Most memorable sports moments of 2014: Highs & lows, from 114 to 1
Presenting our completely subjective, entirely debatable ranking of the 114 most mystifying, monumental, mesmerizing and magical sports memories of 2014:
Thank you, Mr. Cent, for this gem at Citi Field in May. It actually might not have been the worst first pitch of the year -- one could make an argument that the dubious honor goes to this Astros fan -- but it was definitely the funniest.
Liam Fitzgerald was born with Down syndrome and diagnosed with leukemia when he was four years old, but he was declared cancer free in 2013. In this video, the tiny fan looks like the happiest kid in the world as he collects fist bumps from his favorite hockey players.
With the bases loaded in the top of the third, Rockies starter Christian Friedrich threw a wild pitch that snowballed into a comedy of errors.
If you'd never submitted an NCAA tournament bracket before this year, there's a good chance that you started one after billionaire investor Warren Buffett announced the Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge. It took only two days before everyone's dreams of winning the $1 billion grand prize were crushed after Memphis defeated George Washington. Even so, the 20 most accurate brackets still took home $100,000 apiece.
Erik Compton, a 35-year-old two-time heart transplant survivor, was the feel-good golf story of the year after finishing the U.S. Open tied for second and earning a spot at the 2015 Masters.
The vaccine-preventable disease has been spreading through the NHL since the first case was reported Oct. 17, with 16 players -- including Sidney Crosby and Corey Perry -- confirmed as having the mumps. It’s gotten so bad that one enterprising Reddit user put together an all-mumps roster to form the “Las Vegas Mumps” (their AHL farm team is named the Reno Quarantines, naturally).
The epic November snowstorm dumped seven feet of snow on the Buffalo area and threw a wrench into the sports schedules. The Bills-Jets game had to move to Detroit; the team later offered fans $10 an hour to help shovel the stadium. The Sabres actually played their game against the San Jose Sharks as scheduled, but forward Patrick Kaleta couldn’t make it -- he was snowed in. Worst of all, the Niagara women’s basketball team was stranded on a bus back from Pittsburgh for 26 -- that’s TWENTY-SIX -- hours.
Rajon Rondo has seemingly been on the trade block for years now, and the Boston Celtics decided to trade their longtime point guard to the Dallas Mavericks. However, instead of in an office somewhere at team headquarters, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban finalized the deal while in the green room of The Colbert Report finale.
The 11-year-old sixth-grader became the youngest U.S. Women’s Open qualifier after finishing first in a qualifying tournament in California. Though she missed the cut after shooting a respectable 78 two days in a row, Li stole the show with her performance and the ice cream she enjoyed mid-interview.
Things got heated after the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway as Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski and members of their pit crews got into a huge post-race brawl on pit road, which was ignited when Kevin Harvick pushed Keslowski in the back.
Georgia running back Todd Gurley, one of the top running back prospects for the 2015 draft, was suspended four games for violating NCAA rules after he accepted $3,000 to autograph memorabilia. While autograph scandals are nothing new in college football, it renewed the debate after the NCAA lost a case in federal court over the use of athletes' names, images and likenesses.
Prematurely celebrating what would have been a 78-yard TD reception -- and a 14-0 Utah lead -- Clay dropped the ball just before crossing the goal line. Oregon returned the fumble 100 yards for a game-tying touchdown. The Ducks went on to win 51-27. Ouch.
Knicks guard J.R. Smith's penchant for untying the shoelaces of opposing players was put to a stop by the league, and he was fined $50,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct.
After tying for bronze in the men's super-G at the Sochi Olympics and becoming the oldest Alpine medalist in Olympics history at age 36, Bode Miller was pushed to tears after NBC reporter Christin Cooper hounded him with questions about the death of his brother.
This was the NHL's 'Water-gate'. In the waning seconds of Boston's Game 5 victory over Montreal in the NHL playoffs, Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton sprayed P.K. Subban's visor with a water bottle as the Canadiens defenseman skated by the Boston bench. Thornton was later fined the maximum amount, $2,820.52, for unsportsmanlike conduct. Montreal got its revenge, rallying to oust Boston in seven.
After missing the first quarter of a Dec. 19 game in Arizona with a "bad tummy," Marshawn Lynch went into Beast Mode again. His monstrous 79-yard touchdown run -- already being dubbed Desert Storm -- brought back memories of his 'Beast Quake' touchdown run against the Saints in the 2011 playoffs. Lynch was just as elusive in postgame interviews, bizarrely answering every question with the response, "Thanks for asking."
