New York failed to bring home any major sports championships in 2016, but the Big Apple did produce its share of interesting headlines.
If there was a theme for the year, it was hope for the future — in the form of some Baby Bombers, a few new coaches and a former MVP joining the Knicks. Although for some teams — especially the Jets and the Mets — 2016 did not go according to script.
Here is a look at the top 16 local sports stories from the past year:
Giants Move On From Coughlin
On Jan. 4, Giants coach Tom Coughlin resigned under pressure following the team’s third consecutive losing season. “It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as head coach of the New York Football Giants,” the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach said upon stepping down.
The Giants conducted a search that saw them interview Adam Gase, Hue Jackson, Doug Marrone, Mike Smith and others before ultimately deciding to promote 38-year-old offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.
In his first season at the helm, McAdoo’s Giants are 10-4 and in prime position for the playoffs.
A New Era Begins For Nets
The Nets started the year with some fireworks of their own, firing head coach Lionel Hollins and reassigning general manager Billy King on Jan. 11.
In February, the Nets hired Sean Marks, a rising star in the San Antonio Spurs’ front office, as their new general manager. In April, Marks hired former Hawks assistant Kenny Atkinson as head coach.
Marks has been preaching a slow, patient approach to building up the downtrodden franchise, which doesn’t control its own first-round pick until 2019. The new GM quickly bought out big-name veterans Andrea Bargnani and Joe Johnson, clearing space for the franchise’s younger players to develop.
Knicks Fire Fisher, Hire Hornacek
In February, the Knicks surprisingly fired coach Derek Fisher after just a year and a half on the job. The Knicks had appeared to be on the right track under Fisher when they were 22-22, but then they fell apart, losing nine of their next 10.
Team president Phil Jackson named Kurt Rambis interim head coach, and he went 9-19 the rest of the way. The Knicks then began a slow-moving coaching search. Jackson indicated he wanted a coach he had an established relationship with and who had experience running his beloved triangle offense, leading to much speculation that he would make the unpopular move of handing the job to Rambis full-time. But in June, the Knicks surprised again when they named former Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek to the job, a candidate who seemingly didn’t meet either of Jackson’s top criteria.
Giants Spend Big On Defense
The Giants entered free agency in March with more than $56 million in available cap space, and they refused to sit idle.
On the opening day of free agency, Big Blue, desperate to turn around its last-ranked defense from the year before, landed cornerback Janoris Jenkins, defensive tackle Damon Harrison and defensive end Olivier Vernon. Those three contracts accounted for nearly $200 million.
Those moves have paid dividends. The Giants’ defense is currently ranked 15th in the NFL, and Jenkins, Harrison and Vernon all have strong cases for Pro Bowl consideration.
Fitz Standoff Dominates Jets Offseason
Coming off a career season in 2015, Ryan Fitzpatrick wanted to get paid what he felt was his true worth. After a monthslong standoff, the Jets obliged, signing the veteran quarterback to a one-year, $12 million contract as training camp started. A journeyman during his first 10 seasons in the NFL, Fitzpatrick joined the Jets prior to the 2015 season and was elevated to starter during the preseason after incumbent Geno Smith suffered a broken jaw in a locker room fight.
Fitzpatrick proceeded to have one of the best statistical seasons in franchise history, throwing for nearly 4,000 yards, with a team-record 31 touchdown passes and just 15 interceptions.
He, however, was permanently replaced as the team’s starter following the Jets’ 3-9 start to the 2016 season.
MMA Finally Wins New York Fight
After a yearslong battle, New York lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo in April finally lifted the state’s ban on mixed martial arts. The move paved the way for the first MMA event in New York since 1995 and the first ever at Madison Square Garden — November’s UFC 205.
Legislators had resisted legalizing the sport for a variety of reasons, including equating it to “human cockfighting” or “gay porn with a different ending.”
By all accounts, UFC 205 was a rousing success. With a stacked fight card highlighted by Conor McGregor’s win over Eddie Alvarez, UFC president Dana White said the event broke both the Madison Square Garden gate record for a sporting event and UFC’s own pay-per-view record.
Islanders Finally Win A Round
It had been 23 years since the once-great Islanders had last won a playoff series. Not since making a run to the conference finals back in 1993 had New York enjoyed as much success as it did during the 2015-16 season.
John Tavares was the story for the Islanders, who enjoyed their second straight 100-point regular season before beating Florida in the first round of the postseason tournament. Tavares, arguably one of the 10 best players in the NHL, registered five goals and nine points in the Isles’ six-game win over the Panthers. The Isles’ captain scored the series-clinching goal in double overtime of Game 6.
New York would go on to lose in five games in the second round to Tampa Bay.
Knicks Land Derrick Rose
In desperate need of a point guard and with few affordable options available on the free-agent market, the Knicks pulled off a blockbuster trade in June when they acquired former NBA MVP Derrick Rose from the Chicago Bulls.
The Knicks gave up center Robin Lopez and point guards Jerian Grant and Jose Calderon in the deal, but also received shooting guard Justin Holiday and a 2017 second-round pick from Chicago.
Rose, of course, came with some question marks after dealing with knee issues the past several years. He also had to miss much of the preseason while on trial in a civil rape lawsuit — he was found not liable.
