AMNY presents: The 20 most memorable New York sports moments of 2020

New York Sports 2020
Photos courtesy of Reuters, illustration by Joe Pantorno/AMNY

Let’s be honest, for a moment. We’re limping our way across the finish line of 2020.

But we’re still going and we’re almost there. 

Whatever cliched expression you’d like to use to describe this year, we can all agree that it was a rough one. What we can take stock in, though, is that we’ve made it this far.

When stripped to the very core, sports are nothing more than entertainment. We know that, even if it is a way of life for a lot of us. But this year more than any, it was as much a needed distraction as ever; helping us rise up in these continued harrowing times to give reason to celebrate, to debate, to relax.

Sure, there was a four-month hiatus as the world reeled from the initial outbreak of COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean there was a shortage of big headlines around the New York sports scene. Quite the opposite, actually.

These were the 20 biggest sports moments in New York City this year:

  1. Jan. 8: Giants hire Joe Judge: The Giants finally got a coaching hire right after whiffing on Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur. Joe Judge’s pedigree of working with winning programs has already yielded noticeable improvements in a Giants team that was not expected to do much this season.
  2. Jan. 24: Eli Manning retires: After 16 seasons, two Super Bowl titles, a bevy of franchise records, and countless memories, Giants quarterback Eli Manning called it a career. “It’s rare to have the privilege of playing an entire career with one organization,” Manning said. “I’m proud to be one of the few, but even more so, that it was as a Giant.”
  3. Feb. 24: Islanders acquire JG Pageau: In need of a spark amidst a winter swoon, the Islanders traded for Ottawa Senators forward JG Pageau, bringing skillful depth to the team’s bottom six. Playing just seven games with the team before the COVID shutdown, Pageau was a force when the Islanders returned to the bubble playoffs, posting eight goals and three assists during their run to the conference finals.
  4. March 2: Knicks hire Leon Rose: In desperate need of yet another culture change, the Knicks hired well-respected former agent Leon Rose just before the pandemic shut the sports world down. In his first year, Rose has brought in Tom Thibodeau as head coach while building on a core of young, promising talents to start a legitimate rebuilding process.
  5. Jul. 21: Artemi Panarin named MVP finalist: The Rangers’ superstar winger was named one of three players in the running for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s most valuable player. Panarin shined in his debut season with the Blueshirts, posting 32 goals and 63 assists (95 points) in just 69 regular-season games.
  6. Jul. 23: Gerrit Cole makes Yankees debut as NY sports return from pandemic: After signing a record-setting nine-year, $324 million deal to become the ace of the Bronx, Gerrit Cole makes his first start for the Yankees more than seven months after putting ink to paper. He dominated in the rain-shortened victory over the Washington Nationals, allowing one run while striking out five in six innings of work in the first game played by a major New York pro team since March.
  7. Aug. 10: Rangers win Draft Lottery: After they were swept out of the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round by the Carolina Hurricanes, the Rangers overcame their 12.5% odds to win the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery, awarding them the No. 1 pick of October’s selection process. It allowed them to take winger Alexis Lafreniere, the overwhelming top prospect of the prospect pool and another key part in moving the Rangers’ rebuild that much closer to completion.
  8. Aug. 28: Mets walk-off for Black Lives Matter: As teams around the sporting world sat out in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Wisconsin native, by Kenosha Police, the Mets and Marlins walked off the field after a moment of silence at Citi Field, draping a Black Lives Matter shirt across home plate. The display further supported Mets star Dominic Smith, who wept while speaking with reporters about the current social climate in the United States.
  9. Sept. 3: Pete Alonso hits game-winning homer in first game after Tom Seaver’s death: In the Mets’ first game back at Citi Field following the death of franchise great Tom Seaver, Pete Alonso cranked a walk-off, two-run home run to defeat the Yankees 9-7. “I feel like he’s smiling down on us today,” Alonso said after the game. “It’s extremely special.” 
  10. Sept. 5: Islanders make Eastern Conference Final: The Islanders punched their first trip to a conference final since 1993 in dramatic fashion, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 4-0 in Game 7 after losing two-straight overtime games. Brock Nelson paved the way with three points (1 G, 2 A) while Thomas Greiss stopped all 16 shots that leaked through a resolute Islanders defense.
