Top 10 Joyful Sports Moments of 2016

Let’s be honest: 2016 has been tough. Refugees, war, political uncertainty. Ugh.

But before we dismiss the year entirely (as John Oliver did 1), let’s savor some joy. Despite the challenges of the year, I submit that 2016 was the best sports year ever.

That’s right: ever.

Seriously, think about it. From compelling storylines to memorable moments, from huge comebacks to major upsets, this year in sports had everything a sports fan could ask for 2.

So as we count down to 2017, here are the videos that capture the Top 10 most joyful moments of this extraordinary sports year.

10. Alabama converts a gutsy onside kick in the fourth quarter to take Clemson by surprise in the NCAA Football Championship.

Could an upstart Clemson knockoff powerhouse Alabama? While this didn’t become a Cinderella story, the national championship game was wildly entertaining. Alabama only secured their 45-40 victory when they recovered an onside kick from Clemson with 12 seconds left.

But Alabama’s onside kick early in the fourth quarter was probably the biggest moment, or at least the most surprising, and it turned the tide of the game.

9. Sidney Crosby scores an overtime winner in the NHL Eastern Conference Finals to help lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup.

From his youth, the hockey spotlight has always been on Sidney Crosby. This year, he helped cement his legacy as one of the greatest with a second Stanley Cup when his Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games.

Despite all his prior success, Crosby hadn’t scored an overtime winner in the playoffs, until this shot tied up the series with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals, and helped send the Penguins on their way to win the Cup.

8. Portugal wins the UEFA Euro 2016 Finals on penalty kicks with Cristiano Ronaldo injured on the sideline.

For all his personal accolades, Cristiano Ronaldo had never been able to bring success to his national team. This year, he finally helped lead Portugal to the UEFA Euro 2016 Finals against France, only to exit from injury in the first half (in tears no less!).

With Ronaldo sidelined, his Portugal teammates rose to the occasion and won the championship on penalty kicks.

8. Steph Curry drills a long-range 3-pointer in overtime to lead Golden State past Oklahoma City on the way to an NBA-record 73 regular season wins.

Instead of a championship hangover after winning in 2014-15, the Warriors started off the season 24-0 on the way to surpassing the Chicago Bulls (and a certain Michael Jordan, remember him?) for the best regular season in NBA history as they finished 73-9.

No game was more exciting and no finish more dramatic than this Steph Curry shot, when he pulled up from just inside of half court to hit the game-winning shot against Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

6. Von Miller strips the ball from Cam Newton to help the Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl in Peyton Manning’s final game.

The real storyline here is how Peyton Manning won his second Super Bowl in his final NFL game: one last mark in the career of one of the greatest QBs of NFL history.

But the majority of the credit for the Broncos Super Bowl run undoubtedly belongs to their dominant defense.

Von Miller’s strip sack turned touchdown against Cam Newton set the early tone, and the Broncos rode to a Super Bowl victory.

5. Jamie Vardy scores from long distance on a perfectly timed ball while helped Leicester City win the English Premier League.

If this was a list of biggest sports upsets of the year, this would HAVE to be number one. Leicester City overcame ridiculous 5,000-1 betting odds to win the biggest soccer league in the world. This team had barely avoided relegation the year before! And this isn’t like a Cinderella team getting hot in a tournament and making a run: this is a championship title that goes to the best team over the course of the whole season. It’s unprecedented.

Like the team, the star player of Leicester City, Jamie Vardy, has his own rags-to-riches story. So among the many dramatic moments this past season, an emblematic highlight is Vardy’s remarkable goal against Liverpool.

4. Neymar kicks the winning penalty to give Brazil the Olympic gold medal in men’s soccer.

2016 gave us the Rio Olympics, which included so many compelling storylines and remarkable finishes that it could make its own list. Simone Biles lived up to the hype and dominated women’s gymnastics, winning four individual gold medals, one bronze, and the team gold. Katie Ledecky set two world records in the pool on her way to four golds and one silver.

Plus we saw legends achieve a greatness that might never be topped. Usain Bolt remarkably won gold in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m for the third consecutive Olympics. And Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time by reaching 28 total medals, a stunning 23 of which are gold.

But even among all of those, if you have to choose ONE moment from the Rio Olympics, it has to be Brazil’s own Neymar kicking the winning penalty to give the hosts their first-ever gold medal in men’s soccer, and bringing redemption just one year after a humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany in the World Cup semifinals.

3. Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hits a buzzer beat to win the NCAA Basketball Championship

For as long as NCAA basketball exists, expect to see this shot over and over again (think: Grant Hill to Christian Laettner). The championship game between Villanova and North Carolina was thrilling, with heroics on both sides, including a ridiculous 3-pointer by UNC’s Marcus Paige to tie the game with 4.7 seconds left.

But that left just enough time to pull off this miraculous, buzzer-beating, Championship-winning play. A trailing Kris Jenkins took the pass from Ryan Arcidiacono and drilled the winner that even made Charles Barkley go nuts.

2. LeBron James chases down Andre Iguodala to block his layup as the Cleveland Cavaliers overcome a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals.

From the moment they landed the number one pick in 2003, Clevelanders dreamed that LeBron James would end their championship drought. After seven frustrating seasons, he made the decision to leave his native-Ohio behind for Miami where he won two titles. Returning to Cleveland brought a renewed hope to the city, and LeBron finally delivered.

The record-setting Golden State Warriors (see above) jumped out to a 3-1 series lead and looked to be cruising to a second straight title against the Cavs. But this just set the stage for history. The Cavs became the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA finals and ended Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought.

In the decisive Game 7, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving nailed a clutch three to put Cleveland ahead late in a back and forth game. But the play everyone will remember is known simply as “The Block.

1. Chicago Cubs make the final out to overcome a 3-1 deficit and a blown Game 7 lead to win the World Series.

You knew this was coming, didn’t you? We don’t have to elaborate much: 108-year drought, curse of the Billy Goat, Bartman.

Generations of Cubs fans had lived and died without seeing their beloved team so much as reach the World Series, much less win it. The outlook turned bleak this year when the Cleveland Indians and their dominant pitching surged to a 3-1 series lead. But the Cubs fought back and even jumped out front early in Game 7.

Still, they had to make it a little more difficult and a little more dramatic. The Cubs coughed up their lead late in the game, and Cleveland tied it to send the game into extra innings. Using a brief rain delay to re-group (thanks, God?), the Cubs put up two huge runs in the 10th inning, and barely held on for an 8-7 victory.

For the sake of all Cubs fans out there, let’s hope you don’t have to wait 108 more years to see this: the final out in a World Series victory.

*****

Thank you, 2016, for all the joyful sports moments! Let’s see what 2017 has in store. Have your own sports memories that didn’t make the list? Feel free to share in the comments!

  1.  Due to explicit content, I’m not going to link to John Oliver’s send off to 2016. But yeah, he’s clearly ready for 2017 to arrive.
  2.  Well, everything an unbiased sports fan could desire. No doubt, if your team didn’t win this year, or ended up on the wrong side of one of these videos, there is plenty to be desired!

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