by Julian Spivey
Congratulations sports fans, you just witnessed the greatest year in the history of sports … and it may not even be close.
It all started in April of last year. North Carolina and Villanova met in the NCAA Men’s College Basketball championship and the game was one for the ages and featured possibly the greatest last 10 seconds in the history of the game. Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige hit an unbelievable three-pointer to tie the game at 74 with 4.7 seconds remaining on the clock. It seemed the game was certain for overtime. But, Villanova didn’t panic. They called timeout, coach Jay Wright drew up a play, the Wildcats inbounded the ball from the far end of the court, point guard Ryan Arcidiacono dribbled the ball up the court to the three-point arc, sort of flipped the ball back to an unbelievably wide open Kris Jenkins who nailed a long three as time expired for the championship. It wasn’t the first time a college basketball championship ended on a buzzer beater, but considering Paige’s shot to tie it up seconds before it led to a “can you believe what you just saw?” finish that likely made it the greatest college basketball championship finish ever.
The Golden State Warriors were the greatest team in NBA history with a record-breaking 73-9 regular season. All the team needed was a championship, their second in a row, to wrap up the “greatest team ever” tagline. They were almost stunned by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals going down 3-1 before coming back to win three games in a row to make the NBA Finals. That seemed like their biggest threat. In the Finals, the Warriors faced the Cleveland Cavaliers who they had beaten the year before, though that Cavs team was severely injured. Golden State would take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, one that no team had ever overcome to win the championship before. It was a virtual lock for the Warriors. Then they collapsed. The Cavaliers dominated the next two games to tie the series up at three games apiece setting up a final game 7 at Golden State. The game was close and went down to the final seconds, but ultimately LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, who’s three game stretches are among the greatest championship performances ever, were too much for the Warriors. Irving hit a clutch game-winner with under a minute remaining in the game and MVP Steph Curry right in his face. James finally had the championship in Cleveland he longed for and the greatest season in NBA history was instantly destroyed.
The Chicago Cubs knew futility like no team in the history of sports. The franchise’s 100-plus year championship drought was the longest in sports, by far. But, 2016 had a feeling that it all was going to change. The Cubs were the best team in Major League Baseball throughout the entire season, but we know the playoffs can be a different beast. The Cubs looked downright horrible against the pitching of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, and were written off by many, before coming back to win the series. It seemed the team was destined to finally snap the Curse of the Billy Goat. The World Series featured the two teams with the longest championship droughts in sports – the Cubs and the Cleveland Indians. Just knowing one streak was going to be snapped already made this the most interesting World Series matchup potentially ever. But, it’s unlikely anybody knew just how epic the series was going to be. The Cubs, once again, looked lost and the Indians took a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. Teams had come back from that deficit before, but the chances were slim. However, the Cubs went to work and forced a seventh game in dramatic fashion. In game 7 it looked like the Cubs were going to complete the unthinkable and run away with the series. Then in the eighth inning it looked like the Curse had reared its ugly head in a major way. The Indians made a stunning comeback off the Cubs bullpen, including fireball throwing closer Aroldis Chapman that culminated in light hitting outfielder Rajai Davis hitting a game-tying home run. Game 7, of the most interesting World Series ever, entered extra innings with the home-team Indians having the advantage. Then the sky opened up and the game had about a 40-minute rain delay. During that delay, Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward called a team meeting to get the young team together and let them know the game wasn’t over yet and to forget about the late inning collapse. When the delay was lifted, the Cubs came out of the clubhouse swinging and Ben Zobrist put them in the lead with a double. Relievers Carl Edwards Jr. and Mike Montgomery, though shaky, were able to hold onto the lead and the Curse was finally broken in a game many baseball writers were instantly calling the greatest game in baseball history.
The NASCAR championship is one that is unfortunately manufactured to be as exciting as possible, which kind of has the opposite effect on the title race. The sport takes the top four drivers after a nine-week playoff and puts them on equal footing for the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway with the highest finisher winning the championship. In the short history of this playoff format the champion of the sport has always won the title race. That didn’t change this past season, but the way it came down to the very end made for an exciting and historic finish. Six-time champion Jimmie Johnson was trying to tie NASCAR legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most championships in NASCAR history. He took the championship lead on a late race caution when leader and likely champion Carl Edwards crashed out of the race trying to block for the lead. Johnson would have to drive a perfect final two laps on a restart to win the record-tying championship and he did just that.
The college football championship kind of had a less than exciting feel to it than fans had hoped for. The matchup between Alabama and Clemson was a repeat of the year before and many expected that the Crimson Tide could not be beaten. Early in the game it sure felt that way as Alabama had a solid 17-7 lead midway through the third quarter. Tigers star quarterback Deshaun Watson then got his offense going and a shootout between the two teams commenced over the final quarter and a half of the game. Alabama took a three-point lead with about two minutes remaining on the clock. The Tigers offense got to work and with six seconds remaining Watson essentially threw a walk-off touchdown pass to receiver Hunter Renfrow sealing the greatest college football championship game in the minds of many.
What happened last night in Super Bowl LI was perhaps the most unbelievable moment of them all. The New England Patriots trailed by 25 points at one point in the third quarter. There was a moment in the game, per ESPN, when the Falcons had a 99.6 percent chance at winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history. No team had ever come back to win a Super Bowl by more than 10 points. It didn’t just seem insurmountable that the Patriots could win the game it literally felt impossible. Then in the fourth quarter the greatest QB in NFL history Tom Brady and the greatest coach in NFL history Bill Belichick worked some magic. Oh yeah, and the Atlanta Falcons choked the biggest choke in the history of sports – not just the Super Bowl, not just the NFL, but sports. Brady just ate up the Falcons defense, which had sacked him five times in the game, in the fourth quarter on his way to a Super Bowl record 466 passing yards, which included an incredible and unbelievable reception by receiver Julian Edelman off the hands and then feet of a Falcons defender, which may go down as the greatest catch in NFL history. The Patriots tied the game about a minute before regulation ended, won the coin toss to begin overtime (the first overtime in Super Bowl history) and Brady led his team down the field emphatically culminating in a sudden death game-winning touchdown run by running back James White, who had three touchdowns during the Pats record-setting comeback. It was a comeback that seemingly set up Brady, Belichick and the Patriots to be deemed the greatest of all-time in their categories. It also gave many the moment they were looking forward to when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was forced to congratulate a team he, in the minds of many, unfairly tried to keep from winning.
Essentially since April of last year every single major championship game or event came down to the very last play or moments of the game before deciding a victor. It doesn’t get any better than that for sports fans. We’ll likely never see it again.