When 2015 is over, sports fans will have experienced some of the greatest moments in history. Ohio State winning the inaugural College Football Playoff. Russell Wilson throwing an interception on the one-yard line in the Super Bowl, giving the Patriots the title. The Kentucky Wildcats watching their undefeated season end in the Final Four. The Golden State Warriors building a dynasty. U.S. shocking the world by winning the Women’s World Cup in a 5-2 beatdown of Japan. 2015 brought us many treasured memories and put us in position for many more.
The first-ever College Football Playoff was controversial, but ultimately it provided excitement and relief. The Alabama Crimson Tide, Oregon Ducks, Florida State Seminoles, and Ohio State Buckeyes made it in over the TCU Horned Frogs and Baylor Bears. The 4th ranked Buckeyes made the most of it, upsetting Alabama 42-35 and then defeating Oregon 42-20 in the title game behind dominant performances by running back Ezekiel Elliot.
Months later, Ohio State couldn’t follow up and finished short of the 2nd CFP. Alabama returned as the second seed, while the undefeated Clemson Tigers, 3rd ranked Michigan State Spartans, and 4th ranked Oklahoma Sooners reached it for the first time. The Tigers and Sooners will play in the Orange Bowl before the Crimson Tide and Spartans battle it out in the Cotton Bowl on New Years’ Eve. Those selections were clear cut with no controversy, unlike the previous selection. Alabama running back Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy, with Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson as the other two finalists. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds broke the rushing touchdown record and also rallied the Midshipmen to beat Army in the Navy-Army game.
The NFL playoffs provided a classic every week. The Dallas Cowboys escaped with a victory in their Wild Card bout against the Detroit Lions thanks to a questionable pass interference call from officials. The Cowboys were done in the following week when a Dez Bryant catch that was ruled incomplete gave the Packers a divisional round victory. Green Bay collapsed the next week against Seattle in a rally that included a fake field goal touchdown and an onside kick and sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl. Two weeks later, Seattle’s Russell Wilson threw the ball on the one-yard line and New England corner Malcolm Butler jumped Ricardo Lockette’s route, giving the Patriots their fourth Super Bowl victory, 28-24. Tom Brady was named the Super Bowl MVP in his seventh appearance.
The Super Bowl MVP didn’t have a magical offseason, though. Reports indicated that Brady aided two New England assistants in deflating footballs before the AFC Championship against the Indianapolis Colts. The NFL came down harsh in Brady’s punishment- a four-game suspension. Before the season started, the ruling was successfully appealed, allowing Brady to escape discipline-free. New England responded by winning its first 10 games and locking down the top seed in the AFC.
Another team that started 2015 off hot was the Carolina Panthers. Already a team that put together massive win streaks, the Panthers won their first fourteen games in the regular season. Quarterback Cam Newton was the forerunner in the MVP picture for most of the year, though another quarterback on an NFC contender, Carson Palmer, followed right behind. Nightmare seasons from the Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts opened the door for the Washington Redskins, Houston Texans, and Kansas City Chiefs to sneak into the playoffs. Interesting decisions from referees and an epidemic of injuries defined the season, while the race to Los Angeles progressed for the Chargers, Raiders, and Rams.
The Kentucky Wildcats rode their two-platoon system to an undefeated record and the top seed heading into the NCAA tournament. But it’s called March Madness for a reason. The Wildcats had a relatively smooth ride to the Final Four but were upended by the Wisconsin Badgers in the Final Four, 71-64. The Badgers met their match in the championship, the Duke Blue Devils, led by Grayson Allen and Tyus Jones. The Blue Devils won a thriller, 68-63, for another title in the program’s storied history.
While college basketball saw multiple shake-ups, there was no doubt who the top dog was in the NBA. The Golden State Warriors completed a dominant season with a 4-2 series victory over the frisky Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, the first title in franchise history. Stephen Curry won the regular season MVP and elevated his game and captured the title of best player in the NBA. LeBron James and the Cavaliers struggled in their first year in James’ second tenure with the team as injuries hampered their playoff hopes, but a gutsy performance in the Finals gave reason for hope.
Even with coach Steve Kerr off the court recovering from surgery, the Warriors went from the best team to a historic one. Golden State won its first 25 games of the 2015-16 NBA season. The Warriors’ depth was unrivaled, with Draymond Green joining Curry as an All-Pro level talent and the bench weathering the storms of injury.
Several teams rose to power in Major League Baseball after years of mediocrity. The Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, and New York Mets saw stunning improvements and made dents in the playoffs. Chicago boasted the Manager of the Year (Joe Maddon), Rookie of the Year (Kris Bryant), and Cy Young winner (Jake Arrieta), but they were swept in the NLCS by the New York Mets and second baseman Daniel Murphy, whose bat exploded with seven homers in the postseason. The hot-hitting Kansas City Royals got the best of the Mets in the World Series, taking the title in six games for their first title in 30 years.
The sports world shook at other times as well. American Pharaoh became the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown and first since 1978. Female boxer Ronda Rousey was upset by Holly Holm, giving defeat to a seemingly unbeatable athlete. Serena Williams dominated the tennis landscape along with Wimbledon winner Novak Djokavic. Young golfer Jordan Spieth found himself on the pinnacle of his sport in 2015.
Will the Cubs win the World Series? Will Super Bowl 50 live up to the hype? Can the Warriors and Stephen Curry win over 72 games? What will happen in the Olympics? 2016 will give the answers, but 2015 provided those intriguing and exciting questions.
Best Athlete: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors- Curry is far and away the best basketball player in the world and has a championship and MVP under his belt to prove it. The Golden State point guard is only 27 and is unstoppable on offense and stingy on defense.
Best Coach: Joe Maddon, Chicago Cubs- Maddon turned the Chicago Cubs from cellar dwellers to World Series contenders. The Cubs won 97 games and made it to the NLCS behind the stellar leadership of Maddon.
Best Rookie: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs- Controversy launched Kris Bryant into the headlines in Spring Training as his arrival on the North Side was delayed due to contract issues. But Bryant was worth the wait- .275 batting average, 26 homers, 99 RBI, and two homers in the playoffs.
Best Moment: Malcolm Butler intercepts Russell Wilson, Super Bowl XLIX- When the Seahawks reached the one yard line with just seconds left in the Super Bowl, it looked like the Patriots were done in. In one of the most debated calls in football history, OC Darrell Bevell opted to throw and corner Malcolm Butler read the screen pass perfectly, allowing the Patriots to run out the clock.
Biggest Shocker: Seahawks rally to beat Packers, NFC Championship- This game was one of the craziest rallies in football history. Packers fans were already thinking of buying Super Bowl tickets until the Hawks foiled them behind a number of miracles.