FILE - Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski, left, and quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrate after the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Tampa, Fla., Feb. 7, 2021. Brady's fifth Super Bowl title, at 43 no less, was one of the best moments of 2021, when a continuing pandemic could not dim the brightest of stars of the sports world.(AP Photo/Steve Luciano, File)
FILE - Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski, left, and quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrate after the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Tampa, Fla., Feb. 7, 2021. Brady's fifth Super Bowl title, at 43 no less, was one of the best moments of 2021, when a continuing pandemic could not dim the brightest of stars of the sports world.(AP Photo/Steve Luciano, File)
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Essentially better, wouldn’t you say?

Fans back in the stands and games back in play.

Clearly more settled but far from routine:

Some shots from the arc, some for the vaccine.

A year on the rebound crisscrossing sports.

A year next to normal, progress of sorts.

First Quarter

The New Year strikes, ignite the flame.

Bama, Buckeyes reach title game.

Browns and playoffs: Now there’s a match.

DeVonta Smith, a Heisman catch.

Capitol Hill, a violent sea.

The Heat and Celtics take a knee.

New New York star, good as it gets --

Lindor leaves Cleveland, dealt to Mets.

A limb falls from the Dodger tree --

Tom Lasorda was 93.

Tide surges in a dull affair

To send Nick Saban past the Bear.

Nets nab Harden, aiming higher.

Jags try likewise, Urban Meyer.

Australian tennis, quarantine.

Olympics nearing, what’s it mean?

A star grows dim in baseball’s sky

As Henry Aaron passes by.

A shutout vote for baseball’s Hall,

Though Schilling nearly gets a call.

Bucs, Brady ride on cruise control

And stay at home for Super Bowl.

Chiefs dethroned, Tampa Bay is king

And Brady gets his seventh ring.

Lombardi Trophy tossed from boat --

Pass completed by football’s GOAT.

Prep for Tokyo goes off the track,

With leaders talking sexist smack.

McDowell exults, Daytona bash —

Grabs first win, eludes last-lap crash.

Djokovic’s season underway,

Ninth Aussie crown on resume.

A morning drive, a roll, a tree --

Woods wrecks his speeding SUV.

Shattered leg, orthopedic mess.

Any more golf? Anyone’s guess.

Kyle Larson, banned for racist crack,

Returns and wins, Las Vegas track.

Conference tournaments, disarray.

Coronavirus comes to play.

A boxing marvel pound for pound,

Marvin Hagler goes one last round.

Drew Brees retires, time to go.

Roy Williams follows, ends the show.

March Madness not the same event,

The games now played in one big tent.

But NCAA proves all thumbs --

Men get red carpet. Women? Crumbs.

Elgin Baylor, whose game took flight,

Now passes into that good night.

NFL adds one game to sked.

Smell of money goes to its head.

Second Quarter

Opening day but no at-bats

When COVID scraps the Mets at Nats.

Atlanta stripped of All-Star Game,

With Georgia’s voting law to blame.

Gonzaga gasps, comes up for air

On Jalen Suggs’ half-court prayer.

Stanford women make curtain call,

Beat Arizona, Pac-12 ball.

Next night, the Baylor Bears shift gears.

Zags’ perfect season disappears.

Matsuyama, the Masters man,

Sets major milestone for Japan.

No-hitters, once rare Beaujolais,

Are now served up most every day.

Rich Euro clubs conspire, bolt.

Rogue league shot down as fans revolt.

Medina Spirit, Churchill Downs;

Bob Baffert, seven Derby crowns.

Failed drug test puts the win in doubt

And Churchill Downs kicks Baffert out.

Happy birthday! Let it be sung:

Mays is 90, forever young.

No Baffert, here’s how Preakness goes:

Rombauer wins, Medina shows.

Canelo brutal and unbowed

At Cowboys’ home with record crowd.

Games greenlighted by IOC

Even if COVID’s running free.

Mickelson takes the PGA.

Oh, he believes in yesterday.

Fans swarm fairway, forbidding scene

As Lefty, Koepka walk toward green.

Castroneves still gets it done

At 46, four Indys won.

French Open comes, Osaka goes

And speaks of pain that no one knows,

The mental anguish she can’t shake --

It’s simply time to take a break.

Jon Rahm nears Memorial rout --

A COVID test then knocks him out.

Nadal loses on French red clay!

(Moons explode across Milky Way.)

Djokovic dodges five-set jam,

Tsitsipas falls -- halfway to Slam.

No test or virus undermines

Rahm’s Open title, Torrey Pines.

Can college athletes play for pay?

Supreme Court rules, resounding yea.

Nassib comes out, his “great weight” lifts,

Barrier falls, pro football shifts.

Major League Baseball’s had enough,

Cracks down on pitchers’ sticky stuff.

Antetokounmpo hurts his knee.

Connor McDavid, MVP.

Third Quarter

Hardly baseball’s finest hour --

What to do with Trevor Bauer?

Dan Snyder hit with hefty fine

For workplace deemed best fit for swine.

