From Brady to Sandusky, a behind-the-scenes look at the biggest stories of 2012

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

There is the year in sports and there is the year in being a sports columnist. With one of the great jobs in America – Yahoo! Sports national columnist – I get to witness many of the greatest (and lowest) moments of the year. Of course, it's often the side stories and simple people that stand out most.

So this isn't a conclusive review of the year. There's no mention of NBA or baseball, for instance. It is my annual year-in-columns review, with more of a liner-notes style this time – from Pennsylvania court rooms, to French Quarter steakhouses, to London boxing halls, to Super Bowl locker rooms.

As always, I never take a moment of this opportunity for granted. It's a job, but it hardly constitutes work. And my goal remains fairly simple: I don't expect readers to agree with every column, just to appreciate that I wrote them after trying to provide access or information that the job provides.

Here are 15 columns (of the 200 plus written), presented in calendar order that stood out for me in 2012:

Getting inside the mind of Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick remains one of the NFL's most fascinating figures if only because he refuses to play a lot of the modern media and marketing games that everyone expects. Instead, if you want to understand some of his positions on things, you have to pay attention.

Super Bowl week I found a few ways to broach some topics that he likely would brush aside but would say enough to reveal himself as the league's great coaching contrarian: why he wears the famed hoodie, why he cuts the sleeves off, why is he the only coach not in the Madden video game and so on?

Here is the result.

Discovering an inconsolable Tom Brady

Belichick and Brady were, to me, the two most intriguing figures in the Super Bowl. SpyGate has polluted the concept for many football fans, and I'll admit this is a somewhat forced take (particularly based on the previous column), but I've always considered the New England Patriots to be the good soldiers of the NFL.

The Patriots are dutiful. They are the franchise that just continues to win and win, rarely, if ever, taking a week off and never just kicking away a season. They've won 10 or more games for 10 years in a row. It's the Giants who miss the playoffs, or fumble about for a month and then turn it on. Not New England.

[Video: Reliving the quirky and awkward sports moments of 2012]

So with Belichick and Brady back in the Super Bowl, with a chance to exercise the demons of the blown perfect season, and return after Brady's injury, I felt whatever happened, win or lose, they would be the most compelling subjects. After writing a quick story on the game, I headed to the locker room to find the two of them and wound up focused on a more distraught Brady.

One take away was watching the interaction between Brady and his wife, Giselle Bundchen. They are famous, fabulous and beyond beautiful, but in that moment, even with the cameras flashing, there was a real relationship between a wife trying to comfort her disappointed husband.

Here's how I described the scene.

NASCAR and a gay bar

A couple nights before the Daytona 500, I had dinner with a couple colleagues, Jay Hart and Jay Busbee. As we walked out of the restaurant, Busbee pointed at an aging hotel a couple of blocks away and said that up in the penthouse was where NASCAR was first created in 1947. I already knew that, but then he added a kicker: "It's supposedly a gay bar now."

Sometimes journalistic karma delivers an easy one. In this case, the first sentence of the story was already written before I even spoke to the drag queens.

Here is the story of that night.

A chaotic Daytona 500

My enjoyment of NASCAR has little to do with the actual racing. It's mostly about the eventual mayhem that descends, and this year's Daytona 500 had it all: rain delays, wrecks, Danica Patrick, a burning track, Tide laundry detergent, tweeting drivers … and that was just the start.

Here's a story that almost wrote itself.

Dinner with John Calipari's 'La Familia'

John Calipari has rewritten the conventional wisdom on how a college basketball team is supposed to be constructed. Forget program guys or experience, he wants talent and competitiveness, and believes he can forge the same lasting relationships, trust and memories with one-and-done talents.

There are a number of reasons why opposing fans doubt him, this approach or the success he's had, especially at Kentucky. On the eve of an intensely anticipated Final Four game with Louisville – two fans brawled at a dialysis center that week – he held his annual dinner for what he calls his "La Familia." He had to stop laughing at all the old stories just to make it through the toast.

This is one you have to read to understand.

Pushing a wheelchair around Augusta National

Augusta National can be a strange mix of privilege, exclusivity and ego, one that can make it an uncomfortable host for the Masters. It's also a breathtaking beautiful place and one that often brings generations of families together. For many of the patrons who come each year, it is a pilgrimage.

