Welcome to the first of five days of FOX Sports' 2014 year-in-review series. First up: picking the top story -- and two runners-up -- for each month as we look back at the year that was.
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January top story: Jan. 6 – Florida State wins college football national title
The Bowl Championship Series did its job and crowned an undisputed national champ in its last gasp before giving way to a playoff system this season – even if the champion was somewhat tainted by off-field issues. Heisman Trophy-winning Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston received as much attention leading up to the game for the rape allegation he was facing as he did for leading the top-ranked Seminoles past Auburn with a late, game-winning drive.
Getty ImagesHarry How
January runner-up: Jan. 11 – Alex Rodriguez is suspended for 162 games
The Yankees third baseman was hopeful arbitrator Fredric Horowitz would cut short the 211-game suspension MLB hit Rodriguez with for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, and Horowitz did that – but only to 162 games. The suspension still wiped out A-Rod’s entire 2014 season, meaning baseball’s active home runs leader wouldn’t get a chance to hit round-tripper No. 655 until 2015, at age 39.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY SportsBrad Penner
January runner-up: Jan. 31 – David Stern works his last full day as NBA commissioner
Thirty years earlier, Stern took over a league riddled by drug scandal and without a legitimate national TV presence and transformed it into an unparalleled star-making machine and a model for diversity and global reach in American professional sports. His steady – some would say iron-fisted – rule through repeated labor strife and player misbehavior (Latrell Sprewell, Ron Artest, Gilbert Arenas) wasn’t always popular, but it’s hard to argue that nearly everyone in his orbit didn’t benefit from his time on the job.
USA TODAY SportsDouglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports
February top story: Feb. 2 – Seahawks win the Super Bowl
It’s easy to forget now that Seattle entered this game as a 2.5-point underdog most people believed would have trouble slowing down a Peyton Manning-powered Denver offense that had scored at least 24 points in 15 straight games. The Seahawks wound up hammering Denver, 43-8, and covering the spread by a Super Bowl-record 37.5 points. The Super Bowl is always a big story, but it seemed a little bigger when one of the sport’s biggest stars was utterly flummoxed against a team he was supposed to beat.
Getty ImagesKevin C. Cox
February runner-up: Feb. 24 – Russia wins medal count at Sochi Olympics
Russia welcomed the world to its frozen backyard and won the Winter Olympics medal count for the first time since the 1994 Lillehammer Games. The host country edged the United States, 33-28, and also had an Olympics-best 13 golds. It was the first time a host nation swept both the total and gold medal counts since Norway at the 1952 games in Oslo.
USA TODAY SportsGuy Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
February runner-up: Feb. 9 – Michael Sam comes out
A month after finishing his college football career as SEC Defensive Player of the Year and three months before the NFL draft, Michael Sam revealed in interviews with ESPN and the New York Times that he is gay. He had hopes to become the NFL’s first openly gay player. 'I understand how big this is,' Sam told ESPN. 'It's a big deal. No one has done this before. And it's kind of a nervous process, but I know what I want to be ... I want to be a football player in the NFL.'
March top story: March 17 – Phil Jackson is back in the NBA
Back in the 1970s, Jackson won two NBA championship rings as a member of the New York Knicks, but he’s best known for the 11 additional ones he racked up while coaching Michael Jordan’s Bulls and Kobe Bryant’s Lakers. Most figured that would be enough for him when he left the Lakers at the end of the 2010-11 NBA season, but the 68-year-old apparently wanted to try his hand at running a team from the president’s office – and what better place to do so than where his playing career started? One problem: Despite annually having one of the league’s highest payrolls, the Knicks were mired in dysfunction that had produced only one playoff series win since 2000.
