By Colin Bock
In an otherwise tumultuous year of politics, entertainment, lifestyle and technology, sports have always been there for us when there was more than enough going on in the world.
Sports are a way of unity and escape for many, and it can be a saving grace from an otherwise forgettable past. For some athletes, like the major league baseball prospects from Cuba, they have given up their parts of their lives to play sports. Sentimental thoughts aside, 2016 was incredibly dramatic as the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years, the Cleveland Cavaliers won their first championship in franchise history, and a majority of sports icons left us, opening the door for others, which adds an even further definition to the always-changing meaning of sports. Here are my Top 30 Sports Moments of 2016:
- Chicago Cubs make a comeback to defeat Cleveland Indians 4-3. This ended the series with a remarkable 10 inning seventh game with Kris Bryant making the series-winning defensive play on a groundout throw to Anthony Rizzo. It seemed like a 3-1 comeback was imminent. After all, the Indians had been blowing out the Cubs, but in the 8th inning, Indians’ Rajai Davis smacked one deep into left to tie the game and force the remarkable extra inning spectacle where, as mentioned, the Cubs pulled through with help from star closers Mike Montgomery and Aroldis Chapman. When all was set in stone, the Cubs’ 2nd Baseman Ben Zobrist was named Series MVP, as he led the comeback, batting .357 throughout the World Series, helping usher out legendary catcher David Ross into the sunset. Furthermore, this snapped a 108 year World Series title drought for the Chicago Cubs, breaking the curses of Steve Bartman and the billy goat. The celebration within the city of Chicago that night was incredible; people were trust-falling from two-story lampposts, and as a diehard sports (and Cubs) fan, the Cubs’ World Series Victory became my choice for the best moment of the 2016 Calendar Year.
- Cavaliers overcome 3-1 series deficit. LeBron James came out of nowhere to perform his signature chasedown block on Warriors’ Andre Iguodala, which lead to a game-winning shot by Cavs’ guard, Kyrie Irving. Golden State went 73-9 that year, breaking the Jordan-led Bulls’ 72-10 mark in 1995-96. The Warriors even came back from a 3-1 series deficit vs Oklahoma City before becoming an internet meme by blowing one against the LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs finally won a championship for their organization and for the city of Cleveland. Given the Browns’ 1-15 season, Cleveland can be forgiven for this only by virtue of the Cavs and Indians. The Warriors on the other hand…well…they blew a 3-1 lead.
- Kobe Bryant scores a colossal 62 points in his final NBA game. This lead the abysmal Los Angeles Lakers to just their 17th victory, defeating the Utah Jazz. Despite missing five straight shots to begin the game, and ultimately having a forgettable season stat-wise, Kobe left on an extremely high note as a true legend should, putting up 13 points in the final two minutes. While this isn’t quite as magnificent as his 81 point game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006, Kobe will forever be remembered for his killer mentality and all-around illustrious career. Farewell, Mamba.
- Peyton Manning wins his second Super Bowl, and final career game. While Von Miller was ultimately the Super Bowl 50 MVP, contributing 6 tackles and 2.5 sacks, one of which resulted in a touchdown by DE Malik Jackson, Peyton Manning enjoyed an extraordinary ending to a remarkable career that saw him claim the all-time passing record. Of all Manning’s accolades, a win in Super Bowl 50 must be his favorite. He even set a record for oldest quarterback to start in the super bowl. Despite a down season, Manning is still easily regarded as one of the greatest performers in the history of the sport. Farewell, Sheriff, and thank you for being an icon for me and for America.
- Golden State Warriors defeat Memphis Grizzlies to set the NBA record for most wins in a season. While the Warriors failed to win a title, their phenomenal record of 73-9, yes 73-9 will forever be a part of NBA History as they passed the Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen-led ‘95-96 Bulls’ record of 72-10. In addition, Steph Curry added this fantastic team season to his list of incredible feats, such as averaging 30.1 points per game, shooting 0.504 from the field, and shattering his own NBA three-point seasonal record with 402 made three-point baskets, relative to his 286 the year before. Curry’s sensational season was a defining part of the 2016 year.
- Villanova Guard Kris Jenkins hits a monumental buzzer-beater, winning the NCAA National Championship. After North Carolina’s Marcus Paige capped an incredible UNC rally by hitting an acrobatic three-point basket with 4.7 seconds remaining, Kris Jenkins of Villanova stuffs the dagger by catching the ball from All-American teammate Ryan Arcidiacono and, of course, hits the shot heard around the world. This stunned the basketball world, and even left UNC alum Michael Jordan with a sense of respect for another man’s greatness, which is the true meaning of basketball.
