The top sports story of 2014 was always going to be the World Cup, and the biggest party in international football did not fail to disappoint. A player who already had quite the reputation for his lack of sportsmanship during matches chomped on an opponent, the hosts could not adequately handle what it meant to play World Cup matches in front of a home audience, and what was thought to be the best footballing nation in the world at the start of the tournament emerged victorious. FIFA's long history of being arguably the most corrupt organization in the sports world was also further exposed, but that is as surprising as the sun rising in the east each morning.
International football was far from the only significant story in the sport in 2014. A Spanish giant reclaimed its spot atop La Liga and atop all of club football, thanks largely to who was an expensive purchase, a man who has proven to have been worth every penny spent on him in the summer of 2013. While the Premier League side forced to sell that individual is missing multiple key players who feature for that club in Spain, those individuals are enjoying their professional and personal lives while featuring for the reigning kings of the sport that could repeat as winners of the Champions League.
Soccer, as the sport is called in North America, dominated the sports conversation around the planet, but there were a plethora of other interesting storylines that made headlines this year. The National Football League was a talking point every month of 2014 for both positive and negative reasons. A rookie quarterback who is, as of the posting of this piece, prepping for his first start in the league grew his brand and his name while off of the field, while another first-year pro is being labeled a bust due to meeting low expectations some had for him because of real character concerns.
Major League Baseball contracts got even more ridiculous. A National Basketball Association player who is an international superstar made an emotional return home to save a city desperate to celebrate a professional sports title. New York became a true National Hockey League city in the spring months before a magical run came to a crashing halt. The NCAA changed the way that a college football champion was crowned, all the while remaining as controversial as ever. As is the case every year, the world of sports had ups and downs in 2014, bringing entertainment and joy along with heartbreak to casual observers as well as to those who live and die with their favorite clubs.
20 The Jadeveon Clowney Saga
A question heading into night one of the 2014 NFL Draft was whether or not the Houston Texans could pass on highly-rated defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney has all of the physical attributes required to be a superstar in the league, but questions about his work ethic and mental toughness left some clubs happy that they did not possess the first overall selection in the draft. Houston grabbed Clowney as was expected, and he appeared in only four regular season contests before going down to a knee injury that ended his campaign. Clowney will be out up through the summer months, and some are already labeling him to be a bust.
19 New Hockey Town
The New York/New Jersey region became the new Hockey Town in the United States when the New York Rangers went on an unexpected run all the way through to the Stanley Cup Final. The Rangers won in Game 7 against the Philadelphia Flyers and against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and New York then disposed of the Montreal Canadiens before facing off with the Los Angeles Kings. There was no happy ending to be had for the Rangers, however, as the Kings proved themselves to be the best team in the NHL. That did not erase what was a special time for hockey in the country's biggest city.
18 New College Football Playoff Bracket
“The BCS is one of the most successful events in the history of college football, yet it is often misunderstood,” opens the welcome to the official Bowl Championship Series website. That method for crowning a college football national champion was replaced in 2014 by the playoff bracket fans have been clamoring for since just about the day before forever. Nothing could go wrong with this, right? Incorrect. The four teams invited to participate in the upcoming playoff left much to be desired for some who believe that at least one worthy contender, TCU, was unjustifiably left out. Those opinions will only grow if Alabama routs Ohio State on New Year's Day.
17 The Year of Punk
Say whatever you will about World Wrestling Entertainment performer CM Punk. He is unquestionably a smart businessman. Punk walked out on WWE early into the year, and he waited until Thanksgiving Weekend to disclose his reasons for doing so on the “Art of Wrestling” podcast. It was during that show that Punk stated that he had been awarded the money he felt he deserved by WWE. Then, with the buzz created by that podcast still at a peak, Punk announced that he had signed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Punk has a multi-fight contract with that company, and he is set to make his UFC debut in 2015.
16 The Ballad of Michael Sam
Defensive end/linebacker Michael Sam was on the verge of being the first openly gay player to compete in an NFL regular season contest when he came out in the winter of 2014. Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams, but he did not make it on that team's roster following training camp. The Dallas Cowboys took a flier on Sam before ultimately waiving him from the club's practice squad. NFL insiders will tell you that Sam is not on a team because he underperformed at the February scouting combine and in private workouts, but Sam and others have suggested that his homosexuality is keeping him off of a squad.
15 Johnny Football
Quarterback Johnny Manziel lived up to his Johnny Football persona after being drafted by the Cleveland Browns, partying in Las Vegas and in Texas during the offseason and then getting into an altercation with a fan in the building in which he lives in November. Manziel did not play much football from August through the end of November, though, as Brian Hoyer remained the starting quarterback until he lost that gig after a month of poor play. Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine named Manziel the starter for Week 15 when the Browns will host the Cincinnati Bengals. Time will tell if Johnny Football holds the job for the remainder of the campaign.
14 The Fall of Manchester United
It was only two seasons ago when United were kings and champions of English football. That all came crumbling apart when the club failed to find winning form under David Moyes, the hand-picked replacement of Sir Alex Ferguson. Moyes never got United going, and he did not last up through the completion of the 2013-14 campaign before he was shown the door by the club. United have been a mixed bag under new boss Louis van Gaal, but there are signs in the final month of 2014 that the former Holland manager is turning the club around. Perhaps United's fall was greatly exaggerated.
