As 2013 comes to a close, well, it certainly was an odd year.
Every year has a tone. It seems like the most memorable stories of 2013 happened off the field, in board rooms and, sadly, court rooms. Even the biggest stories to take place during actual games had as much to do with players getting hurt, choking, being accused of cheating, biting or walking out as successes we've grown accustomed to remembering.
Just by the nature of the way our industry is constructed—where in most competitions there is a winner and a loser, and at the end of every campaign, someone is crowned a champion—there are positive moments, but were there that many among the most memorable of the year? A few.
With 2013 shoehorned between a year that boasted the Summer Olympics and Euro 2012 and one that will feature the Winter Olympics and World Cup 2014, the opportunity for positive stories worth remembering seems far slimmer by comparison. This year in sports had an empire-striking-back vibe. And no...I’m not suggesting that Alex Rodriguez is a modern-day Skywalker.
Not only that, but some of the biggest, darkest stories of 2013 were continuations of stories that began a year—hell, a decade—earlier. January of this year, in particular, featured a whirlwind of scandalous memories that were also some of the biggest moments of 2012, or another year previous.
Even some of the biggest moments of 2013 don’t really belong to 2013.
This is one of those assignments where I wish we could look at 50 moments, so we could talk about the great years for people like Ronda Rousey, Peyton Manning, Yasiel Puig, Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, Brittney Griner, the continuing fight for world domination between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the Celtics exodus and Adam Scott, that handsome Australian with the long putter, slipping on a green jacket in a memorable Masters finish for the ages.
None of those names made the list, worthy candidates as they are. Here is a list of 25 moments that did, arranged in an order that looks more at the impact of the stories than the actual details of what happened.
Note: There is no way to rank or compare a murder to a drug suspension to a kickoff return, so please take the rankings within that context of spirited, but civil, discourse.
Before we get to the actual list of 25, I wanted to insert this at the top. People retire every year, but there were a few notable retirees in 2013 that deserve separate recognition.
Mariano Rivera’s retirement tour was amazing, and watching teams around the league try to one-up each other in terms of giving him presents as he passed through their towns reminded me of a time where all the big names got that kind of treatment—a personal memory of my childhood was going to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s last game in Philadelphia and watching the ceremony for one of the game’s biggest, literally in his case, stars.
I wish there was more of that. Nowadays, players seem to either quietly announce their retirement in the offseason or end their careers not by choice, but because they are unable to find a job. Rivera obviously had a unique ending due to injury the year before, but he was able to go out on his terms in 2013. For a player of his stature in the game of baseball, that was one of the nicer memories of this year.
Another guy who got to go out on his terms in American sports is Ray Lewis, who won the Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens and rode off into the TV-analyst sunset. Lewis handled his retirement a little differently, telling his teammates—and the media—during the Super Bowl run, injecting his own personal glory into the narrative of the Ravens’ championship run.
If you expected anything less from Lewis, you didn’t pay attention to his career. There are very few great players who get to finish their careers holding the Lombardi Trophy, so however you feel about him as a player, or as a person, there aren’t many more memorable personalities than Lewis.
Last, one more man who got to go out on top, and on his own terms, was Sir Alex Ferguson. The Manchester United gaffer from 1986 through the 2013 season, Sir Alex won 38 major trophies at Old Trafford and 49 in his illustrious coaching career that began in the Scottish First Division in 1974.
How about this for context: When Sir Alex started his coaching career, Ryan Giggs was six months old. When he ended his career, Giggs was still an important member of a Manchester United squad that took home a record 13th Premier League title.
Let’s be honest, the 2013 season was an unmitigated disaster in Washington. Coming off a division title and a trip to the playoffs, things seemed bright in our nation’s capital this year, but Robert Griffin III’s lingering injury issues and a horrible start to the season derailed any hopes of returning to the postseason for Mike Shanahan and his troops.
But who thought it would get this bad?
Who thought Shanahan would be a sure bet to get fired and RGIII would be benched with three games to go in the season? Who thought a team that looked to be on the rise could so quickly fall completely apart?
Who thought the Redskins would face such a groundswell of people who want the franchise to change its name, to the point where both the NFL commissioner and the President of the United States felt compelled to comment on the situation.
At some point, the Redskins will change the name of the team, and that moment will be far more memorable than anything that happened in 2013. For now, it’s important to chronicle just how terrible a year this was in Washington.
The year was so bad in Washington that owner Daniel Snyder’s personal public-relations guru, Lanny Davis, replied to growing public sentiment about the name by quoting a poll that said “9 out of 10 Native Americans said they were not bothered by the name” while also citing an Associated Press poll from 2013 that showed eight out of every 10 Americans don’t think the name should be changed.
