At The Comeback, we love sports and pop culture all year ’round, including December, so we don’t understand why so many best-of-the-year lists are announced before the year is actually over. This week, the last of 2015, we want to share with you some of our bests.
From the best male and female athletes, to the best new TV shows and movies, to the best coaches, the best superheroes, the most memorable moments and storylines, to who had the best year of anyone on the planet, we’re running down the best list of best lists of anyone in 2015.
We’ve covered the 15 Best Male Athletes in 2015, the 15 Best Female Athletes of 2105, the 15 Best Coaching Jobs in 2015, the 15 Best Superheroes of 2015, the 15 Best Teams in Any Sport in 2015, the 15 Best New TV shows and the 15 Best Games of 2015.
Up next, the 15 biggest sports storylines of 2015.
There are times in sports where the story transcends what happens just on the field, or what happens on the field extends for days and days of dissection, conversation and debate. It’s difficult to rank the biggest storylines in any year, but this year in particular was a challenge. How do you “rank” the level of interest and discussion of NFL concussions, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic and Jordan Spieth going for history, Greg Hardy’s existence in the NFL, Kentucky’s undefeated season (almost), the World Cup and a ton of other memorable storylines with…flat balls? It’s impossible, but it’s what we tried to do. Here are 15 of the biggest and most memorable moments of the year in sports.
A story that you can bank on being among the most-talked-about for years to come in sports, the NFL continues to be the epicenter of it all. From CTE found posthumously in players like Frank Gifford, to the failure to get an obviously-concussed Rams QB Case Keenum out of the game in November, football and concussions are going together like black and white.
14. DeAndre Jordan tug of war
It looked as if the balance of power in the West was going to shift, when Jordan verbally agreed to sign a 4-year, $80-million deal with Dallas on July 3. Buuuuut … then he changed his mind, going back to the Clippers. Mark Cuban was miffed, Jordan became a social media pariah and NBA owners learned to make sure a player is signed on the dotted line first.
13. Ronda Rousey
In a strange way, losing to Holly Holm in November at UFC 193, might’ve vaulted Rousey into an even higher crossover stratosphere. Forbes listed her as the eighth-highest-earning female athlete in 2015, at $6.5 million, plus “Ronda Rousey” was the No. 5 searched item of 2015 on Google and the No. 3-searched person — ahead of Donald Trump.
A fight nearly a decade in the making, the showdown proved to be one of the biggest-hyped events in recent memory … even if the actual boxing match was a dud. The Pay-Per-View event took in over $400 million in revenue, making it the highest-grossing PPV in history. But even though it was a snoozer won by Mayweather in 12 rounds, it did what big hyped fights do best — set up the speculation about a rematch.
11. Kobe Bryant’s retirement
After only playing in 41 of the Lakers’ 164 games over the previous two years, there were already rumblings that 2015-16 would be Kobe’s final season in the NBA. But that reality hit home in a self-written article on Nov. 29 (via Derek Jeter’s The Players Tribune) where he announced that this would indeed be his final season.
10. Serena and Djokovic’s quests for Grand Slam
Were it not for Roberta Vinci and Stan Wawrinka, men’s and women’s tennis may have had equally historic years. Serena Williams continued to be the dominant force on the women’s side, while Djokovic asserted himself on the same level as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The men’s game has not had a calendar year Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969, while the women’s last came in 1988, courtesy of Steffi Graf. Djokovic came the closest this season, falling in the final at the French Open — a venue he has yet to win at. Williams’ march to glory was much easier, given how she had thoroughly crushed the competition, but she bizarrely fell to the unknown Vinci in the semis at the U.S. Open.
9. Jordan Spieth’s major run
The coronation of Jordan Spieth as the next big thing in golf was supposed to take place at the 2014 Masters — when at 21, he was tied for the lead after 54 holes. He unraveled on Sunday … which only served to make his dominating win last April all the more impressive. Spieth crushed the field to win his first major by four strokes (though it was never that close). Two months later, he was gift-wrapped the opportunity to win the U.S. Open when Dustin Johnson three-jacked on the 72nd hole. Two majors down, two to go. While Spieth was edged out at the British Open, finishing in a tie for fourth, it was clear he is here to stay. He finished runner-up at the PGA Championship in August, too, and won the FedExCup and PGA Player of the Year.
