Sports

Top 14 sports stories of 2014: Our year was marvelous, miserable

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is doused by Jeremy Mincey, center, and Tony Romo after the team beat the Colts and clinched the NFC East title.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is doused by Jeremy Mincey, center, and Tony Romo after the team beat the Colts and clinched the NFC East title. AP

In 2014, it was the worst of times... it was the best of times.

A tale of two local franchises.

And who could have thunk it?

Baseball enthusiasts suffered through a miserable summer in Arlington. Who could have imagined the complete disintegration of the Texas Rangers? A season sabotaged by injuries and a lack of depth was capped by the surprise resignation of the skipper, all just three seasons after a second consecutive American League pennant.

And no one — not even owner Jerry Jones with the wildcatter optimism — could have envisioned the re-emergence of the Dallas Cowboys, remade, perhaps finally, in the image of their coach, who has his guy at offensive coordinator and weapons in the form of six Pro Bowl selections.

The top 14 sports stories in Dallas-Fort Worth — and a little more — in 2014.

How ’bout them Cowboys?

Following a third consecutive 8-8 season, the Cowboys again committed themselves to an off-season of reform, including the release of their best pass rusher and a fan favorite, DeMarcus Ware, a salary-cap casualty who was no longer the best fit in the team’s 4-3 scheme adopted a season ago.

The changes have so far brought bountiful harvests and expectations unseen on this soil in some time.

Jason Garrett apparently was given permission to hire his own offensive coordinator — Scott Linehan — and demote Bill Callahan, a reluctant survivor of the change who wanted to leave but wasn’t allowed out of his contract.

Out as defensive coordinator was Monte Kiffin, the veteran NFL defensive mind who oversaw one of the worst defenses in history in 2013. Promoted from within to run the defense was Rod Marinelli.

Most importantly, Jerry Jones — perhaps with help from being handcuffed — resisted the temptation of making a splash by selecting Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with the team’s first-round pick — 16th overall — and instead fortified the offensive line with Notre Dame guard Zack Martin.

The Cowboys are better on offense. The unit is capable of controlling possessions with the best running game in the league; this opens up passing lanes for Tony Romo, who is enjoying his best season with Dez Bryant his top target.

Running back DeMarco Murray, who at one point was on pace to eclipse Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record, needs 29 yards in Sunday’s season finale to break Emmitt Smith’s franchise single-season record.

Six players are headed to the Pro Bowl: Romo, Murray, Bryant, Martin and fellow linemen Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith.

All of that in turn has taken the burden off a still less capable, albeit much improved, defense under Marinelli, who has gotten more out of less on that side of the ball.

It’s been so lovely that not even pictures allegedly showing Jones in a compromising pose with strippers, no doubt young and in need of some money, were hardly noticed.

A victory at Seattle took the breath away, one of seven thus far against no defeats on the road. Rather than bottom out, which many forecast, the Cowboys are playoff-bound with a Super Bowl confidence after winning the NFC East last week.

Strangers, those Rangers

Perhaps the baseball gods manifested themselves through Derek Holland’s dog. The lefty’s knee injury, which cost him almost the entire season, was bad enough, but it got much worse for the Rangers.

World Series buoyancy in the spring soon turned to despair for the Rangers, who set the wrong kind of records in a 95-loss season in which they took two steps back.

Texas set major-league records for most disabled list transactions and players used.

Among those were the team’s biggest off-season acquisitions. Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, a free-agent signee, spent time on a the DL with an ankle injury that nagged him all season. First baseman Prince Fielder, acquired in a trade with Detroit for Ian Kinsler, was sent to the sideline for surgery to repair a herniated disk in his neck.

Between the two, they earned $41 million, but in return produced a combined .243 average with 16 home runs and 56 RBIs.

It was also a lost season for top prospect Jurickson Profar, out all of 2014 — and perhaps more of 2015 — with a shoulder injury.

Pitchers were hit the hardest.

Martin Perez: elbow. Tanner Scheppers, the Opening Day starter when Yu Darvish was skipped because of a stiff back: elbow. Matt Harrison: back. Nick Martinez: discomfort. And finally Darvish a second time with a sore elbow.

In their places, fans were introduced to fill-ins and hopefuls if not actual prospects. One guy who impressed was second baseman Rougned Odor, a baby by big-league standards, born only months before the opening of Globe Life Park in 1994.

