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2013 a memorable year for Tampa sports

Sapp gets the call from the Hall!

Wild-card Rays headed to Boston!

Bolts say goodbye to Vinny!

The story of the 2013 sports season in Tampa Bay can be told in big, bold headlines.

Cobb injured! Stamkos injured! MRSA!

The Lightning fired coach Guy Boucher, while speculation of being fired dogged Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano after an 0-8 start. Willie Taggart's first year as the USF head football coach was underwhelming at best.

The Rays made things tough on themselves during the final weekend of the season, but earned the American League wild card.

Wil Myers lived up to expectations. Josh Freeman did not. Doug Martin's season ended with an injury. Bobby Rainey?

It was a year of transition. Ronde Barber, one of the most beloved and decorated Bucs of all time, left the game on his terms. David Price might be leaving the area, but certainly not on his terms.

There have been better years for Bay area sports fans in terms of wins and playoff berths and championships. But what 2013 lacked in titles, it made up for in drama and an assortment of memorable moments, some bad, some fantastic.

Marty wins scoring title! Fernandez named NL's top rookie! La Russa to the Hall!

Sapp becomes immortal

Warren Sapp, who so dominated the defensive tackle position during his career that he was named to two NFL All-Decade teams, was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Sapp was a pillar on Tampa Bay's 2002 Super Bowl championship team. The 1999 NFL Defensive Player of the Year was a four-time All Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler. In July, Sapp joined Lee Roy Selmon as the only members of the Buccaneers enshrined in Canton, Ohio.

“I passed the test,” Sapp said.

Another state title for Eagles

The Brandon High wrestling team won its 13th consecutive state title when it captured the 3A championship in Lakeland. It was the 24th state title in the program's history. Senior Kevin Norstrem summed up the feeling of every Eagles wrestler to pass through the program after winning the 138-pound championship for the fifth state title of his career. “I didn't want it to be over. But it was, and it all hit me,” said an emotional Norstrem. “I've been brought up on Brandon wrestling and even though I have to move on, Brandon wrestling and coach (Russ) Cozart will always be a part of me.”

Bolts fire Boucher

Lightning GM Steve Yzerman fired coach Guy Boucher in Winnipeg on the morning of a game day. The Bolts, in a 7-16-1 slide, lost the previous night, 5-3, at Ottawa. “I think basically I'm not satisfied with the direction of our hockey club,” Yzerman said. “We have certain expectations of our team for each season going in, but overall it wasn't a move just to try to save a playoff spot for this year. It's designed not only for this year but for a long time.” Boucher was replaced by Jon Cooper, who coached the Lightning's AHL farm team in Syracuse.

St. Louis paces NHL in points

Marty St. Louis scored a goal and added an assist on the final night of a dismal season to finish the lockout-shortened schedule with 60 points, tops in the NHL. At 37, St. Louis became the oldest player to win the Art Ross Trophy as the league's top scorer. “When the hope of getting in (the playoffs) goes away, you try to finish strong and play the right way, then a couple of things happen along the way,” St. Louis said. “…Then you find yourself in a situation that you can do something cool.” Steven Stamkos was second in scoring with 57 points, making it the first time since the 1995-96 season that teammates finished one-two in scoring.

Revis Island comes to Tampa

The Bucs finally swung the trade with the Jets to bring Darrelle Revis, considered the top cornerback in the NFL, to Tampa Bay. All it took was the Bucs' first pick (13th overall) in April's draft, a fourth-round conditional pick in the 2014 draft and a six-year, $96 million contract for Revis. “He is unique and that's what motivated us,” Bucs GM Mark Dominik said when he made the trade. Revis was a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro cornerback with the Jets and the 2009 AFC Defensive Player of the Year.

Ronde says goodbye

Ronde Barber, the metronome cornerback for the Bucs, ended months of speculation and retired after 16 years patrolling defensive backfields across NFL stadiums. A member of the 2002 Super Bowl championship team, Barber set the standard for cornerbacks by playing 200 consecutive games, 215 when you include his final 15 games as a safety. He recorded the most all-time sacks (28) by a cornerback and holds the team record with 47 interceptions. He was voted to the All Pro team first time five times. “I don't need it like that anymore,” Barber said. “The game is passed, and I'm OK with that.”

Rowdies shock MLS world

Goalkeeper Diego Restrepo's save on a penalty kick in the 85th minute made Georgi Hristov's goal stand as the Tampa Bay Rowdies defeated the Seattle Sounders 1-0 in the third round of the Lamar Hunt Cup at Al Lang Stadium. It was the first time the Rowdies defeated an MLS team. “All credit to the players tonight,” Rowdies coach Ricky Hill said. “All credit to the fans who came down because they really made it a night to remember for the organization.”