The NBA commissioner began his tenure by deftly navigating the Sterling crisis, but that wasn’t all he did in his first season; he also negotiated a nine-year, $24 billion TV contract and opened a centralized replay center. As SI’s Lee Jenkins wrote, “Silver earned the title every commish would want in 2014: the anti-Roger Goodell.”
The USC cornerback was lauded for his heroism after explaining that his pair of ankle injuries was from jumping out of a window to save his 7-year-old cousin from drowning in a nearby pool. One problem: It wasn't true. Turns out Shaw had gotten into an argument with his girlfriend and jumped out of a window when he saw police outside, thinking she'd called them. Not quite as heroic.
Maybe all those rumors about players not wanting to play with Kobe Bryant were true after his #SoftAsCharmin tirade during a Lakers practice session went viral.
The attention-attracting Browns quarterback burned off some frustration after some chirping from fans and opponents during a 24-23 loss to Washington in the preseason. After the game, Manziel explained it as "a lapse in judgment."
Real Madrid solidified its spot as the most successful club in the history of the UEFA Champions League after winning its 10th title this year.
Japan’s Nishikori made history at the U.S. Open, stunning world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinal and becoming the first Asian man to make it to a Grand Slam final. He was quickly dispatched by Marin Cilic in the final, but 24-year-old Nishikori proved himself a force to be reckoned with.
The Undertaker's streak of 21 consecutive wins at WrestleMania was finally snapped by Brock Lesnar.
Rhode Island Little League coach Dave Belisle delivered a moving speech after his team's one-run loss in the Little League World Series. "There's no disappointment in your effort,'' he told the team. Uh, is it dusty in here?
Going up against opening night of the 2014 NFL season, the odds were stacked against the U.S. Open quarterfinal match between Roger Federer and Gael Monfils. However, the unthinkable happened as the U.S. Open upstaged the NFL. Monfils took a quick two-set lead and looked poised to win, but things took a sharp turn in the third set as Federer mounted one of the greatest comebacks of his career.
John Tortorella is no stranger to controversy, and he got himself into hot water during a game against the Calgary Flames in January. During the first intermission, Tortorella tried to enter the Flames' locker room in order to confront coach Bob Hartley, accusing him of sending a lineup to purposefully injure one of the team's key players after a line brawl took place during the opening moments of the game. He eventually had to be restrained by players and coaches, and the NHL suspended him 15 days without pay.
From reports of a rift between 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke to rumors that the players want him out, Harbaugh has been on the hot seat all year long. While he'll be a popular candidate for any coaching vacancies in the offseason, he reportedly already has an offer to replace Brady Hoke at Michigan.
Kobe Bryant passed two major milestones this year, although we don't doubt that he would erase one of them if given the chance. Bryant surpassed Michael Jordan to move to third on the all-time career scoring list, now trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. He also set the record for the most career missed shots, overtaking John Havlicek earlier this year.
Isaiah Austin had his dreams of playing in the NBA dashed when he was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, but commissioner Adam Silver made him a ceremonial pick during the draft and told him that he would have a job waiting for him once he got his degree. 2K Sports is also making him a playable character in NBA 2K15.
You won't see many baseball throws better than this. After initially misplaying a Mike Trout double down the left-field line, then-Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes recovered to throw a 300-foot, on-the-money strike to home plate to nail a stunned Howie Kendrick.
You can't start a season much better than DeMarco Murray did in 2014. The Cowboys tailback rushed for more than 100 yards in his first eight games, breaking the record previously held by Hall of Famer Jim Brown. The torrid start initially put him on pace to challenge Eric Dickerson's single-season record of 2,105 rushing yards. He's currently at a career-best 1,745 yards with one game left to play.
It took 10 years, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. took home the checkered flag at Daytona 500 for the second time in his career, which also broke his 55-race winless streak in the Sprint Cup Series.
Teams like North Dakota State are what make the NCAA tournament special. The No. 12-seeded Bison burst into the spotlight by stunning Oklahoma -- the program's first tournament victory -- in the Round of 64. After NDSU fell to No. 4 San Diego State to fall short of the Sweet 16, head coach Saul Phillips was moved to tears as he reflected on the team's season -- calling it the 'greatest professional week' of this life.