8. Super Bowl XLIX
From DeflateGate (we’ll get to that later), to the quest for the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady Patriots’ fourth Super Bowl, to the quest for the Seahawks to establish a dynasty, to “I’m just here so I won’t get fined,” to the bizarre final play call to the incredible interception made by Pats corner Malcolm Butler … the 49th Super Bowl had it all, from beginning to end. It’s hard to remember a Super Bowl that began the week with such off-the-field drama, carried it through the week leading up to the game and then lived up to it on the field.
7. Kentucky’s almost undefeated season
Not since Indiana in 1976, has a Division 1 men’s college basketball team run the table and finished the season without a loss. The 2014-15 Kentucky team — complete with a roster full of current and future stars — looked poised to make a serious run at that accomplishment. Now, we’ve seen talented college hoops teams before, but this Kentucky team offered a balance of offense, defense, depth and smarts not seen in quite some time in the sport. The fact that the Wildcats — always under a microscope because of who they are and who their coach is — made it all the way to the Final Four without a loss, is nothing short of remarkable in this day and age. While John Calipari’s team fell two games short of their goal, last season’s 38-1 team might be the best team never to win a title.
6. USWNT win the World Cup…on turf
If you’re looking for just how far the sport of soccer has come in this country, look no further than this summer’s Women’s World Cup. From the outrage (justified) over FIFA using artificial turf playing surfaces to teams threatening to boycott because of it, to U.S. players being paid by “big grass” to the American’s run to the title, it galvanized the sports world for a month. But it was the final — a rematch of 2011’s title game between the United States and Japan — that proved that soccer is a major force. The televisions ratings were off the charts for FOX, with the network getting 25.4 million viewers to tune in, making it the most-watched soccer match — men’s or women’s — in U.S. history. We got so on board with women’s soccer, that when the $2 million prize money for the American team was announced, FIFA was lambasted as it paled in comparison to the $35 million which was awarded to the German men’s team in 2014. Oh, and then there was that whole ticker-tape parade in NYC, too.
5. American Pharoah
In a summer full of firsts and historic moments in sports, few rivaled a perfect June evening at Belmont Park in New York. For 37 years, horse racing (and sports) fans have tuned in as horses with two legs of the Triple Crown, arrived poised to joined an exclusive club. But each and every time, something would happen, the horse would start slow, lose steam, never get right, whatever — and we’d be denied a chance to see the first Triple Crown in the sport since 1978.
American Pharoah changed all that. Especially coming on the heels of California Chrome in 2014 — a horse that looked poised to be the one that ended the streak, only to implode (though not as bad as his owners) — it seemed as if we’d never see it happen. But right from the get-go, Pharoah seemed different. He beat a crowded field at the Kentucky Derby, won in the slop after a monsoon at the Preakness Stakes. Could he finally be the one to capture the Belmont Stakes, too?
It turned out, yes. And most impressively, the horse did it in convincing fashion. American Pharoah blasted the field coming down the stretch, winning the race with ease and ride into the history books.
4. Greg Hardy and NFL domestic violence
Not all of the top stories in sports this year were great. In fact, some were downright awful. And then there was Greg Hardy. An immensely talented pass rusher, Hardy has been an absolute head case during his pro career. But in May 2014, Hardy was arrested on domestic violence charges, in connection with an incident involving his girlfriend. The 6-foot-5, 280-pound Hardy reportedly threw her onto furniture, choked her and threatened to kill her. A year later, the NFL finally acted and suspended him for the first 10 games of the 2015 season.
Hardy, a free agent with the Panthers, was not resigned by order of team owner Jerry Richardson. He was almost immediately signed by the Dallas Cowboys, despite the specter of the 10-game ban. In July, an arbiter reduced the suspension to just four games, meaning that Hardy would be eligible by the beginning of October.
