If the sporting year of 2017 is remembered by one moment, it will be the lopsided, otherwise forgettable score of 28-3. That was the score midway through the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, with the red-hot Atlanta Falcons demolishing the powerhouse New England Patriots. It was all for naught, as New England quarterback Tom Brady and the Pats put together a furious 25-point rally to force the first overtime in Super Bowl history and ultimately won on a rushing touchdown in the extra period. The unbelievable rally was one of the greatest moments in sports history (well, probably not for Falcons fans).
2017 offered us a whole lot more. We watched as the Houston Astros win the franchise’s first World Series in the wake of devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey. We saw Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson lead a game-winning drive in the College Football Playoff, upsetting the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide. Our brackets busted as the UConn women’s basketball team, winners of 111 straight games, saw their streak snapped on a buzzer-beater by South Carolina, shortly after the men’s bracket was busted by South Carolina’s men’s team. And, of course, we all bore witness to the firestorm known as the national anthem protests. 2017 packed quite a punch.
Rewind to January 2017, a month filled with football highlights. In the CFB championship, the Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers met for the second straight season and the sequel proved better than the first. After Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts drove the Tide to a go-ahead touchdown with just minutes left, the Tigers’ Watson rallied his team and took the lead for good with a two-yard strike to Hunter Renfrow. In the NFL, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers had the Cowboys’ number once again. His 35-yard heave to tight end Jared Cook put the Packers in position for the game-winning field goal, which kicker Mason Crosby sneaked in the uprights for a 34-31 victory. The Packers lost the following week in the NFC championship to the Atlanta Falcons.
And that leads us to February 5, 2017, when the Falcons blew a 25-point second-half lead at the hands of the Patriots. Not only did Atlanta defense give up a pair of late touchdowns and two-point conversions, but the Falcons beat up themselves. Questionable clock management allowed the Patriots enough time for their miraculous comeback, and a New England sack knocked the Falcons out of range for a potentially game-sealing field goal late in regulation. When the Patriots won the overtime coin flip, the writing was on the wall for Atlanta. The Falcons didn’t recover well, as they almost missed out on a playoff berth the following season.
March Madness was as crazy as advertised, with defending national champion Villanova bounced in the round of 32 by Wisconsin and Cinderella stories Xavier and South Carolina reaching the Elite Eight and Final Four, respectively. The madness was also at its peak thanks to the emergence of LaVar Ball, father of UCLA (and future Laker) guard Lonzo Ball, as a national celebrity. Ultimately, the national championship came down to two top seeds, North Carolina and Gonzaga, and the Tar Heels avenged their title-game defeat of the previous year with a 71-65 win.
The advent of super teams eradicated much of the intrigue from the NBA playoffs as the Warriors and Cavaliers steamrolled through April and May en route to a third consecutive matchup in the NBA Finals. The Warriors’ prized free agent acquisition, Finals MVP Kevin Durant, was on his A game as Golden State won the Finals in five games. The regular season MVP race was more interesting to watch, as Durant’s former teammate and triple-double machine Russell Westbrook took home the honors over point machine James Harden.
The story of the MLB season was the revival of the New York Yankees as one of the MLB’s best teams. While the defending champion Cubs slumped to start the year, the Bronx Bombers were explosive with AL Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge and second-year catcher Gary Sanchez in their lineup. Though they fell a game short of the World Series, the Yankees proved they’ll be a threat for a while, especially with the addition of NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton. The team that beat the Yankees, the Houston Astros, ultimately went on to win the title over the Los Angeles Dodgers in a monumental World Series. The Houston lineup, bolstered by regular season MVP Jose Altuve and World Series MVP George Springer, proved too much for Dodger aces Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish as the Astros won in seven games.
Capturing the most headlines was the National Football League. Colin Kaepernick’s unemployment, along with comments by President Donald Trump, turned the national anthem into a national spectacle, as viewers tuned in to see who would stand, who would sit, and who would stay in their locker rooms to avoid controversy altogether. On the field, the action was also unpredictable, as the Jaguars and Rams, winners of a combined 7 games in 2016, won their divisions. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz took the NFL by storm but saw his season cut short by a leg injury, while 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, acquired from New England in a mid-season trade, won his first five starts with a previously awful San Francisco team. However, the most significant development, and probably most predictable, was the atrocious season of the Cleveland Browns, who became the second team to lose all 16 of their regular season games. Surely they’ll be happy for a new year.
In between, 2017 proved that the sporting world is always changing. Take the NFL, where the San Diego Chargers bolted for Los Angeles, prompting the Oakland Raiders to announce a relocation to, gulp, Las Vegas (where they will join the city’s new NHL team, the Golden Knights). The NBA landscape also saw a seismic shift, as All-Stars Chris Paul, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas and Jimmy Butler found new homes. The College Football Playoff saw its first playoff with two teams from the same conference, as the committee’s selection of Alabama over two-loss Ohio State ignited a nationwide frenzy.
On a more melancholy note, we waved farewell to many sporting legends, from sprinter Usain Bolt to basketball star Paul Pierce to Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. Well, maybe we’re not as sad about Romo, who has enjoyed a smooth transition to the broadcasting booth.
With 2017 in the books, it’s time to usher in a new year of sports and one that promises even more excitement. 2018 will have the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea to kick off the year, with the CFB championship, Super Bowl and March Madness closeby. We’ll get to see if Tom Brady can win ring number six, if the Warriors can make it three in four years, and if the resurgent Yankees can reach the Fall Classic. And don’t hedge your bets on it, but maybe we’ll see the Browns win a game.