What a way to cap off the first no-hitter in Nationals history. With two outs in the ninth inning in Washington's season-ending game against the Miami Marlins, Steven Sousa -- a ninth-inning defensive replacement -- made a diving grab of a deep Christian Yelich fly ball to preserve Jordan Zimmermann's no-no. Sousa received a Best Buy gift card from Zimmermann as a thank-you for this memorable catch ... and was traded to Tampa Bay in December.
Mount St. Joseph freshman Lauren Hill, who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, was able to fulfill her dream of playing in a college game earlier this year, and she now serves as an honorary coach for the team.
Kurt Busch became just the third driver to attempt the Double, a grueling, 1,100-mile journey done on the same day at the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. Unfortunately for Busch, his bid to join Tony Stewart as the only other driver to successfully complete the feat ended after a blown engine on lap 271 of the Coca-Cola 600 left him nearly 200 miles short of making history.
With the welterweight title vacated and up for grabs, you could not ask for a more exciting title fight than the first bout between Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler, which headlined UFC 171. The two stood toe-to-toe for most of the fight, trading blows through all five rounds. While Hendricks was ahead after the first two rounds, Lawler battled back to take the third and fourth rounds, setting up the pivotal championship round. Hendricks would eventually take Lawler down and remain on top until the bell, taking home the belt in the process.
First, world No. 1 golfer Rory McIlroy broke up with Caroline Wozniacki just days after the couple sent out wedding invitations. Then, Russian tennis star Maria Kirilenko called off her wedding to Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, citing “a lot of reasons.” Yikes. Well, at least we still have Tiger and Lindsey.
Paul George's horrific leg injury, suffered during a Team USA Blue-White scrimmage that was being nationally televised, instantly brought back memories of Kevin Ware's similarly gruesome injury from last year. While attempting to block a shot, George fell awkwardly and the world watched in horror as his leg snapped in two.
Things got ugly for the American Ryder Cup team this year. From team captain Tom Watson ripping into the team during a meeting to Phil Mickelson publicly criticizing Watson, the drama overshadowed the competition itself, which the American team lost 16 1/2 to 11 1/2.
Cincinnati Bengals DT Devon Still's daughter Leah was diagnosed with neuroblastoma stage 4 cancer back in June, and she was given a 50-50 chance of survival. Still decided to put his NFL career on hold while his daughter was fighting for her life and undergoing treatment. He was cut by the Bengals in the offseason, but coach Marvin Lewis re-signed Still to the practice squad so he could continue to pay for his daughter's cancer treatments. The Bengals also put Still's jersey up for sale, with the money from sales of the jersey going to raise awareness for pediatric cancer research and the Cincinnati Children's Hospital.
Michelle Wie finally justified all the hype after she won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. "She can take the Tour places nobody can," said SI's Gary Van Sickle.
Team Canada once again dominated in hockey at the Winter Olympics, with the men's and women's team taking home gold in consecutive Olympics and for the third time in their last four trips.
Trying to take down Rafael Nadal on the clay courts at Roland Garros is a nearly insurmountable task. Much to the chagrin of Novak Djokovic, he found out once again first hand after he lost in the worst possible way, handing Nadal yet another French Open title after he double faulted on match point. This victory was a historic moment as it marked Nadal's fifth straight win at Roland Garros and his ninth time taking home the trophy, both of which are records.
Mikaela Shiffrin just barely edged out the competition after a near-fall in Sochi to become the youngest skier to win an Olympic slalom. The 18-year-old is also the first American woman to take home gold since Barbara Cochran did it at the 1972 Winter Olympics 42 years ago.
Florida State was able to keep its undefeated season alive after the Irish's potential game-winning touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter was negated by a penalty.
The Rangers took a 3-1 series lead over the Montreal Canadiens after Martin St. Louis, who rejoined the team the day after his mother's funeral, scored a clutch goal in overtime of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals. It was an emotional moment for St. Louis and the team, and it pulled New York within one win of making it to the Stanley Cup Final.
There were some memorable memes and videos that came out after Steelers WR Antonio Brown accidentally kicked Browns punter Spencer Lanning in the face while attempting to hurdle over him, but nothing greater than this YouTube mashup featuring none other than Mr. Miyagi.
Kawhi Leonard put an exclamation mark on his claim to the 2014 NBA Finals MVP award with this devastating putback dunk over the Miami Heat.
Most NFL players work out to stay in shape while on suspension, but Josh Gordon's passion was in selling cars. Unfortunately for him, it just wasn't meant to be.
