Top 10 Sports Moments of 2017
2017 in the world of sports was an extraordinary one. From top to bottom, we hit just about every range of emotion across just about every playing field. From comebacks to homecomings, from moments that made us stand up and cheer to those that made us shed a tear, 2017 is a year we won't soon forget.
Here are 2017's Top 10 moments in the world of sports.
February 5th- The Truth comes home
Paul Pierce ends final game in Boston with three pointer, gets standing ovation
Paul Pierce was a staple of the Boston Celtics for most of the 2000s. Even at their worst, the presence of “The Truth” always made the people happy, for some reason. He was the team’s leader during their classic series against the Eastern Conference Finals against the Nets in 2002. He was the leader when the first “Big Three” was assembled in 2008. He was a leader on the court, and in our hearts. When he left for Brooklyn along with Kevin Garnett, his absence was noticeable. This past year, when he returned for his final game in Boston, this time as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, the TD Garden fans let him know how much he was appreciated. As time ran out on what turned out to be a Celtics victory, Pierce pulled up from beyond the three point arc and drained a three before the final buzzer. Perfection. Postgame, the greatest Celtic to come along since Larry Bird kissed the Leprechaun embedded in center court, to a standing ovation from the crowd. A Boston icon receiving a truly legendary sendoff.
March 23rd- United States wins its first World Baseball Classic
Americans bring home crown with 8-0 rout of Puerto Rico
This championship win felt special. Maybe it was because there was no more arguing about player allegiances to countries, or clubs, or anything else. Maybe it was because the Americans had to survive through more than one elimination game. Maybe because it was its first title. But I think it was special mostly because it was a team that could anyone could get behind. You felt good rooting for these players. And when the team reached the finals against Puerto Rico, you felt something had to give. Pitcher Marcus Stroman was dazzling, throwing six no-hit innings in the championship. Stroman, who has never won a Cy Young Award, certainly pitched like it, as he all but silenced much of the Puerto Rican contingent at Dodger Stadium that night. As Stroman was pulled after giving up a double to Angel Pagan in the seventh inning, he was greeted with a standing ovation along with thunderous “U-S-A!” chants. You could tell there was something special about this team. And when the final out was recorded, and the players shared a group jump in front of the pitchers mound, it was clear that the WBC title was home where it belonged.
December 10th- Fitzgerald pads the resumé
Passes Randy Moss for 3rd on the all-time receiving list
Larry Fitzgerald is one of the most underrated players ever. He’s never won a Super Bowl, but he has continued to rack up yards and touchdowns of astronomical proportions. In his 13th season in the NFL, he has never won an MVP award. But he has been elected to the Pro Bowl 11 times, as well as led the league in receptions and touchdowns twice in each category. During a week 14 game against the Tennessee Titans, Fitzgerald had 44 yards of receiving through three quarters, but that was enough to put him past his long time friend and mentor Randy Moss for third on the all-time receiving yards list with 15,292. He now trails only Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice, but could very well pass Owens next season, as he currently sits less than 500 yards back of TO. A legendary accomplishment by a true veteran of the game.
September 6th- Tim Alexander delivers game ball at UAB's first home game
Stands from wheelchair despite being paralyzed in car accident
The University of Alabama-Birmingham football team is a strange thing. The program was cut in December of 2014, only to be reinstated this past fall. In its first game, the Blazers handily defeated Alabama A&M 38-7, in front of a record crowd of 45,212. It was UAB’s first football game in over 1,000 days. But before all that, before all the emotion of the game itself, there was a moment that was truly reflective of the spirit of UAB football’s journey. Tim Alexander was in a car accident back in 2006 that left him paralyzed. While never technically a part of the football team, Alexander was as close to the team as any player might have been. He developed a close friendship with coach Garrick McGee, and McGee allowed him to participate in team workouts. When the team was shut down in 2014, Alexander vowed to do everything in his power to help bring it back. With a new coach in Bill Clark, Alexander moved to a new position with the team, teaching effort and resilience. His title: Character Education Coach. This past September before the game against Alabama A&M, Alexander reminded us of his vow never to give up when, with the help of three rehab specialists, he arose out of his wheelchair and walked ten yards with the game ball before handing it to the referee. None of the players knew about it until after the game, many of whom were emotional upon finding out- but paired with the return of the program and the heart of Tim Alexander, September 6th was a truly special day for UAB football.
