Comebacks: many happy returns

From Sidney Crosby, through Gabrielle Giffords to Crocs–this year’s memorable revivals
Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby takes a slap shot during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders in Pittsburgh on Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Many happy returns
Gene J. Puskar/AP

Sidney Crosby

At 24 years old, in the prime of his athletic life, Crosby was sidelined for almost a year after he took two hits to the head in consecutive games in January. His concussion was so severe he reportedly had trouble concentrating while watching TV. But when the Nova Scotia-born NHL superstar and Canadian Olympic hero took to the ice against the New York Islanders in November, he scored two goals and two assists. Hockey fans around the world let out a collective sigh of relief.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

The irony-free children’s cartoon, originally created to help sell toy horses, gained new life among adult fans, although exactly why remains a bit of a mystery. Unlike other cartoons popular with grown-ups, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic makes almost no concessions to its older audience. Each episode ends with a moral lesson—if you try to please everypony, you often end up pleasing nopony, for example—and the storylines are free of clever wordplay or in-jokes. None of that, though, has stopped the “Bronies,” as male fans are known, from spreading their pony love online in forums like 4Chan and Know Your Meme.


Two years ago, demand for the company’s signature foam clogs had dwindled to almost nothing. Stock in Crocs, which peaked at US$75 a share in 2007, bottomed out at less than a dollar in 2008. But the company has since staged an improbable comeback. By focusing on the international market, upping online sales and diversifying its product line—Crocs now sells everything from sneakers to winter boots to women’s flats—the Colorado-based shoemaker has managed to edge back to fiscal health.

Cristina FernÁndez de Kirchner

The Argentine president won an unlikely second term in October, sweeping to victory a year after Néstor Kirchner, her husband and expected successor (there was talk they would alternate in the position) died suddenly of a heart attack. Dressed in black and crying frequently, Fernández campaigned on a mix of nostalgia and the economy. She referenced her late husband often on the campaign trail and promised to keep the economic policies that he debuted in 2003—and that she continued after first being elected in 2007—ticking. The dual message worked. Fernández supporters had lost badly in legislative elections in 2009; in 2011, she stormed back, taking an unprecedented 54 per cent of the popular vote for a first-ballot win.

Gabrielle Giffords

The Arizona congresswoman was shot in the head in January. Ten months later, she was on ABC, giving an interview to Diane Sawyer about a recovery that at one point would have seemed little short of impossible. Giffords even appeared in Washington in August to cast a key vote on extending the U.S. debt ceiling. Considering that few expected her to survive the initial attack—six people were killed and 12 others injured during the unprovoked rampage—it seemed remarkable that Giffords was still breathing. The fact that she is again considering running for office is close to miraculous.

Michael Douglas

The American movie star credited Canadian health care for saving him from throat cancer. Douglas had throat problems for almost a year before a Montreal specialist diagnosed him in 2010. In 2011, after months of intensive treatment, he was declared tumour-free. Douglas saw a number of American physicians about his problem, but it took Dr. Saul Frenkiel of McGill’s Jewish General Hospital to find the cancer. To pay back the favour, Douglas hosted a fundraiser for the hospital last spring.

The St. Louis Cardinals

Never before has a baseball team been so close to defeat so many times before finally winning it all. The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals were more than 10 games out of a playoff spot in late August. They inched in on the final day of the regular season. In the playoffs, they trailed the Philadelphia Phillies in the first round and the Milwaukee Brewers in the second. The Cardinals, though, saved their most improbable rally for the end. They fell behind the Texas Rangers five separate times during Game 6 of the World Series. Twice they were down to their final strike before third baseman David Freese won the game with a solo home run in the 11th inning. The Cardinals won the World Series, their 11th, the next night.

The Muppets

It was the year’s most unlikely comeback. Hitting the big screen for the first time in 12 years, the inimitable Kermit put the band back together in The Muppets, a sweet meta-movie about a telethon to save the old Muppet studio. In Hollywood’s whiz-bang world of digital effects, a motley crew made of foam and fleece held their own. Kermit killed, even without 3-D.