Spartans rule

The University of Tampa Spartans returned to the top of the Division II baseball world after beating Minnesota State 8-2 for the national title. It was UT's sixth national title. Jake Schrader was named the tournament's most outstanding player after hitting .444 with a pair of home runs and seven RBIs in the five games. Jon Keller won both of his starts in the national finals for the top-ranked Spartans, including the clincher against No. 2 Minnesota State. UT coach Joe Urso was named the D-II coach of the year for the third time in his career.

Cobb felled by line drive

Tropicana Field fell silent in an instant when fans watched in horror as Rays pitcher Alex Cobb was struck on the right side of his head by a line drive off the bat of Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer. Weeks earlier, Rays fans watched the same event unfold when Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ was struck by a line drive from Desmond Jennings. Cobb suffered a concussion and vertigo and missed 50 games. “It's scary,” Rays pitcher Jamey Wright said. “You just never know. My whole philosophy of pitching is hit it that way (right) or that way (left). Just don't hit it back at me. Hit it as hard as you want, just don't hit it back at me.”

Finally … Myers arrives

After weeks of speculation, the highly anticipated major-league debut of Rays rookie outfielder Wil Myers took place on a wet afternoon at Boston's Fenway Park during the first game of a day/night doubleheader. He recorded his first big-league hit – a single – in the night cap. “It's a good sign for us as a team. Kind of reinvigorating, gives us a little bit of renewed energy, and I'm excited to see him play,” Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said on the morning of Myers' first day in the big leagues. The big piece in the December 2012 trade that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals for four prospects, Myers stepped into the Rays lineup and led the team in doubles, RBIs, runs scored and slugging percentage after his call-up.

Bolts, Vinny part ways

The news reached Vinny Lecavalier during a morning phone call from Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. The team was going to buy out Lecavalier's contract. With $45 million remaining on a contract with an annual salary cap hit of $7.727 million, it was the prudent move for the organization. Lecavalier, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 draft and the longest-tenured player in team history, wasn't surprised by the news. Still … “When you get the phone call, and you're told you can't play for the Lightning, it was pretty rough on everybody, my family, myself,” Lecavalier said that day. “I've been here 14 years. It was definitely, still is, really hard.” That Lecavalier later signed with the Flyers didn't make the parting any easier on Bolts fans.

Bucs battle MRSA

It started during training camp with kicker Lawrence Tynes, continued with guard Carl Nicks and infected rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks. MRSA, the potentially lethal staph infection that is resistant to many common antibiotics, gained national attention and put a cloud over the start of the Bucs' season. One Buc Place was scrubbed clean, and the Atlanta Falcons had the visiting locker room at the Georgia Dome cleaned after the Bucs played there this season. Nicks has not played since having surgery in October to remove the infection on his left foot. Tynes missed the entire season and filed a grievance against the team for placing him on the non-football injury list. His wife, Amanda, tweeted a photo of a Tynes receiving intravenous medicine with the caption, “This is our #bucslife.''

Freeman benched, then released

The Josh Freeman Saga came to an end with the one-time future of the franchise benched in favor of rookie Mike Glennon and then released. Freeman fell out of favor with head coach Greg Schiano and another cloud formed over the organization as stories surfaced of a missed team photo, a rigged election to select team captains and Freeman's participation in Stage One of the NFL's drug program. “We just think that right now, Mike gives us the best chance to win,” Schiano said. Freeman signed with the Minnesota Vikings, but he has not played since Oct. 21.

Rays win wild card

Alex Cobb's comeback from a concussion continued with a 4-0 win at Cleveland in the AL wild-card game. The Rays needed a win against the Rangers on Sept. 30 in a one-game tiebreaker to advance to the wild-card game. The victory earned the Rays their fourth playoff berth in six seasons and a showdown with the Red Sox in the ALDS. Said Cobb the day before Game 1 of the ALDS: “Woke up in Boston. It was a great feeling.”

Price senses the end

Speaking with reporters the day after the Rays were eliminated from the ALDS, pitcher David Price speculated on his future with the team. Or, as he surmised, his lack of a future in Tampa Bay. “If you go with what's been done in the past I guess you're going to have to think you're going to get traded,” Price said. Thus kicked off the “Price will be traded” talks and rumors that have dominated this offseason. With a 2014 salary estimated to be $13.1 million and with two years remaining before he reaches free agency, the Rays appear primed to deal the ace left-hander for a bushel of prospects. The rumors will last into the new year until Price is either traded or reports with the rest of the Rays pitchers and catchers.