The Top 10:
10. September 2nd- USC blind long snapper Jake Olson snaps extra point
USC vs. Western Michigan
It was a regular opening weekend of college football. USC, expected to win their game against Western Michigan, had scored a touchdown to go up by three scores and put the game away with three minutes or so left. Olson, blind since he was 12 years old, entered the game to be the long snapper on the extra point. He had never played in a live game before this Saturday. At the age of 10, Olson had developed retinoblastoma, a cancer of the retina. His sight was gone by the age of 12. Still, Olson, a lifelong USC fan, would accompany the team through the tunnel from time to time (all this during the Pete Carroll era). He got into the school and made the football team as a walk on. Now, in the first week of the 2017 season, Olson got his moment. The snap was clean, the hold was good, and the kick was straight through the uprights. USC 49, Western Michigan 31. A very touching moment for an extraordinary young man.
9. June 11th- Penguins repeat as Stanley Cup Champions
Pittsburgh defeats Nashville 2-0 to win series in six games
First off, my heart goes out to the Nashville Predators for giving the defending champions all they could handle. They were a group that never should have been here in the first place, but gave us all an underdog to root for. They truly put Nashville on the pro hockey map. As for the current champions, 2017 saw a return to form for the Penguins, as they finished 2nd in the Metropolitan Division, but ultimately beat the rival Washington Capitals in seven games. They defeated the Ottawa Senators in another classic seven game series, finally winning on a double overtime goal by Chris Kunitz to go back to the Cup Final. In the Final against Nashville, the Penguins won the first two games at home, before going to Nashville and dropping the next two. However, goaltender Matt Murray did not allow a goal after game four, and Pittsburgh would win game five at home 6-0, and take the Cup-clinching game six, 2-0. In the sixth game, the game was scoreless until 1:32 left in the third, as former-Predator Patrick Hornquist scored to break the tie. Carl Hagelin would notch an empty-netter a few seconds later to seal the win for the Penguins. Captain Sidney Crosby would become the first player since Penguins owner Mario Lemieux to win back-to-back Conn Smythe trophies, and the Penguins would be the first team since the 1996-97 and 97-98 Detroit Red Wings.
8. August 14th- Chad Bettis' first game back after cancer battle
Tosses seven shutout innings vs. Braves
In November of 2016, Rockies pitcher Chad Bettis was diagnosed with testicular cancer. In March of this year, he started undergoing chemotherapy after the disease had spread to his lymph nodes. Still, through all the treatments and all the waiting and the praying, Bettis took them one at a time. He worked his way back into the minors starting in the early summer, and finally made his way back to Denver and into the Rockies rotation. On August 14th, amidst a flurry of emotions from Bettis, his family, his team, the Atlanta Braves, and the fans around him and watching elsewhere, Bettis put on a performance for the ages. He pitched seven shutout innings in his first start, dominating the Braves from top to bottom. While he left with a no decision, the Rockies won the game, 3-0. But the only score that really mattered was this: Chad Bettis 1, Cancer 0.
7. September 10th- Sloane Stephens wins U.S. Open
Becomes first American woman not named Williams to win Grand Slam title in 15 years
We had someone other than a Williams sister win the U.S. Open this year. Sloane Stephens, the 24-year old from Coral Springs, Florida, defeated Madison Keys in straight sets this past September to claim the U.S. Open title. Stephens would win 6-3, 6-0, making her the first American Grand Slam champion other than Venus or Serena in 15 years. But the road did not come easy for Sloane, who had been sidelined with a foot injury 11 months prior. She made her return at Wimbledon, but was quickly defeated in the first round. A month before the U.S. open, she was ranked outside the top 900 in the world. And yet, all in the span of a few weeks, the young American was able to shock the world, upsetting Venus Williams to reach the final, and then defeating fellow American Keys in straight sets. There’s a great video floating around of Stephens discovering just how much money she had won ($3.7 million) for the tournament. Her reaction is priceless. She’s projected to rise to 17th in the world, and one can only wonder what the lies in store for her down the road.
6. November 1st- Houston Strong
Astros win first World Series title in franchise history
The Astros weren’t just playing to win a title- they were playing for their entire city. We’ve seen this happen before. Take the Yankees during the 2001 playoffs- helping the city of New York come together through a thrilling run to a World Series. In 2013 the same happened in Boston, as the Red Sox helped guide the city out of the despair of the Marathon bombings, to ultimately win the World Series that October. Houston was no different. After the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, the Astros buckled down and showed just how strong their city was. They acquired Justin Verlander in a last minute trade. The offense exploded behind Jose Altuve, George Springer and Carlos Correa. They defeated an overmatched Red Sox team and a surprising Yankee team. And in one of the greatest World Series showdowns of all time, highlighted by one of the greatest World Series games of all time, the Astros defeated the LA Dodgers to win it all. Sports have the power to do that sometimes. They can take your mind off of all the bad stuff in this world, and bring people together behind a common goal- to call your team the best. Houston Strong, indeed.
