At the end of every calendar year, I look back on what happened in the year in sports. I see what transpired in any sport us Muricans somewhat care about, and think to myself, "Will we talk about this at all in twenty years?" Then you think about what happened in basketball, golf, baseball, and football, and you realize, "Uhm, yeah, this'll be talked about in 2036. Probably 2136, at that." This was an absolutely remarkable year for the all-around sports fan. So many things happened on the biggest stages where you'll keep seeing the same moments on replays for years to come because they were just that stupendous. As we get ready to move onto a new year, let's look back once more while we still can at what sports offered us in 2016.
Because this is a website entitled Mile High Hockey, let's start out with what happened in hockey, even though there wasn't all that much worth citing for years to come on ice rinks. The Stanley Cup Final between Pittsburgh and San Jose was just okay. Yeah, it went six games, but the Penguins always seemed to be in control and it seemed likely they'd win, which they did. Nothing remarkable happened. It's just a footnote in hockey history. The World Cup was nice. It never had the drama of hockey in the Olympics, but it was satisfactory in providing some good hockey before the NHL season begun. I don't think I'm being biassed when I say Nathan MacKinnon's goal was the lasting memory of the World Cup.
The most memorable thing that I think happened in hockey this year was the first round series between the Blackhawks and Blues. Neither team had any right to be eliminated in the first round, but that's just how the playoffs are structured now. Every game of that seven match series was great entertainment. There were overtimes, there were stupendous goals, there was hatred between the two bitter rivals. It defined what playoff hockey is all about. If someone says the NBA playoffs are better than the NHL playoffs, punch them, and then make them watch Game 7 of that series. If time is no restriction, show that knucklehead the previous six games too.
Despite the fact I just knocked the NBA playoffs, let's talk about the NBA Finals. We'll begin with this opinion of mine that I think holds up; it was the greatest championship series in NBA history. After Game 4, this seemed predetermined. Golden State was dominating Cleveland. It was 3-1 (hehe), the 73-9 Warriors were playing as good as they had been all season, and it seemed like destiny they were going to go back to back, win Game 5 on their home court, and make the case for greatest professional basketball team of all time.
Then Draymond Green got (rightfully0 suspended for kicking people in the man muscle. Cleveland pulled out a tough Game 5 in Oakland, got Game 6 on their home court, and then Game 7 happened. The 4th Quarter of that game was so good, man. It was so tense, even as a neutral observer, that I couldn't help but shake back and forth. Kyrie Irving's game-winning three and LeBron James' block will stand the test of time in NBA lore. Put it up there with Jordan's game winning shot and the sky hook. It was that insane. Coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA is damned near impossible. To do it against arguably the greatest team of all time, inconceivable. Cleveland ending its fifty-two year championship drought in that fashion was worth the half-century plus. If they have to wait until 2068 to get their next title, if the Browns beat an undefeated Rams team (just imagine that absurdity), it'll again have been worth the wait.
Staying with basketball, let's move to the college side and talk about the last fifteen seconds between Villanova and North Carolina. You're fortunate if you see an inhumane game-winning shot once every five years in a college basketball final. This game had TWO in the span of FIVE SECONDS! I don't remember much of what happened in the prior 39:55, but I don't need to. Marcus Paige's three pointer to tie the game at 74 for UNC was circus-like. He had no right making that shot, and he did. It looked like overtime was on the horizon, but then, Kris Jenkins of Villanova had a major answer of his own that beat the buzzer, and got Villanova the victory and championship. It was a good year for the diehard basketball fan,
I am a very avid golfer. I love to play it and watch it. For the golf-watcher, it was a quality year. Three tournaments will stick out to me from 2016 on the links:The Masters, The Open Championship, and the Ryder Cup. Beginning with the events at Augusta National Golf Club, we have to talk about the depressing saga that was Jordan Spieth on the 12th hole. Spieth had been in control of that championship from day one and went into the Back 9 on pace to get his third major in five tries and second consecutive green jacket. He hit Amen Corner and made bogey on 11th, but it seemed insignificant. He still led Danny Willet by three, one bogey wouldn't kill him. It did not end up killing him! We were all correct! It was actually the next hole that killed him, he tanked his tee shot into Ray's Creek and everything proceeded to go to hell for the defending champ. Willet ended up winning, but no one particularly gives a hoot about that.
Spieth's meltdown was not the biggest collapse in golf history. Jean van de Velde at the 1999 Open claims that title. It was not the worst collapse in Masters history either. For that, I direct you to the 1996 edition when Greg Norman blew the tournament to Nick Faldo. Spieth's collapse was awful though, and it was painful to watch. Everyone went from wanting a close tournament and hoping Spieth comes back to the field, to suddenly hoping he could pull it back together on the last six holes and come back. He did not. Now, every time Jordan Spieth goes to the 12th hole at Augusta, that sequence of events will cross his mind. And everyone watching him. It will be unavoidable even if he wins the next ten Masters tournaments. It was that devastating and numbing.
