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Tampa Bay sports year in review: Commemorating the biggest, best of 2016

Many argue that 2016 will go down as the most memorable year in sports history.

We had two historic championships with the Cubs and Cavs. Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl, Michael Phelps made Olympic history and we had the deaths of legends Muhammad Ali, Pat Summitt, Arnold Palmer and Gordie Howe.

Meantime, 2016 was also a huge year in Tampa Bay sports. We had our share of highlights and lowlights, thrills and disappointments, inspirations and tragedies.

Here's a look back at the year in sports in Tampa Bay.

Newsmaker of the year

No one had his name in bigger and bolder headlines than Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. From free agency talk to his sudden blood clot that might have cost the Lightning a Stanley Cup to his eight-year, $68 million contract to remain in Tampa Bay to a knee injury that will sideline him for at least three months. Any one of these stories could have been the story of the year. All happened to the same guy.

Biggest news

After two seasons, Lovie Smith was surprisingly fired as Bucs head coach late on the night of Jan. 7. He was replaced by offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. The jury remains out.

Best comeback

Rays slugger Evan Longoria was on a steady downhill slide, but he had one of the best seasons of his career, highlighted by a career-high 36 homers. Longo isn't done yet.

[OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

South Florida Bulls head coach Willie Taggart smiles while singing the school song with his team after the game at Raymond James in Tampa on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016.

Best team

USF football won a school record 10 regular-season games and was so good it lost its coach, Willie Taggart, to Oregon. But it did a nice job finding a replacement in Charlie Strong.

Best and worst trip

The Rays visiting Cuba was the best. The worst was the Gators being forced to travel to LSU because LSU wouldn't work with the Gators in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. The Gators won that game. So take that, LSU.

[WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) in the dugout in the seventh inning of the game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016.

Biggest fall

In April, we proclaimed Rays pitcher Chris Archer as the "newest face of baseball.'' By September, he was flirting with 20 losses.

[JIM DAMASKE | Times]

Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (87) scores in the fourth quarter of the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tennessee Titans in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015.

Biggest going

After a suspicion of DUI arrest, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was cut loose by the Bucs.

Biggest not going

USF was not invited to join the Big 12.

Biggest slump

On June 16, the Rays were 31-32 and 51/2 games out of first. Then they lost 19 of 22 to drop to 171/2 games out of first. Season over in a span of 25 days. That will be slump of the year unless the Bucs lose Sunday to end on a three-game slide that cost them their first postseason appearance since 2007.

Most inspirational moment

Bucs defensive back Alterraun Verner made a key interception in Tampa Bay's victory against the Seahawks, which came only two days after the death of his father.

Biggest loss

The Tampa Bay Times and the outdoors community lost a legend when Times outdoors editor Terry Tomalin died in May at the age of 55. Known to many as a fearless adventurer, he was known by many more as a kind human being who always put others ahead of himself. A loving husband and father to two beautiful children, Terry is sorely missed, but the memory of him remains strong.

Best trophy

The Rays didn't have much go right in 2016, but they still have the best defensive player in baseball. Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier ran down another Gold Glove.

[LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) and quarterback Jameis Winston (3) observe the national anthem before a preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016.

Biggest controversy

Bucs receiver Mike Evans made admirers and enemies when he didn't stand for the national anthem prior to a game against the Bears to protest the election of Donald Trump as president. Evans ended his anthem protest after one game but said he would continue to find other ways to protest. His game remained great.

Biggest surprise

That we wrote an entire column about the year in Tampa Bay sports and have not mentioned Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston. That's because we're still not sure what to make of his season. Someday, he will be a Tampa Bay Sports Person Of The Year. Not this year.

And now for Tampa Bay's 2016 Sports Person of the Year …

Tampa Bay's quietest superstar: Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov. The young Russian forward took over for the sidelined Steven Stamkos in last spring's playoffs and nearly single-handedly willed Tampa Bay to a Stanley Cup final. He scored huge goal after huge goal. Despite not even playing in the final, Kucherov finished second in the 2016 NHL playoffs in goals (11), sixth in points (19) and second in plus-minus (+13).

Tampa Bay sports year in review: Commemorating the biggest, best of 2016 12/26/16 [Last modified: Friday, December 30, 2016 2:55pm]
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