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20 things that defined sports in 2020

A global pandemic wasn't enough to stop the world of sports. Here are some of the stories and moments that defined the strange year.

As much as fans had hoped sports would distract them from the coronavirus pandemic, even the games we all love weren't immune. Seasons were postponed, canceled, put in bubbles or remain in a weekly world of flux.

Despite that, there have been fantastic and bizarre moments many may have missed in the past 12 months. Here's a look at 20 things that defined 2020 in sports.

LSU wins national championship

Ed "Coach O" Orgeron and Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow led LSU to a dominating 42-25 win in the national title game over defending champion, Clemson. Burrow threw five touchdown passes and ran for another score.

Death of a basketball legend

It was the first sports shock of 2020. Five-time NBA champion Kobe Byrant, 41, his daughter Gianna, 13, and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash on a foggy morning outside Los Angeles on Jan. 26.

Credit: AP
FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2014, file photo, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant shoots as Phoenix Suns guard Gerald Green defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles. Federal investigators said Wednesday, June 17, 2020, that the pilot of the helicopter that crashed in thick fog, killing Kobe Bryant and seven other passengers, reported he was climbing when he actually was descending. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Memorials for Bryant were massive, happening before the coronavirus took hold in the U.S. Fans flooded the outside of the Staples Center in Los Angeles with a sea of cars, flowers, balloons, photos and other mementos.

Thousands attended a memorial on Feb. 24 (the date 2/24 honored Gianna's No. 2 basketball jersey number and the No. 24 Kobe wore in the second half of his career). Vanessa Bryant offered a poignant portrait of her NBA superstar husband and their daughter.

The NBA All-Star Game MVP Award was permanently renamed for Bryant. He is set to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2021.

RELATED: 10 sports greats who we lost before their time

Chiefs break Super Bowl title drought with 4th quarter comeback

Down 20-10 late in the 4th quarter against the San Francisco 49ers, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs rattled off 21 points in the final 6:13 to win Super Bowl LIV, 31-20. It was the Chiefs' first title in 50 years and Andy Reid's first championship in 21 years as an NFL head coach.

Tom Brady era ends in New England, begins in Tampa Bay

Tom Brady took his six Super Bowl rings and parted ways with the Patriots after 20 seasons in New England. He landed in Tampa Bay, getting only the second head coach of his career in Bruce Arians, a slew of new weapons (and an old one in tight end Rob Gronkowski), and many high expectations for a championship.

Credit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NBA postpones season after 1st positive test

Which NBA player was the first to test positive for the coronavirus before the NBA suspended its season? Rudy Gobert is the answer to that trivia question. News of the positive first postponed the Utah Jazz vs. Oklahoma City Thunder game on March 11. Not long after, the entire season was put on hold. Gobert joked about the pandemic two days earlier by touching all the microphones set up at a press conference.

Credit: AP
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) talks with guard Donovan Mitchell, left, during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons Saturday, March 7, 2020, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

The unthinkable: NCAA tournaments canceled

The day after the NBA shut down, the NCAA followed suit by canceling the highly popular and lucrative "March Madness" men's basketball tournament and women's tournament. Shutting down an event that brings in a reported $1 billion in advertising revenue gave the biggest indication of how serious the pandemic was.

2020 Olympics postponed

Postponing an event that brings thousands of athletes from around the world is no small thing, but that's what happened when the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo were put on hold in March. The pandemic was worsening, and few had a solid plan on how to conduct it safely. The Games are now set for exactly one year later, but it remains to be seen whether they may look a bit different under pandemic restrictions.

Credit: AP
A symbol installed for the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on a barge is moved away from its usual spot by tugboats off the Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020.

Other sports paused, canceled

One by one, leagues and events started hitting the brakes.

The MLB exhibition season was halted and the start of the season was postponed. The NHL, MLB and NASCAR seasons were also paused. Wimbledon and golf's U.S. Open were canceled while The Masters would move to the unfamiliar confines of November. The Little League World Series was scrapped.

The NFL Draft was the first major virtual event -- highlighted by people ogling a photo of Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury's home.

The revival of the XFL lasted five weeks before it had to shut down, but it was then bought by a business consortium led by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in the hopes of bringing the league back.

And one year after a historic eight-way tie for the title, the National Spelling Bee was C-A-N-C-E-L-E-D.

Washington NFL team, Cleveland MLB team drop Native American monikers

Seven years after owner Dan Snyder declared, "We will never change the name of the team," Washington's NFL team announced it was dropping its maligned nickname that was seen as a slur against Native Americans. The change of heart came as the nation was embroiled in protests for racial justice.

For the 2020 season, it was simply known as the Washington Football Team. The team reportedly may keep that for 2021.

In Major League Baseball, the Cleveland franchise announced in December it would change its name, but owner Paul Dolan said the change wouldn't happen until after 2021.

Credit: AP
Washington Football Team strong safety Kamren Curl (31) against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Lakers win bubble ball

The NBA resumed its season in July, with only the teams in the playoff hunt participating in the so-called "bubble." All games were played on three courts at Walt Disney World with no fans in the stands but attending virtually. It worked. The league finished out the season with no major coronavirus issues. And in a year honoring the passing of Kobe Bryant, his Los Angeles Lakers, led by LeBron James, won its 17th championship, defeating the Miami Heat in six games.

