In a perfect world in which fairness and decency is as commonplace as athletes, any piece depicting the top sports stories for 2015 or for any year would focus only on the accomplishments of individuals and of teams. We do not, sadly, live in such a world. We instead live in a world where stories of corruption and of terrible deeds steal headlines in sports sections of newspapers and on the main pages of sports websites. That was the case throughout 2015, but such negative stories did not take away from what were some noteworthy positive events that occurred over the past calendar year.
2015 was such an interesting year in the world of sports that debates occurred in December that a horse – yes, a HORSE – should be named the most fascinating figure in sports for the year. That may be comical to some, but it is worth noting that the horse in question did manage to make history in 2015. A woman who is one of the most famous solo athletes in the world had as dominant a year as did any athlete in any other sport. The National Basketball Association and National Football League were both taken over by new Most Valuable Players. Those stories all took a back seat, however, to a scandal that rocked a well-known institution up through the end of 2015.
20 Johnny Manziel
You may love him. You may hate him. You have been living in a bubble if you don't believe that Johnny Manziel made plenty of headlines during 2015. Manziel checked himself into a rehabilitation facility following a disaster of a rookie season. He showed real progress when given opportunities to start for the Cleveland Browns. Manziel's partying ways landed him the doghouse of Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine, and Pettine grounded “Johnny Football” for a short time. Manziel puts on a show, for better or for worse, whenever he takes the field. What he does off the field could, however, end his career before it ever fully launches.
19 Patrick Kane
2015 should have been yet another monumental year for National Hockey League sensation Patrick Kane. Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks won it all, the third time that the Blackhawks hoisted the Stanley Cup during Kane's tenure with the club. The biggest story of the year involving Kane did not, however, have anything to do with his play. Kane was accused of rape following an incident that allegedly occurred in early August. He was removed from the cover of video game NHL '16, and Kane became a target of boos and jeers at arenas. Kane was not charged with rape when all was said and done, but his reputation and maybe even his legacy were tarnished by the matter.
18 Ohio State Wins College Playoff
We are not sure if there was a month in 2015 when the Ohio State Buckeyes were not a significant news story. The Buckeyes made history by winning the first ever College Football Playoff National Championship. Cardale Jones, third on the depth chart at the quarterback position back at one point, became a champion and a household name. While Ohio State won games early on during the 2015 season, the team never quite looked like it would defend its championship. Those title hopes were dashed when the Buckeyes lost at home to Michigan State. Nevertheless, it was an entertaining year for OSU football.
17 Leicester City
Those who are fans of underdog stories will want to keep track of what Leicester City do during the first half of 2016. The plucky side that were relegation candidates not long ago went on quite a run during the opening stages of the 2015-16 Premier League season, thanks largely to Jamie Vardy. Vardy was, for a time, the hottest scorer in all of the competition, and he had a major role in Leicester being atop the league table on Christmas Day. Leicester will have to remain above the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and others if the club are to pull off what some would consider to be a miraculous season. It should, regardless of what happens, be fun to watch.
16 Kobe Bryant Announces Retirement
It would be revisionist history, not to mention a lie, to say that Kobe Bryant has remained one of the best basketball players in the world up through the end of his great career. The truth of the matter is that Bryant would have done the Los Angeles Lakers a solid had he announced his retirement at the end of the 2013-14 regular season. That does not erase all that Bryant has meant to the Lakers and to the NBA, and Bryant announcing that he will be stepping away from the game as an active player in 2016 made for massive news around the sports world. We'll all have opportunities to tip our caps to Bryant one last time.
15 Major League Baseball Playoffs
The highlight of the 2015 Major League Baseball Playoffs was the Kansas City Royals winning the World Series at Citi Field. As great a moment as that was for Kansas City fans, it was the MLB postseason as a whole that stole the show in October. There was Jose Bautista starring in “The Bat Flip Heard Around the World” and the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers producing one of the wildest innings in recent memory. The young pitching staff of the New York Mets put the National League on notice. Baseball was truly “America's Pastime” if only for a month, and what a magical month it was.
14 Kentucky Goes 38-1
It is easy to forget, because of how the team's season ended, how dominant Kentucky seemed to be during the latter portions of the 2014-15 college basketball season. There were debates on national sports talk radio shows about if Kentucky could, at the very least, hang with the worst teams in the NBA. The Wildcats won 38 consecutive (meaningful) games, and it was a foregone conclusion in the eyes of many that Kentucky would complete the undefeated season. That did not happen, as Wisconsin kept Kentucky from making it to the National Championship game. Would Kentucky have been better off losing a regular season game before the tournament? We'll never know.
13 Jordan Spieth
The game of golf needed a young star to steal the show in 2015. Enter Jordan Spieth, who answered the call by finishing 18-under to win The Masters during the spring. As impressive and historic as that victory was for Spieth, the 21-year-old was only getting started. Spieth followed that up by winning the US Open, bringing memories of Tiger Woods to the minds of fans and analysts who have been longing to find the next big thing in golf. Spieth, now 22 years old, has shown that he is comfortable at Augusta. He could, at the very least, be the dominant force at that tournament for years to come.
12 Barcelona Win Again
The hype that precedes a Champions League Final sometimes results in that match being underwhelming for those who have no personal feelings for the team playing that game. With that said, the 2015 Champions League Final was not a gem that will be fondly remembered by those who do not support Barcelona. Juventus only appeared to have a real chance of pulling off the upset for a brief amount of time, and those hopes were dashed when Luis Suarez hit the back of the net in the second half. Neymar put the matter to bed with a stoppage time tally, and Barcelona stood tall as the best club in the world.