5. March 31st- Mississippi State ends UConn's winning streak
Morgan William hits buzzer-beater in overtime
111 games is a long time. I mean, it’s miniscule in terms of the fact that UConn has won over 400 games in the last 10 years to go along with six national titles. But 111 wins in a row is a long time. When the Huskies entered the Final Four against Mississippi State, no one really gave the Bulldogs a chance to win the game. The last time these two teams played, UConn won by 60. SIXTY. But, this was a different year, and the Bulldogs were poised to change their fortunes. With the score tied at 60 and time running down, Morgan William drove to the hole to try to bank home a game-winning, streak ending layup, only to be denied by UConn’s Gabby Williams, who in this game was outstanding: 21 points, eight rebounds, two steals and four blocks. As such, the game went to overtime tied at 60. In overtime, with the game tied at 64 apiece, Morgan William got the final shot for Mississippi State. The 5’5” junior pulled up on a jump shot from 15 feet and nailed it as the buzzer sounded. The team (and, let’s face it, everyone outside the state of Connecticut) exploded in celebration, as they had ended the streak at 111 games, and advanced to the National Championship against South Carolina. William was the shortest player on the floor. This game was played on the third anniversary of her father’s death. And this shot will be remembered for much longer than the next 111 games that UConn plays.
4. November 12th- Marquise Goodwin honors son after scoring touchdown
49ers vs. Giants
There are a lot of layers to this one. The San Francisco 49ers’ season has been abysmal to this point. Before the acquisition of Jimmy Garoppolo, this team hadn’t won a game all season. And while the team has some good young talent, there hadn’t been anything to show for it. Marquise Goodwin is one of those talents. He’s got good speed and decent hands, but he hadn’t had a coming out party until this one. In a 10 matchup between the 49ers and the stagnant New York Giants, Goodwin finally staked his claim. Early in the 2nd quarter, 49ers QB C.J. Bethard connected with Goodwin on an 83-yard touchdown strike, putting the Niners up by 4 and igniting the crowd for the time being. Goodwin, after making the catch and getting into open field, pointed toward the sky, and upon scoring, fell to a knee and appeared to cross himself and say a prayer, eventually crumpling to the ground. His teammates were there to pick him up, but it was obvious that Goodwin was shaken. He was seen on the sidelines pointing to the sky more than a few times. It was not apparent to anyone in the moment, but postgame, Goodwin quickly left without addressing the media. He revealed on instagram a few hours later that he and his wife had lost their newborn son earlier that morning after complications during pregnancy. I can imagine this is an emotional release for Goodwin on many levels. A kind of coping, but also a sort of dedication. Either way, it’s heavy. Read up on the whole story. I can guarantee you someone will be magically cutting onions in the next room.
3. Patriots mount massive comeback, defeat Falcons in epic Super Bowl
Score 31 unanswered points, win 34-28 in overtime
When Robert Alford picked off Tom Brady and returned the interception for a touchdown to put the Falcons up 21-0, all hope was lost.
No team had ever overcome a deficit of more than 10 in a Super Bowl before.
But this was Tom Brady. These were the New England Patriots. After all, they were the ones to come back from down 10 in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIX against the Seahawks. But this was an even greater deficit, and the Atlanta Falcons seemed unstoppable on offense.
With 2:06 left in the 3rd quarter, down 28-3, James White scored on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Brady, bringing the score to 28-9. Stephen Gostkowski would miss the extra point, but connect on a 33-yard field goal with 9:44 to play.
The defense forced a key turnover against Matt Ryan and the Falcons, forcing a fumble and recovering at the Atlanta 25-yard line. With 5:56 to go, Brady hit Danny Amendola for a 6-yard touchdown reception. James White added the extra point, and the Patriots were down by a score with under six minutes to play.
All they had to do was get the ball back from Atlanta. It didn’t come easy.
First was the 39-yard dump-and-run to Devonta Freeman. Then came Julio Jones, who made an incredible toe-tapping catch at the New England 22. All seemed lost.
But then, the football gods swung momentum back the other way.
