THE QUIRKIEST SPORTS MOMENTS OF 2016
After the curses and death threats and groans across Minnesota from Mankato to International Falls, Blair Walsh needed a little love.
He found it in the oddest of places - the first-grade class of Northpoint Elementary in Blaine, a Minneapolis suburb.
Walsh is the kicker who missed a 27-yard field goal with 22 seconds left that would have sent the Minnesota Vikings to a playoff victory over the Seattle Seahawks last season.
Ordinarily, Walsh, even if comatose, could make such a kick. But he didn't. Yes, it was agonizingly cold and the cement-hard ball was not properly placed. Still, he blew it, and the cries for his head echoed far and wide (like the kick).
Enter Judie Offerdahl , a teacher impressed by Walsh's decency in accepting responsibility. She asked her first-graders to write him:
"I'm sorry they cursed you," a boy said.
Another note read: "Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. One time I made a mistake when I was doing a cartwheel. I felt embarrassed."
Days later, Walsh visited the school, signing autographs and talking about his pets when growing up. The class was wowed by its visitor, but maybe not as much as Walsh.
"They just know that I'm a Vikings player," he said. "So for them to show that kindness and to show that empathy toward me, it's just remarkable."
It would be nice to say that this big pat on the back carried Walsh to great things. But his kicking was dreadful this season and the Vikings cut him in November.
Just as his botched kick defied reason, so it was with Ernie Els on the first hole on the first day at the Masters. The four-time major champion was a mere 2 feet from the cup but needed six putts, leaving him with a jaw-dropping 9. "I can't explain it," he said.
Sports parked itself in other unusual spots in 2016:
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz got trapped in the bathroom of a New Jersey gas station; FIFA spies patrolled lobbies of fancy Swiss hotels, on the lookout for a police raid; Serena Williams deliberately ate gourmet dog food from hotel room service in Rome and, to no great surprise, got sick.
Bones of Ice Age mammoths were uncovered at the Oregon State football field; Kazakhstan decided to choose its national soccer coach in an online vote; and the Indianapolis 500 brought forth its official poet. (Where's the bard when you need him? "Shall I compare thee to a carburetor ...")
FLIGHTS & KNIGHTS: Looking for a new sport? Look up. The first World Drone Grand Prix was held in Dubai. ... And if ballroom dancing can try to waltz onto the Olympic roster, why not this? An English group wants armored horsemen with thrusting lances to compete for gold in jousting.
WHEN THE MOMENT IS RIGHT: The Latvian scientist who developed meldonium - the banned drug that shook tennis and other sports - says some male athletes are using it to improve sexual performance. ... A South Korean soccer player blamed his failed drug test on a mustache-growing cream.
MEN BEHAVING BADLY: Mississippi lineman Laremy Tunsil cost himself a boatload of money, plummeting in the NFL draft after a video of him smoking from a bong was posted minutes before the selections began. ... A screaming and enraged Iranian tennis player in Turkey chased an official off the court, forcing him to take refuge behind a locked gate. ... Two Czech soccer referees working the same match were banned, one appeared drunk and the other urinated on the field. ... And Czech goalkeeper Tomas Koubek time-traveled back to another generation when speaking after a game in which a female lineswoman failed to make an offsides call: "My opinion is that women belong at the stove and should not officiate men's football."
DIFFERENT STROKES: It could have been worse. Ryan Lochte could've been back in Rio de Janeiro, where he and teammates busted up a gas station bathroom, concocted a tale of being robbed at gunpoint and proved a singular embarrassment at the Olympics. Instead, a month later, the banned swimmer debuted at "Dancing with the Stars." Two men outraged by Lochte's conduct in Rio charged the floor during a fox trot taping. One was taken down by a security guard and cuffed with a move worthy of a sumo wrestler. With the stage in mayhem, the host, with a wink and a smile, addressed the studio audience: "We'll take a break."
AND YOU CAN QUOTE THEM: Baylor's Taurean Prince , when asked after his team's startling loss in the NCAA Tournament how his team had been outrebounded by Yale: "Um, you go up and grab the ball when it comes off, and then you grab it with two hands, and you come down with it, and that's considered a rebound. So they got more of those than we did." ... Olympic spokesman Mario Andrada , on the attempt to clear up the Rio pool after the water had turned a sickly green: "Chemistry is not an exact science."
ALL THE PRESIDENT'S PERKS: Vladimir Putin grappled on the mat with his country's Italian judo coach, liked what he saw and granted Enzio Gamba Russian citizenship. ... The president of Turkmenistan , who already has ordered ice arenas for this desert nation where temperatures can top 120 degrees, now wants to build the country's first golf course. ... And as he spends his last days in office, Barack Obama can surely prize above all others this farewell gift from the Chicago Blackhawks: an arena parking pass.