As I wrote at the time, per Davis’ math, that means nearly 300,000 Native Americans do want the name changed. That’s a lot of people to offend. Oh, and that AP poll that said 80 percent of America is cool with the name also found that 11 percent think it should be changed.
Eleven percent of America is 35 million people. The Redskins' spin doctor told America that 35 million of us are offended by the name. Nice work.
Hail to the Redskins—how many more years will we be able to say that?
I’m not going to say much about the NHL lockout and, frankly, I don’t ever say much about the NHL. Hockey will be a big story in 2014, first with all the outdoor games, but more so with the Sochi Olympics right around the corner. Hockey is a huge part of the Winter Games, so the NHL should see an uptick in interest for the second half of the season in 2014.
This year, however, was not hockey’s finest. Oh, the play on the ice was great. Some hockey supporters think the game has never been better to watch, but the disorganization and lack of leadership at the league level is appalling. To have two lockouts in the same decade and three within less than 20 years should make any outsider wonder about those running the sport and how much they really care about the fans, or the overall growth of the game.
The latest NHL lockout should have been avoided entirely, but it dragged on through 2012 and into January 2013, ensuring that the league canceled the Winter Classic, which, outside of the Stanley Cup Final, is the league’s biggest draw. The final did make up for some of that missed marketing, however, with two Original Six teams battling for the Cup in one of the more memorable series in recent history. The Chicago Blackhawks beat the Boston Bruins in six games, for those counting at home.
While the ratings were good for the NHL, the clinching game was viewed by just over eight million people in America. There is no growth, at least from a casual fan’s perspective.
There was a time in my life when it felt like the NHL could really challenge the NBA or MLB for second-place status in the big-four sports. With another lockout to start 2013, the NHL made it clear over the last half-decade that if there even is a big-four American sports anymore, it isn’t one of them.
Back in the summer, I was invited up to be a guest on Michelle Beadle’s now-defunct NBC Sports Network show The Crossover. One of the topics was a brash young freshman at Florida State named Jameis Winston who took over FSU media day, literally dropping the mic as he wowed the reporters in attendance with his openness, personality and sense of the moment.
On the show, we talked about how exciting the year will be for Florida State with Winston at the helm, what his presence under center might mean for the Seminoles and if after the horrible offseason for Johnny Manziel, the Heisman trust would ever elect another freshman winner again.
Asked to prognosticate the year for Winston, I flippantly said the kid will probably have a great year, the media will fall in love with him, he’ll win the Heisman and then something in his past will come up and we’ll grind him up and spit him out.
I got the story right, I just got the order wrong.
Winston was ground up well before he won the Heisman, thanks in part to a bungled investigation into sexual assault charges filed against him after an event that took place last December. Oh, and thanks in part to his personal lack of maturity; let’s be clear about that.
Winston was not charged, but it took until the week before the Heisman Trophy voting was complete—what a coincidence that turned out to be—before Winston was formally cleared.
No matter what happened, Winston has admitted to using poor judgement. Whether there was any criminal wrongdoing or not (he obviously asserts not) and without any legal proceedings, this entire incident may be nothing more than a footnote in an illustrious football career, both college and pro.
But in 2013, his stories are forever intertwined. We can’t talk about Winston’s Heisman Trophy landslide without mentioning the context of his legal woes, inasmuch as the notion that many voters would have left him off their ballots were he to have been formally charged or suspended by FSU.
The Heisman Trophy has been marred by scandal in the recent past. This was the first time in a while that scandal happened during the voting and not after the trophies were given out.
What do Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Kobe Bryant have in common?
All three are great players in the NBA and all three suffered horrible injuries that impacted the course of events in the 2013 NBA playoffs.
First, Rose, who was out with a torn ACL for what felt like forever in Chicago. Rose was cleared to play by medical professionals, but said he felt he wasn’t ready to come back in the playoffs, leading some in Chicago—and around the country—to unfairly question his toughness.
After the depleted Bulls beat the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs, they were slated to face the top-seeded Miami Heat in the conference semifinals. Rose still opted not to play, and the Bulls unceremoniously fell to the Heat in five games.
The sad footnote in Rose’s story is that after all that injury rehab, he was finally ready to play in the 2013-14 season, only to suffer another horrible knee injury, abruptly ending yet another season for the promising young star. NBA fans shouldn't question his toughness now. We are left hoping his luck, health and career turn around soon.
Another star who is finally getting healthy is Westbrook, who tore his lateral meniscus in the first round of the playoffs last year, essentially derailing any hope for the Oklahoma City Thunder to get back to the NBA Finals.
There may have never been a more demoralizing, debilitating injury for a contending team to suffer than what happened to Westbrook. While Kevin Durant is clearly OKC’s best player, the team may have needed Westbrook on the court even more than the league's top scorer.
