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The New Year has not even arrived yet, and 2014 is already shaping up to be a good one in sports.
While it’s impossible to predict everything that will happen, especially when it comes to sports – the Boston Red Sox come back to win the World Series title, anyone? – one thing is certain: It’s going to be a year like few others.
SUPER BOWL, Feb. 2
Yes, teams play in the cold and snow all the time during the regular season, and some of the NFL's most memorable games were played in wintry conditions. And yes, there's a chance it could be in the 40s on game day. But the NFL is taking a big gamble by holding the Super Bowl, its marquee event, at an outdoor stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., in the dead of winter.
While some folks shelling out big bucks for Super Bowl tickets are fans of the two teams playing, most come for the experience — and that wasn't meant to include frostbite. There will be plenty of mumbling and grumbling if the Big Apple is hit by a blizzard or cold snap Feb. 2, to say nothing of the potential embarrassment of empty seats. Bad weather wouldn't be any picnic in the days before, either, wreaking havoc with the other events that make the Super Bowl the spectacle that it is and keeping fans hunkered down in their hotel rooms.
If they can get to their hotel rooms, that is.
WINTER OLYMPICS, Feb. 7-23
Weather has been a concern since the Winter Games were awarded to Sochi, a resort city on the Black Sea where the average high in February is nearly 50 degrees and rain is far more likely than snow. The temperatures should be lower in the mountains, where the outdoor events will be held, and organizers have guaranteed snow, even if it's the stuff they've been squirreling away since last year, when un-Winter Olympic-like weather forced the cancellation of some test events.
Warm temperatures and slushy snow might wind up being the least of the worries for Russian president Vladimir Putin and Sochi organizers, however. Russia's new anti-gay laws have sparked outrage from the rest of the world, as has Putin's human-rights record. The International Olympic Committee has reminded athletes that protests or political gestures violate the Olympic charter, and Sochi organizers have said they will set up special "protest zones." But the criticism isn't likely to quiet once the games begin, not when the whole world is watching.
A decision on whether the New York Yankees' third baseman will play this season is expected in January. Rodriguez was banned for 211 games last August for violating baseball's drug agreement and labor contract, but he played out the season while the union appealed. The Yankees have made it clear they've had it with Rodriguez, which would make spring training all kinds of awesome if he reports in February.
Oh, A-Rod is also suing Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig. Not that that's awkward or anything.
BOSTON MARATHON, April 21
The field for this year's race will be 36,000-strong, the second-largest in history, as runners honor not only the victims of last year's bombings but the city's resilience.
WORLD CUP, June 12-July 13
Six of the 12 stadiums won't be ready until January or February, though organizers insist that's still more than enough time to hold test events. But despite spending billions to prepare for the World Cup (and the 2016 Olympics), questions remain about Brazil's infrastructure, with many fearing the airports, roads and local transportation systems won't be able to handle the crush of tourists. All that spending also has created resentment among Brazilian citizens, who disrupted last summer's Confederations Cup with violent protests.
On the field, however, this could be one of the most entertaining tournaments yet. Led by budding star Neymar, host Brazil has its most intriguing team since its last title run in 2002. Lionel Messi is finally showing the sublime form for Argentina that's become his trademark with Barcelona. The Europeans are, simply, stacked, with reigning champion Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium all legitimate front-runners. And parity has made for some very competitive — some would say cruel — group-stage matchups.
U.S. OPEN, June 12-15 and 19-22
For the first time, the men's and women's U.S. Opens will be played on the same course, Pinehurst No. 2, in the same year. A week apart, no less.
While it's a terrific showcase for the women — odds are the upcoming women's Open will be mentioned a time or 12,000 during the men's broadcast — there are concerns, as well. Like the state of the domed greens after a week of being tromped on by Tiger, Rory and the rest of the guys. If there are weather delays or a playoff, the women won't get on the course until Tuesday, giving them just two days to prepare for their biggest major.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL, August-January
No matter what else happens, there will be peace in the land come the end of the year in the form of the first college football playoff.
Unless, of course, five or six teams finish the year unbeaten.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.