  11. Sept. 16: Jordan Eberle’s 2OT winner keeps Isles alive: Facing elimination in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Jordan Eberle converted a 2-on-1 one-timer from captain Anders Lee 12:30 into double overtime to lift the Islanders to a 2-1 victory. “That’s the biggest one [I’ve scored] in a long time for sure,” Eberle said after his heroics, which rewarded goaltender Semyon Varlamov’s heroic efforts, as he turned away 29 of 30 shots.
  12. Sept. 20: Saquon Barkley tears ACL: While the Giants weren’t expected to do much in 2020, they were dealt a huge blow in Week 2 against the Chicago Bears when superstar running back Saquon Barkley tore his ACL. The hope is that the mercurial talent will be back by training camp in 2021. 
  13. Sept. 30: Rangers buy out Henrik Lundqvist: With Igor Shesterkin firmly set as the Rangers’ goalie of the future, Henrik Lundqvist’s 15-year run as the backbone of the franchise came to a close when his contract was bought out. “Representing this organization has been the biggest source of pride and joy in my life,” Lundqvist said. He signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals but will miss the 2021 campaign after learning of a heart condition.
  14. Oct. 1: Yankees take wild Game 2 to sweep Indians, advance to ALDS: DJ LeMahieu further cemented himself in Yankees lore, punching the game-winning, RBI single in the ninth inning to lift the Yankees to a 10-9 win over the Cleveland Indians to sweep the Wild Card Series, 2-0. The Yankees had to claw back from multiple deficits, including a 4-1 hole in the fourth inning that was turned upside down thanks to Gio Urshela’s go-ahead grand slam.
  15. Nov. 7: Steve Cohen buys Mets- After a failed attempt back in February and months of speculation, rumors, and pursuits, Steve Cohen became the richest owner in Major League Baseball when he bought the Mets for $2.4 billion. His acquisition has catapulted the franchise to the precipice of a golden era as they begin constructing a winner with a committed owner. 
  16. Nov. 18: Knicks draft Obi Toppin: For a team that usually has no luck at the draft, the Knicks experienced a reversal of fortune in 2020. With the No. 8 pick, Dayton star and national player of the year, Obi Toppin, fell into the Knicks’ laps. Born in Brooklyn, the 22-year-old forward broke down in tears upon his selection. “I’m from New York, that’s why it’s important,” he said. “Me repping my city, it’s amazing.”
  17. Dec. 6: Raiders stun Jets on last-second TD: The 0-11 Jets were on the verge of winning their first game of the 2020 season up four points with 15 seconds left and with the Las Vegas Raiders facing a 3rd-&-10 46 yards away from the end zone. Instead of preparing for the deep pass, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams made the asinine decision to send seven pass rushers, leaving the speedy Vegas reciever Henry Ruggs with a one-on-one matchup with rookie cornerback Lamar Jackson. Ruggs blew by Jackson, Carr hit his man perfectly, and head coach Adam Gase oversaw another national embarrassment. Williams was fired a day later.
  18. Dec. 20: Jets win, to everyone’s disgust: Just two weeks after the Raiders heartbreaker and seven days following a 40-3 beatdown at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, the Jets upset the Rams in Los Angeles for their first win of the season. Sure, the embarrassment of becoming the third-ever team to go 0-16 was avoided, but they very well might have just missed out on the No. 1 pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, and with it, Clemson star quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
  19. Dec. 22: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving hit the court together: More than 17 months after their blockbuster signings with the Nets, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving finally took the court together to usher in a new down for basketball in Brooklyn. They dominated the Golden State Warriors on Opening night, combining for 48 points in a 125-99 victory.
  20. New York fans remain unwavering during pandemic: For four months, the sports world went dark, leaving a sizable hole in the lives of supporters and fanatics everywhere, especially here in New York. Of course, the games are trivial and are a much-needed distraction, but it pales in comparison to the work that was done by our front-line heroes, medical professionals, and essential workers who continue to keep us afloat during these trying times. For their efforts, no list or expression of gratitude will be enough, but let’s hope one day soon we’ll be able to enjoy an afternoon at the ballpark or an evening at the Garden with them.