From Kansas City Chiefs to LeBron James to Shohei Ohtani: CBS Sports’ top 23 headline-making moments of 2023

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Just when you thought you had seen it all in the world of sports, 2023 happened. In the last 12 months, we’ve witnessed the signing of a mammoth record contract in Major League Baseball, an unbreakable record fall in the NBA, people raging at — and because of — soccer in the United States, countless dramas play out across the college sports landscape, concerns about the future of an American sports league … and professional football become the second-biggest headline during an NFL game. Here, for your consideration, are CBS Sports’ top 23 headline-making moments of 2023.

1. The Kelces go mainstream
Star tight end Travis Kelce joked about courting Taylor Swift, but once the pop icon actually set foot on Kansas City’s stomping grounds — not for a concert — but to watch Kelce and the Chiefs play football, social media went abuzz with their rumored, and later confirmed, relationship. The Grammy winner is now a regular at Chiefs’ contests, cheering on her big-name beau, all of which helped fuel everything from Kelce’s jersey sales to the Swifties newfound love of all things KC Chiefs to the listenership of the New Heights podcast co-hosted by Kelce and older brother Jason, center for the Philadelphia Eagles … And, oh yeah, the Chiefs won the Super Bowl (by defeating the aforementioned Eagles in comeback fashion) while quarterback Patrick Mahomes picked up the second championship MVP award of his young career.

2. The Year of Ohtani
Shohei Ohtani began 2023 by striking out then-Angels teammate Mike Trout to win the World Baseball Classic for Team Japan in March and ended it by inking a $700-million deal with the Dodgers in December. In between, the two-way superstar put on a show, pitching 132 innings and socking 44 home runs before being shut down to undergo elbow surgery. All of that added up to another unanimous MVP award in the American League, his second in three years. Under normal circumstances, this would count as a career year, especially since the surgery will keep him off the mound in 2024, but nothing about Ohtani has been normal so far.

3. You can’t see me.
Caitlin Clark and No. 2 Iowa were all the buzz after she dropped 41 points in a stunning upset of top-seeded South Carolina in their women’s Final Four semifinal … and you might say that Angel Reese and fellow semifinal victor No. 3 LSU took that personally. Two days later, the Tigers crushed the Hawkeyes, 102-85, to win the program’s first national championship. With the game decided late in the fourth quarter, Reese stared Clark down, pointed to her ring finger and made the “you can’t see me” gesture — one that Clark had done to an opponent one week earlier. Regardless, Reese’s action, which came in the most-watched women’s college basketball game ever with nearly 10 million viewers, was met with a level of indignation and vitriol that, at best, exposed bias and double-standards because they (presumably) did not know or see Clark’s actions. Clark would later defend Reese’s action, which is now one of the most iconic images in women’s college basketball history.

4. Deion era opens with a bang
Colorado began the Deion Sanders era as a 21-point underdog on the road against a TCU team coming off an appearance in the College Football Playoff title game. But behind a 510-yard passing performance from quarterback Shedeur Sanders, the Buffaloes stunned the Horned Frogs and college football as a whole. Sanders’ performance, which included four touchdown passes, sent the hype surrounding his father’s coaching tenure into overdrive. Colorado climbed to No. 18 in the AP poll amid a 3-0 start before struggling to a 4-8 record in a rugged Pac-12. Nonetheless, Colorado’s start to the 2023 season built a fervor that transcended the normal parameters of college football.

5. Pray for Damar
It looked to be a routine tackle on a routine play in a late-season football game. It would wind up rocking the NFL, all athletes as well as sports fans and non-sports fans alike. After the tackle, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin stood up, took two steps and collapsed as he went into cardiac arrest. Teammates formed a wall around him on the field as CPR was administered in order to restore his heartbeat before he was transported to a hospital in Cincinnati. The incident led to the Jan. 2 game being suspended, then canceled, and while the health of Hamlin was far and away the most important thing, there were questions about how to proceed with postseason seeding as the eventual division winners Bills and Bengals, along with the Kansas City Chiefs all had pathways to being the conference’s top seed had that game been played to completion. (One plan even had the AFC title game being held in the neutral site of Atlanta had it been a Bills-Chiefs matchup.) Meanwhile, “Pray for Damar” became a rallying cry that unified the sports world. By April, Hamlin, stated his intent to return to the game, and he would go on to play in the preseason. On Oct. 1, he played in his first regular season game and he recorded his first tackle on Nov. 13. Said Hamlin: “To be able to still do what I love at the highest level in the world, is amazing.”

