5. After 136 days of labor hell, 10 years of labor peace: In the end it was worth it, I suppose. But for a while we wanted to tear our hair out of our sculls as the entire 2011 season was jeopardized by a work stoppage that lasted over four months, delaying offseason activities and free agency and forcing teams to play catchup in August. We’ll never forget the bickering, the propaganda, the rhetoric and the legalese. We’re just happy football was saved before any meaningful games were lost, and that we won’t have to go through a nightmare like that for at least another decade.
4. Drew Brees demolishes Dan Marino’s single-season passing yards record: Brees had already come close, falling just 15 yards short of the mark in 2008. But in 2011, he reached Marino’s record total of 5,084 with an entire game to spare. It was an inevitability that someone would eventually break the 27-year-old mark in this pass-happy league, but it’s still remarkable that Brees surpassed Marino by nearly 400 yards. I can’t imagine anyone will hit the new mark of 5,476 for quite some time.
3. Eli and the Giants do it again: For the second time in five years, Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin and the Giants contorted the path of history by upsetting the dynastic Patriots in the Super Bowl. Now, Manning is just one Lombardi Trophy behind Tom Brady with a four-year advantage in the age department. He, Coughlin and the Giants have singlehandedly marred the Brady/Bill Belichick legacy forever.
2. Peyton Manning’s neck: Yet Eli’s big brother found a way to overshadow the lesser celebrated Manning throughout New York’s magical season. That’s because Peyton’s career is in serious jeopardy after he was forced to miss the entire 2011 campaign after undergoing a multitude of procedures to repair and fuse the vertebrae in his neck. His future remains in doubt, and with a $28-million option bonus due in less than a month, his time with the Colts might reach its conclusion in the near future.
1. #TebowTime: But not even the Manning boys sparked debate and discussion like Tim Tebow, who took the league by storm with seven wins in his first eight starts after relieving Kyle Orton early in the season. Tebow isn’t the story of the year because of one particular accomplishment or moment. Instead, this comes as a result of a combination of factors. It’s his unintentional divisiveness, his unorthodox approach to quarterbacking combined with his orthodox approach to life and religion. It’s that he kept winning despite completing fewer than half of his passes and posting piss-poor numbers for much of the year. Bring it all together and throw in that unbelievable playoff victory over the Steelers and Tebow is your story of the year.