Getty ImagesMaddie Meyer
March runner-up: March 21-30 -- Kentucky saves its season
When Wildcats coach John Calipari landed one of the best recruiting classes in college basketball history, exuberant UK fans were talking about an undefeated season, but the season wasn’t a week old when Kentucky suffered its first loss. Nine more defeats came before the NCAA Tournament – including three of four when the team was supposed to be rounding into shape in late February and early March – and a quick exit as an unimaginable No. 8 seed seemed likely. That is until the Wildcats’ freshmen grew into their pedigree and tore through Kansas State (9 seed), Wichita State (1), Louisville (4) and Michigan (2) to set up a shocking trip to the Final Four at the beginning of April.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY SportsBob Donnan
March runner-up: March 22 – Clayton Kershaw gets an early (then a late) start
Kershaw, fresh off agreeing to an MLB-record $215 million contract in January, made the first start of the MLB season with the Dodgers in Australia taking on the Diamondbacks a week before the rest of baseball got going. Four days later, the Dodgers announced he wouldn’t make his next start due to problem with a muscle that connects the arm to the back. Little did anyone know that the winner of two of the past three NL Cy Young Awards wouldn’t take the mound again until May 6. Concern, of course, was replaced by dominance when Kershaw went 21-3 with a 1.73 ERA and won not only another Cy Young but the NL MVP award.
Getty ImagesCameron Spencer
April top story: April 25 – TMZ releases tape of Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist comments
Sterling’s recorded rant directed at then-girlfriend V. Stiviano for associating with African-Americans turned whispers of his racism to screams for his ouster as the owner of an NBA franchise. Five days later, new NBA commissioner Adam Silver obliged those calls by banning Sterling for life and announcing that he would take action to force Sterling to sell his franchise, a promise he later delivered on.
Kirby LeeKirby Lee
April runner-up: April 7 -- UConn men win NCAA basketball tournament
More stunning than the fact freshman-filled but talent-laden Kentucky turned around a lost season to make it to the championship game was the fact that UConn beat the Wildcats, 60-54, in that game. It was supposed to be a down year for a perennial power under a second-year coach replacing a legend – and it was, right until the tournament started. Point guard Shabazz Napier helped Kevin Ollie’s Huskies became the lowest seed – a No. 7 – to win the title since Villanova in 1985.
Getty ImagesRonald Martinez
April runner-up: April 8 – UConn women complete perfect season
It’s not unusual for the UConn women to win a national championship – after all, this was the Huskies’ ninth title, one more than even fellow traditional power Tennessee. But what was unusual was UConn taking the crown just one day after its men’s program did the same – and doing it with a 40-0 record. The victim on this night was also-unbeaten Notre Dame, and it wasn’t even close -- 79-58.
May top story: May 8-10 – The NFL Draft
The Draft opened with three big questions: Who would the Texans take at No. 1, which team would grab Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and would Michael Sam be selected in his quest to become the NFL’s first openly gay player? The answers: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the Browns (but, at No. 22, lower than most anyone thought) and yes for Sam, seven picks before Mr. Irrelevant. Seven months later, none of the three has made an impact on the field.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY SportsBrad Penner
May runner-up: May 15-25 -- Red Sox’s first-to-worst fall begins with 10-game skid
When Boston went worst to first with a World Series title in 2013, there was little to suggest they’d get back to worst so fast, but Red Sox fans got the point rather quickly in May when their team fell from 20-19 on May 14 to 20-29 on May 29. Boston ended up finishing the season 71-91 and 25 games out of first place a year after winning the AL East by seven games with 97 victories. But the seeds for all that were sewn in May, when Boston became the first defending champ since the fire-selling 1998 Marlins to lose 10 straight games.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsKim Klement
May runner-up: May 15 – Aaron Hernandez faces more murder charges
Hernandez already had been in jail since June 2013 for his alleged role in the death of former semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd when two counts of first-degree murder related to the June 2012 deaths of two men outside a Boston nightclub were brought against him. The former New England Patriots Pro Bowl tight end played an entire season after this earlier crime took place.
APRobert E. Klein
June top story: June 16 – Tony Gwynn passes away at age 54
The baseball world lost one of its greatest players – and most respected and friendly men – when Gwynn’s lengthy battle with cancer cut his life short at a too-young age. Gwynn finished a two-decade Hall of Fame career just 13 years earlier, at age 41. His numbers – 3,141 hits and a .338 batting average – were reflective of a swing that made the game look easy. He went on to become the coach at his alma mater, San Diego State, where he led one of the nation’s most respected college programs. Having spent most of his life in the San Diego area, Mr. Padre was one of the rare star players who never left a small market for bigger money.
