Our sports teams here in New York weren’t all that good this past year — except for the Rangers (and, OK, now the Islanders).
Still, we found reasons — both good and bad — to keep tuning in. So many, actually, that we have 14 honorable mentions.
Without further ado, the top 14 stories of 2014:
The Never-Ending (A-Rod) Story
Alex Rodriguez brought his battle against the Yankees and Major League Baseball into 2014. But by early February, he was out of fight, and the embattled slugger dropped all his lawsuits and accepted a season-long ban for his role in MLB’s Biogenesis scandal. Then he disappeared — at least by A-Rod’s standards.
New York’s season came to a disappointing end. We were reminded that A-Rod’s return was on the doorstep. One month later, shortly after the last out of the World Series, Rodriguez was reinstated to the Yankees’ roster and it was, yet again, all A-Rod, all the time. What position will he play? Is he healthy? Will he even make it to spring training?
Well, we know he won’t be playing third base. He might not even be DH’ing all that much. We do know that it’ll be interesting. All things considered, it’s a near-guarantee that A-Rod will make this list for a third straight year in 2015.
NY/NJ Super Bowl
New York. New Jersey. The first ever open-air, cold-weather Super Bowl. Could you ask for anything more?
The Tri-State area got 2014 started off right, with football’s biggest night right here at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. While the Garden State had the game, the party was in NYC, highlighted by Super Bowl Boulevard in Times Square with a 60-foot toboggan ride at the center of it all.
Still, we’d do it again. How about it, NFL?
Michael Sam Makes History
Going into 2014, Michael Sam was known simply as Missouri’s star defensive end, a Co-Defensive Player of the Year in the powerhouse SEC.
On February 9, he told the world what his teammates already knew. He’s a gay football player. Three months later, Sam left his mark as a trailblazer when he was picked by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of the NFL Draft. He would become the first openly gay player to pull on pads.
Despite recording three preseason sacks, Sam was cut by the Rams before the season opener. He was picked up for the Cowboys’ practice squad and released again in October.
So it remains that no openly gay active player has ever taken a regular-season snap in the NFL. But it’s bound to happen — and Sam paved the way.
Jason Collins, Too
The 7-footer makes our list for the second straight year.
In 2013, Jason Collins came out in a first-person account for Sports Illustrated, making history as the first openly gay player in the four major American pro sports (NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL). In February 2014, Collins signed with the Brooklyn Nets, again making history, this time as the first openly gay active athlete in the aforementioned leagues.
Collins played 22 games for the Nets last season. He announced his retirement in November.
“Everything has been so exciting,” Collins told WFAN radio on March 4. “My life is just so much better. Living an authentic life and being accepted for who I am, it’s been terrific.”
Sochi Problems And The Winter Games
The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia were controversial to say the least. And at the outset, it was a disaster — if you’re a member of the media seeking a decent hotel room. Or a dog-lover. Or an American athlete seeking yogurt. Or…
Aside from Vladimir Putin’s policies and #SochiProblems, the games went pretty smoothly. Well, except for that burly U.S. bobsledder who had to literally punch his way out of a bathroom and later got stuck in an elevator.
In the end, it was about competition. The U.S. left Russia with 28 total medals (nine gold, seven silver, 12 bronze).
Knicks Add Jackson, Keep Melo, Stink It Up
Phil Jackson has more championship rings than fingers. So when he was brought on to serve as president of the Knicks, the reaction was about what you’d expect. Finally, a reason to believe. A dose of zen. And a cause for meddlesome owner James Dolan to take a back seat.
Head coach Mike Woodson was fired after the season, replaced by recently retired player Derek Fisher, who was tasked with implementing Jackson’s triangle offense. Carmelo Anthony — whose future was debated ad nauseam — opted out of his contract over the summer but decided to return to New York after being courted by Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Houston.
Let’s just say that 25 losses before Christmas isn’t very good.
Donald Sterling Gets The Boot
Donald Sterling proved that ugliness still exists in sports. And new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver set a precedent of zero tolerance for bigotry within the ranks.
To recap: Sterling was forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers after an audio recording surfaced of the (former) team owner making racially charged remarks. Reaction was swift and furious. Silver imposed a lifetime ban and started the process that eventually brought in new ownership: ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
With players prepared to boycott, this had the potential to destroy the league. Silver’s strong hand steadied the ship.
California Chrome’s Failed Run At Immortality
This wasn’t the year. But, man, was it close.
California Chrome came into the Belmont Stakes a rock star, having won the first two legs of the Triple Crown at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Many thought Cali Chrome had the goods to end horse racing’s long, torturous drought. No thoroughbred had won all three races since Affirmed in 1978.
Cali Chrome came in fourth, becoming the latest horse to prove the feat to be nearly impossible. After the Belmont, Chrome’s co-owner went on a red-faced rant about the Triple Crown system, saying some took “the coward’s way out” by not running all three races.