Imagining the Rangers without Adrian Beltre is like life for the Argonauts without Jason.

Beltre was the team’s best and most consistent performer, his .324 average among the best in the American League. He also had 19 home runs and 77 RBIs.

There’s always next year.

Goodbye, Wash

The symbolic end to the Rangers’ most successful era was complete with the abrupt September resignation of manager Ron Washington, who was leaving, the team announced, to take care of an “off-the-field personal matter.”

“I deeply regret that I’ve let down the Rangers organization and our great fans,” Washington said in a statement. “Over the past eight seasons, it’s been a privilege to be part of some of the best years in club history and I will always be grateful for the opportunities I’ve had here, and for the great management, players, and coaches who have made our time here a success.”

Wash, as he was called, was the franchise’s most successful leader of men, exiting as the team’s winningest manager though often criticized for in-game decisions.

His 664-611 record in more than seven seasons included two American League pennants and three straight playoff appearances between 2010-12.

Amid all the speculation surrounding the resignation, Washington finally called a news conference at an Irving hotel to say he had not been truthful to his wife. He left without taking questions.

Enter, Jeff Banister

Rangers bench coach Tim Bogar was thought to be the favorite to take over permanently for Washington after leading the team to a 14-8 record in its final 22 games.

But general manager Jon Daniels’ three-week managerial search led to another preferred candidate: longtime Pirates coach Jeff Banister, who was hired as the Rangers’ 15th full-time manager in October.

“As we went through it, Jeff really impressed us across the board,” Daniels said. “What immediately stands out when you meet him is the presence. You can understand how he can command a room. His interest in the things he doesn’t know is impressive to me, and that’s probably why he’s as prepared as he is.”

Husky Arlington throws Final Four party

A record 158,682, including former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, assembled on the first weekend of April to watch Connecticut and second-year coach Kevin Ollie conclude an improbable run to the NCAA men’s basketball championship at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

A year after being banned from competing in the tournament because of grade issues, the Huskies, a No. 7 seed, knocked off No. 1 Florida in the national semifinals, then held off Kentucky after leading by as many as 15 in the first half.

“You’re looking at the hungry Huskies,” said Shabazz Napier, the Final Four’s MVP who recorded 22 points, six rebounds and three assists in the championship game. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is what happens when you banned us.”

UConn doubled down the next night when its women’s team capped a 40-0 season with a ninth national title.

In November, the NCAA declined to grant Arlington a second Final Four bid in the next eight years, though the event is expected back.

And the worldwide leader in sports? Well, we’ll see you again, ol’ chum. Fort Worth again said “howdy” to ESPN, which returned to Cowtown for live programming the week of the tournament, just as it did for the Super Bowl week in 2011.

TCU-Baylor drama

TCU found itself in the middle of the drama of the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Though difficult to say, perhaps only Ohio State’s convincing blowout victory over Wisconsin kept the Horned Frogs out of the FBS’ final four.

Ranked third only five days before the final rankings, TCU was bumped out by the Buckeyes, who joined No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Florida State in the national semifinals.

Probably not helpful was that the Big 12 had co-champions, TCU and Baylor, even though it promoted its schedule in the preseason as producing “One True Champion” because, unlike the larger conferences, all of the league’s 10 teams played each other.

The Frogs’ only hiccup in an 11-1 regular season was a 61-58 loss to Baylor at Waco, a stat taker’s nightmare in which both teams combined for almost 1,300 yards. More difficult to swallow was TCU blowing a 21-point lead in the last 10 minutes.

Even with the loss, TCU remained ranked ahead of Baylor following the Bears’ loss to West Virginia, setting off a fever-pitched debate about which team should be ranked higher.

Winter in a not-so wonderland

Under threats of international terrorism and Putinism on full display, the XXII Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, went off without incident... unless one counts former North Texas football player and U.S. bobsledder Johnny Quinn using a few stiff overhand rights to break a hole out of his bathroom door to escape entrapment.

“I started hitting it, and eventually saw daylight so I kept going until I could get out,” said Quinn of the incident, which became international intrigue and a Twitter sensation.

The games also went on without the Americans’ most high-profile athlete. Skier Lindsey Vonn was forced to withdraw because of an injured knee suffered a year earlier.

Bode Miller, the U.S.’s most decorated skier, made his final Olympic run, winning a bronze in the super-G.

