The top 5: New York sports stories of 2012

Win McNamee

While trying to whittle down the top New York sports stories of 2012 to a measly five, plenty of worthy stories won't make the cut. The city's most storied franchise, the New York Yankees, did not find a spot on this list. Sure, there were highlights (Raul Ibanez's heroics, albeit in a losing cause) and lowlights (the Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter injuries), but it was really just business as usual for the Yankees: Jeter had another 200-hit season, Andy Pettitte pitched for the team, Alex Rodriguez was a controversial lightning rod and underperformed in the postseason and the Yankees fell short of a World Series title for the 11th time in 12 seasons. Just another season. And you know it's a busy year stuffed with memorable stories when a New York Rangers-New Jersey Devils Eastern Conference Finals showdown can't make the Top 5, even with the Devils playing in the Stanley Cup Finals. And Zach Parise leaving for Minnesota while Rick Nash comes to town (eventually) doesn't crack the final list either. Nor does Henrik Lundqvist winning the Vezina.

Former New York Jets running back Curtis Martin was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Eli Manning threw for 510 yards in a comeback win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tom Coughlin moved up to No. 2 on the New York Giants' all-time coaching wins list with a victory over the 49ers. David Wilson set numerous records with his 327 all-purpose yards in a romp over the New Orleans Saints. The Giants collapsed at the end of this season, with their playoff hopes hanging by a thread. The New York Knicks finally won a playoff game for the first time since 2001, though Amar'e Stoudemire gouged his hand by punching a glass case holding a fire extinguisher and the Knicks fell to the Miami Heat in five games. They've resoundingly bounced back, though, with a hot start to the 2012-'13 season under Mike Woodson in his first full season as coach of the Knicks, after Mike D'Antoni "resigned" last season. David Wright broke numerous New York Mets franchise records (hits, RBIs, runs scored), and signed on with the team for eight more years. But none of those slipped into the Top 5. Even Johan Santana's no-hitter didn't make the cut, which is the hardest omission of all. Maybe if the list were Top Moments or Top Performances it would be on and even close to No. 1, but this is Top Stories, which is a different story. And there is a self-imposed rule that the Top 5 have to represent a different team, to spread the wealth. Of course, one man's Top 5 is another man's six through 10, so if anyone disagrees . . . it is fully understandable. So, here are the Top 5 New York sports stories of 2012:

5. Tim Tebow Comes to New York: And . . . the whole thing's a dud. Maybe this would have been a bigger story if Tebow were allowed to play. If he led the Jets to success, or even failure, this could have been a much bigger deal. But it's still Tim Tebow, who caused a stir just by doing a little training-camp jogging. Woody Johnson denied his team traded for Tebow for the headlines and attention, but what else could it have been? The coaching staff clearly wanted nothing to do with him, and his presence on the roster has been one huge distraction, and it has also symbolized the Jets' season of incompetence. The season-ending injuries to Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes put the team behind the eight ball to begin with, but the rest of the not-so-talented roster didn't rise to the occasion, leading to another playoff-less season, with the lowlight being the Thanksgiving night debacle, getting humiliated on national TV by the New England Patriots, with Mark Sanchez's face-into-butt fumble being the signature moment of the season. Even Fireman Ed resigned after that game. And when Rex Ryan finally benched Sanchez it conveniently came at a time when Tebow was inactive due to a couple of broken ribs. Greg McElroy led the Jets to victory over the Arizona Cardinals, and, of course, he was immediately benched. Sanchez came back, was worse than ever, and was benched again. With Tebow nowhere to be seen. And the Jets' season fizzled into a bungled, mishandled pile of smoky ruins.

4. The Nets Move to Brooklyn: The Nets have new colors (or lack thereof), new uniforms, a new logo, a new identity and a new brand -- but first they had to say goodbye to New Jersey (for the second time), their home for 35 years (or 36 if you count the franchise's first season, in 1967-'68). The final game in the Garden State occurred on April 23, at the Prudential Center, and the Nets lost to the Philadelphia 76ers, 105-87. Armon Johnson scored the last-ever Nets points in New Jersey, while Lou Williams of the Sixers scored the final points with a three-pointer. Johan Petro took the last-ever shot for the New Jersey Nets, but (maybe fittingly) missed. The last win in New Jersey for the Nets came in April 8, when they beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in overtime, 122-117. Over the summer, Deron Williams re-signed with the team, as did Gerald Wallace, and they acquired Joe Johnson, Reggie Evans and Andray Blatche, and the Brooklyn Nets were stocked and ready to go. Hurricane Sandy canceled the first scheduled game, against the Knicks, so the Nets instead defeated the Toronto Raptors for their first-ever Brooklyn victory, on Nov. 3, at the brand-new Barclays Center. Their face of the franchise, Williams, took and made the first shot in Brooklyn Nets history, a 14-foot jumper, and Brook Lopez, who was the first to miss a shot for Brooklyn, led the team with 27 points. And when the Knicks finally came to Brooklyn, on Nov. 26, the Nets beat them, too, 96-89, in overtime. After a great start to their debut season in their new home, the Nets have hit a bump in the road, but the move to Brooklyn has changed the landscape of New York basketball. And speaking of Brooklyn, let's not forget the New York Islanders, who found a new home there as well this year, with the move coming in 2015 (if the NHL still exists by then).

