A look back at some of the biggest stories of the calendar year in D-FW sports…
Rookies Elliott and Prescott help Cowboys return to top of NFL
In the opening week of the NFL season, the New York Giants held Cowboys rookie back Ezekiel Elliott to 51 rushing yards on 20 tries in a 20-19 win.
“I didn’t think that was going to be the case for him all year,” Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. “But I didn’t think he’d be leading the league in rushing.”
Elliott and fellow rookie Dak Prescott, who replaced injured veteran quarterback Tony Romo, have flourished and pushed the Cowboys back on top.
Elliott, the fourth overall pick in the draft, could be the first rookie to lead the league in rushing since Edgerrin James in 1999. Elliott has had seven 100-yard games and a 1,551 yards overall. Only Eric Dickerson had more yards rushing as a rookie: 1,808 in 1983.
Prescott, taken with the 135th choice, has enabled the Cowboys to do what eluded them last season: win with Romo on the sideline.
In 2015, the Cowboys were 1-11 when Romo could not start. With Prescott running the offense, the Cowboys had a club-record 11-game winning streak this season.
Prescott has produced 26 touchdowns with his arm and legs and turned it over four times with interceptions. A year ago, Cowboys quarterbacks produced 16 touchdowns with 22 interceptions.
“They build on the good things and learn from the things that weren’t quite so good and just keep moving on,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of the rookie tandem. “We’ve seen them take strides in every aspect of their game.”
The Giants, NFC East rival, have been the lone stumbling block. The Cowboys are 0-2 against the Giants and 12-0 against all other opponents.
Baylor cleans house after sexual assault scandal
Art Briles, with deep roots in Texas high school football, took over the woebegone Baylor program in 2008. The Bears had not had a winning season since 1995.
By 2010, Briles had Baylor in a bowl game. The Bears had double-figure wins four times in a five-year span beginning in 2011 and shared the Big 12 title twice in that span.
In May, it all came crashing down for Briles and Baylor as the school considered the price it had paid to have a winning football team.
The school removed Briles, with eight years remaining on his contract, after an investigation by the Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton determined Baylor had mishandled reports of alleged sexual and physical assaults, some by football players. Briles denied that he knew about and failed to report the alleged assaults.
Briles waged a campaign on two fronts. He went on a rehabilitation tour, saying, “I’ve never done anything illegal, immoral or unethical.” He also launched a legal battle against Baylor over what he considered to be wrongful termination.
In the latest chapter, Briles on Dec. 8 sued three Baylor regents and a vice president for libel and slander, accusing them of falsely stating that he knew of and failed to report alleged gang rapes by players. In October, regents told The Wall Street Journal that 17 women had reported domestic violence or sexual assaults that involved 19 football players since 2011, including four gang rapes.
Jim Grobe replaced Briles as interim coach for a tumultuous season that included Briles’ former assistants publicly defending him. On Dec. 6, Baylor hired Temple’s Matt Rhule as the new head coach. At that point, Baylor had one nonbinding oral commitment for signing day in February.
Tony Romo loses starting job because of injury
On Aug. 25, the Cowboys played a preseason game at Seattle. On the third play of the game, Tony Romo left the pocket, and Seahawks end Cliff Avril brought him down as the quarterback went into a slide.
Romo, in visible discomfort, did not return. Afterward, Romo insisted he had gotten lucky and not aggravated the clavicle injuries that cause him to miss 12 games in 2015.
It was false optimism.
An MRI test determined that Romo had an L1 compression fracture of a vertebra in the lower back. He would miss from six to 10 weeks.
“He will come back,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “This is nowhere near the issue he had last year, not even in the same league as far as we’re concerned.”
Romo has not played since.
With veteran Kellen Moore already out because of a fractured ankle, the Cowboys turned to rookie Dak Prescott, a fourth-rounder from Mississippi State. Prescott bounced back from losing his debut to put together a club-record 11-game winning streak.
Romo has not taken a snap in a regular-season game since Thanksgiving 2015. On Nov. 15, Romo passed the torch to Prescott.
“He’s earned the right to be our quarterback,” Romo said. “Getting hurt when you feel like you have the best team you’ve ever had is a soul-crushing moment for me.
“But then here you are, sidelined, without any real ability to help your teammates win. That’s when you’re forced to come face to face with what’s happening.”
Odor punches out Bautista
For seven months, the Rangers stewed about the taunting bat flip by Toronto’s Jose Bautista after his epic, game-winning three-run homer in Game 5 of their American League Division Series. On May 15, in the next-to-last inning of the last regular-season meeting between the clubs, the Rangers had their answer.
