People in Sports Who Had the Best and Worst Year Ever

Scott Janovitz@@BrainTrain9Featured ColumnistDecember 12, 2014

People in Sports Who Had the Best and Worst Year Ever

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    Out of all the great performances in 2014, Madison Bumgarner stands alone at the very top.
    Out of all the great performances in 2014, Madison Bumgarner stands alone at the very top.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    In life, and in sports, nearly everyone experiences prolonged periods of both success and failure. Of course, the 2014 sports year was far from different, as fans were treated to some truly memorable performances, of both the good and bad sort.

    Madison Bumgarner, for example, had a downright iconic year, establishing himself as one of baseball’s all-time greats with the type of postseason pitching we’d never seen before.

    In a similar vein, Russell Wilson led his Seahawks to the mountaintop and, in so doing, catapulted himself into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks.

    In contrast, however, Tiger Woods battled injury all year long and lost his spot atop golf’s world rankings, while Robert Griffin did the same and lost his stranglehold on the starting quarterback spot in Washington.

    So, with these guys and others in mind, we’ve done our best to highlight 10 People/Teams in Sports who had the best/worst year ever.

    We should note, we’ve dodged the heavier side of sports in 2014, excluding from our list major violators like Donald Sterling, Jameis Winston, Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice and Roger Goodell.

    Instead, then, we’ve explored those who struggled for non-legal reasons, and exalted the athletes who had a dream 2014.

Close, but No Cigar

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    Derrick Rose followed up a miserable 2013 with a miserable 2014.
    Derrick Rose followed up a miserable 2013 with a miserable 2014.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    In selecting our Favorite 10, we've neglected a number of athletes also worthy of attention. This, then, is our list of good and bad honorable mentions: 

    Best Year:

    Worst Year:

Worst: Josh Shaw

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    Thanks to an utterly bizarre lie, Josh Shaw missed nearly all of his senior season.
    Thanks to an utterly bizarre lie, Josh Shaw missed nearly all of his senior season.Harry How/Getty Images

    We begin our list with perhaps the strangest case of all: The unceremonious and downright bizarre free fall (pun intended) of USC defensive back Josh Shaw.

    Prior to the 2014 college football season, Shaw was a bright spot on the Trojan football team, registering 67 tackles (third most on the team) and four interceptions en route to a standout 2013 campaign.

    So when in January he opted to forgo the NFL draft and return to USC for his senior season, Trojans everywhere rejoiced.

    The decision, however, was really just the start of Shaw’s downward spiral.

    A few months later—on August 26, to be exact—news circulated regarding a serious Shaw injury, which included a pair of high ankle sprains.

    More noteworthy, though, was the heroic way in which the DB was hobbled: According to Shaw, he injured his ankles when he jumped from a second-floor balcony in an attempt to save his 7-year-old nephew from drowning.

    The story, unfortunately, was as untrue as it was extraordinary.

    In fact, Shaw didn’t just completely fabricate the entire incident, but did so to cover up an embarrassing truth: Shaw was in fact injured after jumping from a balcony, but jumped to avoid the cops, who arrived after Shaw’s girlfriend called to report a case of domestic violence (no charges were filed).

    For the troubling fib, Shaw was suspended from the team indefinitely. And, worse yet, when he was finally reinstated in the middle of November, it was to a rather unsupportive group of Trojans.

    In the end, then, Shaw was not only discredited and dishonored in 2014—telling a grotesque lie that was sure to be discovered—he also missed nearly all of his senior season while completely alienating himself from his former "family".

Best: Derek Jeter

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    On his way out of baseball, Derek Jeter had a 2014 to remember.
    On his way out of baseball, Derek Jeter had a 2014 to remember.Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    It’s not as if Derek Jeter had a particularly strong year on the field in 2014: He hit .256 with just four homers and 50 RBI.

    Still, though, The Captain was one of the most visible athletes of the year, and for all the right reasons.

    Upon deciding that 2014 would mark his last season in MLB, the future Hall of Famer instantly stole the national spotlight.

    Jeter was honored, cheered and given gifts at every stop he made throughout the baseball season, while the media attention devoted to his farewell tour made him look more like presidential hopeful than retiring athlete.

    And, with commercials like this and ovations like that, an entire nation got to share in the legendary Yankee's special year. 

Worst: Tiger Woods

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    After a 2014 filled with struggles, Tiger Woods lost his spot atop golf's world rankings.
    After a 2014 filled with struggles, Tiger Woods lost his spot atop golf's world rankings.Willie J. Allen/Associated Press

    In truth, Tiger Woods has really had a rough couple of years.