3. R.A. Dickey: He won 20 games without an ulnar collateral ligament in his right arm. He threw back-to-back one-hitters. He tossed 32 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. He was the first-ever knuckleballer to win a Cy Young Award. He climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. Any of these things in their own right might have qualified as one of the top stories of the year, but all of them put together? That's quite a tale. Dickey went 20-6 in 2012, with a 2.73 ERA and 1.053 WHIP, while striking out a league-leading 230 batters and only walking 54 in 233 2/3 innings pitched (most in the NL). He also led the NL in shutouts (three) and complete games (five). The intriguing, thoughtful knuckleballer was the third Met to win the Cy Young and the sixth to win 20 games, and when he reached that mark on Sept. 27 in a 6-5 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, at Citi Field, it was an event worthy of a 1985 Dwight Gooden start. The drawn-out saga of his trade to the Toronto Blue Jays was also headline news, and as Graig Nettles once said of Sparky Lyle, Dickey went from Cy Young to sayonara.

2. Linsanity: When Jeremy Lin stepped onto the court on Feb. 4, 2012, in a win over the New Jersey Nets, until his last game with the Knicks, on March 24 (a win over the Detroit Pistons), it was like a brief, electric, colorful fireworks display in the middle of a cold, dreary, dark winter. The Jeremy Lin era didn't last long, but it was fun while it lasted. Like Dickey, he had storylines trailing him as far as the eye could see: Harvard, Asian, undrafted, humble, seemingly coming out of nowhere, a last resort for the Knicks -- it was a perfect storm forming a spectacular mania not seen around these parts in a long time. And when Lin finished that win against the Nets with 25 points and seven assists Linsanity (and every other pun one could imagine) was born. Two nights later he poured in 28 points with eight assists in a victory over the Utah Jazz, followed by a 23-point, 10-assist game against the Washington Wizards. But could he do that against an elite team? The answer was ‘yes,' when he lit up the Los Angeles Lakers for 38 points, as the Knicks won again. On Valentine's Day, in Toronto, he coolly dribbled as the clock wound down, and, with ice in his veins, hit a three-pointer to win the game. Linsanity squared ensued. He was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated two consecutive weeks. And even the couch he slept on in Landry Fields' apartment became famous. The Knicks won seven games in a row once he was inserted into the lineup, but on the court it wasn't all about Lin, as his success was predicated on selfless, team play, hitting the open man, spreading the ball around and playing an exciting brand of all-for-one basketball. The Knicks went 16-10 from that Nets game until his season ended due to a knee injury. Mike D'Antoni resigned, Mike Woodson came aboard and the season ended with the Knicks losing to Miami in the first round of the playoffs. And then, like that, Lin was gone. Off to Houston. As things stand right now for the Knicks, there are no regrets (except for when Lin returned for one night in December and Linsanity arose again, though for the wrong team this time). But Jeremy Lin will never be forgotten.

1. The Giants Win the Super Bowl: If you're the only team in the area to win a championship, then that earns you Top Story of 2012 honors. Championships trump all else, as that's what we're all about in New York (ok, with a little sensationalism thrown in -- see Nos. 2, 3 and 5 above). And the Giants did it in an exhilarating, thrilling fashion to boot. The theme of the year for Tom Coughlin was "Finish." And after standing at 7-7, finish they did, defeating the New York Jets, keyed by Victor Cruz's 99-yard touchdown, and the Dallas Cowboys to sneak into the playoffs. The other theme that cropped up was "Déjà vu," as this Super Bowl run was eerily similar to their previous Super Bowl in 2007-'08. Win three road playoff games? Check. Defeat the Packers in Green Bay? Check. Win the NFC Championship Game on an overtime field goal? Check. Beat the seemingly unbeatable Patriots in the Super Bowl? Check? With an unbelievable, all-time great catch on the winning drive? Check. Eli Manning wins the MVP, outplaying Tom Brady? Check. The game itself was one of the most memorable in Super Bowl history, with Mario Manningham's catch, Eli Manning's throw, Ahmad Bradshaw's accidental, falling-down touchdown, Chase Blackburn's interception, Justin Tuck's two sacks and the final Hail Mary when Bill Belichick's team's prayers went unanswered. The Giants were crowned Super Bowl champions on Feb. 5, 2012, in Indianapolis, and they were New York's Top Story of the Year.

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