There’s no denying that this year has been especially crappy in a lot of ways. Death, racism, politics, taxes. It’s all been terrible. We have a lot to be angry and sad about but I want to take a few moments to honor some of the stuff to be happy and…happy about.
Sports have been amazing this year. From college to the pros…storylines have been tailor made for movies in 2016. From Super Bowl LX to March Madness 2016 to, well, we’ll get to all of it…
Those of you who know me well understand how tough of a year 2016 has been for me personally and professionally. Outside of friends and family, sports were what pulled me out of the doldrums that certain events put me in. I lost myself in football, hockey, basketball, baseball, lacrosse, tennis, soccer and the freakin’ Olympics this year. In my own selfish way, I felt like this 365 days of sport waited for me to really need it. I’m sure there are so many others who feel the exact same way.
I’d like to take it all the way back to the beginning and discuss my favorite sports moments of 2016. Join me, won’t you?
John Scott makes NHL All-Star Weekend
I’ll try to avoid getting too in the weeds here when it comes to the nuances of the NHL. I know it’s not everybody’s cup of tea but there are a couple quick things you need to know to understand the pertinence of this story:
Now that you know those things, we can continue.
In 2016, John Scott, a guy that never had all-star caliber talent or numbers, was voted the Pacific Division captain. For a moment, it was a feel good story about a likable hockey player near the end of his career who fans wanted to see in the NHL All-Star Game. And then, it wasn’t feel good anymore.
The NHL, infuriated by fans not taking this All-Star process seriously — even though the NHL All-Star Weekend has never been taken seriously — did everything it could to muscle John Scott out of the festivities. He was traded from the Arizona Coyotes to the Montreal Canadiens AHL team, thus removing him from the Pacific Division he was voted captain of, and was assumed to be ineligible for the game because of it. It’s widely regarded that the NHL pushed for the trade to get rid of this “problem.”
After much fan and player backlash, the NHL decided to let Scott play in the game despite his “ineligibility.” Wow, what a nice gesture. It didn’t end there, though.
After a call from an NHL representative, Scott revealed that said rep actually asked him, “Do you think this is something your kids will be proud of?” In what can be perceived as one of the most childish actions from a league (at least publicized), the NHL actually brought his family into this.
Instead of backing down, Scott decided to say “fuck you” to the NHL and play in the game. He let his kids be proud of whatever the hell they wanted to be proud of instead of letting a prick from the National Hockey League decide that for them.
Scott ended up participating in the fastest shot challenge and the 3-on-3 all-star game. He scored two goals and had an enforcer-like hit on superstar Patrick Kane. The crowd and players loved his effort and he was awarded the MVP, which included a $1 million check. As a player that never made superstar money, this was great to see. He had a great time, was respected and revered by his peers, and walked away with some money for his family (his wife was pregnant with twins at the time).
Scott retired earlier this year and while he’ll never go down as one of the greatest players, his story will certainly go down as one of the greatest All-Star Game memories.
Peyton Manning goes out a Super Bowl Champ
After going one of two in Super Bowls with the Colts, pundits and fans alike often wondered where Manning’s place in history would be if he never won another championship.
We wondered this even more after the 43-8 drubbing his Denver Broncos suffered at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks.
And after his injury-riddled season in 2014, and frankly his injury-riddled 2015 campaign that saw backup Brock Osweiler take over at one point, we thought his Super Bowl winning days were surely over.
Defying all odds, the Broncos got back to this year’s Super Bowl against the stellar Carolina Panthers. This was sure to be a defensive battle between two of the best in the league and that’s what we go.
Manning didn’t have a Manning-esque performance by any means, and it wasn’t his quarterback play that won Denver the Super Bowl. But, as a longtime Peyton fan, it was so great to see him go out on top and get that elusive second championship ring.
Villanova’s Last-Second Championship Buzzer Beater
March Madness 2016 had a lot of amazing moments, as every March Madness does. But it was Nova’s last second three-pointer to win the National Championship that stood above them all.
Now, as an avid Butler supporter who watched his team lose two National Championships in a row in heartbreaking fashion, I truly felt/still feel for my boy — and fellow 51YL contributor — Christian, as we sat (stood) in my apartment and watched Nova’s Kris Jenkins bury the game-winning 3 against North Carolina.
After UNC’s Marcus Paige hit an amazing, acrobatic 3 to take the lead with just 4.7 seconds left, Nova’s Ryan Archidiaccanoa sprinted down the floor and shuffled the ball over to Kris Jenkins, who splashed home the winning shot. It was an unbelievable game, an unbelievable sequence from both teams, and Villanova came out the victors.
Now, watching the expression on my boy’s face was devastating. However, I think even he would admit, 9 months later, that this was an amazing moment in college basketball history.
