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Look back at the big plays and tough beats from the last year

Shaun Harrison
1 of 25 Jeff Gross/Getty Images, Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Tim Tebow's touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas

Tebow led the Denver Broncos to a handful of back-from-the-brink victories last season, but none was as thrilling as his 80-yard touchdown pass to Thomas to shock the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime in the AFC playoffs. The win silenced Tebow haters (for another week at least) and set a number of franchise records and career-highs for Tebow, who threw for a personal best of 316 yards. The play won Best Moment at the ESPYs.
2 of 25 YouTube

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal's epic Australian Open final

In a gladiatorial war of attrition, the then-top two players in the world slugged away for a mind-boggling 5 hours and 53 minutes — the longest Grand Slam final ever. The tennis wasn't always pretty (you try playing for almost six hours straight!), but the lengthy rallies, their incredible defense and pure fight to win were electrifying. In the end, Djokovic prevailed for his fifth Grand Slam title and his seventh consecutive victory over Nadal — and both were so spent that they were doubled over during the trophy presentation and chairs had to be brought out.
3 of 25 Rob Carr/Getty Images, Jamie Squire/Getty Images


New York Giants beat New England Patriots in Super Bowl again Four years after the Giants denied the Pats a perfect season, Eli Manning & Co. stunned Tom Brady & Co. again in Super Bowl XLVI, capping the victory with yet another late comeback and the most reluctant touchdown ever. With a minute remaining, the Giants had planned not to score right away to avoid giving the Pats a chance to retaliate, but Ahmad Bradshaw couldn't stop himself in time and awkwardly butt-planted on the goal line. But the Giants defense came up big against Brady to preserve a literal down-to-the-wire 21-17 win. Who's ready for Round 3?
4 of 25 Paul Bereswill/Getty Images, Chris Trotman/Getty Images


For an exhilarating couple of weeks in February, Jeremy Lin took the Big Apple and the world by the storm with his unexpected hot play when he was called off the bench to start for the New York Knicks. The Knicks notched a six-game win streak with Lin — who was playing in the D-League a month prior — including one over the Toronto Raptors with a buzzer-beating three-pointer by the point guard. But in a New York minute, everything can change. Lin sat out the rest of the season with a knee injury and signed with the Houston Rockets as a restricted free agent in July when the Knicks surprisingly declined to match the Rockets' offer.
5 of 25 Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images, Wesley Hitt/Getty Images, Wesley Hitt/Getty Images, Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Manning and Tebow trade

After 14 years, a Super Bowl and a record four league MVP awards, Peyton Manning was released by the Indianapolis Colts and hotly pursued by a number of teams. The quarterback ultimately signed with the Denver Broncos, decisively putting an end to Tebowmania in the Mile-High City. The Broncos traded Tim Tebow to the New York Jets as a backup to Mark Sanchez, but Tebow has yet to duplicate his magic in New York — nor has he been given a chance to.
6 of 25 Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Bubba Watson's masterful Masters shot

Watson's Masters dream seemed all but gone when he fired his tee shot into the woods in a second sudden death playoff hole against Louis Oosthuizen, who had just sunk an albatross back at hole No. 2. But Watson inexplicably uncorked a
7 of 25 Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images, Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images


Two years after winning the Super Bowl and reinvigorating New Orleans post-Katrina, the Saints were exposed to have been operating a bounty program from 2009-2011 that paid players for inflicting injuries onto opponents that forced them to leave games. The NFL exacted a laundry list of sanctions on the team and those involved, including indefinitely suspending the mastermind, former Saints and then-St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and suspending head coach Sean Payton for a year. Players involved were suspended as well, but an arbitration panel overturned the ruling shortly before the start of the season.
8 of 25 Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Tampa Bay Buccaneers sign Eric LeGrand

LeGrand was a top NFL prospect when he was paralyzed during a tackle in a Rutgers game in October 2010. In May 2012, his former Rutgers coach and current Bucs coach Greg Schiano symbolically signed LeGrand to the team to "recognize his character, spirit and perseverance." Two months later, LeGrand, who was honored with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the ESPYs, retired to open up a spot on the roster. "Making it to the NFL was my dream. But now I want to see my team as strong as possible at the start of training camp," he said. "I'm a Buc for life."
9 of 25 Clive Brunskill/Getty Images, Mike Hewitt/Getty Images