Westbrook's loss not only crippled the Thunder emotionally—how could you blame them?—but it destroyed any semblance of offensive balance and flow. The Memphis Grizzlies were the biggest benefactors of the injury, knocking out the Thunder in the second round.
What could have been…
Last, is the sad saga of Kobe Bryant, who tore his Achilles just before the end of the 2012-13 regular season. The Lakers still fought to make the playoffs, losing in the first round. But Kobe’s injury wasn’t like Westbrook’s. Nobody gave the Lakers much of a chance in the playoffs with or without him. Still, the injury was so severe for a player with so much mileage that people thought it could be the end of Bryant’s career.
Certainly, that would have made the moment more memorable, but Kobe fought back through the offseason to return to the Lakers, playing in a handful of games—and earning a huge contract extension—before breaking part of his knee in late December, putting him out, again, on the rehab trail.
At some point, it’s not going to be worth it. So far, for Kobe, we haven’t hit that point.
There was a time not too long ago when people openly questioned Serena Williams’ dedication to the game. She was so immensely talented that not winning every match she played left people wondering how long she would stay in the sport, and whether her outside endeavors left her too unfocused on her craft.
If 2012 was the year of Serena, 2013 was one heckuva sequel.
Williams won 11 titles in 2013 and had a stellar singles record of 78-4. That’s a 95 percent winning rate, if you’re keeping track. That’s...insane.
What’s more amazing is that the start of 2013 wasn’t actually that good for Williams. She lost in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open to American Sloane Stephens, then lost in the finals of her next tournament to world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka.
A week later, Williams withdrew from a tournament in the United Arab Emirates and missed an entire month before coming back to win 32 consecutive matches, including five titles.
Over that span, Williams only lost five sets.
She did fall in the Round of 16 at Wimbledon to eventual finalist Sabine Lisicki before winning her next 14 matches, including another two titles. She lost again, however, to Azarenka in the finals of the WTA event in Cincinnati to end that streak, but she got revenge two weeks later by beating Azarenka in the finals of the U.S. Open.
Williams played just two more events after the U.S. Open, winning both.
In a year that started slowly, Serena ended the year as the most dominant force in her sport. Again, and always.
While Serena’s season may have been more dominant, as memories go, it’s hard to top Andy Murray winning the Wimbledon title in 2013.
The scene was as memorable as any in sports this year, with an entire Kingdom pulling Murray through to victory over Novak Djokovic. Murray was overwhelmed with the support, and with the win, finally breaking through in the major that meant more to him than any other.
From the Daily Mirror's Mike Walters:
In three sets of rabid tension on court and near-hyperventilation in the heatwave cooking Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic refused to yield an inch, but Murray – bold, brilliant, braveheart Murray – simply refused to yield at all.
When Fred Perry left the meter running in 1936, no one envisaged it would be such a long time before Britain could celebrate another men’s singles winner.
“For a couple of weeks and months afterwards, I found it quite hard to come to terms with being a Wimbledon champion,” Murray admitted “I hope I was able to make people proud.”
Tennis fans may suggest that Rafael Nadal’s return to the winner’s circle at Roland Garros was a bigger story, especially considering the absolutely epic semifinal victory over Djokovic. Nadal’s win at the U.S. Open seemed like icing on the proverbial cake, returning him to the status of the top player in the world. In a longer list, both players would be properly recognized individually.
If I were to pick one over the other, though, I would choose Murray. The French Open semifinal was one of the greatest matches I remember watching, but there’s something about the allure of Wimbledon in America that makes anything that happens on grass vastly more memorable than what transpires on clay.
Murray finally getting over that Wimby hump, and what it meant not just to him but to the entire United Kingdom, is what gives that moment the edge.
Luis Suarez has had an interesting year. In April, the excitable Liverpool striker was suspended for 10 matches after biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in the arm during a match.
He bit a guy. For the second time in his career.
In 2010, Suarez was suspended while playing at Ajax for the same offense and actually completed his transfer to Liverpool while still under penalty. In his first season in the Premier League, Suarez was banned for eight matches for making racist remarks toward Manchester United defender Patrice Evra.
He is, in footballing circles, a monster. And yet his incredible talent has Liverpool fans adoring him, echoing his name throughout the corridors of Anfield. He is just that spectacular.
Currently, Suarez is one of the top scorers in the EPL, despite missing eight matches this season while completing his ban. Hell, he is so uniquely talented when it comes to putting the ball in the net that he was recently honored by the Football Supporters' Federation as its Player of the Year. In a year where he was suspended for 10 games...for biting a guy.
After 12 months' worth of memories, there is perhaps none more incredible than the path of Luis Suarez, from pariah—and piranha—to prince. And things just got better, as he signed a four-and-a-half year contract extension worth around $75 million.