Rikk Wilde, a lifelong Kansas City Royals fan and regional zone manager for Chevrolet, was given the opportunity of a lifetime: present the MVP of the 2014 World Series with the MVP trophy while handing him the keys to a brand new Chevrolet pickup trick. Wilde fumbled his lines during the presentation, drawing the ire of former MLB commissioner Bud Selig while receiving befuddled stares from World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner and reporter Erin Andrews. It combines class-winning and leading, you know, awkwardness and stuff.
California Chrome's bid to become the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown, a feat not accomplished since Affirmed did it way back in 1978, was set in motion after the thoroughbred won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. However, Chrome's quest to take home the most coveted title in the sport ended when Tonalist won the Belmont Stakes.
Former UConn star point guard Shabazz Napier stirred up some controversy after he told reporters, "There are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving."
After calling LeBron James' trash talking as a sign of weakness and getting dominated by the Miami Heat in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Lance Stephenson decided to take his head games with James in another direction. During a stoppage in Game 5, the cameras caught Stephenson blowing into James' ear. Talk about bizarre. The moment spawned countless memes, but maybe it did the trick: James had his worst game of the series, and it kept the Pacers' playoff hopes alive.
Melvin Gordon thrust himself into the Heisman Trophy discussion after he set an NCAA FBS record with 408 rushing yards in a win over Nebraska. He only needed three quarters to reach that mark, and he was on pace for 544 rushing yards had he played at the same pace in the fourth quarter. However, Gordon's record-setting game didn't stand in the history books for very long, as Oklahoma RB Samaje Perine broke the mark the very next week after he rushed for 427 yards against Kansas. The record-breaking run was nothing short of spectacular, as he broke off a 42-yard run to set the record.
A South African judge found Oscar Pistorius, the Olympic runner accused of murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, not guilty of pre-meditated murder. However, he was found guilty of culpable homicide, and was sentenced to five years in prison. The decision is currently being appealed, and Pistorious would face 15 years in prison if he's found guilty on appeal.
We already knew Damian Lillard was a special player after he handily won Rookie of the Year, but he showed us the ice in his veins after he hit the game- and series-winning three-pointer with 0.9 seconds left on the clock in Game 6 to push the Portland Trail Blazers past the Houston Rockets into the second round of the playoffs.
A power outage at the AT&T Center for Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals knocked out the air conditioning, which caused the temperature in the building to soar into the 90s. Miami Heat forward LeBron James battled cramps for much of the second half, and he eventually had to be carried off the court after he seized up. After attempting to return to the game near the end of the fourth quarter, he was eventually pulled and benched as he could only watch helplessly as the Heat went on to lose to the San Antonio Spurs by 15 points. It was eventually dubbed "Cramp-Gate" and "The Cramp Game," and the criticism leveled at James reached a fever pitch, with many calling him soft for not gutting it out in what was at the time a tightly contested game.
Several players on the St. Louis Rams entered the field during pregame introductions before their Week 13 matchup with the Oakland Raiders in the hands up, don't shoot pose used by protestors in Ferguson over the killing of Michael Brown. The act made waves, and the ensuing debate between the Rams organization and St. Louis police department only intensified the spotlight on the moment. The NBA took notice as well, with players across the league wearing "I Can't Breathe" t-shirts in support of the protests over the death of Eric Garner.
A horrible, no good, very bad year, to be exact. Woods struggled with his putting all year and didn’t win a single tournament. Are we in a post-Tiger era? As one anonymous pro told SI in the Dec. 22 issue, “There are too many good players now, and none of them are afraid of Tiger.”
2014 marks a monumental shift in collegiate athletics. In March, the National Labor Relations Board in Chicago ruled that Northwestern University football players are considered employees and that they were allowed to form a union. They are the first players to seek union representation, and it is a historic moment for student-athletes and the NCAA. Adding to the fire is U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken's ruling against the NCAA in the Ed O'Bannon antitrust class action lawsuit. While there is still a long road ahead, these landmark decisions will undoubtedly change the landscape of college sports.
Week 6 of the college football season undoubtedly kept the voters of the AP Poll up late. Five of the top eight teams in the AP Poll lost, which is a first. Oregon, Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and UCLA all fell in the same weekend, wreaking havoc on the rankings.
Floyd Mayweather's air of invincibility was finally pierced when he got in the ring with Marcos Maidana for their first tilt. While Mayweather won via majority decision, he had his hands full with the Argentine all night. Maidana was overly aggressive at every turn, keeping Mayweather on his toes throughout the bout. Mayweather typically puts on a boring defensive show and dominates his opponents with sound, technical boxing, but this was the rare Mayweather fight that was entertaining from start to finish.