Focus On Sport
June runner-up: June 14 – Kings beat the Rangers for the Stanley Cup
Los Angeles entered the playoffs as a six seed and looked like one in April, when it lost its first three postseason games by a combined score of 18-8 to the Sharks. Two months later – after rallying to beat San Jose in seven games and then needing seven more games to finish off top-seeded Anaheim and defending champion Chicago – things were a little different in the Stanley Cup Final against the Rangers. L.A. won the first three games and finished off New York in five for its second championship in three seasons.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY SportsGary A. Vasquez
June runner-up: June 15 -- Spurs beat the Heat in the NBA Finals
The two-time defending champion Heat seemed a shoo-in for a three-peat behind a much younger Big Three than the one that powered the Spurs, but Miami was the team that looked old in a hurry when the air conditioner went out in San Antonio’s arena during a Game 1 rout. Miami rallied for a Game 2 win but melted quickly after that with losses by 19, 19 and 17 points in Games 3-5. Suddenly, Dwyane Wade was old, and LeBron’s dream of a fistful of titles alongside Wade and Chris Bosh were replaced by the reality of two in four years and thoughts of becoming a free agent in July.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY SportsBob Donnan
July top story: July 11 --- LeBron returns to Cleveland
What seemed impossible only a few weeks earlier with the Heat headed toward a three-peat in The NBA Finals – LeBron opting to leave Miami for any destination, much less the city that burned his jersey and the owner who spat insults at him publicly as he left Cleveland four years earlier – got real in a hurry in early July. With the entire league – nay, the entire world – waiting for his second Decision, reports flew that he would re-sign with Miami, then with Cleveland, and then … James announced in a first-person letter to Sports Illustrated that his old home was where his heart (and his talents) would be.
July runner-up: July 13 – Germany wins the World Cup
Thirty-two days of soccer ended with Germany beating Argentina 1-0 in Brazil to become the first European team to win a World Cup held in the Americas. The championship was the first for the Germans – which had pounded the host Brazilians 7-1 in the semifinals -- since 1990. Stateside, the U.S. team fell short of the quarterfinals with a 2-1 loss to Belgium, but more Americans watched the World Cup on television than ever, culminating with 17.3 million viewers for the Germany-Argentina final.
July runner-up: July 1 – Serena Williams exits Wimbledon in bizarre fashion
Williams, a five-time champ and the top-ranked player in the world, was fresh off a third-round upset singles loss three days earlier when she took to the court with her sister Venus for a doubles match. She appeared disoriented during warm-ups and for the first three games of the match -- unable to effectively toss, catch or hit a ball -- before retiring. The bizarre episode, which included crying on and off while talking to medical personnel while sitting courtside for much of the warm-up period, set off a flurry of speculation as to the cause, with Williams later saying that it was simply the result of a severe virus.
Getty ImagesJan Kruger
August top story: Aug. 1-31 -- Ice Bucket Challenge takes off
Though there were stragglers challenging friends to dump ice water on themselves to raise awareness to fight various illnesses before last summer, attaching the idea to the battle against ALS and getting major celebrities involved began when former Boston College baseball player Pete Frates – diagnosed in 2011 – pulled in some friends and celebrities (including NFL QBs Tom Brady and Matt Ryan) on July 31. Within two weeks, everyone from Jimmy Fallon to Bill Gates was getting soaked, and by mid-August the next viral video of your favorite athlete or celebrity topping the last viral video with a bolder/better one was never more than an hour away. By month’s end, the fad had burned itself out, but not before it raised roughly $100 million in one month for a great cause.
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August runner-up: Aug. 9 -- Tony Stewart hits Kevin Ward in dirt track race
Stewart, a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, was participating in a dirt-track event at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York when his car made contact with Ward’s. With the caution flag out, Ward got out of his car and walked toward Stewart’s as Stewart came around on the next lap. Stewart then struck Ward, killing the 20-year-old and touching off speculation that he would face charges. Ultimately, Stewart returned to NASCAR racing after taking three weeks off and later was cleared of criminal wrongdoing.