How much is Gareth Bale worth? Well, he was moved from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid this season for a record $123 million, per official reports from Real Madrid. That's a lot of money.
But that doesn’t answer the question of worth, as no player is actually worth what they get on the open market, especially when it’s a near-record-breaking fee like Bale’s bounty.
Bale, injured for some of his early stint at Real Madrid, has yet to make an impact even close to the value of his megadeal. But it’s early in his tenure in Spain, and Bale is one of the most talented players in the game. Surely, the more time he spends in Madrid, the more value he will provide.
So how valuable is he? Not as valuable, it turns out, as his Madrid teammate.
Real Madrid's president on Tuesday revealed that Gareth Bale had cost €91 million, confirming the Welsh winger had been insured for the value of his transfer fee.
Neither Real Madrid nor Tottenham, Bale's former English Premier League club, had previously disclosed the price tag, which the British press had speculated at up to €101 million.
The figure means that Real Madrid's Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo remains the world's most expensive player, costing €94 million (£80 million) when he moved from Manchester United in 2009.
In so many ways, the Bale transfer was always more about Ronaldo than Bale. As long as the two remain teammates, it always will be.
The Baseball Hall of Fame chose not to elect anyone in 2013, making a collective stand that no player on the list of possible inductees deserved inclusion in their illustrious clubhouse of immortality.
This is an ongoing story, one that will surely apply to the list in 2014 and every year after, as long as the likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens aren’t in Cooperstown.
The entire voting process is a joke (as I wrote earlier this year), so much so that Deadspin reportedly bought someone’s vote this year in a mockery of both the voting process and the adage that journalism is about reporting the news, not becoming it.
The 2013 vote was about steroids, and the voters trying to course-correct history by keeping players out that they think were dirty. Some of the players being pegged as cheaters never failed a test, were never suspended a day in their careers and yet find themselves on the outside of the sanctified Hall of Fame that has inducted morally reprehensible characters in the past, including cheaters, racists and drug users.
Morality is a sliding scale, a lesson never more defined than by those with the keys to baseball’s history.
In other years, in other news cycles, this would be the biggest story of them all.
Kevin-Prince Boateng, then playing for AC Milan, walked off the pitch during a match against lower-level Italian side Pro Patria, because fans were unrelentingly hurling racial barbs at him to the point where he could not take it anymore.
Sepp Blatter, head honcho at FIFA, chided Boateng for his decision, suggesting that players cannot simply leave the field if they hear something they don’t like. Blatter later softened his stance on the issue, but he still held players to a higher—read: unfair—standard when it comes to dealing with racism.
Boateng was not the only player to have to deal with racist fans, or players, this season. It’s everywhere, and it is not OK. For people to think going to a stadium and standing in the crowd entitles you to demean a player with hate speech is incomprehensible in this day and age.
It’s criminal, and it’s indefensible. Steps need to be taken to ensure this stops, and if a player feels that walking off the pitch is the only way to escape the situation, that’s a failure of the culture, and of the sport, not of the player.
AC Milan’s Kevin Constant of Guinea walked off the pitch this preseason during a match with Sassuolo after being racially abused. The club was fined.
Also in Italy, the Watford U-19 side was just recently pulled off the field by its coach after allegations of racism against Italian team Latina Calcio.
Oh, it’s not just Italy. It was announced in December that Olympiacos will play its Champions League match against Manchester United behind partially closed doors because UEFA is punishing the club after racist behavior from fans.
Borussia Dortmund has some of the most passionate fans in the world. Some of them are, it seems, neo-Nazis. This summer, the German association investigated an incident between 1860 Munich and Ingolstadt in which Danny da Costa, a German-born player of African descent, was verbally abused by fans.
Things are so bad in Russia that CSKA Moscow was forced to play behind partially closed doors after members of Manchester City were verbally abused. Yaya Toure—one of the most prominent African players in the world—suggested that black players could think about boycotting the 2018 World Cup in Russia if the issues of racism are not handled in the next five years.
It needs to get better. Everywhere.
Let’s end this soccer portion of the program on a more positive note. 2013 marked the 100th season of the United States Soccer Federation. Did you know soccer was around in America for that long, because it sure as heck feels like the sport began in 1990.
From a world-class standpoint, it did. From 1950 to 1990, nothing really happened at all, but for the last two decades, soccer in the United States has grown by leaps and bounds.
This was one of the best years in the long history of the game in America. The United States not only qualified for the 2014 World Cup, but they did it while defeating Mexico, 2-0, in one of the most fantastic (and memorable) moments in quite some time.
What U.S. soccer fan will ever forget the "snow game," as the USMNT defeated Costa Rica in a crucial World Cup qualifier in Denver? There were many other moments to celebrate, too.
