SOME OF THEM WON the game, some of them saved the game and others made for some very impressive eye candy.
Odell Beckham Jr., James Rodriguez, Richard Sherman and Aaron Harrison were among those who put their distinctive stamp on sports in 2014 with shots, catches and plays that nearly broke the Internet and led off all the highlight shows.
A quick review of some of the best plays of the year:
This one blew up almost within minutes of it happening. Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who regularly practices the one-handed grab, made the catch of the year against the Cowboys. Quarterback Eli Manning threw a high pass down the right sideline and Beckham freed himself after tangling feet and arms with defensive back Brandon Carr. Beckham reached his right hand behind his head, grabbed the ball and cradled it into his stomach while falling to his back in the front corner of the end zone, as the yellow flag flew for the pass-interference call against Carr. Through it all, Beckham's left hand never touched the ball.
Before The Rant, there was The Tip. Richard Sherman's game-saving swataway from Michael Crabtree in the NFC Championship Game wrapped up Seattle's trip to the Super Bowl and came only moments before his rant in a postgame interview with Erin Andrews that drew more attention that his play on the field. With the Seahawks protecting a six-point lead with 32 seconds left and the Niners on their 18, Sherman got his bearings, left his feet, arched his left hand up and not only swatted Colin Kaepernick's pass away from Crabtree, but directed it to teammate Malcolm Smith, who is officially credited with the interception that sealed the game.
It only looked like a replay. In back-to-back games, Kentucky freshman Aaron Harrison spotted up from the behind the upper-left part of the three-point arc and drained a shot to win the game. The first one sent Harrison, his twin brother Andrew and the rest of Kentucky's fabulous freshmen to the Final Four. The second one provided the winning points against Wisconsin in the national semifinals. In the Sweet 16 game against Louisville, Harrison also made a key three from the left corner - the shot that gave Kentucky the lead for good with 39 seconds left in a 74-69 win. "He's not afraid to miss," said his coach, John Calipari, in explaining why he called the play for Harrison. And when the chips were down, Harrison didn't.
The prettiest goal at the World Cup? No question, it was scored by Colombia's James Rodriguez. About midway through the first half of the round-of-16 game against Uruguay, Rodriguez stood with his back to the goal a few steps outside the penalty area. He received the ball, chested it to himself, then, took three baby steps to turn 90 degrees before kicking the ball out of midair, leftfooted, for a goal that grazed the underside of the crossbar. And then, as Jeremy Wilson of
put it, "An initial moment of stunned silence soon gave way to audible gasps from both sets of supporters inside the Maracana."
Pro tennis players are so athletic, the between-the-legs shots barely register anymore. But how about a backhand while sitting down? Eugenie Bouchard pulled it off at a clay court tournament in Estoril, losing her footing and falling flat on her back, but still getting the next shot back after her opponent hit it right back to her. She scrambled to her feet and ended up winning the point.
The AL MVP overran a screaming line drive to center by Kendrys Morales. No problem. He stopped. Jumped as high as he could, then reached behind his head for a one-handed, no-look grab.
American snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg got points for degree of difficulty and originality, winning the first Olympic gold medal in slopestyle with a trick he had never tried before. On a sparkling day in the Russian Caucasus, he closed his run by helicoptering off the final jump of the course, grabbing his board and flexing it behind his back while spinning for 4 1/2 revolutions. Stuck the landing. Then, in true snowboarder fashion, admitted he had never really, well, practiced the trick before. "Never ever tried it in my life," he said.