    His descent as a golfer, though, only intensified in 2014.

    Over the course of the year, Woods relinquished his hold on golf’s No. 1 ranking and suffered countless setbacks due to injury.

    After dealing with an ailing back at the Honda Classic, Woods was forced to bow out of the Arnold Palmer Invitational and missed the Masters for the first time since 1994.

    From there, things only got worse: Woods returned for the Quicken Loans National in June, but missed the cut there, finished 69th at The Open Championship, and then missed another cut, this time at the PGA Championship.

    Most recently—after settling on new swing coach Chris Como—Tiger finished in last place at the Hero World Challenge, his annual charity event.

    Despite it all, Tiger somehow remains bullish on the future; then again, anything would be better than the year he just had.

Best: Rory McIlroy

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    In 2014, Rory McIlroy firmly established himself as the best golfer in the world.
    In 2014, Rory McIlroy firmly established himself as the best golfer in the world.Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

    Speaking of golf, Rory McIlroy did everything he could in 2014 to fill the canyon-sized void Tiger Woods left behind.

    And considering golf’s current parity-driven climate, the Irish-born star did one hell of a job.

    In July, McIlroy took first at the Open Championship, becoming the first European golfer ever to win three different majors. With the win, the youngster also joined Jack Nicklaus and Woods as the only golfers to win three majors by the age of 25.

    And, only three weeks later, McIlroy continued his torrid play, winning his second PGA Championship and fourth major title overall.

    As a result of his career season, McIlroy was named PGA Player of the Year and is currently ranked No. 1 in all the world.

    So, while he carries more momentum than anyone heading into 2015, McIlroy won’t soon forget the special year that was 2014.

Worst: Brazilian National Team

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    Despite brilliant play from its star (Neymar), Brazil's national team had a disappointing World Cup.
    Despite brilliant play from its star (Neymar), Brazil's national team had a disappointing World Cup.Ronald Zak/Associated Press

    With the World Cup returning to soccer’s sanctuary, 2014 was supposed to be a special year for both Brazil and its national team.

    By tournament’s end, though, the local favorites had done more to disgust than impress.

    Sure—with home-field advantage on their side—the Brazilians managed to make it all the way to the semifinals. In truth, though, they were fortunate to get past both Chile and Colombia in the two rounds prior.

    And, more importantly, once they got to the semifinals, the pride of Brazil was completely embarrassed.

    In a disgraceful 7-1 loss to Germany, Brazil was dominated and defeated in downright historic fashion.

    Worse yet, the team appeared to totally give up after falling behind, and did so while an entire nation of supporters watched from up close.

    In Brazil, 2014 was supposed to be about soccer triumph and glory in the game’s own backyard; instead, it was about complete and utter failure, and the shameful nature in which it all came to fruition.

Best: Russell Wilson

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    After winning a Super Bowl in 2014, Russell Wilson has become one of the NFL's marquee guys.
    After winning a Super Bowl in 2014, Russell Wilson has become one of the NFL's marquee guys.Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Russell Wilson, for the most part, has been doubted all his life. In the 2012 NFL Draft, for example, the diminutive signal-caller was just the sixth quarterback taken.

    By the end of 2014, however, Wilson had firmly distinguished himself as one of the best quarterbacks in all the game.

    After leading his Seahawks to a 13-3 record in 2013—which earned the second-year star a Pro-Bowl bid—Wilson took his team on a memorable postseason run in 2014.

    First, in the divisional round, he disposed of Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.

    Next, in the conference finals, he threw for 215 yards and a touchdown in a landmark win over the San Francisco 49ers.

    Finally, in the Super Bowl of all places, Wilson outdueled the great Peyton Manning, throwing for 206 yards and two scores as Seattle demolished Denver, 43-8.

    Of course, for Wilson, the magical playoff ride in 2014 was about much more than a title or ring; the Seahawk captain is currently the third highest paid quarterback on Seattle’s roster, but will soon enough be one of the richest men in all of football.

Worst: Anthony Bennett

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    Anthony Bennett, a former No. overall pick, was historically bad in 2014.
    Anthony Bennett, a former No. overall pick, was historically bad in 2014.Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Anthony Bennett followed up a magical 2013—which saw Cleveland select him No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft—with a miserable 2014.

    Unfortunately for Bennett, his top spot in 2013’s draft really put into perspective, and further accentuated, just how bad he truly was during his first season of action.

