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Looking back at 2020’s biggest Cincinnati sports moments

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Posted at 7:59 PM, Dec 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-30 23:32:54-05

CINCINNATI — In many ways, sports serves as a barometer for all the change we’ve seen in 2020. Fans were delighted to see new talents arriving and playoff droughts ending as accolades flooded in for Cincinnati's best athletes.

But for many, dreams were put on hold due to injury, losses and a global pandemic that left seasons hanging in the balance. Local players, coaches and organizations also faced a nationwide reckoning on equality and social issues, and the sports community had to say goodbye to legendary figures.

Take a look back at triumphs, heartbreaks, comebacks and everything else that rocked Cincinnati sports in 2020:

Burrow’s shaky start

Before 2020 even began, Cincinnati eagerly waited for the rise of a Joe Burrow-led Bengals squad. Fans held signs at the last games of 2019 begging the team to “Bungle 4 Burrow,” and sure enough, Cincinnati selected the Heisman-winning LSU standout with the first overall draft pick in April.

In his first 10 NFL games, Burrow threw 2,688 yards for 13 TDs as the Bengals slipped to 2-7-1. Then, on Nov. 22, Burrow tore his left ACL and MCL after a hit by two Washington linemen, ending his rookie season early.

Burrow has since undergone surgery and appeared to take some promising first steps in a video shared on Christmas Day. Team officials expect him to recover in time for the 2021 NFL season. After all, as Burrow tweeted on that day in November: “Can’t get rid of me that easy. See ya next year.”

Reds make MLB postseason

For the first time since 2013, the Cincinnati Reds made it to the postseason during an MLB season that almost didn’t happen.

In the shortened 2020 season, the Reds went 30-28 and raised their record to two games above .500 for the first time since 2017. On Sept. 26, they defeated the Twins to enter the playoffs after a seven-year drought.

The Reds were shut out by the Atlanta Braves in their first playoff series, meaning championship glory evaded Cincinnati for another year. But one pitcher still gave them plenty to celebrate in 2020.

Bauer first Red to win Cy Young Award

On Nov. 11, pitcher Trevor Bauer became the first Red in franchise history to win the National League Cy Young Award. He received 27 of the 30 first-place votes after Bauer went 5-4 this season with a 1.73 ERA and 100 strikeouts through 73 innings.

The Cincinnati Reds have seen 31 players inducted into the Hall of Fame, 12 players named National League Most Valuable Player, and seven players win Rookie of the Year.

“That’s a huge honor,” Bauer said. “The oldest franchise in baseball. It’s about time that Cincy had one.”

Thom Brennaman resigns on air after using homophobic slur

Reds broadcaster Thom Brennaman’s hot mic picked up his use of a homophobic slur during a game against the Kansas City Royals on Aug. 19. Brennaman continued to call most of the Reds doubleheader before he tendered his resignation before a television audience. He was later suspended by the Reds and barred from calling NFL games on FOX Sports.

Since the incident, Brennaman has been active with communities in need and has met with members of the LGBTQ community and groups like PFLAG and others. He also sat with WCPO's Evan Millward for conversations immediately after the incident and months later.

"I knew when I said what I said that it was a hurtful moment. I think over the last three months I’ve come to really understand how deeply hurtful that word means to so many people,” he said when he hosted the Children's Home of Northern Kentucky's annual charity ball in November.

Brennaman now does play-by-play for the Roberto Clemente League, Puerto Rico’s main pro baseball league.

Schott’s name comes off Cincinnati sports centers

Amid a national movement for social change supported by local athletes like Reds pitcher Amir Garrett and first baseman Joey Votto, some local organizations reexamined their relationship with their donors, including the late Marge Schott.

Schott, who owned the Reds from 1984 to 1999 and died in 2004, was known for making repeated offensive remarks against African Americans, gay people, Jews and others both in public and in private.

In June, Schott’s name was removed from the face of UC’s baseball stadium. Saint Ursula Academy and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati also decided to remove Schott’s name from their facilities over the summer.

