The Best Sports Stories Of 2016

We’re in what I think of as the “interval point” between sports years. The Super Bowl was the last event deciding a champion that will be remembered as being from 2016. The NCAA Tournament will be the first champion from 2017. It’s a perfect time to look back on the sports stories of the past year.

In tribute to the Academy Awards being announced tonight, these are listed by what the title of a future movie or documentary should be…

1)CHAMPIONSHIPS FOR THE AGES—A text message from a friend after the Super Bowl summed it up best–”we are in the midst of the greatest run of championship events in the last 200 years.”

In order, we saw the following—Kris Jenkins hits a last-second three to win the NCAA title for Villanova. LeBron James’ amazing blocked shot and Kyrie Irving’s clutch three win Game 7 of the NBA Finals for Cleveland. In October, we saw the greatest baseball game ever played, as the Cubs survived the Indians to win the seventh game of the World Series. Clemson rallies to beat Alabama for a national title in football with one second left on the clock. Finally, the Patriots win the first-ever overtime Super Bowl.

All of these individually make for compelling stories and in fact they’ve inspired spin-offs that are going to be included on this list. Taken collectively, you only need to scratch the surface to realize we will not see a run of championship events like this ever again.

2)THE TRIUMPH OF THE PRODIGAL SON—If one of the best stories of 2015 was LeBron James coming home to Cleveland, then an even better story in 2016 was his ultimate triumph, bringing his hometown its greatest victory.

To recap—Cleveland was in a 3-1 series hole against a Golden State team that had set a record for wins. In a league where homecourt advantage is paramount, the Cavs had two of their three must-win games on the road. In a league where the road team had not won a Game 7 in the Finals since 1978, Cleveland had to do it in one of the most raucous buildings in the NBA.

They did all of that. The big moment of the movie will be when the camera slows down and shows LeBron bearing down on a fast-breaking Andre Iguodala to get an amazing block right before the go-ahead basket late in the game could be scored.

3)TEARS FROM HEAVEN—The Chicago Cubs were on the verge of giving another shot at the elusive World Series title away. After being in command throughout Game 7 in Cleveland, a stunning two-run homer in the eighth inning tied the game. All the momentum was in the Indians’ favor. The Cubs’ top reliever, Aroldis Chapman, was clearly gassed. Progressive Field was going nuts. The Cubs needed help…

…then the rain come. With extra innings in the deciding baseball game of the year, 17 minutes of rain allowed the Cubs to regroup and get their bearings. They won and got the franchise’s first championship in 108 years. The following day, ESPN commentator Mike Wilbon, a Chicago native, called the rain the tears from heaven, after a century-plus of suffering.

It’s the perfect dramatic ending to a film that showcases the Cubs dominating the regular season and then showing their mettle in the playoffs—from a big rally against San Francisco to avoid a winner-take-all showdown in the Division Series, to winning three in a row to rally against Los Angeles in the NLCS, to the ultimate win over Cleveland—where they again had to win three in a row and become the first team since 1979 to win the final two games on the road.

4)DESHAUN’S DRIVE--This film takes you inside the huddle with Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson. He got a long-awaited rematch with Alabama in the college football national championship game. In the early part of the game, he didn’t play well and with the Tide ahead 14-0, it looked over.

This is the point in the movie where the player looks discouraged. The cheerleaders and fans look on in saddened disbelief. Then something happens to turn the game around. And what happened was Watson leading not one, but two fantastic drives against the best program in college football. He put Clemson ahead 28-24 with less than five minutes to play. After the defense gave it up and he had less than two minutes to respond, one more drive ends with the game-winning touchdown with :01 on the clock.

DeShaun walks off into the sunset, the ultimate triumph of his college career.

5)THE GREATEST OF ALL-TIME–The movie is casually referred to as “GOAT”, the acronym for its title and shows Tom Brady’s Super Bowl comeback against Atlanta in light of his entire career. With 466 yards passing and authoring the greatest comeback in the history of the Super Bowl, Brady’s fifth ring eliminates any doubt as to who the consensus best quarterback ever is.

The final line of the movie will be LeGarrette Blount going up to an emotional Brady right after the winning touchdown to tell him “Tom, you’re the greatest that’s ever played. And you’re not done yet.” It’s a close call as to whether Matt Damon or Ben Affleck stars as Brady. Denzel Washington also wins accolades for his portrayal of surprise hero James White.

6)FORGOTTEN HEROES—What if you hit an impossible three-point shot to complete a rally in the national championship game? Or hit an “I don’t believe what I just saw” home run to tie up the decisive game of the World Series? Or if you were a freshman quarterback, who with all the money on the line in the closing minutes led a touchdown drive capped off by a brilliant scoring run? You’d expect a special place in sports lore.

Instead, Marcus Paige, Rajai Davis and Jalen Hurts are afterthoughts. Paige hit the best clutch shot I’ve ever seen a basketball player make—a double-clutch three that pulled North Carolina even with Villanova. The Tar Heels had all the momentum and were in great shape to win in overtime before Jenkins quickly answered and the confetti rained down on Villanova.

Davis hit the aforementioned two-home run for the Indians that tied the game against the Cubs and sent no less a Cleveland icon then LeBron James into fist-pumping ecstacy from his box. As for Hurts, he answered the first of Watson’s clutch drives in the Clemson-Alabama with one of his own, capped off by a thirty-yard dash that should have made him a freshman hero in Tuscaloosa.

7)COLLAPSE AT AUGUSTA—This one is a one-hour documentary that takes you inside what happened with Jordan Spieth at the Masters. On the way to establishing himself as the pre-eminent golfer in the world and with a commanding lead on Sunday, Spieth came completely apart.

Spieth’s story will be told in conjunction with what happened to the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl or poor Tony Bennett’s Virginia basketball program when they were on the threshold of a Final Four.

8)MAGIC AT ROLAND GARROS—The French Open saw special championships won on both the men and the women’s side, but for two different reasons. In this 30-minute special, see how Novak Djokovic completed his Career Grand Slam. And for those who love a Cinderella story, watch Garbine Muguruza upset Serena Williams in the women’s final.

9)GOLDEN STATE’S GREATNESS—Some of us are suckers for a story about a team that achieves and achieves—in fact, achieves more than what should be realistically possible. And then that team gets remembered more for losing than for winning.

The Golden State Warriors rely on a superstar that goes only six feet tall. They have no reliable center and aren’t the deepest team in the league. They had no business setting a new NBA record with 73 regular season wins. When they were set to get their come-uppance in the Western Conference Finals, down 3-1 to Oklahoma City, the Warriors ripped off three straight wins. They finally came up one game short in the Prodigal Son’s triumph.

But like the 2007 New England Patriots, the 2016 Golden State Warriors should be remembered more for what they did than for what they narrowly missed out on. The director that produces a documentary that does that deserves our gratitude.

It was an amazing sports year in 2016, one that provided needed pyschological stabilization for a bitterly divided society. A salute to all the actors, directors and producers (or players, coaches and front office personnel) that put their talents on full display.