6. Lionel Messi joins MLS
The greatest of all time, just months after winning the 2022 World Cup with Argentina to cement his legacy, departed Paris Saint-Germain after his contract expired and moved to Inter Miami CF of Major League Soccer. There, playing in the first-ever edition of the Leagues Cup, he elevated the competition’s importance and guided his club to its first-ever trophy, scoring in every single one of the games, producing 10 goals in seven games, countless magical moments and setting off an absolute frenzy in the second-hand ticket and merchandise markets. Messi’s July 21 debut drew an A-list turnout of LeBron James, Serena Williams and Kim Kardashian. Since then, other players have followed Messi to South Florida, including former Barcelona partner Luis Suarez, with the Herons’ expectations through the roof next season.  

7. Aaron Rodgers’ four and out 
It was a major offseason trade that we all saw coming, and so just three days before the NFL Draft, four-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers was dealt by the Green Bay Packers to the New York Jets. After an offseason of anticipation, a summer spectacle that included being the focus of HBO’s Hard Knocks and lofty Super Bowl dreams, the long-suffering Jets faithful were subjected to even more suffering when Rodgers’ fourth snap with Gang Green resulted in their star QB going down with a torn Achilles. Rodgers flirted with a historic return from the injury, but his abrupt exit was a shocking way to open — and, in a sense, close — the Jets’ 2023 season.

8. Michigan’s sign-stealing scandal
Michigan found itself embroiled in an NCAA investigation centered around its scouting of future opponents, which is against NCAA rules. It soon developed into a full-blown scandal for the Wolverines centered on the actions of staff member Connor Stalions. Among the allegations against Stalions were that he purchased tickets to games involving future Michigan opponents for associates to use for the purpose of developing intel on the signs used by other teams. He was also accused of using false pretenses to make his way on to Central Michigan’s sideline to scout Michigan State. Stalions was fired and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was ultimately handed a three-game suspension from the Big Ten. But the controversy did little to derail the Wolverines, who enter the College Football Playoff with the top seed at 13-0.

9. Florida State left out
The College Football Playoff Selection Committee pulled a stunner by leaving 13-0 ACC champion Florida State out of the four-team CFP field. The Seminoles were the first undefeated Power Five team ever snubbed in the 10 years of the four-team format of the CFP, and the decision sparked outrage among FSU’s leadership. The committee’s rationale for omitting FSU centered around a season-ending injury to start quarterback Jordan Travis, which diminished the Seminoles’ offensive capacity. Instead, 12-1 Alabama and 12-1 Texas were given slots along with 13-0 Michigan and 13-0 Washington.

10. Disappointment at the World Cup
The U.S. women’s national soccer team’s longstanding reign over the sport came to an end with a screeching halt against Sweden in the Round of 16 on Aug. 6, when it registered its earliest ever exit from the World Cup. The team’s signature dominant style never showed up at the tournament, which ushered in new eras galore across the sport. A new world order in the women’s game was confirmed when Spain won its first World Cup, while a USWNT rebuild officially began soon after the tournament. Out went head coach Vlatko Andonvoski and in came young talent like Jaedyn Shaw and Mia Fishel that could lead a squad refresh. More so, coming soon is Emma Hayes, Andonovski’s successor who will reportedly be the highest-paid coach women’s soccer has ever seen … Spain’s win was marred by an incident during the medal ceremony that touched off a “Me Too” moment. The then-Spanish federation chief, Luis Rubiales, grabbed the head of Jennifer Hermoso, the team’s star player, with two hands and kissed her on the lips. Hermoso said the kiss was not consensual, which led to calls for Rubiales to resign, something that he did do about three weeks later.

11. Emotional rollercoaster for the James household
It was quite a year for arguably the most famous sports family in America. LeBron James (who turned 39 on Dec. 30) passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the NBA’s all-time scoring list on Feb. 7. Spring saw a revised Los Angeles Lakers squad make an improbable run to the Western Conference finals. In July, after committing to USC, the most well-known incoming freshman in college basketball suffered heart failure and had to be rushed to the hospital. In an instant, the life of LeBron James Jr. changed. He not only survived, but an optimistic diagnosis and recovery plan enabled Bronny to make his college basketball debut on Dec. 10, the day earning MVP honors for leading the Lakers to victory in the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament. 