In a statement supporting those decisions, the Marge & Charles J. Schott Foundation said in part: "While we cannot make excuses for the rhetoric made by Mrs. Schott decades ago, we can ask you to learn from Mrs. Schott’s mistakes as well as her great love for Cincinnati."

FC Cincinnati's Jans ousted after using slur

FC Cincinnati also dealt with controversy as head coach Ron Jans resigned following a complaint that he used a racial slur in front of players. That players association complaint launched a Major League Soccer investigation into the incident in February.

In May, FCC hired former Feyenoord manager and ex-Manchester United defender Jaap Stam as its new head coach. The club finished last in the MLS (4-15-4) in 2020.

Looking to 2021, the club hopes to open its West End Stadium in spring. It's unclear right now when fans might get to watch a match inside.

Pandemic cut HS seasons short, but not for long

The basketball team at No. 1-ranked Mount Notre Dame didn't lose a single game last season, going 28-0. They didn’t win a state championship -- not because they lost, but because COVID-19 canceled the rest of their season, along with many other high school winter sports teams in the area.

Spring sports were canceled entirely as the coronavirus pandemic arrived in the U.S., but high school sports resumed in fall -- and they didn’t disappoint.

Mariemont’s boys soccer team remained dominant all season, going 23-0 with no ties, and they captured the Division III state title in Columbus on Nov. 14.

On Nov. 15, nationally-ranked Mount Notre Dame won its 10th state volleyball title in program history.

Lakota West faced off against St. Xavier in an explosive regional title game, and St. X went on to win the Division I state football championship over Pickerington Central on Nov. 13. In Kentucky, Beechwood won its 15th state football championship.

Those weren’t the only football trophies to come home for the Tri-State: Beechwood QB Cam Hergott was named Kentucky’s Mr. Football, and Roger Bacon RB Corey Kiner was named Mr. Football in Ohio.

Fickell stays on with Bearcats to win AAC title

After interviewing for a job at Michigan State, Luke Fickell decided to stay on as the Cincinnati Bearcats’ head coach.

Ten months later, he and the Bearcats raised the American Athletic Conference championship trophy at Nippert Stadium.

The Bearcats have a chance to bring home another trophy Friday as they take on Georgia at the Peach Bowl.

Tri-State tennis greatness

Cincinnati's premiere tennis tournament, the Western & Southern Open in Mason, was moved up to New York for the year due to COVID-19 concerns. It was the first time in 121 years that the W&S Open, formerly the Cincinnati Masters, was held outside of Ohio.

That didn’t stop Cincinnati’s tennis greats from success in 2020, though. Madeira’s Caty McNally and former OSU Buckeye J.J. Wolf both made it to round three of the U.S. Open in September.

Saying goodbye to Cincinnati sports legends

Cincinnati mourned the loss of Sam Wyche, the former Bengals head coach who led the team to a Super Bowl in 1989, on Jan. 2, when he passed away at age 74.

Wyche coached the Bengals from 1984 to 1991, including their most recent playoff victory in 1991. He also famously reminded snowball-throwing Bengals fans in December 1989 that they "don't live in Cleveland.” Wyche coached in the NFL for 12 years, and he played for four pro teams, including the Bengals, from 1968 to 1975.

Joe Morgan, the Big Red Machine’s legendary second baseman, passed away on Oct. 11 at age 77. He was a two-time National League MVP and a 10-time All-Star who was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame in 1987 and to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990.

He remains the Reds’ all-time stolen base leader (406), and he finished his 22-year professional career with 268 homers, 1,133 RBI and 689 stolen bases for the Astros, Reds, Giants, Phillies and Athletics.

Hall of Fame Reds pitcher Tom Seaver, renowned especially in Cincinnati for his 1978 no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals, died on Sept. 2 at age 75. With 311 victories, Seaver is one of just 24 MLB pitchers to win 300 games.

Seaver, who played for the Mets between 1967 and 1977 before joining the Reds, was a 13-time All Star and three-time Cy Young Award winner. He and the Mets won a World Series title in 1969.