Ryan took a sack on the two plays later to make it 3rd and 23 back at the New England 32. The next play was a 9-yard gain for Mohamed Sanu, but it was marred by an offensive holding penalty, pushing Atlanta out of field goal range at the New England 42. One incomplete pass later, and the Patriots got the ball back.
All it would take would be their longest drive of the season, 91 yards. After two incompletions, Brady connected with Chris Hogan on a 16-yard gain, and then hit rookie Malcolm Mitchell for 11-yards.
And then there was Julian Edelman, who made a spectacular catch to keep the drive alive after it was tipped up in the air by Robert Alford, who made the interception against Brady earlier in the game.
Three plays later, James White scored from one yard out to put New England within two. Danny Amendola added a two-point conversion on a pass from Brady, and the game was tied with under a minute to go.
We would go to overtime. I think you know the rest.
Brady drives New England down the field with mastery, picking apart the exhausted Atlanta defense. James White adds the touchdown to win New England a fifth Super Bowl title.
There were some of us that gave up. I think it’s safe to say that Tom Brady and the Patriots were not some of those people.
2. October 10th- Love and hockey in Las Vegas
Golden Knights honor victims and first responders at inaugural home opener
The NHL got a new team this year, and the stakes could not have been higher for this Golden Knights. On October 1st, a gunman tragically took 58 lives when he opened fire on a crowd exiting a concert in Las Vegas. Like any city suffering a major tragedy, especially one as severe as a mass shooting, the people need to heal. Sometimes gathering together in a sports arena and cheering on a team representing your city is the best way to assuage some of the bereavement. The Golden Knights’ first two games took place on the road, both of them wins against the Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes. Now, in their first game at their new home, the Golden Knights had a chance to become the first expansion team ever to win their first three games in their existence.
Pregame was stunning. The Coyotes were booed when they first appeared on the ice, but were cheered when they lined up behind the Golden Knights for an honoring of the first responders, as well as those lost in the tragedy.
There was a 58-second moment of silence to remember the victims.
After the emotional pregame ceremony of this inaugural home opener, it was time for hockey.
And boy, did Vegas show the world it meant business.
2:30 into the game, Tomas Nosek put one underneath the left pad of Antti Raanta to put Vegas up 1-0 and send T-Mobile Arena into a frenzy.
90 seconds later, it was Deryk Engelland. 2-0, Vegas.
At the 6:15 mark, James Neal made it 3-0. Four minutes later, he added a second on the power play.
Four goals in the first 10:42. A 5-2 statement victory for the Golden Knights.
A golden night for the Golden Knights, the sport of hockey, and especially the city of Las Vegas.
1. September 25th- NFL players take a stand and kneel
Widespread national anthem protests after inflammatory presidential remarks
“NFL must respect this!” tweeted the president.
“Nah,” said the athletes as they knelt together in solidarity.
This all begins with Colin Kaepernick, who chose to sit during the national anthem in the later weeks of the 2015 season, drawing scrutiny from news analysts and political pundits for “disrespecting the flag.” He was followed by a minimal showing of support from his fellow players, but not as widespread as what we saw this past season.
With the election of Donald Trump, and this supposed revitalization of patriotism, the country seems to be out to get these athletes using their platform to draw attention to the injustices being shown by law enforcement officers against persons of color.
Late this past September, Trump’s tweet tirade finally reached the pro sports world, calling for NFL owners to fire any “son of a bitch” who knelt during the national anthem.
NFL players, coaches, and owners weren’t about that.
That week, more than a dozen NFL teams chose to show their support for the cause and for their fellow teammates, as they took a knee during the anthem.
Jerry Jones joined his Cowboys on the field as they knelt and locked arms.
Other teams like the Patriots, Texans and Chargers did the same. Even the Jaguars and Ravens, who played in London that week, knelt during the American national anthem.
Other teams like the Steelers chose to stay in the locker room, save for individuals like Alejandro Villanueva, a former army ranger, who stood just inside the locker room.
Many other teams delivered statements in disagreement with the president’s words.
In a league that expects much more from its players in terms of conformity, it is extraordinary how this movement has gone from one player to encompass almost the entire league. While some teams have tried to quell the movement, the idea of players serving their communities and helping to bring attention to something very real makes one of this year’s great stories.
2017 in the sports world was full of some great moments. What was your favorite? Let us know in the comments down below.
Check out the rest of According to Andrew's Best of 2017 spread HERE.
I enjoy making lists, countdowns, and making sense of the world that I see around me.