    In four months of work—from January 2nd through April 16th—Bennett averaged an unimpressive 5.7 points and four rebounds in just less than 14 minutes per game.

    From a statistical standpoint, his rookie outing is considered the worst ever turned in by a former No. 1 pick. For perspective, his player efficiency rating—which was a gaudy 1.1—was 10.1 points lower than what the infamous Kwame Brown produced in his rookie season.

    And perhaps worse than his production was Bennett’s body and language—the out-of-shape power forward often looked disinterested, refusing to bang down low while consistently settling for low-percentage outside jumpers.

    He looked so uninspired and unpromising, in fact, that Cleveland quickly moved on from the project, including the UNLV product in a summer trade with Minnesota.

    It’s worth noting, Bennett’s start to the 2014-15 season has been considerably better—it includes a 20-point outing on November 21—though that would be true of just about anything.

    With, then, just a smidgen of confidence heading into 2015, Bennett will surely be happy to forget the failure that was 2014.

Best: James Rodriguez

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    No soccer player enjoyed 2014 quite like James Rodriguez.
    No soccer player enjoyed 2014 quite like James Rodriguez.Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press

    No one in soccer improved their stock and standing in 2014 more than Colombia’s James Rodriguez.

    Things really took off for the 23-year-old sensation in Brazil, where he became the unquestioned star of World Cup.

    In just five games of action—two fewer than the likes of Thomas Mueller and Lionel Messi—Rodriguez managed to win the tournament’s Golden Boot, scoring six glorious goals in addition to contributing two timely assists.

    Of course, while goals are nice, the money they lead to is even better, especially in the case of Rodriguez.

    For his earth-shattering World Cup effort, Rodriguez became the most expensive Colombian in soccer history, moving from Monaco to Real Madrid for a transfer fee of a whopping $108 million.

    Now the fifth most expensive player in the history of the sport—trailing only Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez—Rodriguez will forever look fondly on the way he played in 2014 as well as on the immense wealth he attained in return.

Worst: Robert Griffin

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    From best to benched, Robert Griffin took a major stumble in 2014.
    From best to benched, Robert Griffin took a major stumble in 2014.Nick Wass/Associated Press

    In recent history, no athlete has had a further and faster fall from grace than Robert Griffin.

    Named to the Pro Bowl as the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, Griffin sunk to second-string status in 2014.

    It’s no secret that RG3 has been largely sidetracked due to injury—most recently he dislocated his ankle in a Week 2 matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars—but even when he’s played the once-promising quarterback has mostly disappointed.

    All told in 2014, Griffin has started just five games, throwing for 869 yards, two TDs and three INTs. On the season, the former Baylor star has a putrid QBR of 26.5.

    Worse yet, it’s all led to his coach—Jay Gruden—publicly acknowledging that he has in fact given up on Griffin and the notion of him operating as a starter in DC.

    Of course, Griffin’s slide truly began in 2013, but at least then he could blame the injury that ended his rookie campaign one year earlier. 

    Now, due to a miserable 2014, Griffin’s QB skills and long-term viability are as much in question as his durability ever was.

Best: Madison Bumgarner

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    In 2014, Madison Bumgarner won a World Series and became a baseball legend.
    In 2014, Madison Bumgarner won a World Series and became a baseball legend.Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    More than anyone on our list, Madison Bumgarner had a truly special year. In fact, based on his work in 2014 alone, Bumgarner cemented his name among baseball legends.

    During the year, the San Francisco ace made 40 appearances and threw 270 innings, including a record 52 and 2/3 innings in the postseason alone. In total, the 25-year-old finished 2014 with 219 strikeouts, a 2.98 ERA and an 18-10 record.

    It was in October, however, that Bumgarner truly shined. With his team’s playoff fate on the line, the lefty struck out 45 batters, threw two shutouts and saved a game (Game 7 of the World Series, to be exact), all while posting a 1.03 ERA.

    Of course, his final three outings—all in the World Series—were the most incredible of all.

    After going seven innings and giving up just one run in a Game 1 victory, SI's Sportsman of the Year threw nine brilliant innings of four-hit, shutout baseball to win Game 5 as well. 

    Then, in miraculous fashion and on just two days of rest, the 6’5”, 235-pound beast came out of the bullpen in an all-important Game 7 and proceeded to throw five more innings of two-hit, shutout baseball, registering the longest save in World Series history while delivering his Giants yet another world championship.

    The performance—a truly historic one—was the most iconic of 2014, which quickly thereafter became known, with good reason, as The Year of Madison Bumgarner.