Americans took home 28 medals, including a silver in women’s ice hockey. The men were left off the medal stand after entering with high hopes.

The Russians and their proud president, Vladimir Putin, were the big winners, capturing 33 medals, including 13 golds.

Sterling and race

The nation’s difficult year with race relations began in the sports arena.

Owner Donald Sterling’s disparaging remarks about African Americans — made during a phone conversation with his girlfriend, who recorded them — outraged the nation, overshadowed the team’s best season in franchise history and put new NBA commissioner Adam Silver in a pickle.

Silver acted decisively, fining Sterling $2.5 million, banning him from the league for life and forcing the sale of the team, an order a judge ruled was permissible.

Swooping in was Steve Ballmer, once a mogul of the Microsoft empire who purchased the team for an unprecedented $2 billion.

The NBA’s Sterling problem was fixed, but the thought of how many like him remain lingered.

Colonial: Great Scott

The Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial was the focus of the golf world as the venue for Adam Scott’s competitive debut as the world’s top-ranked player.

Scott, the former Masters’ champion, left Fort Worth in plaid, defeating Jason Dufner with a 7-foot birdie putt on No. 18, the third hole of a sudden-death playoff.

Both finished 72 holes at 9-under par 271.

Scott also became the first player to win all four annual tour stops in the Lone Star State.

“I really wanted to play as No. 1,” Scott said. “To have won as No. 1 the first week I held it is really cool... some validation, you could say.”

Mavericks spurred

The Mavericks, the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, surprised many by taking the No. 1 seed and eventual champion San Antonio to seven games in a first-round series loss.

Owner Mark Cuban left San Antonio with visions of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony dancing in his head.

He failed to recruit either even after the Mavs re-signed Dirk Nowitzki and reacquired center Tyson Chandler in a six-player trade.

Nowitzki had max offers from Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers but instead accepted a three-year, $25 million offer to stay with Dallas.

The 12-time All-Star in effect voluntarily left $72 million on the table.

Still unable to get the attention of James or Anthony, Cuban mailed off a big, fat offer sheet to restricted free-agent forward Chandler Parsons. It was an offer too good not for Houston to refuse, three years and $45 million — almost double Nowitzki’s salary.

Still needing a reliable point guard, the Mavs added Rajon Rondo to the puzzle this month in a trade with Boston.

Will it all be enough?

NFL’s domestic issues

“I didn’t get it right,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote to owners regarding the light punishment handed out to Ray Rice for knocking out his then-girlfriend in a Las Vegas elevator. “Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”

What the NFL confronted was an epidemic of players committing violence against women. The episode with Rice was one of 12 that led to the arrest of players over the past two years.

Goodell’s announcement of increased penalties for players found to have committed domestic abuse was equal parts spin control. The commissioner faced fevered criticism of Rice’s punishment in the wake of video made public showing the ferocity of Rice’s assault. Many called for him to step down.

After the video made it into the public domain, Rice was immediately suspended indefinitely and cut by the Baltimore Ravens. Goodell contended that he had not seen the video. Rice and his now-wife, Janay, argued that the commissioner had all the facts when determining the initial penalty. Rice was eventually reinstated on appeal, though is still without a team.

Minnesota running back and Texas native Adrian Peterson wasn’t so lucky. An appeal of his suspension for taking a switch to his 4-year-old son was denied.

Jeter’s last stop in Texas

Derek Jeter’s farewell tour made its stop in Arlington for his last game at Globe Life Park in Arlington in July.

The player who restored glory to the New York Yankees’ storied franchise was surprised by a personal greeting from former President George W. Bush, who presented Jeter with a signed photo taken from the indoor batting cages before a game in the 2001 World Series.

In a video preceding the presentation, Bush recalled the advice Jeter gave him in the moments before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch of that game: “Don’t bounce it. They’ll boo you.”

“I had heard he was coming to the stadium, but I didn’t know he was going on the field,” said Jeter, who closed out a historic 20-year career. “That’s definitely a memory I’ll have for a long time.”

From Omaha tothe World Series

It’s the mantra that best embodies the magical year of TCU’s baseball team and starting pitcher Brandon Finnegan.

The Horned Frogs overcame a sluggish start to the season and suddenly heated up behind the left and right arms of Finnegan and Preston Morrison, capping their run with the school’s first Big 12 title in any sport by topping Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament final.

