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NFL in '10: Tension, inspiration and redemption

Jason Cole
Yahoo Sports
NFL in '10: Tension, inspiration and redemption

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Steelers linebacker James Harrison became the poster boy for illegal hits and big fines this season

The 2010 NFL season saw its usual collection of the odd (wide receiver Randy Moss(notes) played for three teams), the tense (Brett Favre(notes), Jenn Sterger and Brad Childress made for interesting company) and, best of all, the inspiring (New Orleans won a title and Michael Vick(notes) gained some redemption).

Those were some of the dominant stories of a year that started with some of the best playoff games in recent memory (Minnesota losing to New Orleans in the NFC title game was a classic), featured a volatile offseason for quarterbacks (Donovan McNabb(notes) got traded and Ben Roethlisberger(notes) got investigated) and a handful of ugly contract disputes that lasted well into the season.

It was such a good year that neither Spygate II nor the Albert Haynesworth(notes)-Mike Shanahan feud in Washington even made the list.

Top stories of 2010

10. Contract disputes: There were a host of high-profile disputes involving Chris Johnson, Darrelle Revis(notes), Vincent Jackson(notes), Marcus McNeill(notes) and Logan Mankins(notes). To a large extent, the NFL offseason was defined by contract talks. In some ways, they were a preview into what should be a tough and tricky negotiation between the league and the players over a new collective bargaining agreement. Fact is, the failure to extend the CBA was the reason for the problems with Jackson, McNeill and Mankins.

9. Big hits, big fines: After a weekend of ugly hits from Pittsburgh's James Harrison(notes), New England's Brandon Meriweather(notes) and Atlanta's Dunta Robinson(notes) in October, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell put the financial hit on those players in an effort to eliminate cheap shots. Harrison became the poster boy for the NFL's heightened efforts, earning a total of $125,000 in fines for what the league deemed dirty. Around most of the NFL, the effort was applauded. In Pittsburgh, Steelers fans felt that the team was being targeted, first with the suspension of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and then with the constant fines against Harrison.

8. Tebow-McDaniels marriage doesn't last long: No athlete in the NFL has generated more interest without doing anything of substance at the pro level than Tim Tebow(notes). Whether it was the Super Bowl commercial he did with his mom, the attention he received after a tremendous collegiate career or the massive jersey sales that occurred after he was a first-round draft pick, Tebow sparks serious interest with his combination of strong faith and debated talent. Sadly, the firing of Josh McDaniels puts Tebow's development in Denver in limbo.

7. Big D stands for Defeated: When Jerry Jones took the Cowboys on a three-city trek through training camp, the feeling was that it would be followed by a one-city postseason, featuring two home playoff games before Dallas became the first team to play host to a Super Bowl in its own stadium. Well, to say that didn't go as planned would be the understatement of the season. A 1-7 start forced Jones to jettison coach Wade Phillips and give Jason Garrett a tryout as the next head coach in hopes of salvaging Garrett for next season. If there's an upside it's unlikely Jones is going to be voting for a lockout this offseason as he tries to get unsatisfied Cowboys fans to pony up for season tickets after this lost season. Plus, he needs to give Garrett time to get the coaching staff and the team ready if it's going to be competitive next season … assuming Garrett survives.

6. You can't come back twice: This season might have convinced Brett Favre that coming back again and again isn't a good idea. After a fantastic 2009 season, Favre finished with a two-interception effort in the NFC championship game. Then there was the whole Jenn Sterger mess, which led to a bunch of ugly accusations, public ridicule (SNL's "Open Fly" jeans spoof is priceless), private torment and a league investigation. If that wasn't bad enough, the complete falling out between Favre and coach Brad Childress led to a dysfunctional team crashing from contender to also-ran. Finally, Favre simply got beaten up on the field all season long. He had a bad ankle coming in and added a broken foot, a stitched chin and a banged up shoulder as defenses treated him like a piñata.

5. Movin' on down (Interstate 95, that is): After 12 years of becoming one of the greatest players in Philadelphia Eagles history (and the greatest quarterback the team has had over an extended period), Donovan McNabb moved to Washington this offseason in an unexpected trade. After that, it was more drama with McNabb as he was subjected to the second benching of his career in a loss to Detroit. Later, he signed a strange contract extension that basically gave him $3.5 million, but leaves him hanging as to whether he'll be Washington's starting quarterback next season. It's all very odd in the grand scheme of the NFL when you consider that McNabb is a borderline Hall of Famer. If Dan Fouts and Warren Moon are already in, there's probably room for McNabb. McNabb has his faults, but he certainly doesn't deserve to get dissed as often as has happened in his career.

4. Randy Moss becomes a vagabond: The second-best wide receiver in NFL history managed to talk his way out of New England, where the Patriots then took off without him. From there, he went to Minnesota and became part of that mess before coach Brad Childress took his first step toward being fired by cutting Moss. Finally, Moss ended up in Tennessee where quarterback Vince Young(notes), coach Jeff Fisher and owner Bud Adams got entangled in one of the ugliest football triangles in NFL history. As a result, Moss ended up going from a Super Bowl contender to two teams that have gone a combined 2-8 since he joined them. This offseason, Moss becomes a free agent and you have to think that after this experience, he'll beg for a chance to return to the Patriots.

3. Roethlisberger in trouble: The two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback from Pittsburgh dragged his name and his team through the mud this offseason with a tawdry tale of backroom sexcapades with a college girl in a small Georgia town. That came less than a year after he was sued in civil court for sexual assault. While no charges were ever filed in Georgia and the civil suit in Nevada is pending, Roethlisberger's antics ended up earning him a four-game suspension from the NFL. That suspension also came with hot debate over race and the league's personal conduct policy and how far the NFL's policy stretches when no criminal charges have been filed.

2. A reason to party in New Orleans: Not that you ever need a reason to celebrate in The Big Easy, but this year provided the sweetest moment. The Saints ended more than four decades of mostly ugly football with a stunning victory over the favored Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. This was a dream season for the Saints, who provided a great symbol of hope for a city still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. From Drew Brees(notes), who was named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year, to the heart-warming story of Anthony Hargrove(notes), the Saints were inspiring both on and off the field.

1. Redemption Song: Mighty Bob Marley's personal anthem couldn't apply any better than to Michael Vick, who truly returned to the NFL this season after 18 months in prison and another year on the bench. At age 30, Vick not only has worked hard to become a better person, he has become a better quarterback – an amazing feat. Rarely do athletes, particularly ones who haven't played much in three years, reinvent themselves to the extent that Vick has done this season when he finally became a legitimate passer. Much of the credit goes to coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, but Vick gets the lion's share. While Vick still has a long way to earn back the trust of the NFL and its fans, give him credit for staying on the right path. Most people would have been crushed by what Vick went through. He has come back better than ever. That's a wonderful story.

Player of the year: Drew Brees may have permanently rid New Orleans of the shameful brown paper bag image that had so long been associated with one of the NFL's traditionally downtrodden franchises. His MVP performance in Super Bowl XLIV and subsequent heartwarming embrace of his son, Baylen, should forever change how we look at the Saints. Just as impressive is his role in helping the city get back on its feet after Hurricane Katrina.

Team of the year: Saints

Game of the year: Saints beat Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV. See the top 10

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