• The Seattle Seahawks win their first Super Bowl ring with a 43-8 pounding of the Denver Broncos, a game pitting a smothering defense against Peyton Manning's high-octane Broncos offense. "Watching the film coming into the week, we'd seen that they haven't played a defense like ours," Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "They haven't played a defense that flies around like we do, that hits like we do, and we just do it every single play. We figured that the longer and longer the game went, they were going to fall eventually." In victory, Seattle's Pete Carroll gained entry to an exclusive club, joining Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson as the only coaches to win both a Super Bowl and a college football national championship.
• It took almost the entire draft, but Missouri defensive end Michael Sam made history in May by becoming the NFL's first openly gay player. The Rams selected him with the 249th pick, in the seventh round. As productive as he was in college, Sam was generally regarded by NFL evaluators as a "tweener," too small to be an effective defensive end and too slow to drop into pass coverage — at least at an elite level. "I knew I was going to get picked somewhere," Sam said. "Every team that passed me, I was thinking how I'm going to sack their quarterback." That never came to fruition. He was cut by the Rams in training camp, was signed to the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad, and eventually was released by them too.
• More history for Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, who threw the 509th touchdown pass of his illustrious career in a 42-17 rout of San Francisco on Oct. 19. That broke the all-time touchdown record held by Brett Favre. The football from Manning's record-breaking pass was immediately collected by a representative from the Pro Football Hall of Fame and is now on display in Canton, Ohio.
• After three years of haggling, the NFL and NFL Players Assn. agreed to a new drug policy that includes the testing of players' blood for human growth hormone. The new rules call for a two-game suspension for use of a diuretic or masking agent; a four-game suspension for in-season use of stimulants, HGH or other banned substances; and players' getting a six-game ban if there is evidence they attempted to tamper with a test. A second violation of the performance-enhancing drug policy will result in a 10-game suspension, and a third means a suspension of at least two years.
For the first time, there were no TV blackouts this season (there were two in 2013) and attendance was up by about 2%. The NFL still vastly outdraws most anything else on TV, and in October the league extended its "Sunday Ticket" deal with DirecTV for eight years at an average of $1.5 billion per year, up from $1 billion. For the first time, the league also had three London games, each of which sold out.
• A series of lowlights led to this highlight, causing players to be more accountable for their actions. Earlier this month, the NFL put in place a strengthened and forceful personal conduct policy, one that sharpens the focus on the problem of domestic violence but denies the players union what it has wanted most — the removal of Commissioner Roger Goodell from the discipline process. Under the revised policy, approved unanimously by the 32 teams, the commissioner retains ultimate authority on appeals.
• In a span of three months, from March through May, the NFL lost three long-standing team owners. Detroit's William Clay Ford, Buffalo's Ralph Wilson, and Tampa Bay's Malcolm Glazer died. The Ford and Glazer families held on to their teams, but the Wilson family sold the Bills to the Buffalo couple Kim and Terry Pegula, who also own the NHL's Buffalo Sabres.
• Falling in the NFL draft was a lowlight for Johnny Manziel. He turned out to be a drop-back passer after all. The Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M, once considered a candidate to be drafted first overall, slid to the No. 22 spot, where he was chosen by the Cleveland Browns. "I didn't put any stock into where everybody thought I might go," Manziel said. "That's all it was, was a lot of speculation. It was always a 'might.'" So far, his NFL career remains a "might" too, as "Johnny Football" is out to prove he isn't better suited as "Johnny Bench."
• What started as a disturbing but largely unnoticed discipline case quickly became arguably the biggest scandal in league history. Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice received a two-game suspension in July for knocking out his future wife in the elevator of an Atlantic City, N.J., casino. There was video footage of him dragging her limp body into a hallway and standing over her. But when a second, more graphic, video was made public, the Ravens released Rice and the league suspended him indefinitely (a decision later overturned on appeal). The episode called into question what the NFL knew about the second video, and when, and the league's entire handling of domestic-abuse cases.
• Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, the league's most valuable player in 2012, played in the opener but was suspended for the rest of the season amid allegations he punished his 4-year-old son with a switch, leaving cuts and bruises on the child's buttocks, thighs and hands. Peterson pleaded no contest in Texas to a charge of misdemeanor reckless assault. After spending most of the season on the newly created commissioner's exempt list, Peterson unsuccessfully appealed his suspension. He argued that he was promised he could return because of time served on the list. The players union was sharply critical of the NFL, calling the case "another example of the credibility gap that exists between the agreements they make and the actions they take."