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Tom Jones' top local sports stories for 2013

Happy holidays. Okay, I guess that's it for happy. Each year at this time, we look back at the biggest local sports stories. If we were a city such as Boston or Miami, we could celebrate championships. But as we looked back at Tampa Bay's year in sports in 2013, there were a lot of things that weren't so happy. A local legend retired. Another was let go. Another was severely injured. But there were great moments, too, with individual awards and the highest honor a professional athlete can achieve. With that, here are our picks of the 10 biggest sports stories in Tampa Bay in 2013, with a bonus honorable mention.

1. The Bucs mess

So where do you want to start? First, there was a MRSA outbreak that infected kicker Lawrence Tynes and guard Carl Nicks and put a dark cloud over the entire season. Then there was the whole Josh Freeman train wreck. There were rumors that coach Greg Schiano rigged a team election so Freeman would not be named its captain. Then there were reports that Freeman missed a team photo and, perhaps, other meetings. After Week 3, Freeman was benched and, eventually, the Bucs simply dumped their supposed franchise QB even though he was only 25. On the field, the team struggled and will miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.

2. Jameis Winston wins Heisman Trophy

Well, there's actually more to this story than the Florida State quarterback becoming the second freshman and third Seminole to win college football's most prestigious individual award. After helping FSU to an undefeated record and a spot in next month's BCS title game, Winston's Heisman came after weeks of controversy over an allegation that he had sexually assaulted a woman in late 2012. Charges were not brought against Winston, who went on to win the Heisman by one of the biggest landslides in that award's history.

3. Rays make the playoffs

The Rays have given us plenty of late-season thrills in their history, and 2013 ranks right up there. The Rays won three games in three cities in four days to set themselves up for a best-of-five AL Division Series against the Red Sox. The Rays needed a victory on the last regularly scheduled game of the season in Toronto to set up a play-in game against the Rangers to see which team would be the second wild-card team. The Rays won that game in Texas and then, two days later, went on to beat the Indians in the wild-card game.

4. Warren Sapp inducted into Hall of Fame

It was the year of Sapp. His number (99) was retired by the Bucs, and he became the fifth person inducted into the team's ring of honor. As great as those moments were, they were nothing compared to his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The kid from a dirt road near Apopka had a stellar career at the University of Miami before moving on to the Bucs and redefining the under-tackle position. He became the second Bucs player, after Lee Roy Selmon, to enter the halls of Canton.

5. Wil Myers wins AL rookie of the year

It was a year ago when the Rays pulled the trigger on one of the biggest trades in franchise history with the Royals. A package of players was involved, but the key element had the Rays shipping starting pitcher James Shields to Kansas City for top prospect Wil Myers. The Rays had Myers start the season in the minors but called him up in mid June. Even though he appeared in just 88 games, Myers helped the Rays into the postseason by batting .293 with 13 homers and 53 RBIs. Those numbers made him the overwhelming choice for American League rookie of the year.

6. Vincent Lecavalier leaves

He arrived in 1998 as a gangly French-speaking kid from Quebec. Last summer, he left after becoming the most popular player in Lightning history. In between, he helped Tampa Bay win a Stanley Cup and raised millions in pediatric cancer research. Unable to afford his bulky contract, the Lightning bought out Lecavalier, allowing him to become a free agent. It was a move so devastating to Lightning fans that general manager Steve Yzerman sent out an e-mail to season ticket holders just to explain the decision.

7. Lightning fires and hires a coach

In 2011, rookie NHL coach Guy Boucher led the Lightning to within one game of the Stanley Cup final. But a clunker of a year in 2011-12 and a bad stretch in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season cost Boucher his job. The Lightning started the season 6-1 but went into a 7-16-1 tailspin to leave it out of the playoff pack. Despite a career record of 84-62-19, Boucher was fired. A few days later, the Lightning hired Jon Cooper, the coach of the Lightning's minor-league affiliate in Syracuse.

8. Bucs trade for Darrelle Revis

Once considered the best defensive player in football, cornerback Darrelle Revis became available because the rebuilding Jets didn't want to commit a hefty long-term deal to a player coming off major knee surgery. The Bucs took the gamble and traded a first-round pick this year and a third-rounder next year to bring in Revis in the biggest offseason move in the NFL. Revis, who is making $16 million a year, battled his way back and has been a productive player for Tampa Bay.

9. Steven Stamkos injury

Led by the NHL's leading scorer Steven Stamkos, the Lightning season was off to a pleasantly fast start. That feel-good story came to a crashing halt on the afternoon of Nov. 11 when Stamkos suffered a broken tibia after crashing into a goalpost in a game against the Bruins. Stamkos was walking without the aid of crutches less than two weeks after surgery, and he has begun skating. But there's no telling when he will return to the lineup, and the Lightning's playoff hopes are a bit dicier because of his absence.

10. Ronde Barber retires

He played more games (241) than any player in Bucs history. He's the only person in NFL history with at least 40 interceptions and 20 sacks. His 215 consecutive starts are the most by a defensive back in league history. And his 92-yard interception return in the NFC Championship Game that sent the Bucs to the Super Bowl in January 2003 is still the greatest play in team history. All of those things were remembered when Barber announced his retirement in May after 16 seasons with the Bucs.

Honorable mention: Gators collapse

Actually, we should call it dishonorable mention. Hopes were high in Gainesville as the Gators came into the season ranked 10th in the country. But a rash of injuries and subpar play led to the worst Gator season since 1979. Florida lost at home to Vanderbilt for the first time since 1945, and that wasn't even the worst loss of the season. The worst was a 26-20 shocker to Division I-AA Georgia Southern when the Gators gave up 429 yards rushing. After a loss to rival FSU, the Gators finished 4-8 and missed a bowl game for the first time since an NCAA probation kept them away from the postseason in 1990.

Tuesday: National stories of the year

Today: Local stories of the year

Thursday: Sports person of the year

Friday: Year-end Shooting from the lip

Saturday: Strange sports stories of the 2013.

Sunday: Athletes to watch in 2014

Tom Jones' top local sports stories for 2013 12/24/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 24, 2013 9:26pm]
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