In a rematch of the 2010 World Cup, defending champion Spain was pitted against the Netherlands. Netherlands left wing Daley Blind set team captain Robin Van Persie up with a beautiful pass from midfield, and Van Persie hit a flying header right over the head of Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas to tie the game heading into the half. Although, the actual goal was overshadowed by the priceless memes that were created from the image of Van Persie's header.
Syracuse was able to keep its undefeated streak going and improve to 24-0 after Tyler Ennis hit a deep three in the waning moments of the game to beat Pittsburgh.
After taking a big hit to the head by a Minnesota defender, Michigan quarterback Shane Morris was visibly shaken and disoriented after the play. He nearly stumbled after getting up, and was propped up by teammate Ben Braden. He was eventually reinserted back into the game despite clear concussion-like symptoms, and this moment sparked a huge controversy while signaling the start of calls for then-Michigan coach Brady Hoke to be fired.
It took 18 innings and a whopping six hours and 23 minutes, but Game 2 of the NLDS ended in exciting fashion. Brandon Belt hit a solo homer off Tanner Roark in the 18th inning to propel the San Francisco Giants to a 2-0 series lead over the Washington Nationals in the longest postseason game in MLB history.
Stan Wawrinka's breakout year in 2014 was highlighted by his match with Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, which was one of the best matches of the year.
Seven games, four consecutive overtime thrillers, three games decided by three points or less and, without a doubt, the greatest shot of the year. What more could you ask for? The first-round playoff series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies was an instant classic that we will not soon forget.
From being benched in favor of Colt McCoy to engaging in a passive-aggressive media war with coach Jay Gruden, the Redskins quarterback has dominated headlines in not-so-good ways all season. As the Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg put it, “If Robert Griffin III’s time in Washington isn’t officially over yet, it’s definitely putting on its rain coat, stomping its feet impatiently, and staring at its spouse while gesturing to its watch.”
The stakes were high as Baylor and TCU headed into their pivotal Big 12 matchup, both polishing unbeaten records. TCU led for nearly the whole game, and the game looked all but over in the final quarter. Down by 21 points with 11:38 to play in the fourth after a 49-yard pick-six by Marcus Mallet, things looked bleak for the Baylor Golden Bears. However, behind the arm and resolve of quarterback Bryce Petty, Baylor rallied to score three straight touchdowns to tie the game in less than seven minutes. A 28-yard Chris Callahan field goal with time expiring sealed Baylor's 61-58 victory.
Serena Williams has had a rollercoaster ride of a year. She was ousted early at the Australian and French Open, and she couldn't even make it past the third round at Wimbledon. Then there was the incident at Wimbledon in which she was forced to withdraw from a second-round doubles match after appearing listless and disoriented. But then she bounced back, playing some of the best tennis of her career as she dominated at the US Open to take home her 18th major championship.
J.J. Watt is having a season for the ages. Some players tend to mail it in after landing a huge contract, but Watt is playing like he's still in a contract year even after signing a nine-figure deal. In the hunt for the league lead in sacks, Watt also has 64 tackles, 10 pass breakups, three forced fumbles and an interception, which he returned 80 yards for a touchdown. He's also getting it done on the other side of the ball, with three of his five touchdowns coming as a receiver. A defensive player hasn't won the MVP award since Lawrence Taylor took home the hardware in 1986, but Watt could very well be the player to break that drought.
Though Washington’s nickname has long been controversial for its negative connotation for Native Americans, the drumbeat demanding change grew louder and steadier in 2014. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office revoked the team’s trademark in June, politicians and other D.C. power brokers denounced the name publicly, and Native Americans protested at games. Even so, owner Dan Snyder insists the name honors and respects Native Americans, and insists no name change is coming.
Marcus Mariota was able to lead the Oregon Ducks to a 12-1 record and the No. 2 seed in the inaugural College Football Playoff, and it was no surprise that he cleaned up by taking home the Davey O'Brien, Walter Camp and Maxwell awards. Most importantly, he was named the 2014 Heisman Award winner, garnering 88.4-percent of the first place votes after throwing for 3,783 yards, 38 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He also added 669 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground, and for good measure, he also has a 26-yard touchdown reception.
