For most professional wrestlers, few things are as thrilling as hearing the roar of the crowd as they compete in the ring. In rasslin' parlance, it's called a "pop," and it can be addictive. Especially the massive rush of performing for tens of thousands of fans at televised extravaganzas as a superstar for World Wrestling Entertainment (a.k.a. the big leagues). Cheers from adoring WWE crowds can be so heady that many of the federation's ex-superstars attempt to recapture these glory days in front of much smaller crowds at various independent promotions across the country, if only to hear their names getting screamed once again. Here in the Valley, that means working events put on by the (ironically named) locally fed Future Stars of Wrestling, which frequently features a few erstwhile WWE competitors. Racy performers from the ultra-suggestive "Attitude Era" of the '90s, like "Badd Ass" Billy Gunn and Sean Morley (once known as porn-actor-turned-wrestler Val Venis) have previously faced off against FSW's roster of up-and-coming grapplers like Tyson Tyler and Willie Mack during biweekly Adrenaline Rush events at the Celebrity Theatre and other Valley venues. Other onetime WWE employees, including Johnny "The Bull" Stromboli and the villainous Iranian-born Shawn Daivari, also compete. Plus, they even get some television time once again via FSW's weekly television show, which airs Saturday nights at 11 p.m. on Channel 13. It's nowhere as spectacular as WrestleMania, but at least they're still getting cheered.

We gotta go with the Gorilla. We're not expecting much else to be good about the Phoenix Suns this year, but the Gorilla will remain a crowd-pleaser with his death-defying leaps, his goofy antics, and his public appearances around the world on behalf of various worthy causes. According to the Suns' website, he attended Fur-man University and Hairy Truman High School in Mon-key West, Florida, and has been a pro for 27 years (which translates to 59 gorilla years).

Despite the corny credentials, he's a force to be reckoned with in the mascot world around here. A gymnast of King Kong talent, the man inside the ape suit literally jumps off trampolines through rings of fire to slam-dunk basketballs, and has broken nearly every bone in whatever body occupies his furry skin. An irate Miami Heat fan once punched him in the snout, not appreciating his monkeyshines. The Gorilla's identity? Reportedly, it's a middle-aged balding dad named Bob Woolf, but who knows who's really inside that furry skin, says the coy Suns organization. In early September, the Suns announced they were seeking a new apeman to fill the suit and the $40,000-a-year job. Well — Woolf in gorilla's clothing or whoever it is or will be in 2012-13 — he's got no competition in the world of Valley mascots. Sheesh, the Arizona Cardinals' Big Red scares the crap out of us with that gigantic pointed beak and gleam in his eye, the Phoenix Coyotes' Howler never has done anything funny or death-defying, and we're pretty sure everybody agrees that the Diamondbacks' Baxter is kinda pathetic. We mean, why do we have a bobcat as the team's mascot? Oh, yeah, Chase Field used to be called Bank One Ballpark. D-backs, it's not anymore! Hasn't been for a looong time! Time to retire the idiotic Baxter and move on to a cute, cuddly rattlesnake man.

Being a fan of the Arizona Diamondbacks the past few seasons is akin to being on a roller coaster. In 2009 and 2010, the team found itself dwelling in the dank depths of the National League West standings. Then, the absolutely unthinkable happened last year, when skipper Kirk Gibson took Arizona from worst to first, leading them all the way to an unlikely playoff run. This year, however, they have struggled off and on. While fair-weather types have stayed away from Chase Field, Cindy McBride hasn't abandoned her "Boys in Sedona Red." In fact, the 66-year-old Tempe dental assistant has never missed a home game in more than a decade, be it a good season or bad. She's arguably the team's most diehard fan and definitely its most colorful supporter. Starting in 2002, McBribe began bringing homemade flags to every single contest at the Chase (as well as the occasional road game), which she waves energetically from her seat in the nosebleeds of the upper deck. Created in her spare time, each one utilizes the team's colors and is designed with unique patterns for specific players. Due to her tendency to shuffle about in the stands and fly flags when the D-backs are behind, announcers originally dubbed her "Dancing Granny" or "Rally Sally." These days, McBride is known as just "The Flag Lady" and has been waving her pennants extra-hard, if only to encourage the Diamondbacks to rally toward another NL playoff spot.