On a Tuesday practice round I ran into a 40-something woman from New York, pushing her 88-year-old, wheelchair-bound father up a steep hill, the way he once pushed her wheelchair-bound mother around the grounds, because they wanted to experience the place together.

"I wanted to see it with my dad." … "And I wanted to see it with my daughter."

A long way from the Rory and Bubba and Tiger, this, too, is the Masters.

Here is one of my favorites of the year.

The beginning of the Jerry Sandusky trial

I spent a great deal of time covering Jerry Sandusky, including a few weeks at his trial in Bellefonte, Pa. It was one of the most riveting, emotional and powerful stories I've ever followed. I recall thinking the trial was over on the first day, when one tough guy known as Victim No. 4 took the stand and just buried the former molester and his attorney.

Here is his chilling testimony.

Lunch with a friend of Jerry Sandusky

My feelings on Sandusky were clear, but in covering a trial you work all angles possible, including trying to get to know as many of his family members and friends as possible. That led to lunch at a local deli with a woman who maintained undying support for Sandusky.

[Related: The top five NFL stories of 2012]

Joyce Porter is a smart, caring and compassionate woman with a funny, enjoyable personality. She's also about the most loyal friend you can find. Agree with her or not, that personality trait was something to behold.

Here's what came out of our lunch conversation.

The reading of the verdict

Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts in his sexual assault trial, and listening to the jury foreman read off each charge and then pound home "guilty, guilty, guilty" over and over while looking directly at the old Penn State assistant coach was something I'll never forget. Neither will I forget the look on the face of Sandusky's wife, Dottie, when she heard the cheers of the crowd outside the courthouse as they celebrated word that her husband was guilty.

Here's how I described the scene, inside and outside of the courtroom.

Finally, a playoff in college football

The Death of the BCS finally occurred, and while the powers that be in college athletics could never break free of the cronyism and corruption of the bowl industry – it wouldn't be college athletics without cronyism and corruption – at least we finally get the excitement that even a small playoff will provide. And we're spared some of the most egregious of lies about how it wasn't possible.

Here's my reaction.

Graham Spanier's hypocrisy at Penn State

I always found the actions of Penn State president Graham Spanier to be particularly onerous. He was a NCAA insider who wielded immense power in protecting and administrating that group's uneven system, mostly because he would claim moral superiority due to the perceived way the Nittany Lions football program operated.

All the while he was engaged in conduct that would lead to his November indictment. Then, when the Sandusky indictment went public, he offered not a hint of concern for the victims in his statement. He was a politician, all about protecting himself. I'm looking forward to his trial in 2013.

Here's a story that tells you all you need to know about Graham Spanier.

Plenty of fodder from the London 2012 Games

For column material, the Olympics are an embarrassment of riches. There is drama multiple times a day as the life work of so many athletes, already swelled with patriotism and pride, hang in the balance. And you just never know what's coming next, including the absurd.

You know, such as a badminton game-fixing scandal.

Here is a story that was part scandal, part comedy.

Ever heard of Katie Taylor? For the United States, someone wins a gold about every hour it seems. In smaller countries, one triumph can make the entire Games. I found no story more compelling or enjoyable during the London Olympics than that of Irish boxer Katie Taylor, who rallied her country in so many different ways.

This may be my favorite story of the year.

Bill Snyder and his 16 goals

The Notre Dame-Alabama national title match-up should be fun, but part of me wishes that 73-year-old Bill Snyder and his Kansas State Wildcats had gotten a crack at playing for it all. If only a real playoff was here now. After dismantling West Virginia in machine like fashion on a Saturday night, the grandfather went looking for a cup of coffee (cream, no sugar) so he could make it through his midnight press conference.

Here's a look at a football program that's rarely looked at.

Nick Saban's note

Nick Saban's focus is well documented. There are times when even he laughs at himself over the depths that it goes. Such as writing himself a note about a rather mundane task while standing in the middle of the Georgia Dome after an emotional victory and awaiting the presentment of the SEC Championship Trophy.

"I mean, you just won a championship, they haven't even given us the trophy yet …" Saban said, shaking his head sheepishly.

Here is what Saban wrote.

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