Stamkos breaks leg

A Veterans Day matinee in Boston came to a sudden stop when Lightning forward Steven Stamkos crashed into the goal post, breaking the tibia bone in his right lower leg. Stamkos became tangled with Boston defenseman Dougie Hamilton during a defensive backcheck and lost his footing. He left the ice on a stretcher and had surgery to insert a titanium rod. “He's a dominant player every night, and you don't replace those players,” Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said. “... There's no good time for this, but he has been playing the best hockey he has ever played and just gone to another level, so it's just a very tough thing for everybody.” His recovery was expected to take 3-6 months, though Stamkos surprised everyone by walking into a news conference two weeks after the injury occurred. He has not ruled out returning to play for Team Canada in the Winter Olympics in February.

Fernandez, Myers top rookies

As expected, Rays outfielder Wil Myers and Marlins rookie right-hander Jose Fernandez, a product of Alonso High, were voted rookies of the year in their respective leagues. Fernandez was earmarked for Double-A in 2013 before a series of injuries created an opening on the Marlins' Opening Day roster. From there, Fernandez shined. He finished the year 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA in 28 starts. He threw a perfect inning against the American League in the All-Star game “Things happen for a reason, they say,” Fernandez said. “I had a chance to be there and I took advantage of it. I played hard and gave them everything I got.”

 Gators home for the holidays

Florida's 37-7 loss to FSU ended the most dismal season at the Swamp in more than three decades. UF finished 4-8 with seven straight losses for its first losing season in 34 years. Injuries, poor play by the offense and then the defense were the problems. Fans called for head coach Will Muschamp to be fired. “A very frustrating, difficult day that ends a very frustrating, difficult season,'' Muschamp said after the loss to the Seminoles. “That's the best way I can sum it up.”

 Noles headed to BCS title game

Led by redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, who passed for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns, top-ranked Florida State ran the table during the regular season and is headed to the BCS title game, where it will meet Auburn on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif. The Seminoles, 13-0, are one win away from their third national title and second undefeated season. Auburn shocked then-No. 1 Alabama, the two-time defending national champion, en route to the SEC title and a spot opposite FSU in the final BCS title game. Auburn is trying to run the SEC's winning streak in national championship games to eight. “Whoever we would have played in the game, we would want to win against,” FSU receiver Kenny Shaw said. “But it is good that we're playing an SEC team.”

 Taggart's first season ends 2-10

The South Florida Bulls finished their first year under head coach Willie Taggart with a loss at Rutgers. The Bulls, who started four quarterbacks and struggled all season to find any offense, finished the season 2-10 — the worst mark in program history. “We've got to fix everything,'' Taggart said. “We've got to evaluate everything we do, especially this offense. We're recruiting guys to take the current guys' jobs. That's the way it will always be around here. We need more playmakers on this team.''

 La Russa headed to the Hall

Tony La Russa became the second Tampa native and third Tampa product to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame during the first day of baseball's winter meetings. La Russa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre were elected unanimously by the Expansion Era Committee. La Russa, whose 2,728 wins with three major-league teams are the third-most in baseball history, will join Al Lopez (Tampa native) and Wade Boggs in Cooperstown this summer. “My parents will always tell you, 'Dream the big dream,' ” La Russa said. “But never, ever was the Hall of Fame part of that dream — never.”

 Winston wins Heisman

FSU freshman quarterback Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy by a margin of 1,501 points, the seventh-biggest margin in the history of the award. That feat was made even more remarkable when it was learned Winston was left off 115 of the 900 ballots. Winston's involvement in a sexual assault investigation ended a week before the ceremony when state attorney Willie Meggs announced Winston would not face charges and the case was closed. “I knew I did nothing wrong,” Winston said. “That's why I knew that I could respect the process and I'd eventually be vindicated.”

 Tampa is title town

Super Bowls. Final Fours. New Year's Day bowl. Tampa Bay knows how to do it up big. The next big thing will be the college football national championship game, which will be played in January 2017 at Raymond James Stadium. The game is the product of a four-team playoff that replaces the BCS system. “I have been to four national championship college football games, and the excitement in the community is palpable, Super Bowl-like. That's what we're going to have here,” said Ken Hagan, chairman of the Hillsborough County Commission. “I think it's the ideal place for this game.”

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