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The Top 14 Sports Stories Of 2014

Our sports teams here in New York weren't all that good this past year -- except for the Rangers (and, OK, now the Islanders).

Still, we found reasons -- both good and bad -- to keep tuning in. So many, actually, that we have 14 honorable mentions.

Without further ado, the top 14 stories of 2014:

The Never-Ending (A-Rod) Story

Yankees superfan Bald Vinny says it's time to FORG1V3 A-Rod. (credit: Vinny Milano)

Alex Rodriguez brought his battle against the Yankees and Major League Baseball into 2014. But by early February, he was out of fight, and the embattled slugger dropped all his lawsuits and accepted a season-long ban for his role in MLB's Biogenesis scandal. Then he disappeared -- at least by A-Rod's standards.

New York's season came to a disappointing end. We were reminded that A-Rod's return was on the doorstep. One month later, shortly after the last out of the World Series, Rodriguez was reinstated to the Yankees' roster and it was, yet again, all A-Rod, all the time. What position will he play? Is he healthy? Will he even make it to spring training?

Well, we know he won't be playing third base. He might not even be DH'ing all that much. We do know that it'll be interesting. All things considered, it's a near-guarantee that A-Rod will make this list for a third straight year in 2015.

NY/NJ Super Bowl

MetLife Stadium Super Bowl Preps
MetLife Stadium Super Bowl preps as seen from Chopper 880 on Jan. 31, 2014. (credit: Tom Kaminski/WCBS 880)

New York. New Jersey. The first ever open-air, cold-weather Super Bowl. Could you ask for anything more?

The Tri-State area got 2014 started off right, with football's biggest night right here at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. While the Garden State had the game, the party was in NYC, highlighted by Super Bowl Boulevard in Times Square with a 60-foot toboggan ride at the center of it all.

The hype -- despite the 24/7 snow anxiety -- was terrific. The game? Not so much. And travel was a nightmare.

Still, we'd do it again. How about it, NFL?

Michael Sam Makes History

Michael Sam
Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam speaks to the media during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 22, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Going into 2014, Michael Sam was known simply as Missouri's star defensive end, a Co-Defensive Player of the Year in the powerhouse SEC.

On February 9, he told the world what his teammates already knew. He's a gay football player. Three months later, Sam left his mark as a trailblazer when he was picked by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of the NFL Draft. He would become the first openly gay player to pull on pads.

Despite recording three preseason sacks, Sam was cut by the Rams before the season opener. He was picked up for the Cowboys' practice squad and released again in October.

So it remains that no openly gay active player has ever taken a regular-season snap in the NFL. But it's bound to happen -- and Sam paved the way.

Jason Collins, Too

Jason Collins
Jason Collins speaks to reporters at Brooklyn's Barclays Center on March 3, 2014. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The 7-footer makes our list for the second straight year.

In 2013, Jason Collins came out in a first-person account for Sports Illustrated, making history as the first openly gay player in the four major American pro sports (NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL). In February 2014, Collins signed with the Brooklyn Nets, again making history, this time as the first openly gay active athlete in the aforementioned leagues.

Collins played 22 games for the Nets last season. He announced his retirement in November.

"Everything has been so exciting," Collins told WFAN radio on March 4. "My life is just so much better. Living an authentic life and being accepted for who I am, it's been terrific."

Sochi Problems And The Winter Games

Sochi Olympics hotel sign
A sign explaining delays at the Gorky Grand hotel prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics at the Mountain Cluster on February 3, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia were controversial to say the least. And at the outset, it was a disaster -- if you're a member of the media seeking a decent hotel room. Or a dog-lover. Or an American athlete seeking yogurt. Or...

Aside from Vladimir Putin's policies and #SochiProblems, the games went pretty smoothly. Well, except for that burly U.S. bobsledder who had to literally punch his way out of a bathroom and later got stuck in an elevator.

In the end, it was about competition. The U.S. left Russia with 28 total medals (nine gold, seven silver, 12 bronze).

