Top 10 Sports Moments of 2015
2015 was a damn good- and at points bizarre- year for sports. From the awesome to the crazy, I'm counting down the top 10 moments in sports from 2015. The moments can be really great; from a team winning a championship or a single person reaching a career or lifetime achievement; really shocking- such as a scandal or other event that shook the sports world; or just downright stupid and funny- such as... well, you'll find out. Let's begin, yes?
First, a few honorable mentions:
September 12- David Ortiz hits career home run #500
David Ortiz has, far and away, become the greatest clutch hitter in the history of that franchise. From the two clutch hits in the 2004 ALCS to lift the Sox over the Yankees, to the grand slam in game 2 of the 2013 ALCS that turned momentum for the Red Sox against the Tigers, to his World Series MVP that same year, Big Papi has done it all since coming to Boston in 2003. Ortiz's final quest, it seems, was reaching the career plateau of 500 home runs, a feat he accomplished on a two-home run night. Ortiz tagged Rays pitcher Matt Moore twice, hitting #499 in the first inning to deep right, and then again in the fifth inning to nearly the same spot. At the end of the 2015 campaign, Ortiz said he would hang it up after the 2016 season. With so many accolades to his credit, David Ortiz will long live in New England baseball lore.
January 1- Jameis Winston fumbles away the Rose Bowl
All it took was one backwards pass, and the rest was history. The undefeated Florida State Seminoles, the defending National Champions, faced off against the 12-1, 3rd-seeded Oregon Ducks in the first ever College Football Playoff Semifinal. Oregon looked to be in control for most of the game, as many experts thought they would be. However, in the third quarter, with Florida State just past midfield, Noles QB Jameis Winston, winner of the Heisman Trophy the year before, dropped back to pass and was instantly surrounded by Oregon defenders. Winston panicked, scrambled backwards, and tried to wind up and throw the ball away, only to have the ball slip out of his hands, which was scooped up by the Ducks and returned for a touchdown. This was the last exorcism of Winston's rollercoaster career before entrance in to the NFL draft, although both Winston and Ducks QB Marcus Mariota (who went 2nd overall, just after Winston) would meet in the first game of the NFL season later that year. Oh, and the score? Oregon throttled Florida State, 59-20.
November 29- Kobe Bryant announces his retirement
While it did not come as a shock to some, most couldn't fathom the reality that they were about to face: an NBA without Kobe Bryant. Kobe had been struggling for a majority of the 2015-16 season, posting what seemed like career-low numbers left and right. Everything came to a head on November 29, when the Lakers superstar announced that this season would be his last. Unlike a traditional press conference, Bryant announced his retirement online, with a heartfelt poem submitted to the Players' Tribune. The poem, entitled "Dear Basketball," details Kobe's deep love for the game of basketball, but reveals the sad but inevitable truth that all good things must come to an end. "I fell in love with you," writes Bryant about the game he so loved, but acknowledged: "I'm ready to let you go./ I want you to know now/So we can savor every moment we have left together." This man was a legend. A 17-time all-star, an NBA MVP, and a five-time NBA champion. He will be missed.
October 15- Jose Bautista crushes home run, does bat flip to end all bat flips
The scene was the Rodgers Centre in Toronto, for the decisive game 5 of the American League Division Series, which pitted the Texas Rangers, eager to make good on their last two failed attempts at a World Series title, and the Toronto Blue Jays, who hadn't made the playoffs since 1993. With the game tied 3-3 in the bottom of the 7th, and runners at first and third, Jose Bautista stepped into the box and delivered one of the most dramatic home runs ever in franchise history, crushing one into the upper deck of the Rodgers Centre. The place exploded- as was to be expected when your team goes up by three runs in an elimination game. However, while the home run was exciting, it was Bautista's bat flip after the fact that made headlines. Bautista confidently threw the bat up into the air after hitting the cover off the ball in what he was sure was a home run. Just the pure energy and electricity put into the event made this moment really fun, and pretty damn cool to watch. A really nice moment for the Blue Jays and the city of Toronto.
The Top 10:
10: October 18- Colts execute worst play in the history of football
This was the first time the two teams had met since the AFC Championship the year before, a game which sparked the whole Deflategate controversy. Naturally, everyone thought the Colts would be ready for the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots, and the Colts even led the game at halftime, 14-13. New England would jump out to a 27-21 lead in the 3rd quarter, however, and the Colts knew they were in trouble. Then this (see the shit storm above) happened. On a 4th and 2, the Colts decided to punt, then tried to go into some weird formation, leaving only Griff Whalen on the line of scrimmage to snap the ball to Colt Anderson. I think the Colts were trying to get the Patriots to either jump offsides or call a time out... I think? Instead, Whalen snapped the ball, and was wrapped up for a loss, and the Colts got flagged for an illegal formation penalty. The Patriots proved in this game that some they don't even have to beat some teams, because those teams like the Colts have already psyched themselves into losing. I watch the replay and I just... I just... (face palm).