Getty ImagesJamie Squire
August runner-up: Aug. 1 – Paul George breaks leg competing for Team USA
Every generation has its gruesome sports injury that you can’t help but try to watch and look away from at the same time – Joe Theismann, Willis McGahee, Shaun Livingston – and it seemed too soon for another after Louisville’s Kevin Ware broke his leg in traumatic fashion during the 2013 NCAA Tournament. George, a budding two-time NBA All-Star who had just led his Indiana Pacers to the Eastern Conference’s best regular-season record, was preparing for the Summer Olympics by playing in a Team USA scrimmage when he broke his right leg while catching it under the basket stanchion as he landed following a blocked shot attempt. It was clear almost immediately that his 2014-15 season would be wiped out, as well as the Pacers’ chances at repeating their earlier success.
Getty ImagesStephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
September top story: Sept. 8, 17, 19 – Rice, Peterson and Goodell face scandal
In the span of one day, the NFL went from basking in the afterglow of the first Sunday of its season to full damage control on Sept. 8, when TMZ released the now-infamous video of then-Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his future wife in a casino elevator. In rapid succession, the Ravens released Rice, the NFL placed him on indefinite suspension and a new scandal took root when the NFL’s top running back, Adrian Peterson, was indicted Sept. 12 for reckless or negligent injury to a child. Five days later, Peterson was on the exempt/commissioner’s list – effectively ending his season -- and two days after that the commissioner was left to answer the calls for his job in a press conference where he announced the league would put together a far stricter domestic violence polity. Possibly the NFL’s darkest month ever.
Getty ImagesRob Carr
September runner-up: Sept. 11 -- Giancarlo Stanton hit in face by fastball
The Marlins slugger was shaping up as Clayton Kershaw’s main competition for the NL MVP award when he was facing Brewers pitcher Mike Fiers in the fifth inning of a September game that had lost much of its meaning with the Marlins below .500 and the Brewers fading from the playoff race. A Fiers fastball ran up and in, connecting with Stanton’s face and ultimately ending his season with multiple facial fractures and dental damage. The plate umpire ruled Stanton swung, so Reed Johnson replaced him with a 0-2 count. On the next pitch, Fiers – visibly shaken – hit Johnson on the hand as he was swinging, resulting in a strikeout and a benches-clearing argument that put an ugly cap on a decidedly ugly evening for everyone involved.
September runner-up: Sept. 27 -- Derek Jeter leaves Yankee Stadium in Jeter-like fashion
Jeter’s retirement tour was arguably the most hyped ever, but even the most jaded baseball fan – the one tired of the Nike commercials and the fawning over a player who no longer could contribute in the way he used to – had to experience a chill when The Captain laced a ninth-inning, walk-off single to right field in his final game at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees beat the Orioles 6-5 and Jeter was mobbed by teammates in possibly the most electric moment of the baseball season. Jeter’s timing – as it had been throughout a 20-year career that produced five World Series rings – was perfect.
NJ Advance Media for NJ.com-USANJ Advance Media for NJ.com
October top story: Oct. 29 -- Giants win third World Series in five years
After three championships in the past half-decade, it’s easy to see the Giants as a dynasty while wearing hindsight glasses, but this year’s version seemed far from such glory when it entered the playoffs tied with two other teams (Pirates, A’s) for the worst record in the postseason. San Francisco went on to hammer Pittsburgh in a wild-card game before knocking off the Nationals and Cardinals a combined seven games to two. The Giants then spotted an even hotter team – the Royals – a 2-1 lead in the World Series before finishing off Kansas City in seven games. A dynasty indeed.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAChristopher Hanewinckel
October runner-up: Oct. 19 – Peyton Manning breaks career TD pass record
When Brett Favre retired after the 2010 season with 508 career touchdown passes, it seemed that record might stand a while. After all, Manning – the new active quarterback with the most TD throws – sat at 399 and had turned 35 while recovering from a neck injury that would wipe out his entire 2011 season, threaten his career and lead the Colts team that drafted him in 1998 to move on without the 11-time Pro Bowl selection. When Manning recovered, he signed with the Broncos and made up for lost time quickly, with 92 TD passes in the next two seasons. He entered 2014 needing only 18 to break Favre’s record, and he finally shot down the Ole Gunslinger with four scoring throws in a 42-17 Week 7 rout of the 49ers.
