Vote on the top sports stories of 2011

What was the biggest sports story of 2011? Yahoo! Sports is asking you to decide. From the list below, vote on up to 10 stories. We’ll compile your votes (polls close on Dec. 18) and reveal the results on Dec. 27.

Green Bay wins Super Bowl XLV

Having qualified for the postseason only after beating the Chicago Bears in the final game of the regular season, the Green Bay Packers made the most of their last-minute opportunity, besting the Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons and Bears (all on the road) to set up a showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. On the strength of Aaron Rodgers’ arm, the Packers took a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter, then never trailed en route to a 31-25 victory. For his work – 304 yards passing, three touchdowns, zero interceptions – Rodgers was named MVP.

Ohio State football scandal
As 2010 wound down, Jim Tressel dealt with a scandal within the Ohio State football program. Several players, including star quarterback Terrell Pryor, were found to have sold memorabilia – a violation of NCAA rules. At the time, Tressel claimed to have notified university officials as soon as he became aware of the situation. But in March, a Yahoo! Sports investigation revealed Tressel knew of the allegations more than eight months earlier. Two months later after the revelation, Tressel resigned as Ohio State’s head football coach.

Mavs beat the Heat in NBA Finals
In a time when TV ratings are down mostly across the board, these NBA Finals were a must-see, if only to witness the rise or fall of LeBron James. The polarizing Miami Heat forward made Dallas Mavericks fans out of even the most disinterested viewer, who because they tuned in got to watch Dirk Nowitzki come of age. The German-born forward fought through illness to turn in an epic performance, willing the underdog Mavs past “The Heatles” in six games.

Two NBA giants retire: Phil Jackson and Shaq
On May 9, Phil Jackson, the most successful coach in NBA history – and perhaps in all of U.S. professional sports – retired. Three weeks later, so did one of the greatest big men the game has ever known – Shaquille O’Neal. Phil Jackson won a record 11 NBA championships as a coach: six with the Chicago Bulls; five with the Los Angeles Lakers. O’Neal, a 7-foot-1, 325-pound (in his slimmer days) giant won four championships and was a three-time NBA Finals MVP, the MVP of the 1999-2000 season and a 15-time All-Star. He left the league ranked fifth all-time in scoring and helped lead three (Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat) of his six franchises to the Finals.

Bruins end Stanley Cup drought; Vancouver riots
The Boston Bruins hadn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1972, and it didn’t look like that streak would end in 2011. Down 3-2 against the Vancouver Canucks, the Bruins staged a comeback, pounding Vancouver in the final two games of the series to claim the Stanley Cup on the visiting team’s ice. Afterward, the disgruntled city of Vancouver showed its displeasure by hurling bottles, starting fights and setting fire to police cars.

McIlroy’s record win in the U.S. Open
Two months after squandering a four-shot advantage in the final round of The Masters, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, 22, recorded a record score of 16 under to seize the U.S. Open by eight strokes. Starting with a 65 on Day 1, McIlroy fired four straight rounds in the 60s to make the Sunday more of a coronation than competition. Many predict he will make similar walks in the years to come.

Japan wins Women’s World Cup in epic fashion
With only nine minutes to go in regulation of the Women’s World Cup final, the United States held a 1-0 lead over Japan. With three minutes to go in overtime, the U.S. led 2-1. Yet, somehow Japan won. First came the goal from Aya Miyama, whose tying score sent the game into overtime. Then it was Homare Sawa, who barely beat the clock in overtime to send the game to penalty kicks, where the Japanese won it 3-1.

NFL lockout
For four months, NFL owners and players were at odds over a new collective bargaining agreement, causing a work stoppage that threatened to wipe out the 2011 season. On July 25, the two sides reconciled, with players agreeing to take a lower share of revenue (48 percent down from 50). Ultimately, the lockout canceled one game – the preseason Hall of Fame game between the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns – and the regular season started on time.

University of Miami booster scandal
For eight years, Nevin Shapiro showered more than 70 University of Miami athletes with cash, jewelry, rides on his million-dollar yacht and, in one case, paid for an abortion. The illicit benefits by the now jailed booster were revealed in a startling Yahoo! Sports investigation that detailed how a university willingly turned a blind eye to corruption in its own front yard.

Danica announces her full-time move to NASCAR
A story three years in the making (if not more), racing’s most popular female announced in August that she was officially moving to NASCAR full time for the 2012 season, to run a partial Sprint Cup Series schedule and full Nationwide schedule. In November, Danica Patrick announced she would make her Sprint Cup debut in the 2012 Daytona 500.