Matt Bush, in his second major league appearance, started the eighth inning by hitting Bautista in the left side with a 96-mph fastball. Bautista then went in hard to second base with a late slide as second baseman Rougned Odor attempted to turn a double play.
As the two separated, Bautista made what Odor considered to be a menacing gesture. Odor immediately responded with a shove and a hard right that staggered Bautista, triggering a violent melee between the teams.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister said the scuffle was the result of “two hard-nosed teams that play the game hard” being together. Toronto manager John Gibbons said it was “gutless’ for the Rangers to wait until this game to take a shot at Bautista.
Major League Baseball issued suspensions and penalties for seven players and staffers with each club. Odor received an eight-game suspension, which was reduced on appeal to seven games.
Odor had no regrets for what happened and was not concerned about gaining a reputation as a roughneck player.
“It’s part of the game,” Odor said. “I don’t pay attention to what they say. I just care about my team. I play the game to win games.”
Terrible year for Texas college football
The top 25 for the final regular-season college football poll by The Associated Press featured one notable absence.
No teams from the state of Texas
That had last happened in 1967, when the poll included only 10 teams. The unexpected slide started at the top, with historically strong Texas and Texas A&M both slipping.
Texas fired Charlie Strong after a third consecutive losing season. It is the longest drought at Texas since 1935-38. Going back to Mack Brown’s final season, the Longhorns have finished out of the Top 25 in the last four years.
“Our record does not speak for how good we are,” said Strong, determined to the end.
The SEC has not turned into the panacea that A&M envisioned. Since the departure of quarterback Johnny Manziel, the Aggies are 11-13 in the SEC. In the last two seasons, A&M is 3-6 overall and 1-5 in the SEC after Nov. 1.
The list goes on from there. Texas Tech allowed more than 60 points in three games, including a loss to Iowa State. Baylor was caught in the grips of a horrible situation that could have a long-running effect.
SMU gave up 75 points in a loss to Navy. Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham did not have the same success with TCU quarterback Kenny Hill that they did with Trevone Boykin. Houston lost to SMU in October and its coach, Tom Herman, to left for Texas in December. That’s where it all starts.
FC Dallas, Rangers and Stars wilt in postseason
Three area professional teams lost their touch somewhere between the regular season and the playoffs.
Start with the Stars, who had the best record in the NHL’s Western Conference with 109 points. The Stars, playing without injured scorer Tyler Seguin, won their first-round matchup against Minnesota but lost to St. Louis in seven games in the second round.
The finale against St. Louis, on May 11, encapsulated the Stars’ season. With the Stars trailing 3-0, coach Lindy Ruff pulled goalie Kari Lehtonen after the first period. It was the fourth time in 13 playoff games that Ruff made an in-game change at goalie.
“They’re the future of the NHL,” St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. “They’re really good.
FC Dallas led MLS in points during the regular season and won two significant trophies: the Supporters’ Shield and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The club was doomed after its first playoff game.
Seattle beat FC Dallas 3-0 in the opener of their two-game, aggregate-goals series. The big advantage in goals allowed Seattle to continue on its way to a league title despite losing 2-1 in the second game.
“It’s a great job by this group of players, and I have to recognize that,” FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja said.
At 95-67, the Rangers had the best regular-season record in the American League. It did them no good in the playoffs. Toronto swept the Rangers in a best-of-5 AL Division Series.
The Rangers were not just swept. They did not have the lead at the end of any inning. Blame that on starting pitchers Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Colby Lewis. They combined for a 13.94 ERA.
“We expected to go a little bit farther than this,” third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “We got cold at the worst moment.”
Masters collapse hangs over Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth, of Dallas Jesuit, won two PGA Tour events in 2016. He also took the Australian Open and was a member of the victorious U.S. team in the Ryder Cup.
For Spieth, that was good enough to give himself a grade of B for the year. His performance in the majors kept it from being a better season.
Spieth was never a factor in the U.S. and British opens and the PGA Championship. At the Masters, he stood nine holes away from back-to-back victories only to implode.
Spieth began the nine with a five-shot lead over Danny Willett. Spieth’s swing problems returned, and he bogeyed Nos. 10 and 11. That set up a fateful performance on No. 12, a short but tricky 155-yard par-3.
Spieth put a 9-iron tee shot on the slope in front of the green, and his ball rolled into Rae’s Creek. He took a penalty drop from about 70 yards away and put another shot into the water. Spieth finished with a quadruple-bogey 7.
