2016 will go down in history for its finishes.
Prominently, the Cubs finished their 108-year curse and won the World Series, climbing back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Cleveland Indians in a thrilling Game 7. Same for the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA, who shocked the Golden State Warriors, winners of a league-record 73 games, by winning the last three games of the best-of-seven NBA Finals series and bringing the first title to Cleveland in 52 years.
In the 2016 Olympics, no record was safe. South Africa’s Wayne Van Niekerk became the first man to win the 400m dash from lane 8… and ran a world record time. American distance runner Matthew Centrowitz won the 1500m run, the first time in 108 years that an American won the event. Michael Phelps boosted his medal count to 28, 10 more than any other athlete.
2016 also marked the end of storied careers across sports. In the NFL, legendary quarterback Peyton Manning hung up his cleats after winning his second Super Bowl and was joined in retirement by Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch, Heisman trophy winner Charles Woodson, feisty receiver Steve Smith Sr., superstar receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson and pass rushers Robert Mathis, Jared Allen and Justin Tuck.
In baseball, Red Sox DH David Ortiz, arguably the best designated hitter in baseball history and a World Series MVP, rode a farewell parade around the country this summer and, at age 40, had the best season of his career. The Red Sox lost to the eventual AL champions, the Indians, in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, but Ortiz left on a good note. On an even better note, Ortiz’ former teammate, 39-year-old catcher David Ross, hit a homer in Game 7 of the World Series and retired on top of the baseball world.
But basketball may have retired the brightest stars. Kobe Bryant, the longtime Laker and one of the most electrifying players of the 21st century, called it quits during a dismal season in Los Angeles. In his last game, the prolific scorer scored 60 points on 22 of 50 shooting and pulled the Lakers to a victory. Kevin Garnett bowed out after 21 seasons and a NBA title. San Antonio Spur legend Tim Duncan slipped into retirement more quietly than either but will also be remembered as being one of the premier players of his generation.
In the Rio Olympics, swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian to touch a podium, came out of retirement to add to his gold medal total and give one last thrilling show. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt ran in his final Olympic Games and pulled off the 100-meter and 200-meter double, the third straight Olympics that he’s pulled off the feat.
Sadly, the sporting world lost a number of legendary men and women this year who left an indelible mark on the sport. Boxer Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest American athletes to ever live and a revered activist, passed away in June at the age of 74. Pat Summitt, the historic women’s basketball coach at Tennessee, died the same month. A few months later, golfer Arnold Palmer passed away after 87 years. The tragic death of Marlins pitcher and Cy Young candidate Jose Fernandez, at 24, rocked the sports world. Those men and women, along with many others who made a mark on their sports, will be fondly remembered.
With so much ending, it’s easy to overlook what entered the sporting landscape this year.
2016 marked the debuts of many promising prospects and the breakouts of young superstars across the sporting landscape. Baseball experienced a huge youth movement. Corey Seager, the star shortstop of the Dodgers, was in the NL MVP discussion and won NL Rookie of the Year. Detroit’s Michael Fulmer and New York’s Gary Sanchez blasted onto the scene and battled in a contested AL Rookie of the Year race, with Fulmer getting the final nod. In the NFL, rookie players turned whole franchises from pretenders to contenders, as Dallas rookies Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott piloted the Cowboys to the top seed in the NFC. And in the NBA, the Minnesota Timberwolves watched as rookie Karl-Anthony Towns dominated, giving them hope in a crowded Western Conference.
In addition, the NFL added dodgeball (yes, dodgeball) to the Pro Bowl and the MLB chose to make World Series home-field advantage based on record, not All Star Game result. The NFL finally added a Los Angeles franchise when the Rams moved, and NHL expansion resulted in Las Vegas’ first ever pro sports team.
2017 brings a lot of nail-biting questions. Will the Alabama Crimson Tide win their second straight national championship and finish undefeated? Could the Cubs and Cavaliers make it two straight? Can Novak Djokovic make another run at tennis’ Triple Crown? Can the Cowboys win the Super Bowl with two rookies at quarterback and running back?
Time will tell, but if that doesn’t make you think that 2017 isn’t exciting enough, I have two words for you- NFL dodgeball. Let’s get started.