World Cup Frenzy
Still think soccer isn’t growing in America? New York City was gripped with World Cup fever this summer — as was the rest of the nation — as the surprising U.S. team sprinted all the way to the round of 16. Unfortunately, that’s where it ended in a heartbreaking loss to Belgium. Germany ended up winning the tournament and some guy bit another guy. But that’s not what we’ll remember. In our minds, the 2014 World Cup was all about soccer’s rise to relevance in the States. That, and Tim Howard’s ridiculous saves.
Rangers Get Thiiiiiis Close
Speaking of great runs and ridiculous saves — how about those Rangers? The gritty Blueshirts, behind goalie Henrik Lundqvist, came oh so close to lifting the Stanley Cup in June, only to be stopped in the finals by the big, bad Los Angeles Kings.
New York is streaking again. Maybe 2015 will be the year?
Tragedy On The Track
Nobody could have predicted what was going to happen when NASCAR’s Tony Stewart and a relatively unknown sprint-car driver, Kevin Ward Jr., took to the dirt track in upstate New York on August 9.
Ward, attempting to confront Stewart on the track after a spin-out, was struck and killed by the right rear tire of Stewart’s vehicle. Video surfaced overnight, and by the next morning everyone was debating whether the hot-headed star known as “Smoke” was culpable in the tragedy. Ward’s family lashed out at Stewart, who some thought might have been attempting to put a scare into the younger driver. Others believed it was an accident – nothing more.
Stewart was cleared by a grand jury in late September, during which time Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo said Ward had “enough” marijuana in his system “to impair judgment” on the night in question.
RE2PECT: The Captain Retires
Derek Jeter announced in February that the 2014 season would be his last. What followed was a season of retrospection for the Yankees captain. Jeter was greeted with gifts and adoring fans at every stop. Even Boston! (In fairness, he had at least one detractor.)
He made a commercial that went viral and spawned the #RE2PECT hashtag. Then came another ad – and that one was just as big. The Empire State Building lit up in pinstripes. A skyscraper in Albany, N.Y. paid its respects. He had a gigantic sandwich named after him.
Jeter, a five-time World Series champion, penned the perfect script, ending his last game at Yankee Stadium with a walk-off hit. Jeter played his final game in Boston on Sept. 28, but the season of RE2PECT will always be remembered for that base knock in the Bronx.
Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson And The NFL In Turmoil
Ray Rice was a local success story; a kid from New Rochelle, N.Y. who ran his way to a Super Bowl title with the Baltimore Ravens. Then he was arrested following a domestic incident involving his then-fiancee at an Atlantic City casino – video showed Rice dragging an unconscious Janay Palmer out of an elevator — and the wheels came off.
Rice was initially suspended two games, infuriating many. Then, in September, TMZ published video of Rice punching Palmer inside the elevator. This time, the NFL came down hard. Rice was suspended indefinitely, which was later overturned in the appeals process. He was released by the Ravens and remains unemployed.
Questions remain over what the NFL knew – Commissioner Roger Goodell maintains the league couldn’t get the elevator footage — and when it knew it. Maybe we’ll get some answers from ex-FBI director Robert Mueller, who was tabbed by the league to lead an investigation into the matter.
Also in September, Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson was indicted on charges of child abuse for striking his 4-year-old with a tree branch. He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault and was suspended without pay for the remainder of the 2014 season. The Peterson case – another in a long list of blemishes this year for the NFL — sparked a national conversation on child discipline.
Jets, Giants Take Different Paths To The Golf Course
The Jets took a measured approach to free agency, going into 2014 the season with over $20 million in available cap space. The Giants went a different route, spending their faces off. In the end, both teams stunk enough to miss the playoffs yet again.
The Jets fired head coach Rex Ryan and general manager John Idzik on Dec. 29. Shocker. Meanwhile, Tom Coughlin is returning to Big Blue.
At least the Giants have reason for optimism with outstanding rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The Jets will have a high draft pick to look forward to, though we all know the franchise’s luck with those…
14 Honorable Mentions:
Huskies basketball, baby! UConn men and women win national championships
Tiger Woods’ future in doubt over back woes
LeBron James returns home to Cleveland Cavaliers
High school hazing scandal rocks Sayreville football program
Jason Kidd’s failed power grab results in exit from Brooklyn
Mo’ne Davis is breakout star of Little League World Series
Matt Harvey just can’t get with the program
Sports stars — and WFAN’s Mike Francesa — take the Ice Bucket Challenge
Mets’ Jacob deGrom wins NL Rookie of the Year
Jets fans call for GM’s firing in splashy and creative ways
Odell Beckham Jr. makes insane one-handed TD catch
Snowmageddon hits Buffalo; Bills-Jets moved to Detroit
Islanders red hot in final season at Coliseum
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