And it wasn’t just the men’s side that provided memories in 2013, as Abby Wambach passed Mia Hamm this past June to become the all-time leading goal scorer in women's international soccer.
It was a good year for U.S. soccer. Americans hope 2014 is even better.
The Johnny Manziel saga in 2013 was one of the oddest tales of anything to make the list. The entire offseason was a whirlwind in the media spotlight for Johnny Football. It was clear the attention became too much, both in volume of coverage and pressure put on the kid.
Manziel, frankly, did not handle the notoriety very well, acting more like a rich socialite than a football star. Having said that, the first freshman to ever win a Heisman Trophy was certainly being treated like a world-renowned starlet, pulled in every direction possible by his school, fans, family and benefactors.
The story was told and told and told again, and none of the tales painted Manziel, or his family, in a very positive light. But things changed when the stories turned to tales of impropriety, most notably revolving around Manziel’s alleged involvement in a for-pay autograph ring, which is a clear violation of NCAA rules.
Manziel’s status took over SEC media days and held a cloud over Texas A&M all offseason, until the NCAA decided to suspend the reigning Heisman holder...for a half.
Manziel got a proverbial slap on the wrist, mostly because the NCAA could not actually prove any wrongdoing. He went on to have another great year amid incredible scrutiny and, frankly, some sophomoric behavior on his part—his taunting “hands full of money” celebration early in the season became a national story, just like everything else he did.
Manziel still played well enough under the microscope to finish fifth in the Heisman voting this season, almost certainly his last in College Station.
The box score of Louisville's Elite Eight victory over Duke in the 2013 NCAA basketball tournament shows that Louisville guard Kevin Ware played five minutes, scoring three points and grabbing one rebound. It shows that Louisville was up by three points at the half and went on to rout the Duke Blue Devils, 85-63, outscoring Duke by 19 points in the second stanza.
The box score rarely tells the whole story. In that game, it never will.
Ware suffered one of the most horrific injuries anyone could ever see on a basketball court in the first half, snapping his leg in two as he planted his foot while tracking down a loose ball near the Louisville bench.
Ware’s leg was shattered, a scene so gruesome it left some—including teammates and coaches—in tears. The game stood still. The time felt like an eternity as trainers and medical staff rushed to Ware’s aid. The emotional scene as Ware was carted off the court could have dismantled any team, but Louisville stuck together, taking the lead into halftime.
People could write books about whatever Rick Pitino said at halftime to his team, to not only get it to focus in the wake of such terrible circumstances, but to thwart a strong Duke team without a key part of the rotation in Ware.
The team banded together, won that game and rallied around Ware’s trauma en route to a national championship. Amazingly, Ware recovered in time to play at the start of the 2013-14 season, as a defending champion.
My most memorable moment of 2013 was walking 18 holes with Phil Mickelson during the final round of the U.S. Open. Phil had the lead heading into Sunday, which was Father's Day and his birthday. The book was waiting to be written—the major championship Phil was most destined to win, just days after he decided to go to his daughter’s graduation instead of flying to Philadelphia to practice on the difficult Merion course that was eating up the field.
It was his birthday!
Phil squandered his lead early, but hit a miraculous second shot on the 10th hole that put him right back in the driver’s seat of the tournament. Standing just a few yards to his right as Mickelson holed out was one of the most memorable moments of my life. (Imagine sitting courtside and watching Magic Johnson hit a hook shot from midcourt to win a playoff game.)
We thought Phil had just won a playoff game, or at the very least put himself in position to win the major he never could.
Then, the rain briefly came back, and Phil’s game let him down more than once on the next few holes, most notably on the short par-three 13th and—in a scene I will never forget—the 16th green.
After a bad bogey on 15, Phil had a putt to get himself back level with eventual winner Justin Rose on the desolate 16th green. All week, reporters and fans at Merion were not allowed to go up to the 16th green, but with Phil being in the final group, they let a handful of us up there with the television crew to watch the putts. After a great approach, Phil’s completely makeable putt lipped out, his 400th lip-out of the tournament, give or take a few. That was that. Another runner-up finish.
There was still a chance with two holes to play, but a slim one at that. It felt like Phil had lost the tournament right on that 16th green. It was an experience I will never, ever forget.
It was a moment that could have lingered with Phil forever—that entire final round, really—but he didn’t let it. In fact, the disappointment of Merion didn’t last long, as Mickelson went out a few weeks later and put together one of the great tournament performances in major championship history to win the British Open.
Phil’s 66 on Sunday at Muirfield undid everything about his final round at Merion. It was one of the most incredible rounds of golf you will ever see—Phil likened it to his best round ever, especially given the conditions and the circumstance—and just after he let another U.S. Open slip away, he got the major nobody ever thought he would win.