RELATED: Vanessa Bryant shares heartfelt message after Lakers win NBA title

Lightning strikes twice

The NHL also took the bubble route, with the Stanley Cup playoffs played exclusively in Canada. The Tampa Bay Lightning won its second Stanley Cup, defeating the Dallas Stars in six games.

Credit: Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP, File

Dodgers rule MLB season like no other

Baseball returned in late July, but with multiple changes to keep it interesting, competitive and safe. Teams played only 60 games, all in their own geographic region. Fans were kept away for most of it. Both leagues utilized the designated hitter. MLB added a new extra-inning twist: each team would start with a runner at second base.

Playoffs were expanded to 16 teams and the Division, Championship and World Series were played on neutral fields.

After a 32-year drought, the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series, beating the Tampa Bay Rays in six games. Corey Seager was named series MVP.

Seattle storms to 4th WNBA title

The WNBA followed the NBA's lead and played its entire season in a bubble, again with few coronavirus problems. With Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart returning from season-ending injuries in 2019, the Seattle Storm cruised to its fourth overall championship, sweeping the Las Vegas Aces in the finals.

A month later, Bird added a fifth ring -- the engagement kind from U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe.

Credit: AP
Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird (10) sets up a play during the second half of Game 2 of basketball's WNBA Finals against the Las Vegas Aces, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Bradenton, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

World No. 1 tennis player DQ’d

At the U.S. Open, a frustrated Novak Djokovic fired a ball to the back of the court out of anger and inadvertently hit a line judge. Djokovic was immediately disqualified from the tournament.

Austrian Dominic Thiem won the men's title. Naomi Osaka won her second women's title in three years.

NFL struggles with COVID-19

The NFL has been able to make the 2020 season work, but not without some struggles and a lot of changes. Fans aren't allowed at most games. There is strict enforcement that players and coaches must wear face masks when not on the field of play. But even with that, several games had to be rescheduled during the season as multiple teams struggled with players or staff contracting COVID-19. In one game, the Denver Broncos had to sit all three quarterbacks on their active roster. In another, The Cleveland Browns had to play without their top four wide receivers.

RELATED: NFL expands mask mandate, threatens to discipline violators

RELATED: All-Black officiating crew makes NFL history on Monday Night Football

The NFL canceled preseason, and there were indications that it had a major effect. A high number of players suffered season-ending injuries early in the year. Some teams struggled to reach their optimum potential due to the lack of extra preparation.

As the season was winding down, the Chiefs were well on their way toward a possible return to the Super Bowl; the Raiders, Rams and Chargers had opened their new stadiums; Brady had the Bucs back in the playoffs; the Bills won their first division title in a quarter-century; and three years removed from a winless season, the Cleveland Browns were on the verge of their possible first postseason berth since 2002.

Disjointed college football season

The NCAA football season was even more of a conundrum. Some conferences, including the Big Ten and Pac-12, postponed their seasons only to come back under pressure. Others, like the SEC, pushed on from the start but with limited schedules.

COVID-19 played havoc across the country. Multiple games per week were canceled or postponed. Players and coaches were sidelined due to positive tests, including Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

On the positive side, history was made when Vanderbilt's Sarah Fuller became the first woman to score in a major conference football game.

The first national semifinal on New Year's Day will be No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Notre Dame in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Capital One, which was moved from Pasadena to Dallas due to COVID-19 restrictions in California. The other will be No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

The CFP championship is set for Jan. 11.

Like father, like son

Chase Elliott won his first NASCAR Cup Series title, joining his father, Bill, in winning the crown. Both did it driving the No. 9 car. They join Lee and Richard Petty and Ned and Dale Jarrett in the father-son championship fraternity.

Credit: (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)
Chase Elliott holds up the race trophy in Victory Lane as celebrates his season championship after winning the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Phoenix Raceway, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Avondale, Ariz.

Dustin Johnson wins The Masters

Dustin Johnson was Mr. November as The Masters was moved from spring to fall due to COVID-19. Johnson shot a 20-under 268 for the four rounds, besting the record of 270 shared by Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth.

Credit: AP
Dustin Johnson reacts with his brother and caddie Austin Johnson on the 18th green after winning the Masters golf tournament Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020, in Augusta, Ga. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Crew hoist MLS Cup

Not long after the season started, Major League Soccer put the brakes on because of the coronavirus.

After the Portland Timbers won the “MLS Is Back” tournament, the season resumed. The Columbus Crew won the MLS Cup, defeating defending champion Seattle 3-nil.

Credit: AP
Columbus Crew players celebrate a goal against the Seattle Sounders during the first half of the MLS Championship soccer match Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

NBA's first woman head coach

Becky Hammon became the first woman to coach an NBA team, taking over the San Antonio Spurs after coach Gregg Popovich was ejected in a 121-107 loss to LeBron James and the defending champion Lakers on Dec. 30. Hammon took over the team’s huddles during timeouts and walked the sideline following Popovich’s ejection. Hammon was the first full-time female assistant coach in league history.

Credit: AP
San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon calls a play during a timeout in the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers, after coach Gregg Popovich was ejected, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

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