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Best of 2015: The Year In Sports

The sports world was able to witness many exciting plays and events in 2015, but it was also a year that was filled with injuries and players deciding to call it a career. The storylines weren’t always negative, nor were they somber, but it was a year that shows how much we rely on sports to take us away from the painful realities of this world and provide us a chance to be a part of something bigger — together. Follow along as we take a trip back in time and explore what 2015 had to offer in each of the major sports.

NFL

This past year offered fans with a mixed bag of pain, excitement, heartache and a Bay Area mass exodus, as well as several instances of rules and discipline that never seem to be consistent. Maybe that is what makes the NFL stand out from most professional sports, and it can lead to debates filled with fan opinion and player hatred for Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Perhaps the biggest story of 2015 was one that seeped its way into the year and is still not anywhere close to being solved — DeflateGate. We’ve heard from scientists, league officials, fans of the Patriots, fans who hate the Patriots, Goodell and everyone else in between. A federal judge ruled that the NFL had no right to levy a four-game suspension on Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady and the NFL has appealed. It is the scandal that continues to haunt us as fans when all we want is to watch the game of football and forget about life.

Another issue surrounding the NFL has been devastating injuries to start players such as: Tony Romo, Jimmy Graham, Kelvin Benjamin, Terrell Suggs, Joe Flacco, Steve Smith Sr., Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles and LeVeon Bell. But the biggest thing that these injuries have done is give us a chance to see players that wouldn’t have had the chance otherwise, and has also allowed fans to hand down some amazing nicknames for players like Thomas Rawls “Royce” from the Seattle Seahawks.

There have also been storylines surrounding player discipline, and most of them in regards to Adrian Peterson (Vikings) and Greg Hardy (Cowboys). Peterson was reinstated this past offseason and has had a great 2015 season in Minnesota, while Hardy had his 10-game suspension reduced to four games by an arbitrator. Photos then surfaced in the past few months and it brought out a new hatred for Goodell and the NFL, although it should lay at the feet of others, including Hardy.

Lastly, NFL fans witnessed something that had not been done in recent memory when the San Francisco 49ers lost a group of players to early retirement, released some players and saw others sign with different teams. The Niners roster has not been the same and they now have Blaine Gabbert as their starting quarterback.

It wasn’t all good news surrounding the NFL this past year though, as the NFL lost one of its greats in Frank Gifford, and mourned his passing with mutual respect.

NBA

Lebron James went back to Cleveland and was able to lead them into an NBA Finals matchup with the new Western Conference powerhouse, Golden State Warriors. The Warriors overcame an injured and undermanned Cavaliers’ team to win the NBA Championship. How did they answer that unexpected run to start the 2015-16 NBA season? Only by opening up the year with a 24-0 start before losing to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The NBA Draft also provided fans with the New York Knicks taking a chance on a seven-footer named Kristaps Porzingis, and him answering the ringing boos with a complete package of skills worthy of the No. 4 pick in any season.

We have also seen the return of the “Slim Reaper,” “Durantula” or anything else you want to nickname Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant. He and Russell Westbrook have been on a roll, and new Thunder coach Billy Donovan appreciates the way that he can ease into his NBA head coaching job.

The biggest news to come out of the NBA though is the retirement of NBA legend, Kobe Bryant, who has decided that 2015-16 will be his last NBA season. One thing is for certain, there will never be another Kobe in the NBA, just like there will never be another Michael Jordan or Vince Carter.

Then again, there was also the Lamar Odom hospitalization following him being found unconscious at a Nevada brothel, which had us all remembering that athletes are people too.

NHL

The biggest storylines from the NHL were mainly bunched up around the draft, and it was a draft that saw several big-name rookies get selected in the first few picks. Names like Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will be responsible for leading the Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres for years to come, and their youthful exuberance has already made splashes in the NHL. Then again, there are still old ice badgers like Jaromir Jagr floating around scoring goals on a weekly basis.

There were offseason rape allegations against Chicago Blackhawks‘ star Patrick Kane, but they never grew into charges and Kane has never looked back. He is currently in the midst of a 25-game points streak for Chicago, and is having a great season and is in first in the NHL in points and assists.

MLB

To say that 2015 was the year of the rookie in Major League Baseball is somewhat of an understatement. Fans witnessed the rise of a young Chicago Cubs roster that included rookies Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, and a trip back to the World Series for the Cubs. Bryant and Russell were only two of the many young players to make their MLB debuts in 2015, and players like Carlos Correa (Astros), Matt Duffy (Giants), Miguel Sano (Twins), Rusney Castillo (Red Sox), Joc Pederson (Dodgers) and Noah Syndergaard (Mets) are among the many young players to make a name for themselves in 2015.

The Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays also were a major part of the story in 2015, with the Jays making it back to the postseason for the first time in 22 years and making it to the ALCS prior to losing to the Royals. The Royals then went on to beat the Chicago Cubs in the World Series, and claim their first championship since 1985.