13 The Rise of Liverpool
While United quickly fell apart following the departure of their legendary manager, Liverpool turned back the clock with their play in the opening half of 2014. Liverpool were a favorite to win the Premier League title until an unfortunate slip from Steven Gerrard ended those dreams in the spring. While Manchester City went on to sit atop the Premier League table when all was said and done, Liverpool did manage to make a return to the Champions League. They would not last long in that competition, however, as The Reds did not advance past the group stages of the tournament.
12 WWE Gets Pinned
WWE threw a Hail Mary by launching the streaming WWE Network in February 2014, and it would be an understatement to say that the risk has not produced adequate rewards. Low subscriber numbers followed by the company putting pen to paper on what was, in the eyes of investors, a lackluster television deal led to WWE losing over $300 million – yes, $300 MILLION – in May. WWE obviously isn't closing up shop anytime soon, but the promotion has certainly seen better days. It's still early on in the experiment, but WWE Network has to be considered to be a mistake as of December 2014.
11 Thank You, Landon
United States Soccer icon Landon Donovan called time on his career during one of the ultimate roller-coaster years of his playing days. US Men's National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann left Donovan off of his final World Cup squad in a move that stunned analysts from around the world. Donovan then announced that he would be retiring as an active player following the 2014 Major League Soccer season. The drama did not end there, as Donovan and the LA Galaxy completed a run to the MLS Cup. LA defeated the New England Revolution in that Final, and Donovan hoisted one final trophy to close out a truly historic career.
New York Yankees shortstop, captain and living legend Derek Jeter enjoyed quite the retirement tour around MLB before wrapping things up in impressive fashion. Jeter had a game-winning hit in his last ever at-bat at Yankee Stadium, and he drove home a run in the last AB of his career at, of all places, Fenway Park. People with agendas or wishes to grab attention and Web hits with “hot takes” tried to play down Jeter's importance to the franchise. He is one of the greatest players in the history of the Yankees, a man who, to our knowledge, played the game the right way in an era when a plethora of others did not.
9 2014 Winter Olympics
Remember all of the controversy that built up before the 2014 Winter Olympics held in Sochi, Russia? No? You're not alone. The Winter Olympics from earlier this year went off about as well as could have been expected all things considered, to the point that the multi-sport event is barely being discussed in year-end wrap-up pieces. Live competitions aired in the United States on multiple channels throughout the Olympics, and Americans happily tuned in to watch ice skating, hockey, curling and other events. No Olympic Games are going to be perfect, and Sochi had its fair share of problems. The 2014 Winter Olympics were an overall success, something many did not see coming at the start of February.
8 Baseball Contracts Are Still Absurd
The Miami Marlins gave Giancarlo Stanton a deal that could guarantee the player $325 million. Granted, the contract contains language that benefits both player and club, but it also served as a reminder that there are teams in Major League Baseball that simply cannot financially hang in a league that has no hard salary cap. The Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates are two examples of teams that could never afford to pay a single player over $300 million. While players should not be blamed for making as much money as possible during what are often brief careers, MLB needs to look at how the NFL and even the NBA does business as it pertains to building rosters. A course correction, at least, is required.
7 LeBron Returns Home
The NBA saga of the summer ended on July 11, 2014 when LeBron James announced to the world through SI.com that he was taking his talents from the Miami Heat back home in a return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. A city that hasn't been able to celebrate a pro sports championship in fifty years entered into a state of euphoria, and, after a slow start, the Cavs won (at least) eight straight games during the early stages of the holiday season. James and the Cavs will be must-see sports television during the winter and up through what could be historic NBA Playoffs if Cleveland finally wins a title.
6 Donald Sterling Aftermath
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling being ousted from the NBA after racist comments made by Sterling went public was only the beginning of the story. The days of NBA players remaining quiet on social issues are a thing of the past. Whether it is players on the Clippers refusing to wear their warmups in an act of silent protest, or if it is LeBron James wearing an “#ICantBreathe” shirt in December, NBA athletes are not shying away from making their voices heard. Do not have any doubt that players are going to be sure to get theirs and then some in upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations.
5 Domestic Abuse
NFL running backs Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson made news in 2014 because of domestic abuse cases that cost both at least one entire football season. Rice, a free agent after being dropped by the Baltimore Ravens, is attempting to make a comeback in the NFL this December, while Peterson has not yet been brought back to action by the Minnesota Vikings. Those two and other players in the NFL made domestic abuse the hot topic of the opening month of the NFL season, and future athletes found guilty of such despicable crimes will no longer get passes from North American professional sports organizations.
4 Roger Goodell
The commissioner of the NFL began 2014 as one of the most-powerful individuals in professional sports, but he lost some respect and authority over the course of the year. He was highly criticized for the way that the league punishes players such as the previously mentioned Rice, and Goodell only made matters worse during what was an awkward and difficult-to-watch press conference. Groups of journalists and fans requested that Goodell either step down or be fired, but yet he remains in charge of the league to this day. This year did show, however, that even the NFL commissioner is not bulletproof.
3 Real Are Kings
2 Luis Suarez
1 Germany Hold Serve
Imagine a scenario where a man enters a real-life WWE-style Royal Rumble first overall as champion and then manages to win the bout and retain his title. That is what happened in the summer of 2014 when Germany began the World Cup. Believed by many to be the best footballing nation on the planet, Germany stormed through the competition, dominating host-country Brazil, which fell apart under the pressure that came with playing on home soil, to the tune of 7-1 in the process. The first European nation to win a World Cup in the Americas, Germany left no doubts about what country sits atop international football heading into 2015.