With victories over Siena and Sam Houston State twice in the Fort Worth Regional, TCU advanced to its second College World Series in five years with a 6-5 triumph over Pepperdine at the Super Regional, also in Fort Worth.

The Frogs edged Texas Tech in its first game in Omaha before losing perhaps the most entertaining game of the CWS, a 15-inning, 3-2 affair with Virginia. Two days later, Ole Miss eliminated the Frogs 6-4.

Unbeknownst to Finnegan, his season was just beginning.

Drafted 17th overall by the Kansas City Royals, the lefty from Fort Worth Southwest received the unlikeliest of call-ups to the majors in September and showed enough in seven relief appearances that he was included on the Royals’ postseason roster.

He got his big chance in the American League wild-card game against Oakland, striking out three in 2 1/3 innings, including a perfect 10th and 11th, in the Royals’ victory.

“Honestly, it took me back to the College World Series,” Finnegan said afterward. “Big stage, big crowd, it’s all I could think of. I’ve been in situations like this before, so I just had to go out and do my job.”

Finnegan pitched in six more postseason games for Kansas City, including two on baseball’s ultimate stage, the World Series.

Lots of exhaust on Big Hoss

There was much to see in the debut season of Texas Motor Speedway’s Big Hoss TV, the world’s largest, high-definition LED video board.

And sure enough it came in handy when the rubber really hit the fan in the track’s November NASCAR Sprint Cup race, the eighth of 10 races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup’s new playoff format.

Running up front and poised to win the AAA Texas 500, thereby boosting his ambitions for a fifth career series title, Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 was knocked out of contention when Brad Keselowski’s car cut Gordon’s back left tire in an aggressive move to dart between Gordon and eventual race winner Jimmie Johnson during the first of two attempts at a green, white, checkered finish.

As a miffed Gordon was held at bay by Keselowski’s pit crew while trying to confront the driver in pit road after race, Kevin Harvick walked over and pushed Keselowski into the fray, setting off mayhem.

Gordon and Keselowski emerged from the brawl unhurt but bloodied and all over media platforms, social or otherwise.

Gordon was eliminated from the Chase the next week.

The big winner that night in Texas? Harvick, whose improved finish because of Gordon’s misfortune moved him within four points of the cut line.

Harvick took care of his own business by winning the last two races at Phoenix and Homestead to win the Chase title.

Of note

An American triumph: A year after a terrorist bombing at the finish line, Californian Meb Keflezighi, 38, won the Boston Marathon, the first American man to win the race since Greg Meyer in 1983, finishing ahead of the field in 2:08.37. “He told me, ‘You can do it.’” Keflezighi said of Meyer’s encouraging words. “‘Make it happen.’”

Roaring Rory: Rory McIlroy broke up with his fiancée — tennis star Caroline Wozniacki — and then climbed to the top of the world golf rankings with victories at the British Open and PGA Championship. The victory netted the golfer’s father a prize of more than $300,000 off a $683 bet made at 500-1 odds 10 years ago that the son would win the British Open by age 25.

Cowtown’s greener pastures: The Cowtown Marathon for the first time offered winners prize money and, not surprisingly, the 2014 race featured the event’s most competitive field in its 36 years. Inspired by the almighty dollar, men’s champion Lamech Mosoti, a native of Kenya who trains in the U.S., breezed to victory in a race-record 2 hours, 17 minutes, 12 seconds, leading a top-finishers list with a clearly international feel. World-class long-distance runners Dehininet Jara of Ethiopia and Oklahoma-native Camille Herron were 1-2 in the women’s field, speeding around the course in record times, 2:42:31 and 2:45:54.

Quotable

▪ “There’s a lot of us out there. I’m not the only one. I’m just the only one who’s open.”

— Michael Sam, who made history as the first openly gay player to be drafted, in the seventh round by St. Louis, telling Oprah Winfrey that there are a number of gay players in the NFL.

▪ “He’s got great sport sense. He doesn’t sit in there and play computer games all day long. He’s a competitor.”

— Aledo High School football coach Steve Wood on star quarterback Luke Bishop, who scored with 47 seconds left to lift the Bearcats’ to a 49-45 victory over Temple in the Class 5A Division II state title game, the school’s fifth title in the last six years.