Tragedy struck at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York when Tony Stewart accidentally hit and killed fellow driver Kevin Ward, Jr. Ward, who was under the influence of marijuana at the time, got out of his car after spinning out and attempted to confront Stewart on a hot track. Another driver narrowly missed Ward before Stewart's car struck and killed him.
The ALS association reported more than $100 million in donations from July 29 to Aug. 29, compared to $2.8 million the year before. Big-name athletes helped spread the word; Derek Jeter, Michael Jordan and LeBron James, to name a few, dumped a bucket of ice water over their heads and posted the video for a good cause. NHL winger Paul Bissonnette went well above and beyond, standing on a mountain in British Columbia wearing nothing but skates and a speedo as a helicopter overhead dumped glacier water on him.
Uruguay striker Luis Suarez etched his name into World Cup history after he bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini's shoulder in the closing minutes of the game. He was banned for nine international games by FIFA, which is the most ever given to a player during the World Cup. He was also slapped with a fine in excess of $100,000, and considering that this was the third time he has bitten a player, one could argue that he got off lightly.
Just like the San Francisco Giants, the Kansas City Royals' improbable run through the playoffs caught the world by surprise. They finished the year with an 89-73 record, and they just barely squeezed into the playoffs -- their first appearance in the playoffs in 29 years -- as one of the two wild card teams. The Royals got off to a rocky start, nearly losing to the Oakland Athletics in the wild card game. However, once that hurdle was cleared, they dominated the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles, sweeping both teams and setting a playoff record with their eight-game win streak before falling to the Giants in the World Series.
Mebrahtom Keflezighi won the 118th Boston Marathon, and it was a fitting moment on the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing tragedy, as he became the first American to accomplish the feat since Greg Meyer did it in 1983.
Upsets are a part of the fabric of the NCAA tournament, but the Mercer Bears played the part of the ultimate bracket buster when they shocked the nation and defeated the No. 3-seeded Duke Blue Devils 78-71. The 14th-seeded Bears hadn't qualified for the NCAA tournament since 1985, but they made sure that they'd make some noise once they got in by pulling off the biggest upset of the year.
Roger Federer may have the edge in their head-to-head matchups this year, but it was Novak Djokovic who won the most important match of all. On the biggest stage in tennis, Djokovic and Federer put on a performance for the ages during the Wimbledon final, battling back and forth in a five-set thriller that lasted just under four hours. The win moved Djokovic back to the world No. 1 ranking, a position he hadn't held since September of 2013
Down 38-10 after the Kansas City Chiefs opened up the second half with a quick scoring drive to pad their lead, Andrew Luck quickly went to work on the Chiefs' defense. He threw three of his four touchdowns in the second half, and he finished the game with 443 passing yards and a fumble recovery that he took into the end zone. His partner in crime, T.Y. Hilton, also did most of his damage in the second half, finishing the game with 13 receptions for 224 yards and two touchdowns --including the game-winning, 64-yard touchdown pass from Luck to cap off the second largest comeback in NFL playoff history.
The Kentucky Wildcats' NCAA tournament run perfectly exemplified why March is one of the most exciting times of the year. But it was the clutch play of Aaron Harrison that really stole the spotlight. In the biggest moments Harrison was always the one delivering dagger after dagger, and his barrage of big shots propelled Kentucky into the championship game. From his tie-breaking three-pointer with 2.3 seconds remaining against Michigan that put Kentucky into the Final Four to his three with 5.7 seconds left down two against Wisconsin that sent the Wildcats to the championship game, the team owes its runner-up finish to his heroics.
Rory McIlroy had a year to forget in 2013, but 2014 could not be any more different. It started with his win at the BMW PGA Championship, which broke his 18-month drought on either of the two major tours. Then he won the Open Championship -- which was his third major -- and became the third player since 1934 to win three different majors by the age of 25. But he wasn't done just yet. McIlroy returned to the world No. 1 ranking after winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and he capped off his stellar year with his fourth major by winning the PGA Championship at Valhalla.
The Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher was an easy choice for the NL MVP and Cy Young awards. He finished the year with a 21-3 record while maintaining a 1.77 ERA, and he managed to strike out 239 batters in only 198 1/3 innings. Keep in mind that he did this while missing nearly a month of action due to injury. Kershaw also had one of the most impressive games of the season against the Colorado Rockies, striking out 15 batters and walking none on his way to recording the first no-hitter of his career.
It was business as usual for the University of Connecticut women's basketball team as it went undefeated on its way to hoisting its ninth championship. The men's team, however, was an unexpected surprise. It entered the tournament as a No. 7 seed, and its improbable run through the tournament can in large part be credited to Shabazz Napier, who averaged 21.2 points throughout the tournament.