If the summer belonged to Phil, the entire season belonged to Tiger.
Tiger Woods played in just 16 PGA Tour events in 2013, but he won five of them, finishing in the top 10 eight times and making the cut in every event he entered.
In a season with so many ups and downs and so much focus on whether Woods' game was back, the most memorable moment of his year may have come at the Masters, for all the wrong reasons.
Woods needed to take a drop on the 15th hole of the second round of the 2013 Masters. His drop was right near where his original ball was struck before careening off the pin and into a greenside water hazard. Someone watching the event on television noticed that Woods had put his second attempt a few feet away from the first divot, which did not meet the “nearly as possible” rule requiring the drop to be closer to the original spot.
Technically, Woods was violating golf etiquette and, technically, he signed an incorrect scorecard when he didn’t properly penalize himself for doing so. He could have—and many suggested should have—been disqualified from the competition.
Yes, the rules of golf allow people to call in violations they see on TV. And the most hilarious part of this particular instance is that the man who made the call, David Eger, wasn’t even watching at the time. He missed the shot, but rewound on his DVR.
The issue was exacerbated when Woods told television reporters that he put his ball “two yards” from where it was to play a different type of shot into the green. Whoops. That admission made it sound like Woods intentionally dropped the ball where it would be an advantage, not nearest to the spot.
After much deliberation, Woods was given a penalty but not eliminated from the contest, a punishment he understandingly accepted. Others, to this day, have not.
Ironically, the season of Tiger ended with a drop of sorts as well, as EA Sports dropped him from its longstanding PGA video game franchise, of which he'd been the face since 1998. After his past transgressions, it was interesting that it took this long. After a season as great as he had in 2013, it was even more interesting.
The Boston Red Sox went 86 years without a championship, and now they’ve won three in 10 years. That’s pretty amazing. The beards...less so.
Now, the World Series was great. Boston's six-game victory over the St. Louis Cardinals had a ton of crazy moments and walk-off wins and controversy between two national brand names. It was everything Major League Baseball could have hoped for, so I don’t want to sound like a spoil sport when I bring this up, but why was Fox shoving the fact that Boston won the World Series at home for the first time since 1918 down our viewing throats?
Who cares? It’s not like this win broke the curse. Did it really matter to the viewers that the game was in Fenway Park, not in St. Louis or Colorado like the last two titles?
To the viewers, it didn’t matter at all. To those in Boston, it did.
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, the city rallied together in 2013 like no other time before. When tragedy strikes, it changes how people interact. It changes the day-to-day. For some, as the region began to rebound, sports wasn’t just an escape from what happened, but an important part of the healing process.
The Red Sox used "Boston Strong" as more than a marketing slogan. Those victims became a part of the story; a reason to win.
That was why winning in Boston mattered. Not because it had been almost 100 years since the last one.
One second. It may be the most famous second in college football history, and it almost never happened.
Alabama had the ball in a tie game at Auburn as time expired. A fantastic game was heading to overtime to decide which team went to the SEC title game and, most likely, the BCS National Championship Game.
One second was put back on the clock after replay showed that running back T.J. Yeldon stepped out of bounds before time expired. Everyone thought the Crimson Tide would try for a Hail Mary pass, but Nick Saban inexplicably elected to try a 57-yard field goal, asking an inexperienced kicker to give it a go.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Auburn’s Chris Davis returned the kick 109 yards for the most memorable touchdown in the history of that rivalry, and maybe the most shocking ending to any game the sport has ever seen.
One second decided the college football season. One second—and one horrible decision—kept Alabama from going to overtime, where a win would have surely given it a chance for three straight championships.
One second. One amazing second.
Before talking about Game 7 of the NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, it’s necessary to talk about how, and why, that happened.
The ending of Game 6 was epic. LeBron James attempted a deep three-pointer with seconds to go before the ball somehow bounced to Ray Allen, who stepped back and drained a corner three to tie the game with seconds to go.
The Spurs were unable to corral the rebound that would have won them the championship. The subsequent possession—after a review to make sure Allen was behind the arc—fell short, sending the game to overtime.
Miami held on in overtime to force a Game 7, at home, to secure back-to-back titles.
Game 6 was simply amazing drama. Miami was down by 13 points late in the third quarter, trailing by double digits as the fourth quarter began. LeBron, who finished with 32 points, had 18 in the fourth quarter, to go with 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Tim Duncan, who wasn’t on the court during the last plays of regulation, had 30 points and 17 boards.
Even the overtime ended dramatically, with Chris Bosh blocking Danny Green to help Miami secure the victory.