When he started playing for Dallas, he proved to still be an all-around bad guy. He publicly berated a position coach during a game against the Giants, and then held a confrontational interview with the media afterwards. And that was all before the photos and story of his girlfriend were made public. In 2015, Hardy became the face of everything Roger Goodell wants NFL fans to look beyond, but it was impossible as long as he was allowed to stay on the field, and in the spotlight.
3. Golden State Warriors
Once Steve Kerr decided to become the Warriors head coach in the summer of 2014 — wisely opting for them over the Knicks — there was a feeling that Golden State might be one of the most fun-to-watch teams in the NBA. My, did we have no idea just how fun they’d become.
Led by Steph Curry, the Warriors became the main attraction in the league. Their brand of high-flying offense, electric shooting prowess and smart basketball, made them one of the most unique teams to hit the NBA since the early 90s.
In winning the NBA title — over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, no less — the Warriors appeared to stamp themselves as a team to watch moving forward. Instead, they somehow got better and more exciting. Opening the season with a 24-0 winning streak cemented the Warriors as the team to beat in the NBA, Golden State made early-season NBA basketball must watch nearly every night.
The Warriors are now aiming for history, as well as adding to their legacy. The 1995-96 Bulls’ record of 72-10 is firmly in their sights; Steph Curry could be the first player not named LeBron James to win back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards since 2006; and the first team to win back-to-back NBA title since the Miami Heat in 2013.
2. FIFA corruption
For years, soccer fans, media members and sporting critics have been railing against an obvious and laughably corrupt FIFA hierarchy. Many believe the white-hot spotlight that was thrown on the Switzerland-based governing body of soccer after the clearly-rigged awarding of World Cups to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, finally was the straw that broke the camel’s back. But how would anyone break president Sepp Blatter’s reign? And most importantly, who would actually do it?
That answer came in the middle of the night (American time), in Zurich, when just before the start of the FIFA Congress, numerous top officials were arrested in a hotel. The charges, brought forward by United States attorney general Loretta Lynch, ranged from racketeering, wire fraud to money laundering and bribery. Numerous FIFA vice presidents were arrested, including Jack Warner — the former president of CONCACAF.
Blatter, himself, has not been arrested, but — despite winning re-election just two days after the arrests — has had criminal proceedings begun against him by the Swiss Attorney General. He was suspended and subsequently banned from any FIFA activities for the next eight years, along with UEFA president Michel Platini, two of the biggest names in a gaggle of corrupt scoundrels who have run the sport of soccer, and lined their own pockets in the process, for decades.
Where to start? A seemingly innocuous story by former Indianapolis Star and current WTHR columnist Bob Kravitz after the AFC Championship Game got the ball rolling. A source had told him that the Patriots had been using deflated footballs against the Colts in the 45-7 win — a win that came in terrible weather — and helped the Patriots players gain an edge by getting a better grip on the ball. With a dead week leading up to Super Bowl week and a lot of bored sportswriters looking for copy to fill the void, DeflateGate (or Ballghazi, if you prefer) was off and rolling.
There were the incessant press conferences, the denials of PSIs and tenths of pounds and what the proper ball weight was supposed to be. Bill Belichick going full troll and holding a press conference where he did his best Bill Nye impression. There was the rumors of ball boys (Ed note: Dorito Dink!) sneaking footballs into bathrooms to let out air because that’s what Tom Brady liked. A nearly year-long (!) investigation, where witnesses were called and testimonies heard. A smashed cell phone, a power struggle between Pats owner Bob Kraft and NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell. Brady was suspended for four games, then it was thrown out.
Only in the NFL could the matter of two PSI create such a long-running and comical episode. We thought Spygate was the scandal to top all scandals in the NFL, but that appeared tame compared to this one. (The University of New Hampshire even offered a course this fall on it.) Bottom line: The Patriots once again got fingered for cheating and managed to wiggle out of it, but added another question mark to a celebrated dynasty.