The month of December for sports fans means not only the end of the calendar year, but with the holidays in full swing, it makes for Christmas celebrations and New Years’ beginnings. Your favorite NFL team is either making plans for the playoffs or a getaway vacation. The NBA is in full swing, baseball’s hot stove is cooking up deals left and right, and college football’s final chapter is ready to begin.
This is the final month of the year, and we figure out who won the month and who deserves some coal.
Once again, we’ve decided to break out the athletes, moments and other things of interest that won and lost at sports in December. Some will be truly awesome moments of spectacle. Others will only be here to make you laugh. Why? Because winning at sports is important.
Winner: David Price
The Boston Red Sox let the world know that they have zero intentions of staying at the bottom of the American League standings. The Red Sox put $217 million in front of former Toronto Blue Jays ace hurler David Price and dared him to say no. With a guaranteed seven-year deal now in hand, Price now has one of the largest average annual salaries in baseball, and the new responsibility of being the lead dog in a retooled Boston rotation.
Loser: Johnny Manziel’s tablet
The Microsoft Surface, the official tablet of the NFL, stays losing in big moments. From their inability to work properly on Monday Night Football or being referred to as one of their main competitors on national television, the Surface can’t catch a break. Well, in the case of Johnny Manziel, he literally tried to break the tablet… across his face.
Winner: Mark Richt
What happens when you’ve proven yourself as one of the most successful head coaches in Georgia Bulldogs history while also driving a fanbase wild by being unable to reach absurd expectations? You get a new job in Miami. Richt, the former backup QB for the Hurricanes, will try to rebuild the once proud renegade program into a contender as Miami has finished the last six seasons unranked in the major polls.
Loser: New England Patriots
Matthew Slater was just trying to follow orders, although the look on his face made everyone think he was making a bad decision. The New England Patriots and the New York Jets were headed into overtime in a key AFC East clash with playoff implications. The Pats won the coin toss, and they decided to…kickoff? That kickoff led to the Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing a 6-yard TD pass to Eric Decker to win the game for the Jets.
Winner: LeBron James
Anytime you earn a lifetime contract that will ensure that you’ll likely become a billionaire, you’ve won. For LeBron James, Nike’s offer to him puts him in a rarified position that only Michael Jordan (officially) can claim. LeBron’s signature kicks made for $340 million in revenue for The Swoosh in 2014, and many expect that number to be eclipsed by 2015. That makes for money well spent by the boys in Beaverton.
Loser: Tyson Fury
You’d think defeating a future hall of fame world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko would immediately qualify one for “winner” status, but Tyson Fury defied the odds. The International Boxing Federation stripped Fury of his belt for refusing to face his mandatory challenger Vyacheslav Glazkov. Then, Manchester Police launched a hate crime investigation following Fury’s comments about homosexuality. Hopefully, the man with the profound name can get back on his game in 2016.
Winner: Chicago Cubs
When you have the best young talent in Major League Baseball and can add two talented veteran stars like Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward to your deep roster, you’ve won. For the Chicago Cubs, the two new additions mean that the time to push for titles officially begins now, even after winning a postseason series at home for the first time in Wrigley Field’s 101 years of being open.
Loser: Karim Benzema
Karim Benzema is one of the best footballers on earth, but in December, the president of France’s soccer federation announced today that the star forward has been suspended indefinitely from their national team. The reason? Charges brought against Benzema stemming from a sex tape blackmail scandal involving countryman and teammate Mathieu Valbuena. When you’ve been officially charged with, “complicity in an attempted extortion,” you’ve taken the L.
Winner: Christian McCaffrey
Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey might not have won the Heisman Trophy award, but he did walk away with an honor in December that no other running back in history can claim.
During the Pac-12 championship, in a game where the Cardinal defeated the USC Trojans 41-22, McCaffrey went wild. The Stanford back went for 207 yards rushing, 105 yards receiving, and 149 return yards as a returner. All totaled, that’s 461 all-purpose yards, the fifth most in college football history. During the game, McCaffrey also broke Barry Sanders’ 27-year-old record for most all-purpose yards (3,254) in a season. While Sanders only played 11 games, McCaffrey actually broke the record on fewer touches.
Loser: Jose Mourinho
After just 16 Premier League games into his third season as Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho was fired by club owner Roman Abramovich. Chelsea has been abysmal all season and goes into 2016 on the verge of relegation with nine losses on the table. Mourinho led the Blues to a Premier League title and League Cup last season but has been unable to bring home a Champions League crown now after his second stint for Chelsea.
Winner: Conor McGregor
The biggest trash talker in the UFC earned the right to call himself the 2015 “Fighter of the Year.” McGregor, once considered a “protected fighter” by many, fought three times this year and all three ended in spectacular fashion. The Irishman first KO’d Dennis Siver in January, then flashed Chad Mendes at UFC 189 in July. However, the icing on the cake was his Ali-esque flash KO of Jose Aldo in December at UFC 194. In just 13 seconds, McGregor’s left hook on the legendary featherweight made him the undisputed featherweight champion of the world.
Loser: Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys came into 2015 with championship aspirations. However, with Tony Romo going down for the count (again) with a broken collarbone in late November, Jerry Jones’ squad was forced to look at other options at quarterback. In December, the Cowboys rolled out Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore that combined to score just 48 offensive points and a 1-3 record. Maybe it’s time for the ‘Boys to draft a quarterback in the first round for the first time since 1989? (That year, they drafted two of them in Troy Aikman and Steve Walsh.)
Winner: Serena Williams
— Courtney Nguyen (@FortyDeuceTwits) December 14, 2015
When you are the first solo female athlete to be named Sports Illustrated’s Sportswoman of the Year for the first time in 33 years, (and just the third ever, along with Mary Decker and Chris Evert) you’re a winner. Besides, did you see Serena dominate that cover? Of course you did.
