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Plenty of great stories to choose from as we look back at year's best



There is still a little over a week left in 2008, and all of the big stuff that can truly be defined as "big stuff" has already unfolded this year, at least where the world of sports is concerned.


Sure, there are bowl games galore over the next few days, but few matchups, if any, that can be defined as "big" or critical in deciding the national championship debate. And while daredevil Robbie Maddison is scheduled to jump his motorcycle onto the roof of an Arc de Triomphe replica New Year's Eve in Las Vegas, it's simply not big enough to make our list.

Plus, Maddison is an Aussie, and we're trying to maintain more of a local flavor with our little countdown. With that in mind, let's take a look back at the biggest and best stories 2008 delivered.

No. 5 took place half a world away, but involved a University of Oklahoma gymnast who helped lead Team USA to an Olympic bronze medal, and for an encore, captured the silver in the men's high bar competition.

Jonathan Horton doesn't turn 23 until Dec. 31, but he crammed a lifetime's worth of achievements into the calendar year. Prior to making his mark on the world stage with an unforgettable performance at the Beijing Summer Games, he earned the Nissen-Emery Award, given annually to the top collegiate gymnast in the country.

During his Sooner career, Horton earned All-America honors 18 times, including winning the 2006 NCAA all-around title. In that same span, he led OU to three national championships, the latest of which came this past April.

The No. 4 story on our list is still in progress just up the road in Stillwater, where the Oklahoma State football program has taken a big step forward in its quest to become a legitimate Big 12 title contender. The Cowboys were ranked as high as No. 6 in the national polls at one point this fall, and they have a chance to produce their first 10-win season in two decades with a Holiday Bowl victory over Oregon.

Since taking over as head coach in 2005, Mike Gundy has seen his alma mater make positive strides each season. A big road victory over a highly ranked Missouri squad earlier this fall propelled the Pokes into the national spotlight, and with young stars like receiver Dez Bryant and quarterback Zac Robinson leading the way, they plan on staying there for a while.

Although the No. 3 story became official with an announcement and presentation some 1,800 miles away in New York City, the reasons that made it possible all occurred in Norman and various destinations the University of Oklahoma's football team played this fall.

Few could have expected Sam Bradford to win the 2008 Heisman Trophy, but the OU quarterback followed up a fantastic freshman campaign with a performance for the ages, leading one of the most prolific offensive attacks in college football history.

Bradford's record-setting effort " 48 touchdowns, 4,464 yards " placed him at or near the top of almost every national statistical category for passing and offense, and helped lead his team to the BCS national championship game on Jan. 8.

Story No. 2 deals with that same national title contender and its fearless leader, Mr. Bradford. But there is some uncertainty revolving around this little tale, as in if Oklahoma goes to Miami and beats No. 2 Florida to win the championship, this story would have a legitimate claim to the top spot on our list.

On the other hand, if the Sooners fail to bring home the national title, and thus lose their fifth straight BCS bowl game, the story takes a decidedly negative turn. Instead of talking about the magnificent exploits of Bradford and the incredible program Bob Stoops has rebuilt during his 10 seasons at OU, the focus will be on frustrations and late-season washouts.

With that in mind " and at least for the time being " the No. 1 story from 2008 is the arrival of Oklahoma City as a major-league city. That became fact when the NBA came to town on a permanent basis, as OKC secured its own franchise known as the Thunder.

The league used the New Orleans Hornets' two-year stay in OKC " in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina " as a measuring stick, and the huge crowds and eternal enthusiasm convinced NBA president David Stern that Oklahoma has what it takes to be home to an NBA team.

And while the Thunder is off to a forgettable start this season, the fans are still filling up the Ford Center and hopefully will continue to do so well into the future as their young team works to improve. "Jay C. Upchurch


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