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AP Columnist Paul Newberry: And the winner is ... It’s time for the Newbys

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Forget the Oscars or the Emmys.

It’s time for the Newbys — my awards for the top people, moments and mishaps in sports from 2012.

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We’ll skip the lame banter on the red carpet and long-winded acceptance speeches (unless it’s Les Miles). Heck, we’ll even take a pass on handing out actual trophies (enough of those already).

So, without further delay, the envelopes please.

WORST DECISION: This is always a hotly contested category, considering the abundance of boneheaded calls, trades and signings that occur in any given year. The New York Jets acquiring Tim Tebow, for instance. But in 2012, the award goes to ... NFL replacement refs, for somehow concocting a way to give the Seattle Seahawks a game-winning touchdown on a Green Bay Packers interception. Though, to some, this might have been the best decision of the year because it forced the league to bring back the real refs. We never realized how much we missed those guys.

GENDER OF THE YEAR: Men are always tough to beat in this category, given their centuries-long head start. That said, the award goes to ... women! From Missy Franklin and Gabby Douglas lighting up the Summer Olympics to Serena Williams proving she’s still a tour de force with a tennis racket. And let’s not forget the small but monumental step of every country allowing women to compete at the London Games, which may turn out to be the biggest victory of all.

BIGGEST FREEFALL:  It’s hard to deny Felix Baumgartner, who leaped from a balloon at the outer edges of space with nothing but a parachute on his back, so with apologies the award goes to ... Bobby Petrino. The former Arkansas coach/Evel Knievel wannabe wrecked his motorcycle while on a ride with his mistress, lied about what happened, and lost his job when the truth emerged. Of course, we knew some school would give Petrino another chance, but it’s quite a plunge from the Southeastern Conference to Western Kentucky.

MOST IMPROBABLE COMEBACK: The English Premier League put on a thrilling pennant race, the kind we used to have in baseball before they started letting everyone into the playoffs. The award goes to ... Manchester City, for scoring two goals in extra time on the final day of the season to capture its first premiership in 44 years. The fact that Man City edged crosstown rival Manchester United on goal differential only made the title that much sweeter for the Blues.

COUNTRY OF THE YEAR: Carrying on with the royal theme, the award goes to ... Britain, for putting on a stellar Olympics that included perhaps the most inspiring races of the year — Mo Farah’s sweep of the 5,000 and 10,000 meters — among a bevy of gold medals for the host country. The British also claimed the Tour de France (Bradley Wiggins) and U.S. Open tennis championship (long-suffering Andy Murray), while contributing to Europe’s historic Ryder Cup rally.

HOTTEST SPORT: For its glowing presentation of the Daytona 500, the award goes to ... NASCAR. It helps to be a sport that relies on flammable liquids, but no one expected the biggest race of the year to turn into Devil’s Night. Juan Pablo Montoya’s car spun out during a caution period, colliding with a jet fuel-powered dryer and igniting a towering inferno. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt, and people who never paid a lick of attention to the good ol’ boys suddenly tuned it to see what all the flames ... uh, fuss, was about.

BEST RANT: If he wasn’t a football coach, he might be a comedian. His garbled vocabulary already has inspired its own Web site. For that reason, the award goes to ... Les Miles, the LSU football coach who was really on his game after a win over Ole Miss. In a steadily rising voice, he defended his players and urged anyone who ran into one of them “to throw your arms around them and give them a big kiss on the mouth.” Then with a smile, he quickly added, “If you’re a girl.” Then, still smiling, he giddily proclaimed, “Wow, what a game!” Wow, indeed.

DUMBEST RULE: Who knew an NFL coach couldn’t challenge a call that was already subject to review, and if he did, not only would his team receive a 15-yard penalty but the call would no longer be checked for accuracy? Truly ridiculous. But not ridiculous enough. The award goes to ... baseball’s “outfield” fly rule. In a one-game playoff, the Braves hit a fly ball to left that dropped between the shortstop and an outfielder. The umpires called an automatic out, invoking the infield fly rule — even though the ball landed more than 200 feet from home plate. A potential Braves’ rally was cut short, Atlanta fans turned Turner Field into a garbage dump, and the Cardinals won the game. Even dumber, baseball has yet to amend the rule to avoid a similar debacle.

MOST CALLOUS FRANCHISE: We’re long past believing that professional teams really care about the fans, but one franchise took its cavalier approach to new lows. The award goes to ... the Miami Marlins, who persuaded their city to foot most of the bill for a new stadium, signed a bunch of high-priced players, then promptly traded most of them away after one disappointing season. So far, there’s been no offer to settle up with the taxpayers, who were under the mistaken impression the Marlins would actually try to field a competitive team for more than a year.

PERSON OF THE YEAR: Saving the best for last, the award goes to ... Chuck Pagano, coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Stricken with leukemia early in his first season as the head guy, he stepped away for three months to undergo treatment. Inspired by his struggle, a team that went 2-14 a year ago has won 10 games, clinched a playoff berth and made shaved heads a fashion statement. Pagano returned to work the day before Christmas, just in time for the postseason. He’s already a champion, showing us what’s truly important in life. And, no, it’s not sports.

Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press.

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