12. “Sportswashing”
Saudi Arabia has made no secret of wanting to become a major player in the global sports scene and with billions of dollars to shell out, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been intent on doing just that. In the last 12 months, Cristiano Ronaldo and other soccer stars have agreed to play in Saudi Arabia for nearly $1 billion and golfer Jon Rahm signed a whopping nine-figure deal to shun the PGA Tour and join LIV Golf — a league that could wind up merging with the PGA. Mixed martial arts and auto racing are also elements of Vision 2030, the prince’s overarching goal of transforming the kingdom away from an oil-based economy while also “sportswashing” or softening the image of nation that has had a well-documented history of human rights issues.

13. Golden world champion comebacks
It was a triumphant return to the world stage for Simone Biles and Sha’Carri Richardson after both experienced setbacks during 2021. Biles, who withdrew from some events while at the Tokyo Olympic Games, received both praise and scorn from the public for citing mental health concerns. But in 2023, Biles became the most decorated gymnast ever as she earned four gold medals, including the all-around at the Gymnastics World Championships in Belgium in October. (She also recently made headlines because her husband, Green Bay Packers safety Jonathan Owens, said he didn’t know who she was when they met in 2020. And he also said that he’s “the catch” in the relationship. Ouch.) … Richardson, meanwhile, tore up the track at the World Track and Field Championships in Hungary in September, winning gold in the 100m and 4×100 relay, and a bronze in the 200m, leading her to say that she has “fallen back in love with my sport” after a positive marijuana test during the U.S. trials kept her off the previous Olympics squad.

14. Dolphins’ swagger is back
If the Dolphins wind up running the table they’ll no doubt look back on Week 3, when Mike McDaniel’s squad scored more points than any team since 1966. The offensive firestorm all but announced Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill as MVP candidates. Washington’s NFL record for points in a game still stands at 72, but with Miami up 70-20 during the game’s final drive, the Hard Rock Stadium faithful began chanting, “Three more points! Three more points!” … In Week 6, after a 41-yard touchdown strike, Hill made a bee-line for a photographer standing beyond the end zone, grabbed a waiting cell phone and recorded himself doing a backflip. The 20-year-old photographer lost his job, but Hill has since said he would replace the missing wages. But putting his money where his mouth is has been nothing new for Hill. During the preseason he said he could become the first player in NFL history with a 2,000-yard receiving campaign. And it had been looking very good until an ankle injury caused him to miss a game in Week 15. But it will still be a historic season and, hey, he’ll always have that selfie.

15. Wemby arrives in NBA
The amazing thing about the Victor Wembanyama phenomenon is not just the sheer amount of hype he generated in the first six months of the year — even before he left France to come to the United States for the NBA Draft. And now, even with his NBA team floundering, it all seems entirely justified. The No. 1 pick selected by the San Antonio Spurs went on to make mere preseason games must-watch, and he was barely a week into his NBA career when he dropped 38 points in a win against the Suns, after which Kevin Durant said that he would “create his own lane, much different than anybody who’s ever played.” Although he hasn’t even turned 20 yet and is figuring out who he is in a less-than-ideal team context, one thing is clear: There is no precedent for Wemby.

16. The madness was real
Hello, friends! … So who else had a Final Four bracket featuring Florida Atlantic, Miami, San Diego State and UConn? March Madness lived up to it’s billing as SDSU knocked off FAU at the buzzer in one semifinal, but that was hardly the only shining moment in the men’s 2023 tournament. Purdue with 7-foot-4 national player of the year Zach Edey became the second No. 1 to lose to a No. 16 in Fairleigh Dickinson University, the smallest team in the field, in the history of the event. No top seed even reached the Elite Eight, and no No. 2 or No. 3 reached the Final Four. It was just the latest reminder of the incredible annual spectacle that is the NCAA Tournament.