Historic French Open final wins by Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal Sharapova, who once famously dubbed herself a "cow on ice" for her lack of clay-court prowess, learned to recalibrate her game for clay after career-threatening shoulder surgery four years ago and was rewarded with the French Open title. The win over Italian Sara Errani made her the sixth woman in the Open Era to complete a career Grand Slam (winning all four majors). Fellow career Grand Slam owner and the King of Clay himself Nadal won a record seventh French Open (his 11th overall) and denied Novak Djokovic a career Grand Slam.
10 of 25 Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Los Angeles Kings win Stanley Cup

It wasn't quite a miracle, but the Kings made one of the most improbable runs to the Stanley Cup in NHL history. After a dismal start to the regular season, a coach change and a trade for Jeff Carter, the Kings snuck in to the playoffs as the eighth seed and proceeded to notch an impressive 10-1 road record en route to beating the New Jersey Devils in six games in the finals. They are the first eighth seed to win the Stanley Cup and it's the franchise's first Cup since the team was founded in 1967.
11 of 25 Chris Trotman/Getty Images

LeBron James wins a ring at last

Two years after taking his talents to South Beach, King James finally got his crown ring after the Miami Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. Unlike his performance in the 2011 NBA Finals, James was clutch when it mattered, most memorably nailing a three-pointer in the final three minutes of Game 4 to give the Heat the lead after coming down with leg cramps. He was named Finals MVP and added a second Olympic gold medal to his collection two months later. James joined Michael Jordan as the only players to win the regular NBA season MVP title, the NBA Finals, Finals MVP and Olympic gold in the same year.
12 of 25 ESPN

Mark Cuban drops some knowledge on Skip Bayless

The morning after the Miami Heat's triumph, Mark Cuban delivered a winning performance of his own when he brilliantly eviscerated noted LeBron hater and loathed ESPN pundit Skip Bayless on First Take for spouting nonsense instead of doing his homework. Cuban, whose Dallas Mavericks beat the Miami Heat for the NBA title in 2011, backed up his dressing-down with facts and smarts, and drilled it home when Bayless suggested that James cared about what he said about him. "This is a Skip Bayless special," he said. "'He lost last year because he was paying attention to Skip Bayless. He won this year because he stopped paying attention to Skip Bayless.'"
13 of 25 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Fierce Five and Gabby Douglas win gold

Leading from start to finish, the U.S. women's gymnastics team claimed the country's second team Olympic gold and first since the Magnificent Seven's dramatic victory in 1996. Douglas kept the momentum going when she became the fourth American to win the all-around gold. The 16-year-old is also the first African-American to win the all-around and the first U.S. gymnast to win both the all-around and team gold at the same Olympics. The women's team took home three more medals, two courtesy of Aly Raisman, and one silver from McKayla Maroney, who vaulted into meme immortality.
14 of 25 Al Bello/Getty Images

Michael Phelps becomes the most decorated Olympian ever

Phelps got off to a sluggish start in London, failing to medal in his first event, but he slowly picked up steam. A gold in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay gave him his 19th medal to dethrone Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina as the most decorated Olympian of all time. He extended that record by the end of the Games, retiring with 22 medals (18 of which are gold — twice as many as the next closest competitor). If he were a country, he'd be tied with India for 54th place on the all-time list.
15 of 25 Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Nathan Adrian defuses "The Missile"

Australia's James "The Missile" Magnussen talked a big game heading into London and was justifiably the favorite in swimming's glamour event, the 100-meter freestyle, after posting the fourth-fastest time ever (47.10) in March. But in the most exciting swimming race of the Games (sorry, Michael!), Adrian matched Magnussen stroke for stroke before lunging to the wall to
16 of 25 Mike Hewitt/Getty Images


Oscar Pistorius becomes first double-amputee to run at the Olympics The man known as "The Blade Runner" made history by becoming the first double-amputee to run at the Olympics. Pistorius, from South Africa, advanced to the 400-meter semifinal, where he finished eighth and last. After he was eliminated, Grenada's Kirani James, who would go on to win gold, asked Pistorius to swap name bibs as a sign of respect. (Pistorius won two golds and a silver in the Paralympics.)
17 of 25 Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Usain Bolt is a legend