Despite a close game throughout, Game 7 somehow felt anticlimactic after such an incredible game before it, but it was not without its historical importance. James finished Game 7 with 37 points and 12 rebounds, earning MVP honors and making it clear who the best basketball player on the planet really is.
It’s been 11 months since Manti Te’o sat down with Katie Couric for a tell-all-but-say-nothing interview about what he did or didn’t know regarding the elaborate hoax of Lennay Kekua, Te’o’s girlfriend who, it turns out, never actually existed.
The entire Te’o saga overshadowed nearly everything else in January, transcending just our insular world of sports to the world of human—and fake human—interest. The story that began during Notre Dame’s run to the BCS title game continued through the NFL combine and even into the NFL draft.
But the heart of the scandal was when Te’o gave an interview to Couric, sitting alongside his parents for much of the conversation. At the time, I ran down the list of Couric’s questions and Te’o’s answers, many of which created more questions than they answered.
This is, and forever will be, my lasting gripe about the interview, and one of the major reasons why I never believed Te’o’s side of the story. The rest of this post was pulled from an article on Jan. 24:
The biggest lie, which Couric let dangle before moving on, was Te'o's interaction with Kekua on her trip to Hawaii.
"I asked my dad if I could go sleep over one of my friend's houses and while I'm sleeping over we made plans. [I said] 'okay dad I'm going to try to make plans to meet up with her.' That night when I brought it up [to Lennay], 'oh, my brothers are using my car.'
"Since she's not from Hawaii I know she didn't have multiple cars. They had one car, a rental car. And she said, 'they have it, I'm over at the hotel and I can't go anywhere, can you come over here?'
"It's one of those things where it didn't happen."
You know...one of those things.
This is an unacceptable answer, and Couric did a disservice to the viewers by allowing Te'o to change the topic back to lying to his father about seeing her, not the fact that he doesn't have any viable answer for not seeing her at all.
If, at that point in the story, Te'o believed Kekua was alive, why didn't he drive to the hotel to see her? How long was she staying in Hawaii, and why did he make zero effort to see her over the course of her trip?
If her brothers were there and took the car, why didn't they offer to drop her off? Why didn't Te'o borrow his dad's car or ask the friend he was staying with to drive him?
Why didn't Te'o make plans to see her in the morning for breakfast? HOW WERE NONE OF THESE FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS ASKED!?!?
Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers both came out in 2013, the first two active male professional team-sports athletes to do so.
That’s a lot of qualifications.
There have been gay athletes. There have been gay athletes in team sports, but until Collins put his story out in the pages of Sports Illustrated, there were no active men in American team sports.
Rogers had come out on his personal blog in an announcement of his retirement from soccer, so while he was first, he was no longer active.
Funny how that worked out, isn’t it? Collins, an aging NBA player with limited skills, has still been unable to hook on with a team. Rogers fought injuries which led, in part, to his retirement, but is back in MLS, starring for the L.A. Galaxy.
The two men will forever be linked in my mind, both for their courage, but also for their eloquence in how they made the announcements. And while Collins grabbed most of the headlines at the time, it’s Rogers who may have the most lasting cultural impact.
I’ll admit I was wrong in suggesting more players would come out after Collins made his announcement. I thought for sure it would lead to a floodgate opening. There are gay players, probably on most teams, too. It’s just a matter of time before everyone feels comfortable enough to publicize who, and what, they really are.
There is no way to properly rank this story, or, frankly, the next. Aaron Hernandez, a standout tight end for one of the NFL’s signature franchises, was investigated and subsequently arrested on charges of first-degree murder. And it may not be the only murder for which he is responsible.
The story has cast a shadow over the Patriots season and, to be honest, the entire NFL season. The NFL has this uncanny ability to just “move on” from scandals. The Patriots promptly cut Hernandez, and the league certainly disassociated itself with the former player. But it’s still there.
Every courtroom update. Every appeal. Every scheduling issue. Every minute of the entire process. It’s all a reminder that Hernandez may have been responsible for multiple deaths while he was perceived to be an upstanding member of the Patriots, entrusted with a huge contract extension just last year.
The NFL gives the perception that a player's talent supersedes how bad he may be as a person. Hopefully, the Hernandez outcome will begin to change that.
What was the feel-good story of the 2012 Olympics took a horrid turn on Valentine’s Day, 2013, when track star Oscar Pistorius reportedly shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, through a bathroom door, killing her.
From Vanity Fair's Mark Seal:
[Detective Hilton] Botha went into the garage, where Pistorius, in a bloody shirt and shorts, wearing his prosthetic legs, was sitting on a gym bench, surrounded by training equipment. “His head was in his hands, and he was crying. There was blood on him, but his hands were clean. We said, ‘Did you wash your hands?’ And he said, ‘Yes, because they were full of blood.’ ”
“Do you remember me?,” Botha asked him, referring to the time four years earlier when he had arrested Pistorius on the assault charge.