And now we both have moments that will play during the pre-game March Madness montages. Gordon Hayward was SO close on that half-court shot!
Leicester City Stuns the World by Winning the Premier League
If there’s one sport I know most of my readers don’t care about, it’s soccer. I’ll keep this one somewhat short.
Before the 2015-16 Premier League (British soccer) season began, Leicester City had 3000-1 odds to win the entire league. Winning the league entails having the most points (made up of wins and draws) of any of the 20 teams in the EPL. With teams like Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Manchester United always in the hunt for the title, it was almost impossible to predict that a small club like Leicester would win.
Leicester was led by star Jamie Vardy, who scored an extremely impressive 13 goals over 11 straight games, and the small club that no one expected was able to secure a title after Tottenham and Chelsea ended in a 2-2 draw late in May.
It was an unexpected and impressive league title for a club that was just in its second season in the Premier League, returning to the top-tier league in 2014-2015.
North Carolina Men’s Lacrosse Breaks 25-Year Championship Drought
Lacrosse has always been an important sport to me, regardless of how others feel about it. That being said, I always make sure to watch the D1 NCAA Tournament, looking out for the top squads like Syracuse, Maryland, Johns Hopkins, Notre Dame.
So, it was awesome to see the University of North Carolina, an underdog in 2016, get to the National Championship. The Tar Heels did so in impressive fashion, going into the tournament unseeded and undervalued. On Memorial Day, the Heels beat Maryland 14-13 in sudden death overtime to become the first ever unranked team to win a Division 1 National Championship.
It wouldn’t make up for the heartbreak of the loss to Villanova in men’s basketball, but it was certainly an exciting championship for North Carolina.
Cavaliers Bring Cleveland First Championship in 52 Years
We all know this story. The Golden State Warriors led the 2016 NBA Final 3-1 and looked to seal the championship in game 5. Unfortunately, the Warriors lost Draymond Green to suspension for game 5 after a boneheaded groin kick on Cleveland’s LeBron James. The Cavs would win game 5 and 6 and 7, sealing the championship in historic fashion.
Chicago Cubs End 108 Year World Series Drought
Obviously, this storyline is freshest in our minds, considering it happened less than two months ago. Nevertheless, it was one of the coolest sports moments in 2016.
The Cubs, down 3-1 against Cleveland — hmm, coincidence? — were all but done as they headed back to Wrigley Field for game 5. Down 1-0 heading to the fourth inning, the Cubs scored three runs, including a Kris Bryant home run which would end up being the winning run.
In game 6, Chicago went on an offensive tear in Cleveland’s Progressive Field. The Cubbies scored nine runs on 13 hits and never trailed. Arrieta got the win for Chicago and game 7 was to be.
Oh, and what a game 7 it was. After a crazy sequence of pitching, including starter Jake Arrieta being used as an eighth inning reliever, Aroldis Chapman was brought on to seal the game for the Cubs. Champan, who had been used heavily in both games 5 and 6, ended up giving up a 6-3 lead, allowing the Indians to tie the game.
A 17-minute rain delay followed and the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo would go on to call it “the most important thing to happen to the Chicago Cubs in the past 100 years.” After the delay, the Cubs came out rejuvenated. Ben Zobrist had an RBI double, followed by a Miguel Montero RBI single, making the lead 8-6 for the Cubs.
An Indians run would follow, making it 8-7, but the Cubs closed it out on a Kris Bryant-fielded grounder to end the game and give the Cubs their first World Series in 108 years.
And we didn’t even dive into the Olympics...
Listen, 2016 was terrible for so many reasons bigger than any individual, than any team. The events that could shape the next decade are much bigger than superficial things like sports. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate the amazing events that happened in the sports world. If you’re like me, sports are extremely important and have helped you through some immensely tough times.
2017 isn’t going to be any easier, but here’s hoping we have cool shit to marvel at like the athletic storylines we've experienced this year.
A hot-button issue looming over the Chicago franchise this year is the need to find a way to re-sign Artemi Panarin. The Calder Memorial Trophy a year ago, Panarin has emerged as one of the superstars of the Blackhawks, a guy that needs to stay in the Windy City no matter what.
Outside of trading Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews, there really aren’t any trade scenarios that could irk me if the scenario results in cap room to give Panarin the money he deserves. There are probably some that would argue that Toews might be expendable at this point, but I’m not buying into that nonsense.
Looking at the left winger’s Calder winning season last year, Panarin put up 77 points (30 goals, 47 assists) and was the breakout player of a franchise that went through somewhat of a down year (down for the Blackhawks, not for most teams). He came in on the Hawks second line and had an immediate positive impact, playing in all but two regular season games and posting a plus-8 for the year.