- Cristiano Ronaldo leaves UEFA Euro with leg contusion, Portugal wins finals over Host France 1-0 after 120 minutes in St. Denis. The heart and soul of a persistent Portugal team, Cristiano led his team to narrow wins throughout the course of the tournament. In fact, Portugal finished a mere 3rd in their group, still advancing. They defeated Croatia, a country in an interesting period in their soccer history, 1-0 after 120 minutes, Poland 1-1 (5-3) after penalties, and after a 2-0 cruise past Wales, Ronaldo was set to win his first international tournament in his illustrious career. However, after 9 minutes, Ronaldo went down with an apparent leg contusion, and after various attempts to play through the pain, including tape and gauze, Ronaldo left the game, handing his captain arm-band to teammate Nani with tears in his eyes. But Nani and Portugal would stand behind Ronaldo, as Éder, the substitute, would stuff the dagger in the 109th minute. Although the tournament was Antoine Griezmann’s coming out party, the tournament belonged to Cristiano Ronaldo.
- Kenyan Drake returns a kickoff 95 yards in the CFP National Championship at the Fiesta Bowl Normally the backup running back gets little in the way of praise, especially one who backs up the Heisman Memorial Trophy winner, but Kenyan Drake sealed another Alabama National Championship on this return, extending the margin to two possessions. While Clemson made it a 5-point contest, it proved too little too late as Alabama ensued to win their 4th Championship (45-40) in 6 years, a remarkable feat.
- Stephen Curry makes MVP case with NBA record 12 three-point baskets, and hits a 38.4-foot three-point shot with 0.6 seconds left. He defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-118 in an all time thriller, and making the play of the (regular) season. Not to mention, Curry also scored 46 points, 36 of which came from threes, and Steph Curry certainly cemented his case for NBA League MVP averaging above 30 points per game throughout the regular season en route to an all-time team record 73-9 regular season performance.
- Many all-time greats retire, leaving an unfillable void within Sports Universe. In a year of heartbreak, solidarity, ups and downs, there seemingly wasn’t an ounce of room for emotion. But boy, was there. We were presented with the retirements of the Mamba himself, Kobe, the 2nd greatest NBA player ever, Tim Duncan, the Big Fundamental, Kevin Garnett, the original trash-talking NBA superstar, Ray Allen, the greatest 3-pt shooter ever, Amar’e Stoudemire, legendary Dodgers announcer, Vin Scully, David “Big Papi” Ortiz, A-Rod, Peyton “The Sheriff” Manning, Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch, Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, and a plethora of others. Their illustrious careers serve as inspiration to myself and countless others.
- Leicester City wins English Premier League despite 5,000-1 preseason odds Leading scorer Riyad Mahrez lead the way. Despite all the ridicule the team received and despite hiring a brand-new manager right at the start of the season, Leicester embodies a true underdog and the resilient spirit within sport. They showed that there is always something to play for, and their group victory in the ongoing UEFA Champions League still shows their tremendous courage.
- Aaron Rodgers air-mails a 60 yard bomb, setting up a 41 yard (regulation) game-saver against the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Divisional Playoffs. Both of these passes are spectacular in that they featured the same Aa-Rod maneuver; Aaron Rodgers scrambles left and unloads a fading, sensational throw to Packers wideout Jeff Janis, keeping the team in the game, forcing overtime. However, Larry Fitzgerald cemented himself as one of the NFL’s all-time playoff performers by hauling in a 75 yard catch and run from quarterback Carson Palmer, setting up a game-winning touchdown on an inside toss.
- Craig Sager loses his battle with leukemia, NBA sideline reporters wear dazzling suits as tribute. Craig Sager is and will forever be known as a legend within the world of sports broadcasting and reporting. After announcing his leukemia diagnosis, he was given time to rest and recuperate. Sager loved his job too much to quit, however, and his inspirational quotes from his Perseverance Award Commencement speech at the ESPYs, exclaiming, “I will continue to keep fighting sucking the marrow out of life as life sucks the marrow out of me” (Sager, 2016). His many tributes, such as one by Odell Beckham wearing cleats similar to a suit worn by Sager. Beckham, believe it or not, was FINED by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for a uniform violation, and the fine was sent to a leukemia research foundation.
