The WNBA changed their playoff format to the top eight teams regardless of divisions and conferences. This proved to be a great recipe for an unforgettable Finals. The Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks had been the best teams all year. It was only fitting the game came down to winner take all Game 5. The defending champions, Lynx, were at home and were on the verge of winning back to back titles with 15.4 seconds left in the game. Then league MVP Nneka Ogwumike grabbed her 12th rebound and scored her 12th point with 3.1 seconds left in the game to give the Sparks a 77-76 victory. Her teammate Candace Parker, two time league MVP, was playing in her first Finals. She couldn’t control her tears of joy and sorrow, reflecting on her college coach Pat Summitt.
Serena Williams came into the year with high expectations. She was looking to tie and pass Steffi Graf for all time major grand slam titles in tennis history. She completed at least one of those goals, winning Wimbledon and tying Graf at 22. Andy Murray also won Wimbledon along with a gold medal in the Olympics, to finish the year as the #1 Men’s Tennis Player.
PGA might have seemed like a down year with no Tiger Woods until the last month, but the young guns showed us that it is still exciting. All four major championships were won by first timers. The Masters was won by Danny Willet who birdied three of the final six holes. Jordan Spieth had one of the worse collapses in sports history. He had a five-shot lead heading to the 10th tee and dropped six shots in three holes. The U.S. Open was won by Dustin Johnson. He no longer has the title of “great player who hasn’t won a major.” The British Open proved to be a duel to the finish, with Henrik Stenson shooting a final round 63 to emerge on top. Phil Mickelson shot a final round 65, which would have been good enough to win any other day except that day. The PGA Championship was won by Jimmy Walker. That’s Jimmy, not the liquor named Johnnie. Although Jimmy did prove to be smooth just like the drink, he held off Jason Day, who is the World’s #1 golfer. Walker shot a final round 3-under 67 to beat Day by one shot. Rory McIlroy was outstanding coming down the stretch of the final round of the Tour Championship. McIlroy was three shots back with three holes to play and wound up in a playoff with Ryan Moore and Kevin Chappell. He would win on the fourth playoff hole and collect $11.53 million in one day — the $10 million FedExCup bonus and $1.53 million for the TOUR Championship. McIlroy would need those smiles because the Ryder Cup was anything but that for the Europeans. They were heavy favorites verse the U.S. team. But the U.S. had extra motivation to win this year as the great Arnold Palmer had just passed a few days before the tournament began. His bag from the 1975 Ryder Cup was placed on the 1st tee and was the driving force behind this total team effort who hadn’t won since 2008. The U.S. won 17-11 over Europe, the biggest margin of victory in 35 years. For the first time since 1975, every U.S. player won at least one match. Ironically the U.S. won the cup that was played in Minnesota, home of a great sports fan who died April 21st, Prince.
If they Cavaliers and the U.S. Ryder Cup team can get the proverbial monkey of their back, then who would do it in baseball. The Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs were playing in the World Series. The Indians had everything going for them. They had the newly crowned Cavaliers rooting them on and thinking it was just time for the city to celebrate again. They were up 3-games to one. All the curses the Cubs had endured over the years was proving to be true so far. The Cubs had the best record all year but since the American League won the All-Star game, the Indians had home field advantage. Not since the 1979 Pirates had a team come back from 3-1 and won the World Series on the road. The Cubs bats finally woke up as they forced a Game 7. It seemed like it was destiny for the Cubs till the wheels fell off in the 8th inning, that’s when the Indians scored three runs to tie the game. After going to extra innings, a 17-minute rain delay ensued. This seemingly helped refocus the Cubs who scored two runs in the top of the 10th to go on to win 8-7. Yes, the 2016 World Series Champions are the Chicago Cubs. The curse was finally over! So many happy Chicago Cubs fans could die peacefully now.
Se7en. No that’s not a misprint. That is the hashtag used to describe the NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson. He didn’t start the year good, finishing 16th at the Daytona 500. Denny Hamlin won there, which is the Superbowl of NASCAR. Johnson would do just enough to make it into the 16 driver playoffs though. In those playoffs he would race well and finish in the top four with a chance to win it all. This seemed insurmountable since he lost his starting spot due to a pre-race inspection fault which sent him to the very back of the pack. He didn’t let that stop him as he drove his way back to the top and into victory lane. He had now tied two iconic figures in NASCAR, Richard Petty and Earnhardt Sr., for the most all-time championships. Between 2002 and 2016, Johnson has recorded seven championships, 80 career race wins, 219 top five, 330 top ten, and 35 pole positions.
Two of the best sports broadcasters in the business passed away this year. John Saunders who worked for three decades at ESPN died at age 61 on August 10th. Craig Sager who worked for Tuner died December 15th after a long battle with leukemia at age 65. One was a little more conservative than the other, but both were highly respected and admired by their colleagues and everyone in the sporting arena.
I sure hope 2017 is filled with more celebrations than sorrow.