9. May 27- FIFA, Sepp Blatter involved in bribery scandal
Was anyone else wondering why the World Cup was given to a nation like Qatar? John Oliver's right, there is no earthly reason why the World Cup should ever be held in Qatar. Well, it would appear that something fishy was up. On May 27, seven FIFA officials were arrested at a Swiss hotel, on an investigation by the FBI and the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, and fourteen were later indicted on charges of wire fraud, racketeering, and money laundering. The FIFA execs were preparing to attend a FIFA Congress, where their current President, Sepp Blatter, was expected to be reelected for a fifth consecutive term. Various findings included a $10 million bribe paid to FIFA to select South Africa as the host country for the 2010 World Cup. Following more investigation, Blatter was hit with an eight year ban from all football-related activities and a $50,000 fine. Blatter has since "resigned" from office (although he says he's "put his office back in the hands of the FIFA congress"). As for subsequent World Cups, it was reported that FIFA officials accepted bribes of more than $1.5 million for Qatar to host the tournament in 2022. Sources say that if there is sufficient evidence of bribery, Qatar will be stripped of the bid, although no concrete official word has been given.
8. December 11- Golden State Warriors set new NBA mark by starting 24-0
What a year it has been for these Golden State Warriors. First they win an NBA Championship in June, knocking off Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then they start the season 24-0. On November 27, with a win over the LA Lakers, Golden State set a new NBA record with the best start to a season, winning their first 16 games. On December 11, the Warriors and MVP Stephen Curry, still undefeated at 23-0, traveled to Boston to face the Celtics, a team that has been on the rise, but seems to pull out all the stops for big time games. In a game that could have gone both ways at either time, the Celtics, eager to end the Warriors' undefeated streak, pushed the champs into double overtime before Golden State finally pulled away, 124-119. Boston had two chances to win, in fact, both at the end of regulation: Isaiah Thomas' shot was blocked by Shaun Livingston, and Kelly Olynyk's jumper at the buzzer was wide. However, the Warriors, even without Klay Thompson due to an ankle injury, and Steph Curry playing one of his worst games from the field this season (shooting 9 of 27 from the field, a 33% average, although he was 6 of 13 from downtown and 14 of 14 from the line), kept their streak alive. Coincidentally, Golden State would lose its very next game to Milwaukee. However, that's been the only blemish on their record this season, as they stand a tall 29-1.
7. January 11- Ohio State wins the first College Football Playoff Championship
Everybody loves brackets, am I right? When the NCAA announced that college football would be expanding its playoff system to include a four-team playoff, fans rejoiced. I mean, if Division II has been able to do it for years, why can't Division I? With the new system, it cuts out the annoying committee to decide a #1 and #2 seed. With the CFP, a deserving #4 ranked team could win a national title. Such was the case for the inaugural championship, as 4th-ranked Ohio State would upset #2 Oregon in the first CFP National Championship. The Buckeyes, coming off an upset of #1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl (a CFP semifinal), put up 42 points on the Pac-12 Champion Ducks, who throttled #3 Florida State in the Rose Bowl. The Ohio State win simply proved the system worked, and with the next playoff right around the corner, the fans are definitely in store for something special for years to come. Now if only the NCAA could get rid of those damn bowl games. I mean really, who gets excited for the Belk Bowl? Really?
6. April 29- Orioles and White Sox play game in empty Camden Yards
I'm not gonna lie. This one was weird. As a sports fan who is used to being surrounded by throngs of screaming spectators whenever I attend a game live, I can't even imagine what this must have been like for the players. The game on April 29th at Camden Yards was surreal in that way. Due to the protests going on in Baltimore as a result of the arrest and subsequent death of Freddie Gray, the city was put on lockdown, the time of the contest was moved from 7:05pm to 2:05pm, and no fans were allowed inside the ballpark for the game between the Orioles and White Sox. As a result, with the exception of those gathered outside the fence to watch what they could, things were quiet. Announcers had to keep their voices down (see Orioles announcer Gary Thorne doing his best Masters analyst impression) as gloves popped and baseballs exploded off bats. The Orioles would win the game, 8-2, and go on to play a three-game series with the Rays in Tampa, but would play as the home team due to the state of emergency in Baltimore. The game was a little bit of a reality check, and it demonstrates that sports, while they can be a healing mechanism, can also fall victim to the horrifying events that have been so present in our world these past few years.
5. May 11 - September 3- Tom Brady and the Deflategate scandal
Hehe... Tom Brady said "balls." Being from New England, this entire story pissed me the hell off. After the Patriots 45-7 thrashing of the Colts during the AFC Championship Game on January 18, a report surfaced that 11 of the 12 balls used by the Patriots in the game had been under inflated, which caused an eruption of controversy, because, well... they're the Patriots. Then the Patriots won the Super Bowl, which, of course, lit a fire under the asses of all the haters. Then May 27th rolled around, and things got interesting. A 243-page report filed by Manhattan lawyer Ted Wells was submitted, with the main finding being: "It is 'more probable than not' that Tom Brady was 'at least generally aware' of the PSI level of footballs during the AFC Championship Game." As a result, the NFL came down hard on Brady and the Pats, suspending Brady for 4 games, handing the team a $1 million fine (twice the fine the Saints had for deliberately targeting players), and a loss of two first-round draft picks. Then came the backlash. Brady hired a crack team of attorneys and took the NFL to court during the month of August. Deflategate finally (finally) came to an end on September 3, a week before the NFL season began, when Judge Richard Berman threw out the suspension, due to a lack of due process on Tom Brady. Go into details with it if you want (I won't, because coverage of the whole thing was rammed down my throat for five months) to find out more. Just know that the NFL's got some problems with how it handles things like this.