Loser: Eric Weddle
The San Diego Chargers’ all-pro safety is technically the loser here, but the organization is the one taking it on the chin. The Chargers placed the defensive back on injured reserve with a groin issue, ending his season early and possibly his tenure with the only team he’s ever played for in nine seasons. Moreover, Weddle’s agent told the media that the Chargers informed Weddle he’ll be fined $10,000 for staying out during halftime against the Miami Dolphins to watch his daughter perform at halftime in a program sponsored by the Chargers’ cheerleading squad. Weddle did not ask for permission, but this all seems a bit drastic for one of few quality players on a roster in need of an overhaul.
Winner: Iman Shumpert
When duty calls, someone has to stand and pick up the responsibility. For Iman Shumpert, he took on the challenge with his bare hands and a pair of red headphones. Shumpert’s fiancee, Teyana Taylor, was pregnant with the couple’s first child when unexpectedly she went into labor. Soon, she was in a bathtub with only the Cleveland Cavaliers’ guard there to get the job done. Taylor didn’t realize she was giving birth until she felt the baby’s head. “It took two 10 counts and two pushes with my fiancé playing doctor and she entered this world into his bare hands!” Shumpert used a pair of red headphones around the umbilical cord until the ambulance could get there five minutes later. Incredible.
The baby girl is named Iman Tayla Shumpert Jr. We wish the Shumpert’s a big congratulations!
Loser: Jeff Hornacek
Markieff Morris became the second player in Phoenix Suns history to throw a towel at his coach (remember Robert Horry and Danny Ainge?) as the organization suspended the forward for two games after throwing a towel at coach Jeff Hornacek. The Suns, who many predicted would make a run at a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference, are near the bottom of the standings and have already lost 21 games this season. Plus, Eric Bledsoe is out for the season and two assistant coaches have been fired. Hornacek’s days as the Suns leading man might over sooner than we think.
Winner: Kansas University
If you’d pegged a December contest between the Kansas Jayhawks and the Montana Grizzlies as a once-in-a-lifetime matchup, you are psychic. In reality, Jayhawks fans helped set an unlikely record against Montana, as the crowd set the Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of ugly sweaters. To be precise, there were 3,473 ugly sweaters in Allen Fieldhouse. Well done KU, well done.
Loser: Jason Myers
When the NFL decided to change the extra point procedure, no one knew exactly what the impact would be. Jason Myers, the kicker for the Jacksonville Jaguars, is now the poster boy for missing so many extra points from the 33-yard line. Myers has missed seven extra points this season, and he’s been less successful on extra points (81.6%) than on actual field goals (85.7%). For comparison’s sake, no other kicker has missed more than four extra points this season.
Winner: Derrick Henry
With 189 rushing yards in the SEC Championship and a 29-15 victory for the Alabama Crimson Tide over the Florida Gators, Derrick Henry all but assured that he would be the 81st winner of the Heisman Trophy. Henry’s workhorse campaign was highlighted by rushing for 1,986 yards and 23 touchdowns for a Crimson Tide squad that’s just two wins away from winning another national championship. Henry set a new SEC rushing total record, breaking Herschel Walker’s 1981 mark of 1,891 yards on 54 fewer carries.
Loser: Andy Dalton
The Cincinnati Bengals have been one of the NFL’s best teams all season, but with one errant pass and ill-advised tackle from Andy Dalton, Cincy’s favorite football team might just be down for the count. Dalton’s thumb fracture in week 14 couldn’t have come at a worse time, as the Bengals quarterback will not be able to play in Week 17 and wouldn’t be ready for Cincinnati’s first playoff game unless they can earn a first-round bye without him. Can AJ McCarron save the day for the Bengals?
Winner: Kobe Bryant
If the 2016 NBA All-Star game only allowed players to play based on their resume this season, Kobe Bryant wouldn’t be allowed near the court at all. However, since the fans control who starts for the East and West squads, there’s a good chance we’ll see #24 suit up one more time in Toronto. The Los Angeles Lakers’ 17-time All-Star was the leading vote-getter in the initial returns of NBA All-Star voting. Bryant received a whopping 719,235 votes to claim the top spot, ahead of the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (510,202) and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James (357,937).
Loser: Odell Beckham Jr.
New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has quickly proven himself as one of the game’s best wideouts with a continual highlight reel of acrobatic catches and blazing speed. However, one fault of OBJ’s is his ability to lose his temper, as Beckham was suspended for one game in December for his actions against the Carolina Panthers in which he drew three personal foul penalties. Beckham was flagged three times as he tussled and fought with Panthers cornerbacks Josh Norman and Cortland Finnegan throughout the game. While the Panthers’ defensive backs were also in the wrong, but Beckham went over the line, especially when he delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit on Norman that could’ve caused a major injury.
Winner: Charles Woodson
The only player in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy as a defensive player will now also go into the record books as one of the greatest players in the history of the Oakland Raiders as well. Woodson played in his final home game this December, and as only a Raider legend could, left the O.co Coliseum by leading them in “Rai-Ders!” chants over and over again. The Raiders would defeat the Chargers 23-20 in overtime, and later in the month, Woodson would be named to the Pro Bowl for the 9th time in his career. A fitting end for Woodson, one of the best to ever do it.
Loser: Chip Kelly
The Philadelphia Eagles’ experiment with the quirky head coach from the Oregon Ducks has officially come to an end as Chip Kelly was fired in late December. The Eagles announced that team chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie had released Kelly, and Pat Shurmur will be the interim coach for Sunday’s season finale versus the Dallas Cowboys. Kelly went 26-21 in three seasons as the Eagles coach, with one playoff appearance in 2013.
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”