- The United States runs the table at 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, amassing 46 gold medals and 121 total medals. From Simone Biles’ 4 gold and 1 bronze gymnastic performance to Michael Phelps’ transcendence to the greatest olympian of all time, the United States, yet again, made their mark on the world of sports. A favorite story of mine is a Boise, Idaho native cyclist and 43 year old gold medalist Kristin Armstrong. Armstrong truly uses her power for good within the state of Idaho, inspiring others at the local YMCA. Her gold medal in Rio was her third consecutive win, something truly vital for our country.
- Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon duel in the greatest dunk-contest since Michael Jordan vs Dominique Wilkins. Although the final round of this contest didn’t start with that much intensity, Gordon had a sensational sitting dunk above the Orlando Magic mascot where he flushes the ball under his legs and with one hand, then cocks it above his head. LaVine then answered with a series of free-throw line dunks, eventually claiming the title of Dunk Contest Champion in back to back years, sparking many in-game dunks of a similar caliber by the two contestants.
- Tom Brady Returns from 4-game suspension and throws for 406 yards, 3 touchdowns against the Cleveland Browns and then 376 yards, 3 touchdowns against the Cincinnati Bengals. In a star-studded season that saw one of the best throw for just 2 interceptions, I honestly think the suspension made Brady an all-around better player for his age. His quarterback rating on the year was 112.2, and while he’s not my choice for MVP due to suspension, I believe he had a sensational season for New England, and the playoffs this following week are his chance to make an MVP statement.
- Muhammad Ali passes away, sparking worldwide memoriam for the greatest boxer of all time. Muhammad Ali was more than just a world-class boxer; he was a sensational motivator, role-model and above all else, phenomenal person. Despite his three-year boxing ban for draft evasion, Ali was praised by many due to his hopes for worldwide tranquility and peace. His accolades include 56 victories, 37 of which were by knockout, and 1960 Olympic Heavyweight gold medal. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”, Ali said. He will forever be missed.
- Dak Prescott emerges as the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, leading sensational rookie campaign that sees the Cowboys secure a #1 seed in the playoffs. Of course, while Ezekiel Elliott will go down as rookie of the year, and deservedly so after falling just 100 yards short of Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record, the Dak Attack lived up to the hype earned from the preseason, and lead Dallas to a 13-3 record, despite going 3-3 within the realms of NFC East division play. The Cowboys finally have something to be excited about with the best offense in the league and an above average defense to boot.
- Miami Marlins 2x all-star Pitcher José Fernández dies in boating accident, tragic death sparks league-wide tribute and memoriam. His last appearance coming September 20, 2016, Fernández played his final game just 5 days before death; a somber thought. Even more somber, he announced his wife was pregnant with their first child on the same day of his final MLB game. The Miami Marlins team proceeded to wear his number, #16, the ensuing day to honor him before retiring his number as a tribute to the 2x all-star right-hander. Many other MLB players and organizations paid tribute to his death as well.
- Lamar Jackson wins the Heisman Memorial Trophy and becomes first winner in school history after making unbelievable plays. Lamar Jackson is your typical college football player; he plays the game how he instinctively would, and he does so with a burning passion. In total, Jackson scored a whopping 51 offensive touchdowns, 30 passing, 21 rushing. Jackson will always be remembered for his hurdle against Syracuse on a quarterback draw play. His athletic ability led him to over 3,500 yards passing and 1,500 yards rushing, drawing comparisons to Michael Vick back at Virginia Tech. Either way, when the two played, they were electric, and a perfect embodiment of college football.
- #15 Middle Tennessee State upsets National Title favorite #2 Michigan in March Madness Round of 64. They became the 8th 15 seed to accomplish such a feat. This matchup was considered by many to be the easiest for Player of the Year Denzel Valentine and his Michigan State Spartans basketball team. However, MTSU was not to be taken lightly; they led the entire game, as Michigan State could only pull to within 1. MTSU ultimately won 90-81 in arguably the greatest March Madness upset of all time.
