From tragedy and scandal to healing and heroics, 2013 was a memorable year in American sports.
In April, following the terrorist attack at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the city’s residents looked to sports as a source of healing. And Boston’s teams responded. The Bruins went deep into the playoffs, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins at home to advance to the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup final in June, where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks. Baseball’s Red Sox, a last place team in 2012, went all the way, defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. David Ortiz’ grand slam home run in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series was perhaps the biggest hit of the baseball season as it allowed the eventual champions to escape a significant deficit against the powerful Detroit Tigers. The image of Boston police officer Steve Horgan raising his arms in celebration as the ball cleared Fenway Park’s right-field wall went viral.
Elsewhere, the year was embroiled in scandal. In January, cycling legend Lance Armstrong confessed to using banned substances during the Tour de France, despite years of proclaiming his innocence. Also in January, the Miami New Times obtained documents linking several major league baseball players to a Florida clinic where they purchased performance-enhancing drugs. Several high-profile players, including Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees and Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, received lengthy suspensions in July.
The National Football League suffered an array of scandals that damaged public opinion of football culture and violence. Police arrested New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez in June for the murder of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd and opened an ongoing investigation of the disgraced star’s involvement in a 2012 double homicide. In August, the NFL reached a $765 million settlement in a concussion-related lawsuit with thousands of former players. The NFL has claimed for years it has done nothing wrong regarding concussions, but the 2013 book League of Denial said the NFL has mostly ignored the dangers of head injuries. Then, late in the year, a battle of accusations erupted between Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito of the Miami Dolphins, which led to widespread criticism of locker room bullying.
Despite the off-the-field drama, the year boasted remarkable games and championship runs. After an impressive 27-game winning streak in the regular season, the Miami Heat repeated as National Basketball Association champions, thanks in part to Ray Allen’s clutch Game Six three-pointer. The Chicago Blackhawks scored twice in 17 seconds to win the Stanley Cup, and the Louisville Cardinals rallied around the injured Kevin Ware to win the school’s first men’s NCAA title since 1986. The Baltimore Ravens survived a 34-minute power outage to defeat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, giving retiring legend Ray Lewis a proper sendoff.
Along with Lewis, New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, Philadelphia 76ers shooting guard Allen Iverson, and Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher retired from their sports. Rivera, baseball’s greatest all-time relief pitcher, received significant attention as a result of his continued domination at age 43, along with the admiration and respect of his peers. Among the many rookies who made noise this year, Yasiel Puig, the Cuban defector who enjoyed a brilliant season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Jameis Winston, the Florida State University freshman quarterback who survived tumultuous legal issues to win the Heisman Trophy, stand above the rest. Jason Collins, a former Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizard, became the first openly gay male professional athlete in the United States.
Finally, no team enjoyed a better ride or produced more thrilling games in 2013 than the Auburn Tigers. One year after suffering a dismal 3-9 season, Auburn (11-1) stormed through the college football schedule, knocking off top-ranked teams and clinching a shot at the national title in January. The team pulled off two consecutive “miracle” victories—a “Hail Mary” desperation pass to win a Nov. 16 game against the Georgia Bulldogs and a 109-yard returned missed field goal to defeat the No. 1-ranked and defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide on Nov. 30. Auburn’s Chris Davis, who returned Alabama’s missed field goal to win the Iron Bowl, talked to reporters about his run after the game: “When I looked back, I said, ‘I can’t believe this. … When I was running, I said, ‘God is good.’”