Dallas' 10 Biggest Sports Stories of 2018

Errol Spence Jr.
Errol Spence Jr. Porfirio C. Barron Jr.
In 2018, Dallas sports were all about the individual. The city's usual suspects, the Cowboys, Rangers, Mavericks and Stars, were universally mediocre or worse, leaving sports fans to look for joy in the superlative performances of DFW's bumper crop of 20-something stars, many who captured spots high on this list.

As we head into 2019, eyes wide as we continue to watch our budding superstars and look for signs of hope among our big-league teams, let's take a look back at the sports moments that left their mark on the previous 11 months.

10. The Rangers fire Jeff Banister. — In September, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister 150 games into his fourth season with the club. Despite having won division championships in 2015 and 2016, Banister lost control of the Rangers clubhouse, reportedly because he struggled to relate to the team's core of young players. Apparently tired of Banister's old-school style, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels replaced him with Los Angeles Dodgers third-base coach Chris Woodward. Woodward is 42 and well-versed in the analytics and advanced metrics that dominate today's baseball strategy.  9. Miro Heiskanen debuts for the Stars. — With the third overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, the Stars selected Finnish defenseman Miro Heiskanen knowing it would be at least a year before he made his debut stateside. The wait's been worth it.

Through two months of the 2018-2019 season, Heiskanen, still just 19, has been the Stars' best blue-liner, excelling in both 5-on-5 action and on special teams. With minimal development, Heiskanen could be a Norris Trophy contender. 8. Amari Cooper escapes Oakland, joins the Cowboys. — After dropping a road game against the Redskins to fall to 3-4, the Dallas Cowboys front office made a desperate move. In exchange for wide receiver Amari Cooper, the Cowboys gave the Raiders their 2019 first-round draft pick.

While the trade could still blow up in the Joneses' face, Cooper, a two-time Pro Bowler, has been better than advertised, resuscitating an offense that had been dormant most of the season. If he can help lead the Cowboys back to the playoffs, that missing pick won't hurt nearly as bad.  7. UNT steals the show in Arkansas. — When the 2018 football season kicked off, the University of North Texas hadn't beaten an SEC team since 1975. On Sept. 15, the Mean Green went into the Arkansas Razorbacks' stadium in Fayetteville and crushed the Hogs, 44-17.

One of the best plays of the year, a fake fair catch punt return for a touchdown, keyed the blowout:  6. Jordan Spieth almost does the impossible at the Masters. — From the Observer's Best of Dallas issue:

Spieth, Dallas' world champion golfer next door, entered the final round at The Masters in April nine shots behind leader Patrick Reed. It was a seemingly insurmountable deficit until, all of a sudden, it wasn't. Spieth, the 2015 Masters champ, scorched a path through Augusta National's hallowed grounds, playing his first 17 holes in 9 under par. As things turned out, Spieth needed a birdie at 18 to force Reed into a playoff. Instead, Spieth clipped a tree with his tee shot and made bogey, finishing two shots back after a 64. While Spieth didn't quite get there, it was a valiant effort, one that reminded you, with sports especially, that anything is possible.
5. The Cowboys get their man. — Rather than filling a pressing need at wide receiver or tight end in the first round of April's NFL draft in Arlington, Cowboys brass went with Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. While the response to the selection was less than enthusiastic — he got booed by the Cowboys' home fans on draft night — Vander Esch has silenced the haters with his play. As the season has progressed, he's taken on a bigger role in the Cowboys' young, improving defense, stopping the run from sideline-to-sideline and showing exceptional coverage skills for a big man. The future is bright. 
4. The Mavericks get their man, too. — Again, from Best of Dallas: 
Whether Luka Doncic ends up being, as some scouts have optimistically suggested, a 6-foot-8 Steve Nash or just another lottery flameout, the Mavericks did the right thing when they acquired him on draft night. The front office viewed Doncic potentially as the best player in a deep draft, one who could combine with Dennis Smith Jr. to make the team a contender again. That's still a couple of years off, but the Slovenian's silky offensive game should at least make the Mavs more attractive on TV in the meantime.
Through his first 15-plus games as a pro, Doncic has been everything the Mavs could've possibly hoped for. He sees the floor like a 10-year veteran, displays highlight-worthy ball skills on a nightly basis and looks like a perennial All Star.  3. Liz Cambage breaks the WNBA scoring record. — On July 17 at the College Park Center in Arlington, Dallas Wings center Liz Cambage put up the best stat line any Dallas pro basketball player has ever put up. Playing just 37 minutes, Cambage scored a WNBA-record 53 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and blocked five shots.

Cambage shot 17 of 22 from the field, made 4 of 5 three-pointers and tossed in 15 of her 16 free throws. She eclipsed the previous WNBA single-game scoring record of 51, held by Tulsa's Riquna Williams, with a three in the last minute of the game, polishing off a 104-87 win for the Wings over the New York Liberty.

Cambage's 53-point output tied Dirk Nowitzki's Mavericks single-game record, set Dec. 2, 2004, against the Rockets. Nowitzki took 12 more minutes to score his 53 in a game that went to overtime, however, and only shot 15 of 32.
2. Errol Spence Jr. rules the (welterweight) world. — The moment Errol Spence landed the right hand to the body that knocked out Carlos Ocampo on June 16 was Dallas sports' loudest of 2018. The sold out, 14,000-strong crowd at The Star in Frisco exploded, giving DeSoto's own welterweight champion of the world a minutes-long standing ovation as he completed the second defense of his IBF title. Spence's technique and devastating power earned the crowd's admiration and a trip to the big time. On March 19, Spence will take on three-division champ Mikey Garcia in an AT&T Stadium showcase.  
1. Adrian Beltre retires. — DFW's biggest sports story of 2018 happened last week. On Nov. 20, Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre finally called it a career after 21 big-league seasons. He retired having accumulated 477 home runs, 3,177 hits and five Gold Glove Awards. He'll go into the Hall of Fame five, six or seven years from now wearing a Rangers cap. 
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young