A couple of years ago, the folks at Channel 3 pulled a major boner by running an erroneous headline on their website stating that legendary longtime Phoenix Suns radio announcer Al McCoy was hanging up his microphone and retiring. Much to the relief of Planet Orange fans everywhere (ourselves included), it thankfully turned out to be completely false. Because, honestly, we can't imagine Phoenix taking to the court without McCoy's distinctive voice describing all the action from buzzer to buzzer. Having called Suns games for more than four decades, the former Iowa farm boy is as much a part of the team as anyone on the current roster. His signature catchphrases (like "Shazam!" after the Suns make a three-pointer or "Heartbreak Hotel" after a missed shot) are the stuff of legend, as are the humorous nicknames given to players (such as Steve Nash's becoming the "Nash Rambler.") McCoy's set to turn 80 next year, but he hasn't shown any inkling of quitting. Here's hoping the Suns finally get their shizzle together to win an NBA championship before he retires. We're sure Al's as eager to call that moment as we are to hear it.

Before Dave Tippett hit town, we thought ice hockey had two halves and four quarters, just like basketball and football. The Phoenix Coyotes head coach has brought hockey intelligence to this desert metropolis. Like they say, winning puts fannies in the seats, and it made us learn not only that there are three periods in a hockey game, but also that hockey is a fast-paced, thrill-a-minute sport that makes even the National Basketball Association pale by comparison.

Sure, the Coyotes had star forward Shane Doan and phenomenal goalie Mike Smith, but without Tippett, the Coyotes never would have pulled off their incredible 2011-12 season, in which they lost in the Western Conference finals to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings in five games. Before that even happened, with Tippett pulling the strings, the Yotes won their first-ever Pacific Division title with a 42-27-13 record. They went on to smash the heralded Chicago Blackhawks in six games for the franchise's first playoff series win in 25 years (they were the Winnipeg Jets before moving to the Valley in 1996). After that, they prevailed over the Nashville Predators in five games, giving them the most playoff wins in their NHL history.

And though Tippett never laced up a pair of skates, he was the chess master who made it happen. Let's pray now that the Yotes' financial problems can be solved and Tippett and the Yotes can remain here for good. We need a good team in Sand Land — our mental health demands it.

Georganne Moline may have been the happiest fifth-place finisher in the history of the Summer Olympics. And why shouldn't the Thunderbird High School and University of Arizona hurdler have been beaming? In the finals of the 400-meter hurdles in the London Olympics, she finished in a personal-best time of 52.92 seconds. There wasn't much separating her from the gold medal winner of the event, Russia's Natalya Antyukh — whose time was 52.70 — except age: Antyukh is 31 and Moline is 22.

The daughter of an elementary school teacher and single mom whose co-workers took up a collection to help pay for Moline's trip to London, Georganne is seven years younger than U.S. silver medal winner Lashinda Demus and the youngest competitor among all the hurdlers in the event's Olympic finals. Her finish in London was preceded by a ligament tear during her junior year at U of A that kept her out of the indoor college season — so it's impossible to say how good she might have been if that hadn't held her back. A Wildcat senior, Demus told TV cameras after the race, "I'm just getting started." She thanked the other "girls" in her event for teaching her so much. Following her run, experts called her the future of her sport.

We never thought we'd name a hockey player best athlete in the Valley. Most sports fans around here barely knew the Phoenix Coyotes existed until their incredible run in the NHL's Western Conference playoffs last season. They lost to the Los Angeles Kings in the conference finals, but Shane Doan was a force to be reckoned with through the team's stellar season, in which they went 42-27-13. A 17-year veteran with the Winnipeg Jets-turned-Coyotes, the Yotes captain scored 50 points (22 goals and 28 assists) and his first NHL hat-trick (three goals in a game) during the season. In the playoffs, he scored nine points to lead the Coyotes to their first-ever playoff victories against Chicago and Nashville. Playing for Team Canada internationally, Doan has won two gold medals in world championships and was a member of Canada's Olympic team.