▪ “I don’t have any doubt that Charlie is a fine coach. I think he would make a great position coach, maybe a coordinator. But I don’t believe [he belongs at] what should be one of the three most powerful university programs in the world right now at UT-Austin.”

— Texas booster Red McCombs, a critic of the hiring of Charlie Strong in January as Mack Brown’s replacement as football coach.

▪ “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”

— LeBron James, saying through Sports Illustrated why he decided in July to leave the Miami Heat and return home to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

▪ “I think there’s a lot of positives to this move for me. First and foremost, I think it gives me a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup and at this point in my career is all I’m looking for.”

— Center Jason Spezza, acquired by the Dallas Stars in a blockbuster trade and later signed to a four-year, $30 million contract extension.

▪ “This is the coward’s way out. If you’ve got a horse … that earns points to run in the Kentucky Derby, those 20 horses to start the Kentucky are the only 20 available to run in all three races.”

— California Chrome owner Steve Coburn, ranting at the Belmont Stakes after his horse fell short of winning the Triple Crown.

▪ “This is a sadness and a pain I hope no one ever has to experience in their life.”

— NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, in the aftermath of an accident at a New York dirt track in August in which he ran over and killed Kevin Ward.

Champions

▪ BCS National Champion: Florida State 34, Auburn 31.

▪ Super Bowl XLVIII: Seattle Seahawks 43, Denver Broncos 8.

▪ Australian Open men’s tennis singles: Stanislas Wawrinka d. Rafael Nadal, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

▪ Australian Open women’s tennis singles: Li Na d. Dominika Cibulkova, 7-6, 6-0

▪ Daytona 500: Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Hendrick Motorsports/Chevrolet)

▪ Cowtown Marathon: Lamech Mosoti, 2:17:12; Dehininet Jara, 2:45:54.

▪ NCAA men’s basketball champion: Connecticut 60, Kentucky 54.

▪ NCAA women’s basketball champion: Connecticut 79, Notre Dame 58.

▪ NASCAR Nationwide Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway: Chase Elliott (JR Motorsports/Chevrolet … second-youngest winner in series history).

▪ NASCAR Sprint Cup Duck Commander 500 at TMS: Joey Logano (Team Penske/Ford).

▪ Masters Tournament: Bubba Watson (8-under, 280)

▪ AT&T Byron Nelson Classic: Brendon Todd (14-under, 266)

▪ Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial: Adam Scott (9-under, 271; defeated Jason Dufner on the third hole of a sudden death playoff.)

▪ French Open men’s singles: Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic, 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4.

▪ French Open women’s singles: Maria Sharapova d. Simona Halep, 6-4, 6-7, 6-4.

▪ U.S. Open golf at Pinehurst, N.C.: Martin Kaymer (9-under, 271).

▪ NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar 350 at TMS: Matt Crafton (ThorSport Racing/ Toyota Tundra)

▪ Verizon IndyCar Series Fireston 600 at TMS: Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing).

▪ NHL Stanley Cup: Los Angeles Kings d. New York Rangers, 4-1.

▪ NBA Finals: San Antonio Spurs d. Miami Heat, 4-1.

▪ College World Series: Vanderbilt.

▪ World Cup final in Brazil: Germany 1, Argentina 0.

▪ Wimbledon men’s tennis singles: Novak Djokovic d. Roger Federer, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4.

▪ Wimbledon women’s tennis singles: Petra Kvitova d. Eugenie Bouchard, 6-3, 6-0.

▪ World Series: San Francisco Giants d. Kansas City Royals, 4-3.

▪ British Open golf at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Merseyside, England: Rory McIlroy (17-under, 271).

▪ PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club, Louisville, Ky.: Rory McIlroy (16-under, 268).

▪ U.S. Open men’s tennis singles: Marin Cilic d. Kei Nishikovi, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.

▪ U.S. Open women’s tennis singles: Serena Williams d. Caroline Wozniacki, 6-3, 6-3.

▪ NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino & Resort 350 at TMS: Kyle Busch (Kyle Busch Motorsports/Toyota Tundra).

▪ NASCAR Nationwide Series O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at TMS: Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing/Toyota Camry).

▪ NASCAR Sprint Cup AAA Texas 500 at TMS: Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports/Chevrolet).

▪ NASCAR Sprint Cup champion: Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing/Chevrolet).

▪ MLS Cup: LA Galaxy 2, New England Revolution 1.

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