As 2016, a banner and historic year for sports, comes to an end; it will leave sports fans with plenty to talk about for a long time to come.
Jimmie Johnson won another NASCAR Championship (his seventh if you’ve lost count). Peyton Manning went out on top. Tony Stewart said goodbye as a driver in stock car racing’s top circuit. The Cubs ended a long run of futility. The United States dominated the Rio Olympics over the summer. The San Jose Sharks made it to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time and Stephen Curry was named NBA MVP by unanimous vote (a feat that guys like Jordan, Bird, Magic, Wilt or Russell couldn’t pull off).
That was just a sample of some of the momentous happenings in the world of sports.
Here are the Top 10 stories in sports (at least the way I see it).
10) Peyton Manning Goes Out on Top
The Denver Broncos won another Super Bowl Championship in February. That sent Manning into the sunset. He went out on top but had very little to do with Denver’s success. The one-time great was a game manager in 2015. He missed time due to injury again but returned in time for the playoffs. Von Miller and Malik Jackson (another Vol For Life) deserved most of the credit for Denver’s most recent championship. Manning played his last game in 2016 but he’s still around doing TV commercials.
9) Jimmie Johnson Claims another Sprint Cup Championship
Johnson won his seventh NASCAR title. That ties him with Richard Petty and the late great Dale Earnhardt. Johnson’s latest title cements his spot in history as NASCAR’s greatest driver (sorry, old school fans). Not only does Johnson have seven championships, but he won five in a row (between 2006-2010) before winning again in 2013. Johnson’s 2016 crown has him forever grained into the sport.
Also in NASCAR, Tony Stewart called it quits as a driver after missing a significant chunk of the 2016 campaign. He won a race and qualified for the postseason chase.
He’ll be around as an owner in 2017.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed the much of the second half of the season with concussion-like symptoms. He’ll be back in February, 2017 for the Daytona 500 as he was recently cleared to get back behind the wheel.
8) Coastal Carolina Wins College World Series
The Chanticleers won a Sun Belt Conference Championship a Regional title and Super Regional Crown to make it to Omaha. Coach Gary Gilmore’s pesky and gritty squad left Nebraska as CWS Champs.
Coastal opened the series by beating top-ranked Florida. The Chanticleers then lost to Texas Christian. They staved off elimination and made it to the best-of-three final by knocking off Texas Tech and rebounding to beat the Horned Frogs twice. Coastal then outlasted Arizona by taking two of three in the championship series. This was a true victory for underdogs everywhere.
7) Rookie Wins Indy 500 While Running On Empty
Alexander Rossi, a native Californian won the Indianapolis 500 in his first try. The youngster may have been a rookie in the Verizon IndyCar Series. But he was a seasoned open-wheel racer. He’d previously competed on the worldwide circuit. He likely won’t be around for a title defense. He’s signed a Formula 1 contract for 2017.
6) Villanova Wins NCAA Basketball Tournament
The Wildcats won their second NCAA Title when they beat North Carolina 77-74 on a last-second shot. It was ‘Nova’s second National Title. The Wildcats upset conference rival Georgetown in 1985. They were underdogs both times. But they showed that a scaled-down Big East Conference is still competitive on the national stage.
5) Scully and Enberg Walk Away From Major League Baseball
Baseball on the West Coast or the National League won’t be the same anymore as two legendary voices haft left the Grand Old Game. Los Angeles Dodgers legend Vin Scully and San Diego’s Dick Enberg called their last big league games in 2016. Both have called multiple sports and achieved national fame. Both came into our living rooms on NBC and both spent more than six decades behind the microphone. Both still have their health and here’s hoping that they enjoy a long and happy retirement. They’ve left sports fans with years of memories. Their respective departures leave a huge void in the sports world and their shoes will likely never be truly filled in baseball.
4) American Swimmers Golden at Rio Games
The 2016 Olympics were truly historic for Team USA but the swim team took South America by storm as multiple men’s and women’s relay teams medaled. Michael Phelps went out with a bang, winning six medals (five gold). Katie Ledecky came home with four golds, two world records and a bronze medal. Ryan Murphy and Lilly King won gold along with Simone Manuel Maya DiRado and Anthony Ervin. Across all sports, the US won 121 medals (including 46 gold, 37 silver and 38 bronze).
3) Leicester City Wins Barclays Premier League Title
The Foxes won the English Premier League title and to call Leicester a long shot was a dramatic understatement. The British and other European newspapers called the Foxes’ championship the biggest upset in “all of sport and football.” Odds makers shelled out tons of money after betters jumped on the side’s bandwagon. For those who don’t follow English soccer, Leicester’s championship would be akin to the 2015-16 Philadelphia 76ers winning in the NBA Finals, perhaps.
2) Cavaliers Win NBA Title
Bring Cleveland first major sports championship since 1948
When LeBron James returned home to Cleveland he promised the city an NBA title and he and the Cavs delivered. Cleveland outlasted the Golden State Warriors in a tough seven-game series and won the clinching game in Oakland. It was the city’s first championship since the Indians won the World Series in 1948 with Bob Feller as their ace.
Cleveland nearly had another title with the Indians but it wasn’t in the cards and that brings us to the top story of the year…
1) Cubs Win it All, at Long Last
The long run of futility is finally over in Chicago as the Cubbies won the World Series for the first time since 1908. They beat the Indians (who now have the longest streak without a World Series crown. When the Indians last won, Harry Truman was president. In the years since the Cleveland went to baseball’s promised land; the Marlins Franchise has won twice (and they didn’t even exist before 1993 and the sport has expanded to Canada, Denver, Phoenix and Seattle. Washington lost the Senators and Montreal moved to the nation’s capital and became the Nationals.
As for the Cubs, they won with a mix of veterans and newcomers, timely hitting and clutch pitching. The real hero, however, is Theo Epstein. He’s exorcized the demons of both the Cubs and the Red Sox. He ended both the Curse of the Bambino and the Curse of the Billy Goat.
A pair of Honorable Mentions: On Saturday, Dec. 10; Lamar Jackson of Louisville won the Heisman Trophy. At 19, he’s the youngest player to ever win the award. Also, Army broke a 14-year losing streak against Navy earlier in the day. The Black Knights defeated the Midshipmen 21-17 in Baltimore.