It was also a year of unmet expectations when talking about two teams that were supposed to meet in the World Series — the Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals. Both teams were underwhelming and it cost both of their managers their jobs, and rightfully so. All it proves is that the game of baseball can be cruel and convincing to teams that are mired in playoff droughts and youth.

There was also a Spider Man sighting in 2015 north of the border.

NCAA Football and Basketball

We were introduced to the College Football Playoffs this year, and it did not disappoint from a fan’s perspective. The semifinals included matchups between No. 2 Oregon against No. 3 Florida State and No. 4 Ohio State against No. 1 Alabama. The final result was a championship win for the Buckeyes and a three-quarterback race for the starting QB spot at Ohio State this season.

The 2015-16 season is giving us matchups between No. 2 Alabama against No. 3 Michigan State and No. 4 Oklahoma against No. 1 and undefeated Clemson. We won’t find out the results of those until next year, but the CFP looks to be fulfilling once again.

The season was full of big plays and big hits but some of those can be found in our upcoming Mashup Moments video.

On the men’s basketball side of things, it was another championship for Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils in 2015 with several of the players from that team being drafted in the NBA Draft. Florida also saw Billy Donovan jump from his role as an NCAA coaching great to the NBA and joining another great team in the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Golf

Perhaps the biggest storyline of 2015 was the rise of a young, unknown golfer named Jordan Spieth. His record win at Augusta was only the beginning of the successful year that he would have on the PGA Tour, but he will forever have a new green jacket. He also added a FedEx Cup win and likely the Player of the Year award for his two majors wins and five wins overall. How big of a year was it for the 22-year-old? He won a record $12,030,465 in 2015, and that number doesn’t include the $10 million won in the FedEx Cup. Tiger Woods is fading into oblivion and there is a changing of the guard coming in the next few years at the PGA level.

Soccer

A legend is walking away at the end of the year, and we aren’t talking about Kobe here. U.S. Women’s National Team and U.S. Soccer legend Abby Wambach is calling it quits following the end of competition in 2015, and is leaving as the all-time leading scorer in U.S. soccer history. She will be missed, but Alex Morgan is morphing into a leader for this team, as is Carli Lloyd. The U.S. women won the World Cup in 2015 and a big reason is due to Lloyd’s hat trick in the Finals.

Winning that World Cup final was the end goal for Wambach before stepping away from the game, among the greats like Landon Donovan and Mia Hamm. There are now three stars on the U.S. Women’s uniforms, and they deserved it.

In other soccer happenings from the year, Premier League side Chelsea went from winning the BPL title last season to a 16th place position in December of the current season. The Blues sit a measly point above the relegation zone and all is falling down around Stamford Bridge at the moment. Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy also broke the record for most consecutive Premier League games with a goal (11).

Then there was the five goal performance from Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski.

Boxing/MMA

To round out the year in review, there are several items up for discussion in the realm of boxing and mixed martial arts, and many of them occurred in the UFC in 2015.

In boxing, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao finally happened — and it left boxing fans enraged at the performance. Mayweather got some cardio in and won by unanimous decision in May, but there were doubts as to how Mayweather in fact pulled it off without doing much in the ring.

More recent memory provides us with the surprise result of the year in the boxing world; a Tyson Fury unanimous decision win over Wladimir Klitschko. Fury has since been stripped of his IBF title because he agreed to a rematch with Klitschko instead of fighting challenger Vyacheslav Glazkov.

The UFC also had some surprises up its sleeve in 2015. Ronda Rousey was a determined fighter that had never lost a bout in her professional career, let alone had a fight go past the first round. That all changed in her fight with Holly Holm, and the UFC now has a new champion after Holm brutally beat down Rosuey to win the title.

Also on the women’s side of the UFC, was the rise of young fighter Paige VanZant, who was supposed to be the next best fighter in the professional circuit. The 21-year-old ran into a buzzsaw named Rose Namajunas towards the end of 2015, and now has to rebound in order to save her young career in the UFC.

The UFC provided the most polarizing athlete of 2015 in Conor “The Notorious” McGregor, and he was able to win the Featherweight UFC title this year. The trash talking Irishman has won the honor of “Performance of the Night” in his last five fights and he set a UFC record after knocking out Jose Aldo in 13 seconds at UFC 194. He now has a career record of 19-2 and nothing seems to be stopping Mr. Notorious anytime soon.

And who could forget the Jon “Bones” Jones hit-and-run accident that saw him fleeing from the scene with some white powder and other things. He looks more ripped than ever, and 2016 could be a monster year for Jones if his life is in a better place.

Following the year that was in 2015, the only hope for sports fans is that the real world doesn’t get in the way of our sports and that we can be blessed by another great year full of sports stories in 2016. From all of us at Salute Magazine to all of you, we wish you the best as we head into 2016.

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