Getty ImagesJustin Edmonds
October runner-up: Oct. 21 – Oscar Pistorius sentenced
Pistorius, the 'Blade Runner' who a little more than two years earlier gained worldwide attention for becoming the first amputee runner to compete in the Olympics, was sentenced to five years in prison in his native South Africa for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp in February 2013. The sentencing came almost six weeks after Pistorius was found not guilty of murder but was convicted of culpable homicide (manslaughter). The judge’s decision capped months of massive media attention surrounding the trial and sentencing of one of the world’s most famous athletes.
November top story: Nov. 2 -- Lauren Hill takes the court for Division III Mount St. Joseph
Hill, battling an inoperable brain tumor for a year and given only months to live, played her first college basketball game in front of roughly 10,000 fans when the game – and the start of her team’s season, with the permission of the NCAA – was moved up from Nov. 15 to accommodate the fact that Hill might not be able to play at the time of the scheduled date. 'Today is the best day I’ve ever had,' the 19-year-old Indiana native said after scoring the first and last baskets of the game.
November runner-up: Nov. 15/22 – Major-college single-game rushing record falls twice
LaDainian Tomlinson’s mark of 406 yards stood for 15 years and was erased in three quarters by Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, who tore through Nebraska’s defense for 408 yards in a blowout victory that allowed him to sit out the fourth quarter. A week later, Gordon probably wished he had taken a few more carries when Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine piled up 427 yards in a win over Kansas. Perine broke Gordon’s record early in the fourth quarter, ending a reign at the top that was considerably shorter than Tomlinson’s.
Getty ImagesKevin Jairaj
November runner-up: Nov. 25 – Redskins bench Robert Griffin III
To understand why Robert Griffin III’s benching as the Redskins’ quarterback was such a big deal, you have to go back to March 12, 2012, when Washington agreed to trade three first-round picks (including the No. 6 overall) and a second-rounder for the No. 2 selection in that April’s draft. Washington gave up the store with the intent of drafting Griffin, and he became the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year just after suffering a knee injury that seems to have cost him his confidence. Fast forward to this season, when – after Griffin’s performance in 2013 got coach Mike Shanahan fired – he struggled, missed six games with an ankle injury, returned, tacitly spread blame for the team’s losses on his teammates and drew new coach Jay Gruden’s ire for doing so. In two years, Griffin has worn out his welcome.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY SportsBrad Mills
December top story: Dec. 7 -- First college football playoff pairings announced
We don’t yet know how it will turn out, this four-team Jan. 1/12 showdown between Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State, but the journey to get to this point has been more satisfying than usual – especially after decades of often pointless bowl games followed by 16 years of the often-infuriating BCS. The revelation of the four teams that will compete for this year’s national title finally separates an elite group from the rest of the bowl riff-raff in the way the football gods intended. Years from now – when the playoff includes eight, 16 or 32 teams – pigskin historians will look back on how it all started and smile.
December runner-up: Dec. 3 -- 76ers get a win after 0-17 start
No matter whether a team opens its season with perfection or the exact opposite of that, it gets to be a big story when the streak hits about 10 games. By the time it reaches 17 losses – as the Philadelphia 76ers did – the national media is circling the carcass waiting for a league record to fall. The NBA’s mark for season-starting futility was 18 games, held by the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets, and the Sixers seemed set to blow well past it when Minnesota threw them a lifeline with an 85-77 victory. On this night – against a franchise with similarly dismal aspirations – 39 percent shooting was more than good enough for a team that racked up 26 straight losses a season earlier, just not at the start.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY SportBrace Hemmelgarn
December runner-up: Dec. 9-11 -- Dodgers’ new president goes wild at Winter Meetings
Andrew Friedman found himself working on three three-team deals at the high point of the general managers’ meetings in San Diego, culminating a 24-day period that included nine trades and significant players both coming (Brandon McCarthy) and going (Hanley Ramirez) in free agency. The team that won the NL West with the game’s largest payroll suddenly is taking the largest risks, and it’s anyone’s guess how it all will work out.