17. NBA adds an In-Season Tournament 
NBA interest in November and December is low among casual fans, so any semblance of raising the stakes for fall ball would add spice to league overall. But the competition level and genuine excitement around the inaugural in-season tournament was palpable. Ratings for games in the same time period went up year-over-year, and the fans bought in because the players bought in. There were special uniforms and unique floors were used on tournament nights. The group stage games were generally better than the typical early-season alternatives; knockout contests felt like the playoffs. And, for better or for worse, “point differential” entered the NBA lexicon. Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton had his coming-out party as a bonafide superstar while the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Cup, and the $500,000 per player prize that went with it. LeBron James was named MVP, and something that may or may not be a banner was raised to the rafters in Los Angeles.

18. Draymond Green’s antics
It was quite the tumultuous year for Draymond Green, who is currently serving an indefinite suspension for landing a roundhouse to an opponent’s jaw, that Green embarrassingly tried to pawn off as a mere attempt to sell a foul. This instance came less than a month after the Golden State Warriors forward put a different opposing player into a WWE-style chokehold, which he tried to sell as protecting his teammate who was in exactly zero danger. That act cost Green five games, which came on the literal heel of a chest stomp of yet another player during the opening round of the playoffs in April. The Warriors gave Green a $100 million contract extension this summer in the hopes that he would, you know, actually help them on the court. Now the league has deemed Green has to help himself off the court before he can even play again for a Warriors team that is clinging to its last shred of relevancy.

19. Coco Gauff’s run and drama at the US Open
Just two months removed from a first-round exit at Wimbledon, Coco Gauff, 19, entered the US Open as the sixth seed with aspirations of winning her first major on home soil. Gauff worked victory after victory, but in her semifinal match the normally serene tennis crowd became the scene of a global warming protest as a spectator glued his feet to the floor at his seat, delaying the match for close to an hour. Unfazed, Gauff went on to win that match and the championship against second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka to become the youngest American to claim the top prize since Serena Williams did so at 17 in 1999. On the men’s side, Novak Djokovic’s win extended his own record with 24 major singles titles.

20. Who’s your backup QB?
In August, fantasy drafts looked deep as a bevy of young QBs on the ascent looked poised to take the next step — and fantasy football players were ready to roll as well. Then came the injuries. Week 1, Aaron Rodgers. Week 5, Anthony Richardson. Week 6, Justin Fields. Week 8, Kirk Cousins. Week 9, Daniel Jones. Week 10, Deshaun Watson. Week 11, Joe Burrow. Week 14, Justin Herbert. Week 16, Trevor Lawrence. One after one, the NFL’s biggest stars began dropping like flies, leaving fantasy football commissioners scrambling to the waiver wires in search of a new field general. By the time the 2023 season comes to a close, most championship-winning teams won’t have a Rodgers or Burrow at the forefront, but rather a Nick Mullens or Aidan O’Connell. 

21. The return of Brittney Griner
After Brittney Griner’s December 2022 release following a harrowing 10 months in Russian custody, no one was sure when or if the then eight-time All-Star would play basketball again. That question was quickly answered when she re-signed with the Phoenix Mercury as a free agent ahead of the 2023 WNBA season. Shortly upon her return, Griner was named an All-Star starter, and with the ninth selection that moved into a tie for fourth on the all-time list. While the season didn’t go well for the Mercury, Griner’s comeback was one of the most inspiring stories of the year. She averaged 17.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. In addition to her play on the court, she won the WNBA’s season-long Community Assist Award for her work with wrongful detainees and homeless people in the Phoenix area.

22. UFC/WWE merger
After years of speculation, WWE officials finally confirmed at the start of 2023 that the company was in sales negotiations with various suitors. Endeavor then announced in April that it would be merging the UFC with the WWE to form TKO Group Holdings. The merger was finally confirmed in September, and while there hasn’t been much crossover between the two promotions, the deal could shape the industries of both mixed martial arts and professional wrestling for years to come. 

23. Bruins roll, then get rocked
It was the end of a regular season for the ages for the Boston Bruins, who finished a staggering 65-12-5 and set an NHL record with 135 points over the course of the campaign. Raising the first Stanley Cup since 2011 almost seemed like a foregone conclusion — and then the playoffs happened. Enter the upstart eighth-seeded Panthers, who rallied after falling down 3-1 in the series. Florida won two of the last three games in overtime, both in Boston no less, to bring the top-seeded Bruins’ magical season to a grinding halt. 


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