New York Mets pitchers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander during...

New York Mets pitchers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander during a spring training workout, Friday Feb. 17, 2023 in Port St. Lucie, FL. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

We know all about bad teams. We have seen many of those in New York-area pro sports over the past decade-plus, especially in football.

There now are people old enough to vote who are not old enough to clearly recall a local NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL team winning a championship.

But even by those low standards, 2023 was something to behold, when things went beyond mere ineptitude to shocking, abject disappointment.

Season after season, teams that looked good and possibly great on paper were . . . not. Often not even close.

So there is your overall theme for our sports year that wasn’t. Now let’s break down the particulars with the top 10 local sports stories of 2023:

1. Aaron Rodgers quarterbacks Jets, briefly

Aaron Rodgers  is sacked during the first quarter by Leonard Floyd of the Buffalo Bills. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Aaron Rodgers turned 2023 into a 12-month soap opera in which he cast himself as the lead, from his infamous “darkness retreat” to a trade from the Packers to the Jets, to basking in the “Hard Knocks” spotlight to tearing his left Achilles tendon four plays into the season to returning to practice on Nov. 29 in hopes of a near-miraculously fast return to action.

All of that was great theater, but meanwhile Rodgers’ new teammates had to keep playing football games, and what was supposed to be a Super Bowl contender instead became the franchise’s 13th consecutive non-playoff team.

2. Mets are big spenders, big losers

Steve Cohen spent $377 million in payroll on his 2023 Mets — give or take a few tens of millions, depending on how you add it all up — which was the biggest such price tag in baseball history.

Then star closer Edwin Diaz suffered a season-ending knee injury while celebrating a victory during the World Baseball Classic, the team started badly, jettisoned not one but two $43.3 million pitchers — Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander — in mid-summer, won 75 games, fired reigning NL Manager of the Year Buck Showalter and assigned baseball operations to president David Stearns and manager Carlos Mendoza.

That’s a lot.

Mets owner Steve Cohen held a news conference at Citi Field on Wednesday where he spoke about the state of the 2023 season. While disappointed and frustrated, Cohen said he would not be making any impulsive decisions and that he thinks the pieces are there. NewsdayTV's David Lennon reports. Credit: Corey Sipkin

3. Yankees swing and miss, then strike back

Say this for the Yankees: Unlike their fellow duds in baseball and football, they did manage to finish over .500, barely. Their 82 victories earned their 31st consecutive winning season.

But that was not close to good enough by Yankees standards, and come early December, the Evil Empire struck back, making a blockbuster trade with San Diego for Juan Soto.

Gerrit Cole’s first Cy Young Award, won in a unanimous vote, was a highlight. He went 15-4 with a 2.63 ERA and 222 strikeouts.

Aaron Judge was a force, with 37 home runs, but he played only 106 games.

4. Giants soar, Giants sore

Two weeks into the new year, the Giants won a road playoff game against the Vikings and seemed to have a coach and quarterback for the long haul.

Then the 2023 season began, and the blooms were off the roses of Brian Daboll and Daniel Jones. The former got the team off to a 2-8 start; the latter played poorly before being lost for the season with a torn ACL on Nov. 5.

At least the season offered one fun story line when undrafted rookie quarterback Tommy DeVito, a Jersey boy out of central casting, won three late-season games in a row.

Giants quarterback Tommy DeVito continues to make headlines with his recent play on the field. NewsdayTV's Kim Jones reports.  Credit: Ed Quinn

5. Big Three to Big Zero for Nets

Long before the trials and tribulations of summer and autumn, the Nets endured perhaps the most spectacular implosion of all.

The franchise bet its near future on Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden.

Then Harden was traded early in 2022 and Irving and Durant followed him out the door in February to Dallas and Phoenix, respectively.

Thus, what was built to be an NBA dream team, reverted to its customary position on the national and local news backburners.

It all happened so fast and was so lacking in accomplishment that it hardly seems like it happened at all.

Liberty forward Breanna Stewart in WNBA Finals Game 3 vs. the Acs Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

6. Liberty crack WNBA Finals

The Liberty spent the offseason assembling a super-team aimed at taking down the defending champion Las Vegas Aces, but Breanna Stewart, Sabrina Ionescu and Co. fell short in the WNBA Finals, losing 3-1.

That was a disappointment, but unlike their male super-team counterparts, the Liberty at least made a run at it, reaching the Finals for the first time since 2002.

Stewart won her second league MVP award in her first season with the Liberty, which had not had an MVP before, edging Alyssa Thomas and A’ja Wilson in a close race.

7. St. John’s hires Rick Pitino

The St. John’s men’s basketball program has had its moments in the three decades since Lou Carnesecca’s retirement, but it has struggled to regain its visibility on the local and national scenes.

That changed in a big way in March with the hiring of Rick Pitino, 71, to succeed Mike Anderson as coach. The Hall of Famer out of St. Dominic High in Oyster Bay immediately set about transforming St. John’s roster and image.

The Red Storm will play more at Madison Square Garden, and if Pitino gets this right will play more often and for longer stays in the NCAA Tournament.

Rick Pitino was introduced as the new head coach of the St. John's men's basketball program on Tuesday at a news conference at Madison Square Garden. The 70-year-old praised the legacy of the program and promised that better days are ahead. NewsdayTV's Roger Rubin reports. Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp

8. Royal flush for winter sports teams

The five NBA and NHL teams in the New York area all reached the playoffs in the same season for the first time since 1994, the year the Rangers won the Stanley Cup and the Knicks reached the NBA Finals.

This time, no one came close to those heights.

The Knicks did win a playoff series for the first time since 2013, ousting the Cavaliers in five games, then lost to the eighth-seeded Heat.

The Rangers and Islanders lost in the first round, the former in seven games against the Devils. Exit coach Gerard Gallant, enter Peter Laviolette.

9. Coco cooks at U.S. Open

Coco Gauff electrified crowds at the U.S. Open in late summer with a run to her first major championship at age 19 — becoming the first American teenager to win the Open since Serena Williams in 1999.

It appeared Gauff’s dream tournament would be over when No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka won the first set of the final, 6-2, but Gauff, the No. 6 seed, stormed back to take the next two, 6-3, 6-2.

On the men’s side, Novak Djokovic defeated Daniil Medvedev in straight sets in the final to secure his 24th Grand Slam single title, tying Margaret Court’s record.

10. Mascots ruling leads to anger, confusion

In a story that impacted the sports world but had wider implications, New York State’s Board of Regents ordered schools to stop using Native American mascots, team names and logos by the end of the 2024-25 school year.

The decision affected about a dozen school districts across Long Island and led to debates over many of its aspects, from the cost of making changes to whether they are necessary in the first place.

In September, the Massapequa school district, whose teams go by “Chiefs,” filed a lawsuit against the Board of Regents claiming the agency had violated its constitutional rights.

The State Department of Education added names such as Thunderbirds, Warriors, Chiefs and Braves to the banned list of school names. NewsdayTV's Drew Scott reports.  Credit: Newsday Staff

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