after that. They're still hoping what happens in Vegas — memories of a 31-21 loss to Arizona — stays in Vegas.

Still, you know things are good in Provo when a 10-3 record is considered a disappointment.

4. Real Salt Lake: Much ado (but not the Freddie kind) about new pad and playoffs

Media outlets did large specials and sections with big photos, nice graphics, feature stories and tons of info all aimed at accomplishing the same — pardon the soccer pun — goal. Which was, of course, trying to figure out and then explain to sports fans and still-confused taxpayers just exactly what in the world a "Rio Tinto" was, why its name was being put up on the fancy, new stadium for Real Sandy, er, Salt Lake, and just what is offsides again?

(FYI, Rio Tinto, turns out, apparently is Spanish for "Owners of that big hole in the Oquirrh Mountains and other global ventures.")

After years of political turmoil, public debate and oodles of cash, RSL finally got a palace to call home. As a bonus to their sparkling new pitch, Real even managed to not finish in a tie in just enough games to make its first playoff appearance. As a bonus to the bonus, RSL won the first postseason game in the franchise's four-year history in dramatic fashion and eventually made it to the Western (Sorta) Conference Finals. That's when a team that has had more success at Rio Tinto Stadium than RSL — that'd be the New York Red Bulls — beat them there for the second time in a month.

5. Larry H. Miller: Fights for life, hands CEO keys over to son

In June, Larry H. Miller was hospitalized. Two months later, the Jazz owner revealed just how serious his health issues were.

During a 59-day stay in the hospital, Miller almost died four times from what he described as a "serious heart attack" and other type 2 diabetes-related ailments. He called it "the most physically challenging time of my life," even hinting that he was the recipient of a miracle after his damaged kidneys suddenly healed.

In order to focus on his health, his family and a happy future, the 64-year-old Miller passed on the responsibilities of the Jazz and his business empire to his oldest son, Greg.

The elder Miller's presence has been limited at Jazz games this season. The fresh-faced new boss on the block, meanwhile, has been much more visible around EnergySolutions Arena while he learns the tricks of his recuperating father's trade.

6. Jerry Sloan: Greatest NBA coach to ever win 1,000 games with one team since 1988

Jerry Sloan probably isn't too terribly sad to see 2008 hit his tractor's rearview mirror.