Again, the Lightning win it all.

No Stanley Cup for Montreal.

Another twist, Olympic plans:

No roaring crowds; in fact, no fans.

Raise a glass, a dry martini --

Novak knocks off Berrettini.

Twentieth Slam, Wimbledon spree.

His Grand Slam quest? He’s 3 for 3.

Euros: Italy. Down go Brits,

Pelted with racist online hits.

Shohei Ohtani, arm and bat,

The All-Star Game his habitat.

Morikawa, his game’s got clout,

Wins British Open first time out.

Tour de France, it’s two in a row:

Tadej Pogacar runs this show.

Milwaukee Bucks now live the dream,

Their crown last won when with Kareem.

Giannis shifts to higher gear,

Suns go in six -- best “Fear the Deer.”

In Cleveland, after hot debate,

The Guardians step to the plate.

At last, the Tokyo Games begin

Much to the public’s great chagrin.

Cauldron’s lit by Osaka’s hands

Before near empty, ghostlike stands.

All eyes soon turn to Simone Biles,

Her tribulations and her trials,

Not least the “twisties,” so we learned,

Where up from down can’t be discerned.

Still, bright lights burn, and we behold:

Caeleb Dressel, his haul of gold;

Thompson-Herah, double sprint queen;

Allyson Felix, evergreen;

Karsten Warholm, eye-popping race;

Sunisa Lee, resplendent grace.

Then Texas, Oklahoma flee

And fatten the fat SEC.

Scherzer to Dodgers, deadline day.

Westbrook’s home with James in LA.

Jays regain a sense of order,

Flocking home north of the border.

Lawyers, money, tears and remorse --

Barcelona’s Messi divorce.

Baseball goes to where myths are born:

“Field of Dreams,” with plenty of corn.

Pacquiao loses and now leans

Toward run to lead the Philippines.

Saints sent packing, hurricane strike.

Pats tell Cam Newton: Take a hike.

U.S. Open, much to savor.

Novak looks to stand with Laver.

His final, though, best to forget.

Daniil Medvedev just says “nyet.”

In Congress, gymnasts testify --

Ignored, betrayed by FBI.

Philly longs for an elixir

For Ben Simmons, brooding Sixer.

Ryder Cup rout, United States:

Stricker’s young team rules Whistling Straits.

Fourth Quarter

Women’s soccer rocked by abuse.

League leader quits, coaches cut loose.

Brady’s back at his old domain.

Bucs beat New England in the rain.

Talladega, Wallace’s place,

At every turn a landmark race.

Fury stops Wilder, fierce right hook.

A trilogy ends. Close the book.

Jon Gruden resigns. Coarse and vile,

His emails spewing endless bile.

Tide’s big winning streak hits a wall.

Boston Marathon’s run in fall.

Irving’s unvaxxed -- it’s “best for me” --

And barred from games in NYC.

Seattle Kraken, league’s new guy.

Light streaks across Chicago Sky.

Lost in the muck most of the year,

Braves ascend to another sphere.

Rosario, Fried fuel the run.

Freddie Freeman, the favorite son.

Riley, Swanson, Jorge Soler.

’Stros fall in six; Braves walk on air.

Then Aaron Rodgers theorized

His “research” finds he’s “immunized.”

Rams sniff the big prize, seize the day,

Sign Von Miller and OBJ.

Kyle Larson, once without a car,

Now NASCAR’s champ and transformed star.

College basketball’s underway --

A long goodbye for Duke’s Coach K.

Tennis shaken amid great fears --

Chinese star Peng Shuai disappears.

WTA shows some spine.

The IOC? Craven, supine.

An MVP, ain’t that the truth,

Ohtani likened to Babe Ruth.

Staples Center stripped of its name --

Cryptocurrency stakes its claim.

Suns surge with reborn Golden State.

Packers, Patriots, percolate.

Why are Kelly, Notre Dame through?

Ninety-five million, LSU.

Lee Elder stood among golf’s greats,

Rattling Augusta’s creaky gates.

Time’s up for baseball’s CBA,

With Scherzer, Seager making hay.

Player lockout. Here’s where things stand:

A sport shuts down in no-man’s land.

Cincinnati grabs playoff ride,

As do Michigan, Georgia, Tide.

A long wait ends with much acclaim --

Gil Hodges makes the Hall of Fame.

Death on a California track:

Medina Spirit, heart attack.

Beijing under a microscope.

Winter Games ride slippery slope.

U.S. tells China’s autocrats:

We will not send our diplomats!

MLS Cup, what’ll it be?

First crown for NYCFC.

Bryce Young extends Tide’s Heisman run.

Family golf for Woods & Son.

Basketball stands on guard with thee:

Stephen Curry, king of the 3.

Team and coach a dumpster fire,

Jags get rid of Urban Meyer.

Now, with caution, we eye the door.

Omicron’s surging. What’s in store?

Still, we’ll toast and lower the ball

(New Year’s protocol, after all),

Eyes ahead and the mandate clear:

Better things for a better year.