Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Top 10 Tampa Bay sports stories of 2015

Nearly the best. The absolute worst. And somewhere in between. • That pretty much sums up 2015 in sports for Tampa Bay. • One of our teams went to the championship round. Another started its season as, officially, the worst team in its sport. And the other was in the middle, trying to find the winning formula it had just a couple of years ago. • In addition, a new face arrived in Gainesville and a familiar one left. • So with that in mind, here's a look at the top 10 local sports stories of 2015.

1. The Lightning reaches the Stanley Cup final

For only the fourth time in major sports history, a Tampa Bay team reached the final of its sport as the Lightning advanced to the Stanley Cup final for the second time in franchise history. Led by the shutout goaltending of Ben Bishop, the Lightning survived Game 7 victories over the Red Wings in the first round and the Rangers in the Eastern Conference final. In between, it knocked out the tradition-rich Canadiens. A season marked by the special play of captain Steven Stamkos and the Triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov finally came to an end with a tight six-game series loss to the Blackhawks. The architect of the team, Steve Yzerman, was voted the NHL's GM of the year.

2. Bucs draft Jameis Winston

After finishing an NFL-worst 2-14 last season, the Bucs had the No. 1 pick in the draft and had to choose between quarterbacks Jameis Winston of FSU and Marcus Mariota of Oregon. Brushing aside questions about Winston's off-field behavior and character, the Bucs went with Winston, who has had a solid season on and away from the playing field. Maybe someday we will look back and determine that this was the biggest local sports story of 2015, but for now those in Tampa Bay can only hope that Winston can do what the Lightning did: reach the championship round.

3. Steven Stamkos' contract

The Lightning and its fans weren't able to celebrate last season for long when the frightening possibility of its best player leaving set in. With Steven Stamkos set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said his No. 1 priority was to sign Stamkos. Here we are, six months later, and Stamkos remains unsigned. Lightning faithful are becoming more and more nervous as rumors heat up that he might, uh, like going to his hometown of Toronto to play.

4. Billy Donovan leaves Florida

The best basketball coach in University of Florida history and one of the most accomplished college basketball coaches ever, Billy Donovan, finally made the leap to the NBA, leaving the Gators to take over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Back in 2007, Donovan flirted with the NBA, even going as far as taking the Magic job for a few days before backing out. While at Gainesville, Donovan won two national titles and reached four Final Fours and eight Sweet 16s. He also won four SEC regular-season titles and three SEC tournament championships. This time around, he did not change his mind and is off to a good start in the NBA.

5. Rays trade a fan favorite

You could make a good argument that Ben Zobrist is the most popular player in Rays history. He played with class, grace and tireless effort. He would play anywhere, bat anywhere, do whatever it takes and do it without complaint or fanfare. And because of all that, not only was he a fan favorite but one of the best players in franchise history. With Zobrist eventually headed to free agency and the Rays starting to rebuild, they regretfully traded Zobrist to the A's. Even Matt Silverman, the man who made the trade, said the deal was hard to stomach. "He epitomizes the Rays brand of baseball,'' Silverman said.

6. Gators football is back to winning

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Florida football. New coach Jim McElwain (above) was taking over for the fired Will Muschamp, who told everyone, "Don't let the new guy tell you he ain't got no good players.'' Aside from wrecking the English language, maybe Muschamp was right. McElwain led the Gators to a 10-1 start and the SEC East title. Had the Gators not lost quarterback Will Grier to a PED suspension, they might have snuck into the college playoffs. Still, Florida football appears back under McElwain.

7. Chris Archer pitches in All-Star Game

The Rays had an up-and-down 80-win season under first-year manager Kevin Cash. The brightest spot for Tampa Bay and a pitching staff beset by injuries to Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly and Matt Moore was the emergence of Chris Archer, who won 12 games and finished fifth in Cy Young voting. The highlight of the season for the Rays ace, however, was in July when he appeared in the MLB All-Star Game. He allowed a homer to Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen but popped 97 mph on the radar gun during his 1 ⅓ innings of work.

8. USF goes bowling

After the USF football team started 1-3, there were rumors that coach Willie Taggart's job was in jeopardy. The next thing you know, he is being interviewed for a bigger job at South Carolina. USF is fortunate because Taggart is staying. The Bulls rallied from the slow start to win seven of their last eight in the regular season, including an upset of ranked Temple, and qualify for the Miami Beach Bowl, USF's first bowl appearance since 2010. The Bulls lost their bowl game to finish 8-5, but the future looks bright.

9. Jordan Spieth wins Valspar

Who needs Tiger? The Valspar Championship at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor has never attracted the world's most famous golfer. But it has brought in one of the world's best. Jordan Spieth, then 21, won the Valspar back in March, and that set up a fabulous 2015 that featured victories at the Masters and the U.S. Open and near misses at the British Open and PGA Championship.

10. Tampa hosts history

Tampa's Amalie Arena was the site for history in April when UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma won his 10th national title, tying him with former UCLA's men's coach John Wooden. Auriemma's Huskies knocked off Notre Dame as star player Breanna Stewart continued her quest to become the most decorated college player ever. She has three national titles and counting. Amalie Arena hosts another championship this spring with hockey's Frozen Four.

Top 10 Tampa Bay sports stories of 2015 12/25/15 [Last modified: Saturday, December 26, 2015 11:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays beat Orioles, but tough stretch looms that could change their plans (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tuesday was a step back in the right direction for the Rays, who halted a season-high five-game losing streak by hanging on — and we mean that pretty much literally — for a 5-4 win over the Orioles.

    The Rays’ Tim Beckham celebrates with Mallex Smith after hitting a three-run homer in the second inning for a 5-0 lead.
  2. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Tuesday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    Rookie RHP Jake Faria had his lucky rubber duck — OG, the original one he has had since high school — with him, and the Rays had nothing to worry about as he put his rocky Wednesday outing well behind him, working into the eighth while scattering seven hits.

  3. Rays journal: Rookie Jacob Faria continues to show veteran poise

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Orioles threatened in the first inning and the second. They loaded the bases with one out in the fifth inning with the top of the order up and seemed poised for a big inning. But those opportunities produced only one run because Rays rookie RHP Jacob Faria kept his composure and got the …

    Jacob Faria goes a career-high 71/3 innings, staying composed when the Orioles threaten.
  4. Rays vs. Orioles, 12:10 p.m. Wednesday, Tropicana Field


    Today: vs. Orioles

    12:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM

    Tickets: $15-$275; available at Tropicana Field box office,, surcharge of up to $5 within 5 hours of game time.

    PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Alex Cobb #53 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays photo day on February 18, 2017 at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Floida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
  5. Bruce Arena blends intense demands with humor to lead U.S. soccer


    SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Bruce Arena bites his fingernails religiously, a habit he has had since age 10.

    Among some other unmentionables.

    Bruce Arena