- The Dallas Cowboys defeat Pittsburgh Steelers 35-30, making big plays to highlight the NFL game of the regular season. While Dallas Cowboys star rookie Ezekiel Elliott totaled more than 200 yards from scrimmage, the entire game was overshadowed by two colossal plays; with under a minute left, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger fakes a spike, throwing a beautiful touchdown to WR Antonio Brown, who makes the celebration of the year. Then, after a series of penalties, the Cowboys came within field goal range, and with 9 second left, in order to set up an easier shot for kicker Dan Bailey, Ezekiel Elliott breaks it for a touchdown to seal the game.
- Ryan Lochte embellishes robbery story, suspended 10 months by the United States. After an alleged claim by Lochte and some of his teammates that they were robbed at gunpoint while in a taxi by security guards, the true story emerged that Lochte was under the influence of alcohol and the damages were caused by his crew. While Lochte was able to leave Brazil without being taken in for questioning, his teammates were detained, and further questions were asked. It’s amazing what stars will do under the light of the camera to gain attention.
- The Pittsburgh Penguins defeat San Jose Sharks 4-2 to win the Stanley Cup. The Pittsburgh Penguins are a perennial powerhouse within the hockey world, led by superstar attackman Sidney Crosby, who went on to win Stanley Cup MVP. The Sharks, however, were blessed with the best season in franchise history after years of being the laughingstock of the sport. Despite their loss, it’s truly amazing how the saying, “What goes around comes around” is applicable in both modern sports and society as a whole.
- At age 35, Serena Williams wins a tied-record 22nd Tennis Grand Slam, defeating German Angelique Kerber in straight sets at Wimbledon. Serena Williams truly set the world on fire in 2016 by winning yet another grand-slam to add to her collection. Despite suffering notable upsets at the Australian and French Opens, one of which to Kerber, Serena truly redeemed herself, and now continues to be a role model across the United States.
- Conor McGregor defeats Eddie Alvarez, securing UFC Lightweight Championship. As loud and exuberant the Irish superstar is, his performance against Alvarez cannot be ignored. Throughout the fight, McGregor dominated, winning the bout by unanimous decision and delivering a cutthroat, remarkable post-fight speech that truly sums up the sport. I love the guy, as an Irish-American myself, and while others hate his “cocky” comments, McGregor backs it all up, and his fight against Eddie Alvarez sufficed as proof.
- Russell Westbrook and James Harden light up the NBA with multiple triple-doubles. While many like to point out that the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers have the best records in the NBA, many seem to find it incomprehensible that Russell Westbrook could be averaging a triple-double on the year (30.9 points, 10.7 assists, 10.5 rebounds), and that James Harden could amass 53 points, 17 assists, and 16 rebounds in a game against the New York Knicks. It seems like Harden’s transition from playing the shooting guard position to the point guard position has worked like magic and that the Thunder are A-ok without superstar forward Kevin Durant.
- Kyle Lowry hits a halfcourt heave to force overtime in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semis vs. the Miami Heat. While the Raptors lost the battle (game), they sure won the war (series) 4-3 against the Heat. After pulling the score to within 3 in the final seconds after being down 7 with 40 seconds to go, all hell broke loose in Canada as Kyle Lowry drained a desperation half court heave to keep the Raptors in the game. While the Raptors eventually lost in overtime, it certainly gave them momentum over the rest of the series, setting up their meeting with Cleveland.
- #2 Ohio State secures a berth in the College Football Playoff by stunning #3 Michigan 30-27 in overtime. A guy nobody talks about, Curtis Samuel, deserves watching. After viewing his highlights and viewing his stats, I realized just how electric he was. All year, Samuel averaged 9.8 yards per touch, leading the FBS. This essentially means that Samuel, on average, picked up a first down every time he touches the ball, he’s that good. Aside from Samuel, Ohio State were bruised by archrival Michigan in “The Game” claiming a highly coveted playoff selection, where they would be drubbed by #2 Clemson 31-0. If I didn’t put something about Ohio State on here my friend would be mad, so this one’s for you.
- The Minnesota Vikings Kicker Blair Walsh misses a gimme 27 yard field goal, costing the Vikings a playoff win in 10-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Many consider this to be the greatest playoff collapse in recent history; a 27 yard field goal is shorter than the average extra-point, which is 33 yards. His holder, however, gave him the laces causing him to hook the shot wide-left. The Vikings jumped to a 9-0 lead right out of the gate, but the Seahawks rallied behind quarterback Russell Wilson and rookie wideout Tyler Lockett to win the game in a stunner.
Thanks for reading ‘varks! Best of luck to you all next year!