Brett Favre's 508 career touchdowns was once considered to be one of the near-impossible records to break, but as he has done so often throughout his career, Peyton Manning proved that you can never count him out. On the third of Manning's four touchdown passes against the San Francisco 49ers, Demaryius Thomas corralled the record-breaking score on an eight-yard pass near the end of the first half. Up next for Manning? Favre's career passing yards record, which currently stands at 71,838. Manning is nipping at his heels, and he's 2,420 passing yards away from matching Favre's mark. Barring injury, Manning will have no trouble etching his name into the history books once again.
Game 5 of the NLDS between the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals couldn't have ended in a more thrilling fashion. With a World Series berth on the line, the Giants found two heroes when they needed them the most. Michael Morse, who stepped in to pinch hit for Madison Bumgarner, hit a game-tying home run off Pat Neshak in the eighth inning. And then in the bottom of the ninth, Travis Ishikawa blasted a three-run, walk-off home run to break the 3-3 tie and send the Giants to the World Series.
SI's Game of the Year, a wild 78-76 Kentucky victory in the round of 32, featured 14 lead changes and three ties. It was the only loss of the season for top-seeded Wichita State, the first team to to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated since UNLV in 1991.
Even before the final Olympic snowflake failed to expand and Bob Costas came down with a nasty case of pinkeye, the issues in Sochi for the Winter Olympics ranged far and wide. From dilapidated hotels to potentially toxic tap water, host country Russia's unpreparedness nearly overshadowed the games themselves.
Everyone who watched the New York Giants play the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football knew then and there, as Odell Beckham Jr. contorted his body and stretched out to catch a deep bomb in the end zone, that they'd just witnessed something special. Watching the replay in slow motion only helped to solidify Beckham's acrobatic maneuver as one of the most spectacular catches in NFL history -- especially when you realize that he only used three fingers to catch the ball before cradling it in for the touchdown.
After taking a backseat to LeBron James time and time again, Kevin Durant finally earned the 2014 MVP award after his stellar season. But it was his words and not his play that would go on to define this special moment. We dare you to listen to his speech and not shed a tear.
Ninety-four minutes into Game 5 against the New York Rangers, Alec Martinez sent a Henrik Lundqvist rebound straight into the net, securing a 3-2 double-overtime victory and L.A.’s second Stanley Cup in three years. ''After it went in, I think I blacked out,'' the Kings defenseman said.
With 79 seconds left in the BCS national championship game and Auburn leading 31-27, Florida State was on the ropes with its title hopes dwindling. But Jameis Winston orchestrated a magical drive that took only six plays to get FSU five yards away from reaching paydirt. A pass-interference penalty would get it three yards closer, and a jump ball lofted up to Kelvin Benjamin in the end zone would be the final dagger to cap off the comeback.
An injury to Matt Besler thrust John Brooks into the game to start the second half, and the 21-year old defender didn't squander the opportunity. Brooks played the unlikely hero in the United States' win over Ghana, scoring a goal on a header off a corner kick in the 86th minute of the match to break the 1-1 tie.
The St. Louis Blues forward’s shootout skills helped earned him a spot at the Sochi Olympics, and Oshie delivered when it counted, scoring four goals in six shootout attempts to help lift the United States over Russia, 3-2.
If only for a brief moment during this summer's World Cup, Tim Howard became the U.S. Secretary of Defense. The 35-year-old goalkeeper's masterful 16-save performance gave his team a fighting chance in an eventual 2-1 loss to Belgium and kicked off a worldwide discussion about what other #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave.
From being the first girl to record a shutout in Little League World Series history to becoming the first Little Leaguer to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, Davis' accomplishments took the nation by storm -- and reminded us that "throwing like a girl" is a good thing.
Super Bowl XLVIII had all the makings of a game for the ages, as it pitted one of the greatest offenses in NFL history against one of the greatest defenses in recent memory. But the results and action -- or lack thereof -- told a different story. Seattle dominated Denver from the very start, scoring on a safety on the first play from scrimmage. By the time the Broncos were able to put points on the board, the Seahawks already had a 36-point lead and were comfortably on their way to a 43-8 victory.