11 Women's World Cup
For about one month in the summer of 2015, women's soccer was the most popular sport in North America and maybe in all of the world. The United States Women's National Team made history on multiple occasions during the summer months. A hat-trick notched by Carli Lloyd helped propel the American women to a victory over Japan in the Final, the first World Cup win earned by the US Women since 1999. That match generated the largest US audience for any soccer game in history. It also resulted in the US Women being honored in a parade that took place in New York City.
10 Super Bowl XLIX
It is rather amazing that the first story involving the New England Patriots has to do with the Super Bowl. That alone tells you a lot about the kind of year it was for that particular franchise. The biggest story coming out of Super Bowl XLIX was, of course, the decision made by Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll in the final minute of the game. The Seahawks had possession of the ball at the New England one-yard line with under 30 seconds remaining on the clock, and Carroll elected to have quarterback Russell Wilson pass the ball. That pass was intercepted, and the decision was questioned by reasonable football fans everywhere.
9 Serena Williams
In the world of tennis in 2015 – regardless of gender – there was Serena Williams, and then there was everybody else. Williams completed the second “Serena Slam” of her legendary career at Wimbledon, but a lack of form and full fitness (she had experienced an elbow injury during the year) prevented Williams from winning all four majors in a calendar year. The 34-year-old who continues to dominate opponents despite the fact that she should be in the twilight of her career was honored by Sports Illustrated as Sportsperson of the Year. Enjoy watching Williams while you can, because she will be missed when she retires.
8 Aaron Hernandez Guilty
What is maybe most astonishing of all about the Aaron Hernandez saga is that the New England Patriots apparently had a sociopath on the team roster for several years. Hernandez was found guilty of the murder of Oden Lloyd in April 2015, and the former New England tight end will now serve the remainder of his life behind bars. That is not even the end of the tale, as Hernandez is still facing additional murder chargers regarding the deaths of two other individuals. Hernandez will now forever go down as one of the biggest wastes of talent in NFL history.
7 The Rise and Fall of Jose Mourinho
The second and likely final Chelsea tenure in the career of manager Jose Mourinho was predictably entertaining. Mourinho was a hit right out of the gates despite the fact that his first campaign with the club was a “transitional season,” and he did well to guide Chelsea to a Premier League title for 2014-15. Just as when it seemed as if Mourinho was on his way to building a powerhouse, things fell apart at Chelsea during the second half of the year. Chelsea became relegation candidates during the fall months, and Mourinho was eventually shown the door. “The Special One” could be headed to Manchester United if certain rumors are to be believed.
6 Ronda Rousey
She was among the top Google trends for 2015. She is a Hollywood movie star who took part in a World Wrestling Entertainment WrestleMania moment. She was perceived to be an unbeatable Ultimate Fighting Championship competitor until she met her match during the fall. What the future holds for Ronda Rousey as a fighter is, as of the start of 2016, unclear. Will Rousey recover, learn from mistakes and avenge a loss to Holly Holm? Is it possible that the “Rowdy” one has either encountered a better overall fighter or even lost her edge because of other projects? Whatever the case, you can bet that we'll be talking about Rousey throughout 2016.
5 Steph Curry Becomes a Superstar
It was an emotional moment for Cleveland sports fans when LeBron James announced in July 2014 that he would be leaving South Beach and the Miami Heat and returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Some may have thought that the Cavs were then the uncrowned champions of the NBA. Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors had other plans. Not only did the Warriors win the 2014-15 NBA Championship. Golden State began the following season on a historic run, and Curry became must-see television and arguably the most popular player in the world. Fans around the country flock to arenas to see Curry in action live and in-person. Who could possibly think that Curry is anything but a positive for the NBA and the sport?
4 The Fight That Wasn't
We should have known better. That would have been a reasonable response from anybody who watched Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao battle it out inside of the ring in May 2015. While it is nothing new for a supposed “Fight of the Century” to be a letdown for casual fans, Mayweather versus Pacquiao was, simply put, a boring fight that was not even worth a fraction of the cost. The real winners on that night were those who found a way to watch the fight for free or those who found ways to actually entertain themselves rather than watching Mayweather defeat Pacquiao with relative ease.
As much as we hate to admit it – and trust us, we really hate to admit it – there is no denying that Deflategate was right up there among the most discussed sports stories of all of 2015. It had longevity in that it is something that is still in the news as of the end of the year. The story involved Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, two of the more polarizing entities in all of North American professional sports. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Deflategate is that Brady and the Patriots became the good guys in the eyes of some non-New England fans, in part because Brady and the Pats were taking on Roger Goodell and the NFL. The enemy of our enemy...
2 American Pharoah Wins Triple Crown
Any hot takes that a critic could have had about whether or not horse American Pharoah should be considered an athlete were silenced for at least a time when Pharoah made history and won the Triple Crown. Pharoah did not just complete the historic feat that cemented his spot as a household name in the sports world for as long as the Triple Crown remains in existence. The horse left no doubt when all was said and done, winning the Belmont in style. Pharoah has now raced for the final time, but his legacy as the greatest horse to date of his generation is set in stone.
1 FIFA Corruption
It had become so accepted among soccer fans that nothing was going to be done about the corruption flowing throughout FIFA that it was, for some, shocking when officials were indicted in May of 2015. That, as we would learn, would only be the beginning. FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA boss Michel Platini, thought to be untouchable because of the fact that they had almost made it through the end of the year, were hit with eight-year bans in December. It will obviously take more than this to turn FIFA into a respectable and trustworthy organization. Perhaps 2015 will be the seen as a rebirth for FIFA and for world football.