On a happier note in golf, the 2016 Open at Royal Troon was as good of a showdown as the sport has ever seen. Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson were on another level that week. The quality of golf out of the two of them was so far and above their competitors it was ridiculous. Mickelson finishing second and beating third place by thirteen shots is unheard of. That just doesn't happen in golf anymore. Not with how thin the line is between first and missing the cut. It's so insignificant, and these two made that whole idea look downright silly. The back and forth action out of the two of them was thrilling. It was as good of a one on one showdown the sport has ever seen. One I'll never forget, and one golf historians will reference until the sun engulfs this planet.
Lastly in the golf world, we must talk about what took place in the Ryder Cup. The USA won for the first time since Columbus discovered the new world, but that's beside the point. Phil Mickelson once more took place in an outrageously good battle, this time against Sergio Garcia in Sunday singles when the two shot a worst-ball 63. Also, Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy did this and the world exploded as a result. Pretty cool. Who said golf isn't exciting and a boring sport? All this proved that golf doesn't need Tiger Woods to be successful and entertaining. It'd be cool if he wants to contribute to this in 2017 and beyond, but it doesn't depend on him being great to be worth watching.
We must next talk about the single best thing that happened in sports this season, and what will define 2016 in sports forever. The Chicago Cubs winning the World Series. This event transcends sports. You don't have to like baseball to have cared about this. This was a cultural phenomenon. In Chicago, true story, when a baby is born, they list how many days it's been on the birth certificate since the Cubbies last won baseball's title (sidennote: not actually a true story). You either rooted for the Indians to beat the Cubs because a) you're an Indians fan, which is understandable, b) you're a St. Louis Cardinals fan, in which case, kill yourself, or c) you hate America and hope ISIS takes over the world.
It was such a bizarre night between the Cubs blowing their multi-run lead late in the proceedings to make it look like the Indians would win in nine innings, which surprisingly didn't happen. Then it rained for about half an hour in northeast Ohio and this whole country stood still as we waited breathlessly to see what would happen in extra innings. A Cubs loss would have affected America the same way a nuclear missile hitting New York City would have. People would have died in gruesome fashion, America would be devastated, all hell would have broken loose. Thank the maker Chicago got it done. That moment Chicago got the final out was as cool a moment as I've ever seen a sporting event. It was one of the few times in sports all of society could watch a moment and collectively say, "I've never seen that happen before." Typically, that's a broad overstatement. Not this occasion. For Cubs fans, two of my best friends being Cubs fans, it was a beautiful experience.
We will conclude this rehash with my personal favorite moment. February 7th, 2016 will go down as one of the greatest days of my life. I was nervous all day about Super Bowl 50 and wanted nothing more on God's green earth than for the Denver Broncos to beat the Carolina Panthers. It happened. I'm 21 years old (was 20 at the time) and the only memory I have of a Denver sports team winning a major championship was the Avalanche's Cup win in 2001. I was 5. I didn't fully understand how cool of a moment that is for your team to win a title. The next 15 years of watching lots of mediocrity between the Avalanche, Nuggets, Rockies, and Broncos really made me appreciate how hard it is to win a title in pro sports. So when the clock hit triple zeros in the fourth quarter and the score read Denver 24, Carolina 10, I was on the brink of tears.
The game itself wasn't anything to write home about. It featured very little scoring, a lot of punts, and some sloppy turnovers. Big whoop. I will love Von Miller until the day I die for the domination he put forth that day. To make the seemingly unstoppable Panthers offense look more pedestrian than the Broncos' pathetic offense is more of an accomplishment than the Super Bowl win itself. To send Peyton Manning out a champion was the icing on the cake. Peyton goes up there with Joe Sakic and Peyton Manning among my favorite athletes ever, just because of the sheer class and greatness they played with. So for all the great things that happened in 2016 in sports, that will be my favorite.
To close, let's address the point of this. When you're watching the NBA Finals, Super Bowl, or whatever sporting event it is down the road with your kids and grandkids, these highlights will be rehashed every year. Take a moment to appreciate the fact we watched them happen live.
Yeah, 2016 had a lot of horrible things happen. The election season was a chore, there was a mass shooting like every other week, and quite a few famous people died. Sports distracted us quite well though; which is their greatest use and purpose once you're in the real world and realize life sucks and suicide seems like a nice option on the worst of days. Sports rocked it this year on pretty much all counts. Maybe the Avs will decide to contribute in 2017. But that's highly doubtful. There's a better chance you and I will be killed by a dinosaur in the next 24 hours than the Avalanche making a positive contribution to our lives. We can always hope though.