Spieth rallied with birdies on Nos. 13 and 15, a pair of par-5s, but the damage had been done. He finished tied for second, three shots behind Englishman Willett. Spieth performed the defending champion’s duty of helping Willett into the winner’s green jacket.
“I can’t think of anybody else who might have had a tougher ceremony to experience,” Spieth said. “It was really tough given that it came so soon after it happened.”
Gold for local Olympians
If North Texas were a nation, it would have finished ahead of Canada and Cuba, among others, for gold medals at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero. North Texas products earned six golds. The breakdown:
Michelle Carter, of Red Oak, won the women’s shot put on her final attempt. Her throw of 67 feet, 81/4 inches, an American record, beat New Zealand’s Valerie Adams by more than 8 inches.
Carter became the first American woman to win a gold in the event. She also one-upped her father, Michael, who won a silver in the shot at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
“The best piece of advice my father gave me was to always work hard,” Michelle Carter said. “One thing he instilled was, ‘Proper preparation prevents poor performances.'”
Tamika Catchings, of Duncanville, picked up her fourth gold overall with the women’s basketball team. Catchings moved into a reserve role at age 37 and averaged 3.1 points with 2.5 rebounds for the eight-game tournament.
“Seeing the flag go up and hearing the national anthem being played, it never gets old,” Catchings said.
Kyle Clemons, of Rowlett, earned a gold for participating in the semifinal heat with the men’s 4×400-meter relay team. He ran the third leg and kept the lead.
“My anxiety was on another level,” Clemons said.
Madison Kocian, of Dallas, won a gold in team gymnastics in her Olympic debut. She had a career-best score of 15.933 in a team romp over Russia. The margin of victory, 8.209 points, was the largest under the current scoring system in Olympics history.
“It was a dream come true,” Kocian said.
Katie Meili, of Colleyville, earned a gold for her work in a preliminary heat with the women’s swimming 400-meter medley relay team. She handled the breaststroke leg, giving gold medalist Lilly King a break before the final.
“It was just a rush of emotion,” Meili said. “Extreme happiness. Extreme gratitude. I never thought I would be here, so it’s really special.”
Courtney Okolo, of Carrollton, ran leadoff for the women’s 4×100-meter relay team, which won its sixth consecutive gold. Okolo put the team into the lead, and it pulled away from Jamaica.
“It blows my mind,” Okolo said. “This is all dreams becoming reality. It’s a blessing to be here, a part of this team.”
Dana Vollmer, of Granbury, returned to competitive swimming after a 17-month maternity leave. Swimming the butterfly on the third leg of the 4×100-meter medley relay, Vollmer passed a Russian to put the team into the lead for the duration.
“It was absolutely the perfect ending,” Vollmer said.
State titles for Highland Park and DeSoto
Two Dallas County high schools with different histories won state football championships.
Highland Park played stout defense to win the fourth title in school history with a 16-7 win over Temple in the Class 5A Division I championship game. Quarterback John Stephen Jones, grandson of Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones, ran for two touchdowns.
“To win a state championship will mark these guys forever,” Highland Park coach Randy Allen said.
DeSoto completed a perfect season by defeating Cibolo Steele 38-29 in the Class 6A Division II title game for the first championship in school history. DeSoto went 16-0.
Heralded DeSoto quarterback Shawn Robinson produced 419 yards in total offense. DeSoto averaged 47.1 points in the six-game postseason run.
“When you don’t think you’re going to lose, you’ve got a good chance to win,” DeSoto coach Todd Peterman said.
All 12 state championship games were played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The total attendance was 245,913. Three games had an attendance of more than 30,000.
For the fifth consecutive season, the Mavericks returned with a redone roster. Oft-injured glamour boy Chandler Parsons departed. Golden State castoffs Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut arrived, moving into prominent roles.
The Mavericks have built around Dirk Nowtizki, the best player in franchise history, during this span. With Nowitzki, 38, rarely playing because of an Achilles tendon condition, the jury-rigged team fell apart.
The Mavericks staggered out to a 2-13 start, their worst since the 1993-94. Their playoff chances in the NBA’s difficult Western Conference diminished well before Christmas, but their chances at obtaining the first overall draft choice were on the rise.
Without Nowitzki, the Mavericks have struggled to score. Through 29 games, they were averaging a league-low 94.2 points per game. That would be the club’s lowest production over a full season since 1997-98, when the Mavericks averaged 91.4 points and went 20-62.
“It’s been difficult from a wins-and-losses standpoint,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “But we’ve got some young guys who are getting some great experience.”
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