San Francisco entered the playoffs as a wild card with an 88-74 record, having lost six of its final 10 games. But then the Giants dominated the Pittsburgh Pirates, took the red-hot Washington Nationals down in only four games and beat the St. Louis Cardinals in five. All that stood in their way to becoming a dynasty was the Kansas City Royals, and while it took seven hard-fought games, they triumphed to win their third title in five years.
It started in April, when the Florida State quarterback was issued a citation for shoplifting crab legs from a Publix store. Then he was suspended for a game after screaming "offensive and vulgar" comments at FSU's student union. And while he led FSU to the third seed in the inaugural College Football Playoff, he's still being investigated for receiving compensation for signing autographs.
Would it even be possible to write a better ending than this? With New York and Baltimore tied at five in the bottom of the ninth, the Captain stepped up for his final at-bat at Yankee Stadium and gave the sellout crowd of 48,613 the perfect parting gift: a walk-off single to right field, securing a 6-5 victory. “This was above and beyond anything I’ve ever dreamed of,” Jeter said afterward.
One of the big questions entering the 2013-14 NBA season was how the Spurs would respond after a devastating loss to the Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals. The answer: Just fine, thank you. San Antonio tore through the league, finishing with the best record while securing home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. And once they got back to the Finals, the Spurs got their revenge by manhandling LeBron James and the Heat in five games.
“I’m Michael Sam. I’m a football player, and I’m gay,” the Missouri defensive lineman told the New York Times in February. In April, Sam shared a celebratory kiss with his boyfriend after the St. Louis Rams made him the first openly gay NFL draftee in history. Even though Sam still hasn’t made it into a game -- the Rams cut him in the preseason and the Dallas Cowboys waived him from the practice squad in October -- he has “lent power to the LGBT struggle for equality just by putting on his pads,” writes SI’s Phil Taylor.
Host nation Brazil was one of the favorites to win the World Cup, but it was completely outmatched by Germany in a semifinal matchup. With Neymar sidelined by a broken back, Brazil was dominated 7-1 in an embarrassing defeat to the eventual champions.
SI’s Martin Rickman writes, “The College Football Playoff was seemingly all anyone could talk about this season. The questions were endless: How will this loss affect a team’s chances? Did that team schedule enough key nonconference matchups to make the field? Is the selection committee biased? I had never heard the words Grapevine or game control mentioned so frequently in my life.”
With the adrenaline flowing after his game-sealing tip in the NFC championship game, the Seattle cornerback used his postgame interview with Erin Andrews to send a message to Niners receiver Michael Crabtree: "I'm the best corner in the game. When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's what you're going to get. Don't you ever talk about me! Don't you open your mouth about the best! Or I am going to shut it for you real quick! LOB [Legion of Boom]." Sherman later penned an essay for SI about the negative reactions to his passionate outburst.
The 25-year-old lefthander’s brilliant performance for the San Francisco Giants in this year’s World Series earned him SI’s Sportsman of the Year award and gave him the lowest career World Series ERA (0.25) among pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched. "The legend of Madison Bumgarner fits neatly in the space where we keep our idea of the archetypal outdoorsy, countrified man, where also reside the embellished, fictionalized Boone [North Carolina] and Mayberry’s Sheriff Andy Taylor,” SI’s Tom Verducci wrote on Dec. 15. “It’s just that in Bumgarner’s case, the stories are true.”
The longtime Los Angeles Clippers owner became one of the -- if not the -- most hated men in America after his racist comments were captured on a leaked audiotape. The reaction was swift -- from his players, from fans, and from new NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who banished Sterling from the league for life. After trading legal barbs with the NBA and his wife, Shelly, Sterling finally agreed to sell the team to former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer. It was as happy an ending as one could hope for (minus the bad guy walking away with $2 billion).
For the second capital-D Decision of his career, LeBron James skipped the primetime TV special in favor of something a little more personal. In an essay for Sports Illustrated, James ended the free-agency speculation and announced he was heading back home to Cleveland. “I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there,” James wrote. “I just didn’t know when.” By the end of the day, the Cavaliers had sold out of 2014-15 tickets and the Internet was brimming with hilarious “I’m Coming Home” memes.
This year may have been the ugliest off the field in pro football history, and nothing dominated headlines like negative NFL stories. There was Ray Rice knocking his fiancé unconscious in an elevator, the highest-profile of a handful of domestic violence charges against players. There were the missteps by commissioner Roger Goodell in handling the Rice situation. There were Adrian Peterson’s child abuse charges for using a switch to spank his son. The league implemented harsher domestic violence policies in August, but faces a long road back to rehabbing its image.