The irrepressible showman raced into the history books when he became the first man to sweep the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints twice. Bolt is also the first repeat in the 200 and added a third gold in London when Jamaica defended the 4x100-meter relay gold. After he crossed the line in the 200, Bolt put his finger to his lips to silence those who doubted him coming into London. "I was just telling them: You can stop talking now, because I am a legend," he said.
18 of 25 Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Women's Olympics soccer team edges out Team Canada

The North American neighbors put on a match for the ages in the Olympic semifinal. Canada's Christine Sinclair scored a hat trick to put her team up three times, only for the U.S. to tie it each time. The match was 30 seconds from penalty kicks when Heather O'Reilly shot a cross to Alex Morgan, who knocked in a header in the 123nd minute for a U.S. win. In the final, the U.S. avenged a painful World Cup loss to Japan to win its third straight gold and fourth overall.
19 of 25 Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings three-peat

In their final tournament together before May-Treanor's retirement, the beach babes were golden one last time, nabbing their third straight beach volleyball gold. The pair ended their partnership undefeated at the Olympics, going 21-0, with only one set lost through three Olympics (to Austria during their London preliminary rounds). The best part? Walsh Jennings later revealed that she was pregnant during the Olympics!
20 of 25 Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Andy Murray finally wins a Grand Slam

Murray's summer started off low, losing a heartbreaking Wimbledon final to Roger Federer. But after thrashing Federer before an adoring home crowd to win Olympic gold, he topped off his summer with his long-awaited first Grand Slam title in five tries, beating Novak Djokovic at the U.S. Open. The win not only shed the dubious "best play to never win a Slam" title Murray had been tagged with for four years, but it also erased the unrelenting pressure placed on his shoulders by Great Britain, which hadn't had a men's Grand Slam champ since Fred Perry in 1936.
21 of 25 Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

NFL replacement refs cause chaos

The NFL season got off to a rocky and laughable start with the replacement refs stumbling through miscues and bad calls. The worst of which came on a Monday Night Football game between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers. Down 12-7 going into the final play of the game, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson threw a Hail Mary into the end zone, which Packers safety M.D. Jennings clearly intercepted. Seahawks receiver Golden Tate puts his hand on the ball as Jennings goes down, and two replacement officials make two calls: touchback by way of an interception and a touchdown. The officials somehow rule it a touchdown, giving the Seahawks the win. The only good thing to come of the game: It accelerated negotiations between the NFL and the regular refs to end the lockout.
22 of 25 AFP Photo/Getty Image

Lance Armstrong's fall from grace

Two months after the USADA levied new performance-enhancing drug charges against the cyclist, Armstrong announced in August that he was giving up his fight against the accusations and faced being stripped of his record seven Tour de France titles. After the USADA released its report, filled with mounting evidence and new statements from Armstrong's former teammates, the International Cycling Union formally stripped Armstrong of his Tour titles in October. The cancer survivor also stepped down from his Livestrong Foundation and lost all of his sponsors. But Armstrong, defiant as ever, still has his jerseys.
23 of 25 Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

Miguel Cabrera wins first Triple Crown since 1967

The Detroit Tigers third baseman became the 15th player and first since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to win the Triple Crown, leading the American League in home runs (44), batting average (.330) and runs batted in (139) for the season. Unfortunately, the Tigers, after sweeping the New York Yankees, were swept by the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.
24 of 25 Denis Poroy/Getty Images, Joe Robbins/Getty Images, Elsa/Getty Images


Numerous athletes and sports figures called it a day in 2012, including 19-year Atlanta Braves veteran Chipper Jones; Tennessee's Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in college basketball history (a year after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's); and Andy Roddick, who valiantly carried the flag for American men's tennis the past decade. Other notable retirees include Hines Ward, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jim Calhoun, Kim Clijsters, Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin, Michael Phelps, Jason Varitek, Jason Taylor and Tim Wakefield.
25 of 25 NBC

Bob Costas sounds off on gun control

In the wake of the murder-suicide of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend, Bob Costas utilized his halftime report on Sunday Night Football to editorialize on gun control. Reading a column by Jason Whitlock, Costas called for increased gun control and agreed with Whitlock that the NFL should've postponed the Chiefs already completed game against the Carolina Panthers. "In the aftermath of the nearly unfathomable events in Kansas City, that most mindless of sports clichés was heard yet again, 'Something like this really puts it all in perspective,'" Costas said. "Please. Those who need tragedies to continually recalibrate their sense of proportion about sports, would seem to have little hope of ever truly achieving perspective."