No New York sports fan will think of 2019 with the same delight and nostalgia of the magical year 1969 — a triple triumph in which the Jets, Mets and Knicks captured world championships in improbable ways.
This year, the Canyon of Heroes in Lower Manhattan — where the three championship teams reveled in showers of ticker tape a half-century ago — had just one sports celebration this year, and it wasn’t even for a team based in the five boroughs.
The U.S. Women’s National Team captured their third FIFA Women’s World Cup. New York threw Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and their victorious teammates a thrilling ticker tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes in July.
The city honored these inspiring champions who captivated the nation with their incredible leadership and performance on and off the soccer pitch.
It was a celebration to remember — but regrettably, none of New York’s pro franchises could achieve that same glory this year.
Of all of New York’s pro teams, the Yankees came the closest to sniffing world championship success. Having won 103 games and the American League Eastern Division title, the Bronx Bombers swept the Minnesota Twins in three straight games, then faced off with the Houston Astros.
But Yankee fans’ dreams of a 28th World Championship were dashed by Houston’s Jose Altuve, who crushed a walkoff Game 6-winning homer off Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman, sending the Astros to the World Series — and New York to a bitter winter.
Yet the Bombers’ hopes for 2020 got a big boost this month when the Yankees opened up the coffers and gave free agent ace Gerrit Cole a record-setting, nine-year contract. They’re now positioned as the favorites to win the American League pennant for the first time in more than a decade.
As for the Mets, 2019 was one of the strangest campaigns their fans ever saw. Rookie first baseman Pete Alonso had a record-setting season, hitting 53 home runs, winning the Home Run Derby and turning into a superstar overnight. Jacob deGrom continued his incredible pitching performance, even with a consistent lack of offensive support, en route to a second-straight National League Cy Young Award.
After stinking up the first half of the season, the Mets went on an improbable run in July and August to go back over the .500 mark and vault themselves into the National League Wild Card race. But the division rival (and eventual World Champion) Washington Nationals proved even hotter. The Mets had their first winning season since 2016, but their 86 wins weren’t enough to make the playoffs.
Change is in the air over Flushing now. It started with the dismissal of manager Mickey Callaway after two seasons; he was replaced by former Met outfielder Carlos Beltran.
Then the news came that Sterling Equities, owned by Fred and Jeff Wilpon, were preparing to sell a majority stake of the Mets to billionaire Steve Cohen. That news gave many Mets fans hope not just for 2020, but for years to come.
The “Same Old Jets” did in 2019 what they’ve done best for decades now: Make poor decisions and lose lots of football games.
The Jets gave up on head coach Todd Bowles after four seasons of futility. Team CEO Christopher Johnson let general manager Mike Magannan hire Adam Gase as Gang Green’s new head coach and lead the NFL Draft in April — then bizarrely fired Magannan in May, replacing him with Joe Douglas.
When the Jets took the field in September, they went out and had one of the worst starts in team history, going 1-7 in the first half. The campaign was mired by quarterback Sam Darnold contracting (of all things) mononucleosis and regressing afterward, along a slew of other key injuries. Still, they rallied to win games in the second half of the season, but they’ll fall short of the playoffs yet again.
Big Blue was a big mess in 2019.
After an 0-3 start, Big Blue benched quarterback Eli Manning for rookie Daniel Jones, who won his first two games. But then the wheels completely fell off the Giant wagon, and they lost the next nine games, putting themselves into contention for the top overall draft pick — and putting head coach Pat Shurmur on the hot seat.
The highlight of the season happened on Dec. 15, when Manning — back as the starting quarterback after Jones suffered an ankle injury — led the Giants to one more home victory at MetLife Stadium, over the Miami Dolphins. Many believe that was the final home start for the two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback.
Entering 2020, two things seem certain about the Giants: they’ll have a new head coach, and Jones will be their quarterback.
The Knicks — a lousy franchise for much of this century — were lousy last season, are lousy this season, and figure to be lousy for the foreseeable future. They made a head coaching change. James Dolan owns the Knicks. What more needs to be said?
As for the Nets, they finished the 2018-19 season with a winning record that earned them the six seed in the playoffs. But after losing in the first round to the Philadelphia 76ers, the front office shook things up in the offseason, letting the city know they’re serious about winning.
They signed Kyrie Irving from the Boston Celtics and traded for Kevin Durant from the Golden State Warriors. And while the Nets are playing like a playoff-bound team, they’ve done so with both high-profile players on the sidelines for long stretches. Durant remains out with a torn ACL, while Irving missed more than dozen games with a shoulder injury.
Splitting their time between Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and Long Island’s Nassau County, the Islanders are nonetheless playing like championship contenders. Going into Sunday, they’re the second-best team in the Metropolitan Division and have the third-most points in the Eastern Conference.
Coach Barry Trotz, along with Anders Lee and Mat Barzal, have the Isles poised at making a serious run at the Stanley Cup for the first time since the 1980s.
Meanwhile, the rebuilding Rangers continue to struggle at Madison Square Garden. They held a fire sale in February in which they dealt Mats Zuccarello, Adam McQuaid and Kevin Hayes for draft picks. They finished the 2018-19 season seventh in the Metropolitan Division and well out of the playoffs.
Despite drafting Finnish hockey star Kaapo Kakko and trading for Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets, the Rangers find themselves still near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings and seven points back of a playoff spot. And like the Giants transition at quarterback, the Rangers also seem to be transitioning in the net, with backup Alexandar Georghiev platooning with Henrik Lundqvist, who won his 450th game at the start of the season.
Meanwhile, the Devils are still mired in the basement of the Metropolitan Division, and are the second-worst team in the NHL. They fired the head coach John Hynes and replaced him with interim coach Alain Nasreddine.
No New York City representative in Major League Soccer has captured the MLS Cup since the league began play in 1996 — and that streak remains in place heading into 2020.
That’s not to say New York City FC had a poor 2019 campaign. They won the regular season Eastern Conference title and qualified for the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League, but they fell short in the conference semifinals to Toronto FC.
The team, which plays its home games at Yankee Stadium, announced in December they would play four of their regular season games at Citi Field, home of the Mets.
Meanwhile, across the river, the New York Red Bulls finished sixth in the Eastern Conference but lost their first-round playoff series to the Philadelphia Union.