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Commentary: Top Moments of 2012

Those who write about sports don't do so to rub reporters notebooks with the rich and famous or for the free pressroom food. At least most don't.

And it sure isn't for the money or the privilege of working nights and weekends.

It's for the moments.

The dramatic, the poignant, the funny, the absurd and, especially, the extraordinary - when the outcome hangs in the balance as the ball hangs in the air, crowd noise sucked into a vacuum, players frozen.

While stuck in the office much of the time, I was fortunate enough to cover, and then attempt to convey, a few such moments. Here are the top ones I saw in 2012.

For dramatic endings, it doesn't get better than the Westminster-Quince Orchard state semifinal football game. Trailing by two, quarterback Deryk Kern drove the Owls 77 yards in a minute with no timeouts to set up a potential game-winning field goal.

Given the slippery field conditions, the gusting wind, the cold temperature and the intense pressure, it's likely the majority of the 5,000 or so fans at Westminster that November night expected the kick to come up well short or perhaps be blocked.

So when the ball climbed into the air, well over the outsretched arms at the line of scrimmage, and sailed up, up, up toward the goalpost, the fans on the Westminster side, having gone silent, began cheering. They knew it was long enough. From their angle, it was good and the Owls were headed to the state title game.

Instead, the official gave the universal signal for "no good," the ball having narrowly missed to the left, sending Westminster player after player to drop to the ground. They surely wished the outcome had been different, but there wasn't a more exciting football game all fall.

Although the Baltimore Ravens certainly tried. Three home Ravens games in a two-month span came down to a late foot - ironic, considering the team's previous season ended when a field goal went awry.

In a rematch of that season-ender, the Ravens rallied after falling behind the Patriots. Joe Flacco drove Baltimore 92 yards, capping it by throwing a touchdown to Torrey Smith on the same day Smith learned his brother had been killed in a motorcycle accident. Flacco then drove the Ravens into position and Justin Tucker booted a 27-yard, game-winning field goal. OK, it just barely went through the uprights. But it did go through.

They don't always. Ask Dallas kicker Dan Bailey. This was the opposite of the Patriots game in that the Ravens seemed to have it wrapped up late. Then, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo drove for a touchdown to pull America's Team within two points with 32 seconds left. And Dallas recovered the ensuing onside kick. But Bailey was narrowly wide left from 51 yards.

Teams don't win every game that comes down to a final kick, however. Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham did the honors from 42 yards out as time expired last month as the Roethlisberger-less Steelers stole one from the Ravens.

For a change, some of the most exciting moments in area professional sports came not in M&T Bank Stadium, but across the street at Camden Yards. A few games stood out to me, none more than a June contest against the Pittsburgh Pirates that meant little in the final standings, but had the emotional, feel-good story appeal we yearn for.

Brian Roberts was making his season debut. In fact, he hadn't played in more than a year thanks to a variety of ailments, mainly a severe concussion that had him wondering if he'd ever see the Oriole Park infield again. All he did was go 3 for 4 with an RBI, helping the Orioles win. He received a postgame pie in the face and said, "I hadn't felt like that in a long time."

Roberts was back on the disabled list before long, but even as the cast of characters changed, the memorable moments continued in this improbable season. On Aug. 10, it was a 20-year-old providing the heroics. Rookie Manny Machado homered twice in only his second big-league game to power a 7-1 win over Kansas City with both homers improbably caught by the same fan. You can't make that stuff up. Nor can you make up Machado saying about the curtain call he received: "I've [dreamed] about that my whole life."

Baltimore fans had been dreaming of a postseason berth since 1997 and they were finally rewarded. After winning the wildcard game in Texas, the Orioles hosted the first two games of the division series against the Yankees. Game 1 didn't go so well, as All-Star closer Jim Johnson allowed five runs in a 7-2 loss. The Orioles scratched out a 3-2 lead in Game 2 heading into the ninth inning. It was Johnson's turn again. And, as he did time and again all season, Johnson set down the Yankees in order.

That's called redemption, something Tiger Woods has been looking for since his life melted down three years ago. He got a measure of it this year, winning his own AT&T National event in Bethesda. There's something about Woods - when he's playing well, wearing red on Sunday - that affects other players. This time it was Bo Van Pelt who had the lead ... until he didn't. Woods channeled Michael Jordan afterward, reminding us: "There was a time when people were saying I could never win again. ... Here we are."

Great moments can happen for the best-known figure in sports, or for the barely known. On Feb. 16, one day after being named interim coach because his boss had been placed on administrative leave, Matt Henry guided Mount St. Mary's to a 77-63 win over Fairleigh Dickinson. It would be one of only two wins for Henry and he was gone at the end of the season, but it was an unforgettable night, particularly the way he and his joyous players interacted in the aftermath of that improbable victory toward the end of a depressing season.

I was also fortunate enough to be there when the South Carroll's boys basketball team clinched a third state tournament berth in four years, when Century softball won a postseason game thanks to a no-hitter, when Carroll teams played in all six lacrosse state semifinal games, when Adam Jones hit a tiebreaking, eighth-inning home run to beat the Yankees in a September in a game that summed up their season as well as any, when young and enthusiastic Mount St. Mary's coach Jamion Christian notched his first win at his alma mater, and when the Manchester Valley football team pulled out its first-ever playoff win by converting a most improbable and unforgettable fourth down play.

That is not to say 2012 was a great year. But it had its moments.

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