Knicks Add Jackson, Keep Melo, Stink It Up

Phil Jackson Introduced As Knicks Prez
Phil Jackson is introduced as the new president of basketball operations for the New York Knicks on March 18, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Phil Jackson has more championship rings than fingers. So when he was brought on to serve as president of the Knicks, the reaction was about what you'd expect. Finally, a reason to believe. A dose of zen. And a cause for meddlesome owner James Dolan to take a back seat.

Head coach Mike Woodson was fired after the season, replaced by recently retired player Derek Fisher, who was tasked with implementing Jackson's triangle offense. Carmelo Anthony -- whose future was debated ad nauseam -- opted out of his contract over the summer but decided to return to New York after being courted by Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Houston.

But, at least in 2014, it hasn't mattered a lick. Jackson hasn't received great reviews as an executive. Same for Fisher as a rookie coach. And some are starting to wonder when Melo will jump ship.

Let's just say that 25 losses before Christmas isn't very good.

Donald Sterling Gets The Boot

Adam Silver, Donald Sterling
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images), Donald Sterling (Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Donald Sterling proved that ugliness still exists in sports. And new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver set a precedent of zero tolerance for bigotry within the ranks.

To recap: Sterling was forced to sell the Los Angeles Clippers after an audio recording surfaced of the (former) team owner making racially charged remarks. Reaction was swift and furious. Silver imposed a lifetime ban and started the process that eventually brought in new ownership: ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

With players prepared to boycott, this had the potential to destroy the league. Silver's strong hand steadied the ship.

Bravo, commish.

California Chrome's Failed Run At Immortality

Belmont Stakes California Chrome 4th
Tonalist #11, ridden by Joel Rosario, races to the finish line en route to winning the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 7, 2014 in Elmont, New York. California Chrome #2 tied for fourth in his bid for the Triple Crown. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

This wasn't the year. But, man, was it close.

California Chrome came into the Belmont Stakes a rock star, having won the first two legs of the Triple Crown at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Many thought Cali Chrome had the goods to end horse racing's long, torturous drought. No thoroughbred had won all three races since Affirmed in 1978.

Cali Chrome came in fourth, becoming the latest horse to prove the feat to be nearly impossible. After the Belmont, Chrome's co-owner went on a red-faced rant about the Triple Crown system, saying some took "the coward's way out" by not running all three races.

World Cup Frenzy

Soccer Fans Gather To Watch US v Germany World Cup Match
Fans of the United States Men's National Team celebrate while leaving a bar after the Americans advanced to the knockout round of the World Cup on June 26, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Still think soccer isn't growing in America? New York City was gripped with World Cup fever this summer -- as was the rest of the nation -- as the surprising U.S. team sprinted all the way to the round of 16. Unfortunately, that's where it ended in a heartbreaking loss to Belgium. Germany ended up winning the tournament and some guy bit another guy. But that's not what we'll remember. In our minds, the 2014 World Cup was all about soccer's rise to relevance in the States. That, and Tim Howard's ridiculous saves.

Rangers Get Thiiiiiis Close

2014 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Five
Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist shake hands after the Kings defeated the Rangers 3-2 in double overtime during Game 5 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center on June 13, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Speaking of great runs and ridiculous saves -- how about those Rangers? The gritty Blueshirts, behind goalie Henrik Lundqvist, came oh so close to lifting the Stanley Cup in June, only to be stopped in the finals by the big, bad Los Angeles Kings.

New York is streaking again. Maybe 2015 will be the year?

Tragedy On The Track

Kevin Ward Jr. flowers
Flowers lay next to the front entrance of the Canandaigua Motorsports Park on August 10, 2014. Tony Stewart hit and killed sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. during a dirt track race the day prior after Ward Jr. had exited his car. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Nobody could have predicted what was going to happen when NASCAR's Tony Stewart and a relatively unknown sprint-car driver, Kevin Ward Jr., took to the dirt track in upstate New York on August 9.

Ward, attempting to confront Stewart on the track after a spin-out, was struck and killed by the right rear tire of Stewart's vehicle. Video surfaced overnight, and by the next morning everyone was debating whether the hot-headed star known as "Smoke" was culpable in the tragedy. Ward's family lashed out at Stewart, who some thought might have been attempting to put a scare into the younger driver. Others believed it was an accident – nothing more.