An Alberta native, Doan lives in Phoenix now. But he has entered into free agency, and there are rumors that, because of turmoil over ownership of the Glendale-based franchise, he may move on. Whether he stays or goes, he was by far our best — and winningest — athlete this year.

We saw Muhammad Ali in Phoenix earlier this year, and he looked good for a man who has fought Parkinson's disease for decades. But when he was helped to his feet at the Summer Olympics in London recently as a titular bearer of the Olympic flag, we were struck with how weak the former mightiest athlete on the planet has become.

The Scottsdale resident, born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville, has been called the greatest athlete in history, a king in a sport that is more difficult than professional ice hockey and NFL football combined. His achievements are legendary: first, a gold medal as a light-heavyweight in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, followed by legendary heavyweight fights with Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, and George Foreman. His and Foreman's "Rumble in the Jungle" became the subject of the phenomenal 1996 documentary film When We Were Kings and later resulted in a movie starring Will Smith as Ali. He beat all the top heavyweight boxers of his era, eventually losing to Leon Spinks in 1976. But he was maybe even more legendary for his politics than his boxing. After converting to Islam, he declared himself a conscientious objector, saying "war is against the teachings of the Holy Qur'an" and later "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong . . . They never called me nigger." He later was arrested for refusing induction into the U.S. Army and lost his boxing license until 1970, when a court ruled that he'd been unfairly penalized. His career resumed and his famous fights with the aforementioned champions ensued. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1984, a syndrome associated with head trauma. Because of it, he couldn't carry the Olympic flag into the stadium this summer — he instead stood next to it in a sobering moment for us all.

We've got a lot of crazy right-wingers in Arizona. You know who you are, Joe Arpaio, Russell Pearce, Jan Brewer, Jon Kyl, Ben Quayle. In the sports world, George W. Bush-loving hurler Curt Schilling used to pitch for the Arizona Diamondbacks. So it's refreshing to have a wanna-be politician (he once said he planned to run for governor of his home state of Alabama) and former big-time athlete in our midst who voted for Barack Obama. To boot, this guy appears on national sports broadcasts (he's a regular on TNT) and extols Arizona as a great place to live. Which it is, except for the aforementioned Tea Party-smooching yahoos who are, in all but one case, still representing us in government.

Valley resident Charles Barkley, while once proclaiming that he wasn't a "role model," has turned into one. The basketball hall-of-famer who came closer than anybody to bringing the Suns an NBA championship always has spoken his mind. And though he loves Arizona, he motor-mouths his disdain for Arpaio and Senate Bill 1070 when he can. He proves to outsiders that not everybody who chooses to live here is a cracker-ass moron. We hope he keeps telling it like it is and that he decides to run for office in his adopted home state someday. But before all you racist Teabaggers start fuming that he's not fit for politics because he once was stopped for drunk driving, remember that Governor Jan also got popped by the cops after having quite a few belts. Do us a favor, Sir Charles, and come to our rescue politically in a few years. Former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura got elected Minnesota governor not that long ago, and you come across as smarter and more reasonable than that that douchebag.

Professional sports championships are a rare commodity in Arizona. So much so that we not only tend to go batty whenever a team gets achingly close to grasping that elusive brass ring (read: the Phoenix Coyotes' unlikely playoff run this year) but also cherish the squads who succeed and bring home a world title trophy, like the Diamondbacks' titanic upset of the dreaded New York Yankees 11 years ago. This extends to the local fringe sports teams, who also have a special place in our hearts, even if their title-winning efforts are largely ignored. For instance, the Arizona Rampage — the Valley's semi-pro dodgeball squad — won the National Dodgeball League's open-division world championships in 2010 but never got a tickertape parade down Central Avenue. And by all rights, they should've, considering how they staged a real-life version of the 2004 comedy film Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and defeated teams from around the globe to earn the title. Winning without recognition is just one of many pitfalls of competing in a semi-pro league, as is the fact that they need car washes and other fundraisers to help pay their way to tournaments. And although the Rampage came up short defending their title at last year's world championships, team captain Bill Fair promises a return to glory in 2012. Even if most local sports fans couldn't care less, we'll still cheer them on.

Best Of Phoenix®

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