[2016 was an incredible year –for better and for worse. We cheered for the Cubs as they broke their 108-year Curse. We bemoaned Kevin Durant as he said a fair weather goodbye to OKC.
It was, like every year, what our top senior writer Adam Shemesh rightly calls “unforgettable.” Adam weighs in here with 9 highlights from the year that was. As for the 10th, let’s hear from you. What did Adam miss? Happy New Year!]
2016 was an unforgettable year in the wide world of sports. By overcoming curses and tragedies, this year reminded us why we love sports. Here is my take on the nine defining sports moments in chronological order:
I. February 7: Superman Meets His Kryptonite
Broncos 24, Panthers 10. Nothing could stop the Carolina Panthers. They dominated the regular season, losing only one game. Prior to the Super Bowl, they beat up the Seahawks, outscoring the NFC’s defending champs 31-0 in the first half en route to a 31-24 win. Naturally, Carolina was favored in the Super Bowl, headlined by MVP Cam Newton and a stellar defense. The defense was as advertised, holding Peyton Manning to a pedestrian performance in his final game. However, a few costly turnovers did the Panthers in, and they lost 24-10 (Writer’s Note: Anyone watching the game will assure you it was not as close as the score may suggest.). As the dream season came to a crashing halt, Von Miller, who forced two fumbles off Newton and returned one for a touchdown, was at the heart of the story.
II. April 4: March Madness and the Shining Moment
Villanova 77, UNC 74. 2016’s edition of March Madness featured little in the form of the upsets. Villanova and North Carolina, two #1 seeds, met in the Finals. ‘Nova was seen as the clear underdog; they hadn’t won a title in 30 years. With the game tied at 74 and a few seconds left, Villanova’s Kris Jenkins nailed a three as the buzzer sounded. Philly fans rejoiced as Roy Williams and UNC walked off the court stunned in one of the best finishes in the history of March Madness.
III. May 2, 2016: At 5,000 to 1, Leicester City wins the Premier League
Leicester City used to be a small, fairly unknown football club looking to gain a foothold in the Premier League (EPL). By the time they had reached the final, most of the world knew of the team’s improbable story. They were 5,000 to 1 odds to win the Premier League championship before the season started. The same booking company who offered those odds gave Leicester the same chance as Elvis Presley being found alive (Elvis has been dead since 1977). With strong international fan support, Leicester pulled out a shocking win to cost bookkeepers in the U. K. an estimated 15,000,000 GBP. A movie about the team’s improbable run is in the works. If it hadn’t actually happened, it would be called impossible.
IV. June 20: On top of the World and the Backboard
Cavaliers 93, Warriors 89. As sports fans, we were spoiled with some incredible Game Seven heroics this year. Warriors-Cavs did not disappoint. For the first time all series, there was a close game. Cleveland pulled it out in the end behind LeBron James’ unhuman block on Andre Iguodala and Kyrie Irving’s dazzling three-pointer over the three-point King, Stephen Curry. It was a great series and watching James cry and kiss the floor after the win was one of my favorite moments of the year.
V. August 15: Bolting to Cloud Nine
Usain Bolt wins the 100 meter, 200 meter, and 4×100 meter relay. The world’s fastest man made that claim true in Rio this summer. The aptly named Usain Bolt won three more gold medals to up his count to nine. In the process, he shattered his own record by sprinting 100 meters in 9.58 seconds. He has catapulted his legend to world-class fame; everyone knows who Bolt is.
VI. August 26: Colin Kaepernick Takes a Knee
Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the national anthem was one of the most controversial sports moments of 2016. Setting aside your political views, Kaepernick’s protest got everyone talking. Everyone had an opinion and even non-sports fans became aware of the former star QB’s bold act. Soon, he was joined by some of his NFL peers and athletes from other sports such as U. S. women’s soccer player Megan Rapinoe. The fact that the drama played out during a divisive U.S. election and came amid a significant decline in NFL television ratings only added to the noise on talk radio and Twitter alike.
VII. October 13: A New Star is Born
Ottawa 5, Maple Leafs 4 (in OT). When the Maple Leafs drafted Auston Matthews, he fell into the pool of ‘prodigy’ athletes. Only a few of these youngsters labeled with this term have succeeded. Even fewer have paid immediate dividends. Auston didn’t need words to justify the hype. His performance spoke for itself. In his first NHL game, Matthews scored an amazing four goals. Matthews is the only player in NHL history to score four goals in his debut. Hockey is known to be a Canadian sport, but the NHL has been dominated by US teams for the last few decades. This incredible rookie debut gave hockey fans north of the border something to be happy about in 2016.
VIII. September 26: Great Tragedy, Great Happiness
Marlins 7, Mets 3. On September 25, the sports world was struck with news so improbable that it was hard to process even as media outlets around the country confirmed that Jose Fernandez was dead. The Marlins’ star pitcher was only 25-years old, and enjoying an amazing year in his comeback from Tommy John surgery. The Marlins promptly cancelled their game that day vs. the Mets, and teams all across the country set aside an emotional moment of silence for the Cuban star. A day later, Miami went back on the field. Dee Gordon stepped up to the plate and took the first pitch from the right side of the batter’s box as an ode to his beloved friend, Fernandez. Gordon then switched back to his familiar lefty batting box and swatted his first home run of the season. Dee was sobbing as he ran around the bases, and the whole stadium was jolted with energy. It was another example of how sports is sometimes the best medicine in a time of sadness.
IX. November 2: 108 to 0
Cubs 8, Indians 7 (10 innings). “The greatest two words in sports: Game Seven.” This is a common cliché, but on November, 2, 2016 it rung true. The game was undoubtedly the greatest baseball contest of the century and one of the best Game Seven contests ever. The Cubs got out to an early 5-1 lead, but flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman allowed 4 runs in the 8th inning and the ballgame went to extra frames following a rain delay –because, of course, there would be a rain delay after 9 innings of the last game of the year. The Cubs struck for two in the 10th and they pulled out victory behind the arm of 21-year old Carl Edwards, Jr. with the winning run at the plate for Cleveland. The Cubs had finally done it, breaking a 108-year spell as only they could. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but anything works after that long a wait. Chicago threw the Cubs a massive homecoming, as 5,000,000 people attended. That’s the seventh largest gathering in human history.
We can only hope that 2017 delivers the same number of compelling triumphs in the year ahead. This list will only be complete with a 10th storyline. Let’s hear your thoughts as we ring in the New Year.