This year has seen his line with Kane and Artem Anisimov move up to the top, and his game has only improved as a result. Through 36 games, Panarin has 15 goals and 21 assists, and is a plus-14. His slap shot is lethal and he has fantastic chemistry with his line mates, who are both signed to long term contracts.
In a world where we’ve seen many young Blackhawk forwards go by the wayside due to cap issues, the front office can’t let the same happen to Panarin. He is a central part to Chicago getting another shot at a Stanley Cup and there are many ways to clear cap space for him, almost all of which would be worth it.
And yes, that includes trading Corey Crawford.
Josh McCown, Cody Kessler, RGIII, emergency QB Terrell Pryor. It doesn’t matter who is at quarterback for this team, no one is pulling out a win for this team in its current state.
Mitch Trubisky, DeShone Kizer, Pat Mahomes, Luke Falk. It doesn’t matter who the Browns draft at quarterback in 2017, no on is pulling out a win for this team in its current state.
That being said, it looks very likely that the Cleveland Browns will have the number 1 overall draft pick next year, along with a 9-12 pick from Philly, as the Eagles continue to look worse week in and week out. Early buzz is indicating that the Browns would like an early round quarterback and are quite high on North Carolina senior Mitch Trubisky.
Being close personal friends with a UNC lover has led me to watch a lot of Trubisky this year and I consider myself a fan. He can throw the ball from the pocket, has great accuracy and vision, and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He threw 28 TDs to only 4 INTs this year. He’s not flashy, but he can get the job done. None of that matters though. He’s not going to win games for the Browns the way they look now.
We’re talking about the 31st ranked offense and the 31st ranked defense in the NFL. No quarterback is erasing that singlehandedly.
Two first round picks. Two second round picks. So what should the Browns do before getting a QB?
Pick 1 (or 2, semi possibly) - DL, Pass Rush
Myles Garrett out of Texas A&M is a shoe in for a quit exit off the draft board. He was hurt for a good part of this college season but still managed 8.5 sacks, along with 32 tackles and 2 forced fumbles. However, if you look back at his previous fully healthy season, he had 11.5 sacks, an INT, and 5 forced fumbles. The 20-year old is a monster when it comes to the pass rush. Any defense is going to help this Browns team, especially one that doesn’t have strong linemen.
Pick 9-12 (from Eagles) - Running Back
This is going to be an extremely strong draft for running backs. Between Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, the Browns should take a good look at their running back situation and utilize a pick on one of these guys. That is, assuming any of them are still on the board.
When you look at Cleveland back situation, it’s not great. The team is hopeful on 23-year old Isaiah Crowell, who’s averaging 4.17 yards per carry, but only has two games with over 80 yards rushing. Part of that is obviously the fact that the Browns are almost always playing from behind, but you have to wonder if Crowell is a long-term option when guys like Cook and Fournette are coming out of college.
Pick 33 - Offensive Tackle
If the Browns draft a RB, or keep the one you have, there’s no denying that they need a better offensive line. Joe Thomas is probably a Hall of Famer and has never missed a game, while also being the leader of the offensive line, so the Browns are set there. I’m looking at you, Austin Pasztor. He’s been terrible all season, unable to set the edge or block anyone so that the running game can get going.
In comes Alabama’s Cam Robinson. A three-year starter, Robinson has been a major part of Alabama’s run game. He’s been on the line for an amazing 27 100-yard rushing games and has done so in the SEC, arguably the best conference in the country. He’s been a huge factor in 1st year starter Damien Harris’ 900-plus yard season, along with QB Jalen Hurts’ 840 yards rushing.
Pick 50 (via Titans) - Quarterback
I have huge doubts that any quarterback outside of DeShaun Watson will end up going in the 1st round of the draft. Once we’ve seen them in the Combine, I think teams will start to realize that the QB class isn’t quite as deep as last year, and signal callers will fall a bit.
That’s why I think the Browns should wait until pick 50. They’ll miss Watson, they may miss Mitch Trubisky, but there will be solid choices available. Texas Tech’s Pat Mahomes (if he declares) would be a solid pick to roll the dice on. He’s thrown for 5052 yards and 41 TDs to just 10 INTs this season. He’s an accurate pocket passer and game manager, someone who can stay calm and pick up blitzes. And blitzes are certainly something he’ll have to look forward to, considering the Browns’ offensive line issues.
Washington State’s Luke Falk (4204 yards, 37 TDs) is another great option. He’s led State to a fantastic season and is one of the most accurate QBs in the nation, with a 71.0 percent completion rate in 2016.
Jumping on a QB in the 1st round has clearly not worked for the Browns as of late. With a weaker class than 2016, it’s important that Cleveland doesn’t bet the farm on someone that isn’t truly a 1st rounder. With so many other positions to sure up, pick 50 is the sweet spot for this team taking a QB.