Stewart was cleared by a grand jury in late September, during which time Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo said Ward had "enough" marijuana in his system "to impair judgment" on the night in question.

RE2PECT: The Captain Retires

Jeter Bids Goodbye To Bronx
Derek Jeter gestures to the fans after a game-winning RBI hit in the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles in his last game ever at Yankee Stadium on September 25, 2014. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Derek Jeter announced in February that the 2014 season would be his last. What followed was a season of retrospection for the Yankees captain. Jeter was greeted with gifts and adoring fans at every stop. Even Boston! (In fairness, he had at least one detractor.)

He made a commercial that went viral and spawned the #RE2PECT hashtag. Then came another ad – and that one was just as big. The Empire State Building lit up in pinstripes. A skyscraper in Albany, N.Y. paid its respects. He had a gigantic sandwich named after him.

Jeter, a five-time World Series champion, penned the perfect script, ending his last game at Yankee Stadium with a walk-off hit. Jeter played his final game in Boston on Sept. 28, but the season of RE2PECT will always be remembered for that base knock in the Bronx.

Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson And The NFL In Turmoil

Adrian Peterson, Roger Goodell, Ray Rice
Adrian Peterson (Photo by Harry Engels/Getty Images), Roger Goodell (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images), Ray Rice (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Ray Rice was a local success story; a kid from New Rochelle, N.Y. who ran his way to a Super Bowl title with the Baltimore Ravens. Then he was arrested following a domestic incident involving his then-fiancee at an Atlantic City casino – video showed Rice dragging an unconscious Janay Palmer out of an elevator -- and the wheels came off.

Rice was initially suspended two games, infuriating many. Then, in September, TMZ published video of Rice punching Palmer inside the elevator. This time, the NFL came down hard. Rice was suspended indefinitely, which was later overturned in the appeals process. He was released by the Ravens and remains unemployed.

Questions remain over what the NFL knew – Commissioner Roger Goodell maintains the league couldn't get the elevator footage -- and when it knew it. Maybe we'll get some answers from ex-FBI director Robert Mueller, who was tabbed by the league to lead an investigation into the matter.

Also in September, Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson was indicted on charges of child abuse for striking his 4-year-old with a tree branch. He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault and was suspended without pay for the remainder of the 2014 season. The Peterson case – another in a long list of blemishes this year for the NFL -- sparked a national conversation on child discipline.

Jets, Giants Take Different Paths To The Golf Course

Rex Ryan, Tom Coughlin
Rex Ryan (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images), Tom Coughlin (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The Jets took a measured approach to free agency, going into 2014 the season with over $20 million in available cap space. The Giants went a different route, spending their faces off. In the end, both teams stunk enough to miss the playoffs yet again.

The Jets fired head coach Rex Ryan and general manager John Idzik on Dec. 29. Shocker. Meanwhile, Tom Coughlin is returning to Big Blue.

At least the Giants have reason for optimism with outstanding rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The Jets will have a high draft pick to look forward to, though we all know the franchise's luck with those...

14 Honorable Mentions:

Huskies basketball, baby! UConn men and women win national championships

Tiger Woods' future in doubt over back woes

LeBron James returns home to Cleveland Cavaliers

High school hazing scandal rocks Sayreville football program

Jason Kidd's failed power grab results in exit from Brooklyn

Mo'ne Davis is breakout star of Little League World Series

Matt Harvey just can't get with the program

Sports stars -- and WFAN's Mike Francesa -- take the Ice Bucket Challenge

New Hall of Fame names: Joe Torre (Yankees), Michael Strahan (Giants)

Mets' Jacob deGrom wins NL Rookie of the Year

Jets fans call for GM's firing in splashy and creative ways

Odell Beckham Jr. makes insane one-handed TD catch

Snowmageddon hits Buffalo; Bills-Jets moved to Detroit

Islanders red hot in final season at Coliseum

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