Neil Best looks back at the 11 biggest New York sports stories in 2011, in order from 11-to-1.
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Eric LeGrand leads Rutgers onto field
Fifty-four weeks after being paralyzed from the neck down covering a kickoff against Army, LeGrand led the Rutgers football team on the field for its home game against West Virginia in the middle of a freak late-October snowstorm. LeGrand, who continues to need a wheelchair but has shown marked physical improvement, spent the season as a Rutgers radio analyst and charmed and inspired fellow students, fans and the media with his upbeat approach.
Eric LeGrand photos
SBU reaches playoffs, and wins
Eight months after falling two points short of an NCAA basketball tournament bid, Stony Brook athletics continued its rapid rise when the football team defeated Liberty, 41-31, to win the Big South title and earn the school’s first FCS playoff berth.
It got even better a week later when the Seawolves beat Albany in a 31-28 thriller in the first round. Then they put a scare into top-ranked Sam Houston State before losing on the road, 34-27.
Photos: Stony Brook vs. Sam Houston | Meet the 2011 Stony Brook football team
St. John’s returns by storm
The Knicks weren’t the only iconic New York hoops brand to spend much of the 2000s in hibernation.
St. John’s, too, had become an afterthought.
But in Steve Lavin’s first season, the Red Storm won 21 games, several over highly ranked opponents, and reached the NCAA field for the first time since 2002, losing its first game to Gonzaga. The current season started less well, with Lavin undergoing prostate cancer surgery and three recruits shelved for academic reasons.
Rise and fall of St. John's | Top St. John's alum of all time
Mo sets career saves record
Fans at Yankee Stadium were so intent on seeing Mariano Rivera set the career saves record Sept. 19 that they cheered when Nick Swisher ended the eighth inning by grounding into a double play, preserving a save situation.
Rivera obliged, naturally, retiring the Twins in order to secure a 6-4 victory and his 602nd regular-season save, one more than Trevor Hoffman. Teammates, led by Jorge Posada, persuaded him to return reluctantly to the mound and acknowledge the cheers.
Mariano Rivera saves database | Rivera's road to the record
Jets back in AFC title game
Rex Ryan arrived in 2009 promising to change both the Jets’ on-field fortunes and off-field image, and in his first two seasons, he succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations but his own.
The Jets’ run to a second consecutive AFC Championship Game was even more improbable than their first, featuring road victories over Peyton Manning’s Colts and Tom Brady’s Patriots. An awful start against the Steelers in Pittsburgh doomed them to a 24-19 loss and a 42nd consecutive Super Bowl-less season.
Photos from the AFC Championship | Jets-Patriots rivalry through the years
Nassau voters reject Coliseum plan
Nassau County voters emphatically rejected an Aug. 1 referendum to authorize $400 million for a new Coliseum, a minor-league ballpark and other projects in the vicinity.
It was a dispiriting setback for Islanders owner Charles Wang, whose commitment to the arena and the area runs only through 2015, when his lease expires.
Sports Business Journal recently polled its readers on the pro sports facility most in need of renovation or replacement. The Coliseum “won’’ comfortably.
Charles Wang: Ups and downs | Full coverage
Reyes heads south
For much of 2011, stories about the legal and financial intricacies of the Mets’ money problems caused fans’ eyes to glaze over. In early December, they hit home in a way everyone could understand when homegrown star Jose Reyes signed with the Marlins for $106 million over six years.
The Mets could be proved wise over time if age and injury rob Reyes of his agility. But in the short term, fans understandably were jolted and naturally wondered whether a rebuilding era officially had begun.
Jose Reyes timeline | Free agent rankings and predictions
Giants stomp Jets at MetLife
The Giants beat the Jets, 29-14, on Christmas Eve in the most important regular-season game ever between the teams, and the first at their jointly owned new stadium. The victory left the Giants one win from a division title (perhaps saving coach Tom Coughlin’s job in the process) and the Jets on the brink of elimination. It also sparked a profane postgame exchange between Giants running back Brandon Jacobs and Jets coach Rex Ryan, adding spice to the rivalry that figures to reverberate for years to come.
MetLife touchdown database | Tracking Mark Sanchez
Knicks say hello to Melo
By late February, the Knicks at last were relevant again thanks to Amar’e Stoudemire and a scrappy supporting cast. Then they used much of that cast to reel in a big fish from Denver: Carmelo Anthony.
The transition to a two-star constellation was rocky at times, and the Celtics swept the Knicks in the playoffs. But clearly, the sleeping giant of the NBA had stirred.
In December, Tyson Chandler signed up and joined perhaps the most imposing front line in basketball. This could get interesting.
Carmelo Anthony photos | 2011-12 NBA preview
Derek Jeter records 3,000th hit
Smack in the middle of a sports year pockmarked by scandal, labor strife, financial woes and premature death, a fading superstar strode to home plate in the Bronx on a sun-splashed summer Saturday.
Soon he was rounding the bases to a thunderous ovation, having secured his 3,000th career hit with an improbable home run to leftfield. By the end of the day, he would have five hits, the last driving in the winning run.
Then the 23-year-old fan who caught the historic home run ball simply handed it back to the guy who hit it, a perfect end to a perfect sports day. Thank you, Derek Jeter. And you, too, Christian Lopez.
Jeter hits database | 3,000 hits club