College football conference realignment
In the chase for the almighty TV dollar, college sports have undergone a seismic change. The Pac-10 became the Pac-12 with the additions of Colorado and Utah. The Big Ten is still the Big Ten, but with 12 teams – Nebraska being the newest member. The Big East got raided, losing Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC and West Virginia to the Big 12. And the SEC added Missouri and Texas A&M. In all, 13 schools either switched or announced they will switch conferences in 2011.

Neck injury puts Manning on the sideline
Since being drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 1998, Peyton Manning had never missed a start. However, multiple neck surgeries has kept Manning out of the Colts’ lineup for the entire 2011 season, and now questions are swirling about his future. Will he play again? If so, will it be with the Colts? And if Indianapolis remains futile enough to earn the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft, will it select Stanford’s Andrew Luck?

NBA lockout
NBA owners locked out the league’s players on July 1 after the two sides failed to negotiate a new labor deal. The impasse began when owners sought broad system changes and a more favorable revenue split with the players with the hope of improving the competitive balance and financial security among teams. The work stoppage was the second in 13 years for the NBA, and led commissioner David Stern to begin canceling games after the lockout stretched past the season’s Nov. 1 scheduled start.

Mayweather KOs Ortiz in controversial bout
For four rounds, Floyd Mayweather Jr. dismantled Victor Ortiz. Then, with only a few seconds left in the fourth, Ortiz head butted Mayweather, leading referee Joe Cortez to briefly stop the fight. When he signaled for the fight to resume, Ortiz went to touch gloves with Mayweather only to be greeted by a straight right hand to the face. Down went Ortiz and up went Mayweather’s arms, still undefeated. But the fighting was hardly over. During the postfight news conference, long-time boxing analyst Larry Merchant challenged Mayweather over the fairness of the winning punch. Mayweather responded by saying HBO should fire Merchant, to which Merchant replied, “If I was 50 years younger I would have kicked your [expletive].”

Wheldon dies in IndyCar season finale
Twelve laps into the IndyCar season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a horrific crash unfolded that enveloped 15 cars. One of those was driven by Dan Wheldon, winner of the 2011 Indianapolis 500. His car launched into the air, then slammed against the catch fence cockpit first, killing Wheldon. He was 33.

Cardinals’ improbable World Series win
The St. Louis Cardinals didn’t win their division, needed a complete meltdown from the Atlanta Braves just to get into the playoffs, were down 3-2 in the World Series, trailed the Texas Rangers 6-2 going into the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 6, were down to their last strike – twice – and still were crowned world champions.

UFC goes primetime
It took the UFC a decade to go from “banned from television” to the mainstream. In August, the company that wasn’t allowed on pay-per-view as recently as 2001 announced a seven-year rights agreement with Fox, valued at an estimated $100 million per year. The deal, which includes several live fight cards per year, kicked off with a Nov. 12 card that featured Junior dos Santos’ knockout victory over Cain Velasquez for the heavyweight title.

Penn State sex-abuse scandal
In a year rife with NCAA-related scandals at Miami, North Carolina and Ohio State, the situation at Penn State rendered those extremely insignificant. In November, former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse on young boys over a 15-year period. Some of the alleged abuse was said to have taken place in Penn State’s football locker room. The immediate fallout was the firing of legendary head football coach Joe Paterno, who’d been on the Penn State staff since 1950. The reverberations from the Sandusky case will be heard for years.

Tebow
Never before has one player with questionable talent been such a lightning rod of discussion across a wide range of topics, which is exactly why Tim Tebow is so intriguing. He lights up sports talk-radio lines with debate over his merit as an NFL quarterback. His faith has made him a subject on the nightly cable news shows. He’s loved, he’s loathed, he’s respected, he’s mocked. Regardless of who you are – a mom, a dad, a brother or sister – seemingly everyone is interested in Tim Tebow.

Stewart wins closest finish ever; Johnson’s five-year reign ends
Jimmie Johnson always said it would end sometime, and it finally did in 2011. For the first time since 2005, NASCAR crowned a champion not named Jimmie Johnson. Tony Stewart ended Johnson’s unprecedented five-year run as NASCAR’s Sprint Cup champion. Before Johnson’s streak, only one driver had ever won as many as three titles in a row. Stewart edged out Carl Edwards – the two finished in a virtual tie in the standings, with Stewart winning via a tiebreaker – in the closest championship battle in NASCAR history.