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Year in review: Month-by-month look at memorable 2012 sports stories

January One year after leading the Bucs to their biggest season-to-season wins turnaround in club history, Raheem Morris was fired as coach on Jan. 2. He went 17-31, losing 10 straight to end the 2011 season. After a 24-day search, the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, and GM Mark Dominik hired Rutgers coach Greg Schiano as a serious, hands-on coach who knows how to make repairs. "We liked his leadership, his structure, his organization, and he's a football guy through and through," Dominik said. Schiano, above, won his debut game, against Carolina, but is 6-9 and on a five-game losing streak heading into Sunday's finale.

February In another down-to-the-wire classic, the Giants captured Super Bowl XLVI thanks to the poise of quarterback Eli Manning, above, and a strange final-minute touchdown by running back Ahmad Bradshaw that provided a 21-17 victory. Bradshaw's 6-yard touchdown run with 57 seconds left capped another remarkable Manning rally, this one an 88-yard scoring drive on his final series. Manning's magic came four years and two days after he led a similarly clutch championship-winning 83-yard march to beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. In both instances, Manning was named the game's MVP.

March USF's men's basketball team made a long-awaited piece of history with the program's first NCAA Tournament berth in 20 years. "It's an exciting day for our program, our university, our community," said coach Stan Heath. We're excited to be a part of the field of 68." The Bulls matched a school record with 22 wins and earned the program's first NCAA Tournament victories, 65-54 over California and 58-44 against Temple. The Bulls lost in the third round, 62-56 to Ohio.

April In the Lightning's season finale at Winnipeg, Steven Stamkos scored his 60th goal of the season, the 20th NHL player to reach the milestone. The goal 3:29 into the third period made Stamkos the second player in 15 seasons to reach 60 and the first since Washington's Alex Ovechkin had 65 in 2007-08. Finishing with 60, Stamkos led the league by 10 over Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin. His 48 even-strength goals led the league, too. His 12 winners tied for the lead, and his 97 points were a career high. "It was incredible," he said. "To (get No. 60) in Canada and have them give me an ovation like that. It was amazing."

June The Decision is final: LeBron James made the right call taking his talents to South Beach. James (No. 6, above) had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists in leading the Heat in a 121-106 rout of the Thunder in Game 5 to win the NBA title, and he was named Finals MVP. "Happiest day of my life. It means everything," he said. He left Game 5 with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for good with 3:01 remaining for the start of a celebration he had been waiting for since arriving out of high school as the Cavaliers' No. 1 overall pick in 2003.

july Rays pitcher David Price was named to the American League All-Star team for the July 10 game in Kansas City. Price, a three-time All-Star, worked a perfect third inning, needing only seven pitches to retire Cincinnati's Joey Votto, St. Louis' Carlos Beltran and San Francisco's Buster Posey. "That might be my best inning of the year so far," Price said, beaming. He finished the season leading the league with a 2.56 ERA and sharing the top spot with 20 wins. And in November, he became the first Rays player to win the prestigious Cy Young Award.

May Dan Wheldon, an IndyCar fan favorite before his death in an October 2011 race in Las Vegas, was honored at the Indianapolis 500. Wheldon, left, who made his home in St. Petersburg, won the race in 2011 and 2005. "Dan embodied the spirit of the Indianapolis 500 and Indianapolis Motor Speedway like few who have ever raced here," said Jeff Belskus, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp. president and CEO. Dario Franchitti, the 2007 and 2010 Indy champion and a friend of Wheldon's, overcame a spin after his first pit stop that dropped him way down in the field, then won an exhilarating last-lap duel with Takuma Sato.

august The London Olympics were full of inspiring stories, but no athlete shone as brightly as U.S. gymnast Gabby Douglas. She won the women's all-around gold medal with four exquisite error-free routines. Douglas, 16, became the first black gymnast to win the event. "It was nerve-wracking," she said. "Man, my heart was racing." Her victory marked the first time the United States won both the individual and team titles at the same Olympics.

September Ranked No. 4 at the time, Florida State, featuring running back Chris Thompson, above, charged into Tampa for a highly anticipated matchup against USF. The Seminoles have a history with the bay area. They entered 8-1 overall in Tampa but hadn't played in the city since 1979. FSU running back and former Plant High standout James Wilder couldn't hide his excitement at the chance to come home to play USF. "My teammates, they know it's my hometown. They know I have a lot of people down there," he said. USF got as close as 13-10 in the third quarter after a blocked punt, but FSU pulled away from there, getting out with a 30-17 victory before an announced crowd of 69,383 at Raymond James Stadium, a record for a USF game.

October After 10 years in the Rays organization, centerfielder B.J. Upton played his last home game with the Rays on Oct. 3. Upton, the longest-tenured Ray — he debuted in 2004 — teared up after receiving a standing ovation before his final at-bat, "Tried to hold it as long as I could," he said, "but I just couldn't." The 966 games he played for the Rays are second in franchise history (behind Carl Crawford's 1,235), and he is second in hits (910), runs (539), doubles (202) and steals (232). In November the Braves and Upton agreed to a five-year, $75.25 million contract.

November Throughout the 1990s, Florida-Florida State was among the premier college football rivalries in the nation. This year the rivalry between the then-No. 6 Gators and No. 10 Seminoles returned to national prominence. "It's an important game for the University of Florida. It's important for your state to win this football game," Gators coach Will Muschamp said of the rivalry. Florida forced a season-high five turnovers and scored 24 straight points in the fourth quarter for a 37-26 victory in front of 83,429 at Doak Campbell Stadium. Florida (11-1) ended a two-game losing streak to FSU (10-2) and moved to 1-5-1 at Doak Campbell when both were ranked in the Top 10.

December Willie Taggart, who left the Tampa Bay area to play and coach at Western Kentucky, was hired to be the next coach of USF football. Taggart is the third coach since the program's inception 16 seasons ago. The enthusiastic 36-year-old says he is committed to giving USF the kind of rapid ascent his career has taken. "I always said I wouldn't leave WKU unless I had a chance to go win a national championship. I truly believe that can get done here," Taggart said. He replaces Skip Holtz, who was fired after a 1-6 Big East record this season left him 5-16 in conference play during his three-year tenure.

Year in review: Month-by-month look at memorable 2012 sports stories 12/25/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 25, 2012 11:36pm]
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