“Yes,” replied Pistorius.
“I thought it was a burglar,” said Pistorius.
But the evidence indicated intentional murder.
Botha has since been removed from the Pistorius case, in part because of his shoddy work at the crime scene and in part because the high-profile nature of the case shone a light on his own transgressions—namely shooting at a minibus in 2011 while trying to stop the vehicle that had seven people in it, all of whom filed attempted murder charges against the detective. The case was dropped at the time, but it resurfaced once his name was linked with the Pistorius case.
Pistorius faces trial in March, more than 12 months after allegedly shooting Steenkamp.
Again, ranking murders alongside touchdowns is an indelicate process. The impact of the events—the social and cultural ramifications in and out of sports—is what this attempts to catalog. Pistorius was a hero to millions of people, including many disabled individuals who looked at his rise to stardom as motivation to strive for something greater.
Despite not medaling in the Olympics—he has been a champion at the Paralympic events for years—Pistorius was one of the standouts at the Summer Games.
This twist to his story has been shocking and memorable for all the wrong reasons.
I tried to think where I would place Ryan Braun on this list of memorable stories in 2013 after admitting to a “huge mistake” while accepting a 65-game ban for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal.
From MLB.com's Adam McCalvy this November:
I wish I had the ability to go back and change things and do things a lot differently. Unfortunately, I can't do that. All I can do is move on, try to do everything in my power to earn people's trust and respect and support. I don't anticipate winning back everybody's support, but I certainly intend to do everything in my power to do that. I won't stop trying.
The thing is, in the grand scheme of the Biogensis investigation, the former MVP seems like a tiny fish. Alex Rodriguez is the whale.
Would Braun have even cracked the top 15? We’ve become so desensitized to baseball players cheating that it wasn’t that shocking when Braun accepted his ban.
The fans in Milwaukee will forgive him because he’s a great player and, truly, most fans don’t care if players cheat. It’s the lying we care about. If you get caught, admit it. You’ll be forgiven, and people will move on. That’s what we do.
Except for A-Rod.
His involvement made Biogenesis a circus, and his record 211-game ban and subsequent appeals process have turned the whole thing into the greatest show on Earth.
Still, the Yankees have no idea if Rodriguez will play for them in 2014, or ever again. Rodriguez was so disgusted with the process of his arbitration hearing—namely that Bud Selig wouldn’t have to testify—that he walked out and went to WFAN to complain on radio in a hackneyed-yet-brilliant attempt to win some points in the court of public opinion.
We use the word amazing a lot in sports. This Rodriguez mess, however, is exactly that.
Lance Armstrong is officially the athlete I have written the most about, without ever having covered a single one of his athletic competitions. (Note: There may have been one or two stories about cycling somewhere along the way.)
Armstrong lied, lied about cheating, probably cheated about lying and did everything a liar and a cheater could possibly do in the realm of cheating and lying, making him one of the biggest liars and cheaters in the history of professional sports.
Armstrong is hated around the world, pilloried in America after his January admission to Oprah Winfrey that he cheated and lied his way to fame and fortune on a bicycle.
Armstrong duped so many people—including respected journalists and other athletes and celebrities—into believing his lies that he may have started to believe many of them were actually true himself.
They weren’t true, and he finally admitted that in 2013, after he was out of legal options and public favor.
He ruined people’s lives, destroyed any credibility in his sport and tarnished a legacy for his family and himself. He is the worst kind of cheater and liar, and yet, Armstrong has helped raise more money for cancer research than any one person could ever hope to raise in a thousand lifetimes.
A lot of words, and I still can't figure the guy out.
Hello darkness, my old friend.
In a year full of dark moments, perhaps the most memorable single moment of 2013 was that of literal darkness.
The Super Bowl is watched by hundreds of millions of people, and so a blackout during the Super Bowl, when nearly half the lights in the Superdome suddenly went out and the game had to be stopped until power could be restored, is the most memorable moment in sports.
There were countless conspiracy theories about the blackout, from it being Beyonce’s fault to a ploy by the NFL to help the 49ers win (or whatever the heck the professional conspiracy theorists believed it to be) to outright mockery of the NFL and CBS.
Conspiracies aside, the blackout did sap some momentum from the Baltimore Ravens, allowing the San Francisco 49ers to come back from a 21-6 halftime deficit to make it an exciting finish.
The Ravens held a five-point advantage deep into the fourth quarter, with the 49ers driving, but Baltimore's defense managed to hold the Niners. A subsequent safety as the game neared its end allowed the Ravens to hold on for the 34-31 victory.
There have been some memorable moments at the Super Bowl, but there had never been a blackout. Until 2013.