Devils Trade For Hall
Badly in need of offense, the Devils went out over the summer and got better with the acquisition of Taylor Hall. New Jersey traded solid defenseman Adam Larsson to Edmonton for the 25-year-old winger, who was selected No. 1 overall by the Oilers in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Hall joined 30-goal scorers Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri, as well as veteran forward Mike Cammalleri in Newark.
Hall, who put up 80 points during the 2013-14 season, missed some time during the early part of his first season with the Devils due to a knee injury. However, he was still a point-per-game player over his first 20 games with his new team.
New Islanders Owners Take Over
After a two-year stewardship as minority owners, Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin assumed control of the Islanders in July, taking over for Charles Wang, who had been the franchise’s principle owner since 2001.The duo reportedly spent close to $500 million for the franchise.
Ledecky and Malkin vowed to infuse more money into the team than their predecessor and improve the game-day experience at Barclays Center, the team’s new home since it left Nassau Coliseum following the 2014-15 season.
The Islanders, however, started the 2016-17 season poorly as they sat well off the pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race in mid-December.
A-Rod Era Ends
Alex Rodriguez surprised many by agreeing to walk away from baseball despite having one year left on his contract with the Yankees. The legendary slugger, whose career will forever be questioned due to his use of performance-enhancing drugs, played the last game of his 12-year run with the Yankees on Aug. 12. That 1-for-4 effort against Tampa Bay concluded an otherwise forgettable season that saw a player once feared by pitchers everywhere reduced to mostly a glorified spectator.
Rodriguez, who will be paid $20 million by the Yankees in 2017, finished his 22-year MLB career with a .295 average, 696 home runs and 2,086 RBIs. He was a three-time AL MVP and played an integral role in New York’s 2009 World Series championship.
The Rise Of Gary Sanchez
While he didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, Yankees prospect Gary Sanchez did take Major League Baseball by storm during the 2016 season. The 24-year-old catcher, who struggled at times in the minors and didn’t show much of anything during two prior short stints in the Bronx, batted .299 with 20 home runs and 42 RBIs in just 53 games after being called up at the beginning of August.
The centerpiece of the Yankees’ rebuilding efforts, Sanchez finished second behind Detroit Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
Jersey Gymnast Wins Gold, Silver
With her bubbly personality on full display, 16-year-old Laurie Hernandez, of Old Bridge, New Jersey, helped propel the U.S. women’s gymnastics team to its second consecutive Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in August.
Hernandez opened the competition by scoring a 15.1 on the vault, excelled on the balance beam and then gave a memorable performance in her floor routine, which she kicked off with a wink to the judges.
She also won silver for her individual balance beam routine.
Domestic Violence Allegations Plague Area Teams
The Yankees, Mets and Giants had to deal with some serious issues off the field during the 2016 season.
The Bombers had many questions to answer over the winter after trading for closer Aroldis Chapman, who was under investigation following a gun-related incident involving his girlfriend. The Amazins were jolted by the arrest of closer Jeurys Familia following the playoffs. Big Blue received a lot of criticism for not cutting ties with kicker Josh Brown sooner after he was accused of abusing his former wife.
Chapman was great with the Yankees, but was eventually traded to the Chicago Cubs. Then, after winning a World Series in the Windy City, Chapman re-signed with the Bombers in early December. Familia’s fate with the Mets remained uncertain while his legal issues unfolded. Brown was eventually released by the Giants and has not latched on with another team.
Mets Overcome Injuries To Reach Playoffs
The Mets entered the 2016 season with lofty expectations after reaching the World Series the year before. But the Amazins were hit with an unimaginable number of key season-ending injuries — Matt Harvey, David Wright, Neil Walker, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Wilmer Flores.
Despite all that went wrong, the Mets rallied over the final month of the season to earn the top National League wild-card spot, just the second time in franchise history they’ve reached the postseason in back-to-back years. The Giants, however, ended the Mets season in the wild-card game, 3-0, thanks to a dominant outing by San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner.
NYCFC Breaks Through In Year 2
One year removed from its rather dismal expansion season, New York City FC made tremendous progress in 2016, finishing second in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference during the regular season.
Loaded with older European stars such as Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo and 2016 MLS MVP David Villa, NYCFC had high hopes of going on a magical run to a championship, but was derailed in embarrassing fashion by eventual league runner-up Toronto FC in the second round of the playoffs, losing both games of the aggregate series by a combined 7-0 count.
Lampard later announced he would not be returning to the team in 2017, and the club itself began what was expected to be an involved retooling project.
The Rangers enjoyed another 100-point season but were no match for the eventual Stanley Cup champion Penguins in the first round of the playoffs, falling in five games.
The future looks bright for the Yankees after acquiring premier prospects Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield, among others, in July trades with the Cubs and Indians involving relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, respectively.
Odell Beckham Jr.’s antics were a major storyline early in the NFL season after he was flagged for a number of personal fouls, was seen crying on the sideline and even punched — and later proposed marriage — to the sideline kicking net.
The Rangers started the 2016-17 season red hot, going 13-4 and leading the NHL in goals scored.
In December, former Jets running back Joe McKnight, 28, was fatally shot in a road rage incident just outside New Orleans.