4. May 2- The lead up and letdown of Mayweather vs. Pacquiao
It was the fight we had wanted for years, but never thought it would come to fruition. Billed as "The Fight of the Century," Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao finally faced off at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on May 2nd, after 7 long years of speculation and planning, with negotiations finally being successful in February. Revenue for the fight surpassed all expectations, as pay-per-view buys totaled 4.6 million, generating over $410 million. The two emerged aggressive, but the energy slowed down significantly, as Mayweather chose a tactical, more defensive approach, and Pacquiao, try as he might, failed to land punches on his opponent. Pac-Man also re-injured his shoulder in the 4th round, something he had agitated a month before the fight, but disclosed that it had healed. Overall, while fans got their money's worth, with both fighters slugging out a very close match over the course of twelve full rounds, many fans thought the fight was a let down due to the conservative approach of both fighters. There was a lot more hugging than boxing fans were used to, I suppose. Additionally, many thought the fight should have gone Pacquiao's way, even though Mayweather was awarded the victory by a very close unanimous decision among the judges. "Better Never Than Late," or a true "Fight of the Century?" You decide.
3. November 15- Holly Holm knocks out Ronda Rousey at UFC 193
It is only very recently that mixed martial arts has found its way into the spotlight. With the dawn of UFC and fighters like Anderson Silva, Randy Couture, and today's stars like Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo, the momentum for Dana White's creation has grown immensely. One such fighter is Ronda Rousey, who has become one of the most dominant (and I mean dominant) fighters in the sport, male or female. Rousey, the former UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion, began her career undefeated, winning her first twelve fights, eleven of them coming in the first round (eight of them coming within the first minute via knockout). November 15th at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia, saw Rousey's reign of dominance come to an end at the hands (or feet, as the knockout shows) of Holly Holm. Rousey was heavily favored to win the fight, but was battered and bloodied by the end of the first round. Holm took advantage in the second round, knocking the champion out with a vicious kick to the side of the head. This right here, friends, is the greatest upset of the 2015 sports year.
2. July 5- U.S. Women decimate Japan to win World Cup, avenge loss from 2011
Losing sucks. It's no secret, especially when you're a sports fan of a team from America. We don't like to lose. 2011, for that reason, was a heartbreak year for the U.S. Women National Soccer Team, who played Japan in the FIFA Women's World Cup Final to a 2-2 draw at the end of additional extra time, only to be beaten on penalty kicks. The Americans had a score to settle with the Japanese, and they got their chance at BC Place in Vancouver the day after the 4th of July. In short, Japan had a chance to win this game... right before the opening whistle. The game was over in less than 16 minutes, as the Americans scored four times, three of them coming from Carli Lloyd, the fastest hat trick in World Cup history. It was a sweet, sweet victory for the U.S, who didn't take kindly to coming so far only to miss the gold by that much four years ago. If you're like me, and weren't really all that excited about the game (and ended up missing the first four goals due to apathy and crappy internet), support your country more. It doesn't look like the men have a chance at winning the World Cup any time soon, but the women's team is damn good. America, fuck yeah.
1. June 16- American Pharaoh becomes first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown
Being a horse racing fan who wasn't alive before 1978 was hard. And, as I'm one of them, watching horses try and fail to win the Triple Crown was hard (yes, fragile 10-year old me cried when Smarty Jones got upset by Birdstone in 2004). First it was Smarty Jones. Then it was Big Brown. Last year, it was California Chrome. This year, it was American Pharaoh. The three-year old was the favorite for the Kentucky Derby, which it won, the closest of all three races it ran in. Then, in the slop at Pimlico, American Pharaoh took home the win in the Preakness Stakes. And three weeks later, the frustration for so many horses was over, and the trifecta was finally complete- a wire-to-wire victory by 5 and 1/2 lengths in the Belmont Stakes. After so many years of disappointments from other horses, American Pharaoh, who would also go on to be the first horse to win the Thoroughbred Horse Racing "Grand Slam" by winning the 2015 Breeders' Cup, finally evaporated the Triple Crown drought. Winning the Belmont was also a pretty cool moment for jockey Victor Espinoza, who also rode California Chrome to wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before losing in the Belmont one year earlier. A historic moment for sports in 2015 indeed.
More Best of 2015 lists to come soon!
I enjoy making lists, countdowns, and making sense of the world that I see around me.