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Penn State football coach Joe Paterno stands in (Credit: AP)

Penn State football coach Joe Paterno stands in the rain on the sideline before a game against Iowa, in State College, Pa. Iowa won 21-10. (Sept. 29, 2011)

Top national sports stories in 2011

The 11 largest sports stories in 2011, in order from 11-to-1.

Vote on which sports story you think was biggest by clicking on the tab above.

11. THE DEATH OF DAN WHELDONOn a criticized
(Credit: AP )

11. THE DEATH OF DAN WHELDON
On a criticized track in the IndyCar season finale, Wheldon, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, was killed in a 15-car crash. Racing on Oct. 16 in Las Vegas, Whedon’s car flew into a fence before landing back on the track. The death of the 33-year-old prompted questions into the safety of open-wheel racing. Wheldon was the fifth Indy 500 winner to die in the same year.

Photos from the wreck | Notable sports deaths in 2011

10. SIDNEY CROSBY'S CONCUSSION SAGAAfter an 11-month absence
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10. SIDNEY CROSBY'S CONCUSSION SAGA
After an 11-month absence due to a concussion, Crosby, arguably the NHL’s best player, returned to the ice. In his first game back against the Islanders, he scored two goals and added a pair of assists. After just eight games, though, Crosby headed back to the sidelines with concussion-like symptoms. His slow recovery and frequent setbacks have served as a microcosm for the danger of concussions in all sports, namely hockey and football.

Famous sports concussions | Photos from Crosby's return

9. MAVERICKS BEAT THE HEATMiami’s boisterous return to
(Credit: Getty Images)

9. MAVERICKS BEAT THE HEAT
Miami’s boisterous return to the NBA’s elite made it seem their winning the NBA Championship was a formality. Between LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, they were a hip choice to cruise through their schedule and break the single-season wins record. Instead, it was Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks taking them down in six games in the finals. Nowitzki was named the series MVP, scoring 62 points combined in the series’ fourth quarters; the same as James and Wade combined.

NBA Finals photos | Celebrities at the 2011 NBA Playoffs

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8. PACKERS WIN SUPER BOWL, THEN 13 STRAIGHTAs
(Credit: AP)

8. PACKERS WIN SUPER BOWL, THEN 13 STRAIGHT
As the Packers hobbled into the playoffs as a six-seed, it looked unlikely that Aaron Rodgers was ready to fully emerge from Brett Favre’s shadow. Rodgers proceeded to do just that, though, leading a short-handed Packers team to three consecutive road wins, then a Super Bowl victory over the Steelers. Green Bay continued rolling into the 2011 regular season, starting the season 13-0 before losing to the Chiefs in Week 15. During the run, Rodgers asserted himself as the game’s best quarterback.

Super Bowl XLV | Aaron Rodgers in photos

6. DEREK JETER'S CHASE OF 3,000 HITSIt wasn’t
(Credit: David Pokress)

6. DEREK JETER'S CHASE OF 3,000 HITS
It wasn’t easy. A stint on the disabled list and wicked New York City weather delayed Jeter’s chase several times. Finally, though, on July 9, Jeter had the perfect day. He homered in his second at-bat to become the 28th player — and first Yankee — to reach 3,000 hits, and finished the afternoon 5-for-5. The home run made him just the second player (Wade Boggs the other) to homer for his 3,000th hit, and the second player (along with former Kings Park star Craig Biggo) to get hit No. 3,000 during a five-hit game.

Jeter hits database | 3,000 hits club

5. NCAA FOOTBALL CONFERENCE MERRY-GO-ROUNDTexas A&M’s switch to
(Credit: AP )

5. NCAA FOOTBALL CONFERENCE MERRY-GO-ROUND
Texas A&M’s switch to the SEC did more than end an historic rivalry with Texas: It set off a series of moves that resulted in San Diego State and Boise State playing in the Big East. In between, Missouri went to the SEC, Syracuse and Pittsburgh headed to the ACC, West Virginia and TCU moved to the Big 12, and Houston and SMU joined the Big East. Still following?

Heisman Trophy winners | History of the BCS Championship

4. DRAMATIC VICTORIES IN THE WOMEN'S WORLD CUPFirst,
(Credit: AP)

4. DRAMATIC VICTORIES IN THE WOMEN'S WORLD CUP
First, it was Abby Wambach’s game-tying header against Brazil in the quarterfinals — a game the U.S. won in penalty kicks. Then, it was Japan stealing the spotlight, taking down the Americans in penalty kicks in the finals. The win capped off an emotional run for Japan, a country devastated by both an earthquake and tsunami earlier in 2011.

Women's World Cup 2011 | Hope Solo in pictures

3. FINAL DAY OF THE 2011 MLB REGULAR
(Credit: MCT)

3. FINAL DAY OF THE 2011 MLB REGULAR SEASON
The Braves and Red Sox went from postseason locks to shocking losers in the season’s final weeks. Their woes culminated in arguably the most exciting season finale in MLB history. In Atlanta, a 4-3, 13-inning loss to the Phillies capped off a 10.5-game collapse, opening the door for the St. Louis Cardinals to make the postseason, and eventually win the World Series. In the AL, Jonathan Papelbon’s blown save against the Orioles and Evan Longoria’s walk-off homer against the Yankees — within minutes of one another — helped Tampa Bay finish their nine-game comeback against Boston.

Timeline: Wild night decides AL wild card | MLB free agent tracker

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2. LABOR SAGAS IN THE NFL AND NBATwo
(Credit: Getty Images)

2. LABOR SAGAS IN THE NFL AND NBA
Two of the country’s four major sports put fans on the brink with a pair of work stoppages. The NFL was first, halting action for 4 1/2 months. The labor talks wound up only costing fans one preseason game, though. It was a different story in the NBA: five months of labor strife forced the league to cut much of the preseason, and restructure the schedule to squeeze in just 66 games. Fallout from the NBA’s lockout then grabbed additional headlines with several weeks of rapid player movement in the league’s shortened free agency period.

2011 NBA preview | MetLife touchdown database

1. PENN STATE SCANDALA shocking child sex scandal
(Credit: AP)

1. PENN STATE SCANDAL
A shocking child sex scandal centered around former top assistant Jerry Sandusky led to the downfall of both head coach Joe Paterno and Penn State football. According to a grand jury report, then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary went to the legendary football coach in 2002 with an alleged eyewitness account of an assault by Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator for the program, on a child. Paterno, according to the report, didn’t go to police. His response sparked outrage from across the country, including the University’s Board of Trustees, who fired Paterno four days after the news first broke. The case against Sandusky has grown markedly, between those named in the same grand jury report and additional accusers; Paterno, meanwhile, was recently diagnosed with lung cancer.

Joe Paterno through the years | Complete coverage of the scandal

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