Top 10 Games of 2016
Sport is the greatest drama because it cannot be scripted. No one can predict what real life competition will produce, and no one can predict how athletes will perform under intense, high pressure situations. When the stakes are high, the games become the stuff of legends. They’re the contests that kept us on the edge of our seats for hours on end. These are the best games from the sports world in 2016.
October 13- National League Division Series, Game 5
Los Angeles Dodgers 4, Washington Nationals 3
The Dodgers and Nationals are two teams that have been very good in recent years. The Nationals boasted a team that included Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, as well as always-present MVP candidate Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. The Dodgers countered with players like Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Utley, and Joc Pederson, as well as Clayton Kershaw, whom we’ll discuss later. The Nats had a 1-0 lead for most of the game, as Scherzer shut his opposition down. It wasn’t until the seventh inning, when Scherzer gave up a home run to Joc Pederson and was lifted for Marc Rzepczynski. Five other pitchers who entered for Washington allowed the Dodgers to score three more runs. After the Nats scored another two in the bottom of the frame, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts called on his closer Kenley Jansen to close the door on any further rallies. Jansen pitched a flawless rest of the seventh and a full eighth, but by the ninth had thrown 51 pitches and given up two one-out walks. In came Kershaw, the 2009 NL Cy Young winner, who was making his first relief appearance in seven years. Kershaw got Daniel Murphy to pop out, and struck out Wilmer Difo to end the game, sending the Dodgers to the NLCS to face the Chicago Cubs. For Kershaw, whose ability to perform in the postseason had come into question, it was a major relief for him to win the series for his team.
January 4- NCAA Basketball Regular Season
Kansas Jayhawks 109, Oklahoma Sooners 106 (3OT)
This was your classic #1 vs. #2 showdown. Technically, both teams were ranked #1- Kansas by the AP Poll and Oklahoma by the Coaches Poll- so it was going to be a game to remember. Perry Ellis had 27 points and 13 rebounds for the Jayhawks, while Wayne Selden and Devonte’ Graham had 21 and 22, respectively. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, on the other hand, had a career high 46 points, but made two crucial turnovers and missed a game-tying three at the final buzzer of the third overtime.
November 13- NFL Regular Season, Week 10
Seattle Seahawks 31, New England Patriots 21
What is it with these two teams and throwing the ball at the one yard line? The last time these two teams met, we ended up with the greatest Super Bowl in history, with the Patriots coming out on top. This time around, it was the Seahawks who got the last laugh, as they kept the score close and finally pulled ahead in the fourth quarter for good. The game featured a huge hit from Seattle safety Earl Thomas on New England tight end Rob Gronkowski, and a fantastically underrated performance from Seattle RB C.J. Prosise, who had 153 all-purpose yards in the game. At the end, it came down to the one yard line, this time with the Patriots on offense with the game on the line. The Patriots had four opportunities to score from the goal line, and could not, as Tom Brady’s fade pass to Gronkowski was batted down. Was there pass interference on the play? We’ll let you decide. Regardless, can we see these two teams play again in February, please? No matter how volatile the Seahawks’ offense has been at times, these two always bring their A-game whenever they play one another.
September 21- World Cup of Hockey, Preliminary Round
North America 4, Sweden 3 (OT)
If you wanted hockey, this was the game for you. In this year’s World Cup of Hockey format, eight teams put their squads together, highlighted by the formation of the North America and Europe team, comprised of players aged 23 or younger from their respective regions of the world. The North American team had a plethora of hype surrounding it, including young guns like Connor McDavid, Johnny Gaudreau, and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Auston Matthews. It was up to the players to determine if they were worth all the buildup, and boy, did they deliver. In this group play matchup against Sweden, the North American team’s speed and skill were on display early, as McDavid found Matthews for a goal against Henrik Lundqvist only thirty seconds into the game. Watch the first goal by Matthews, and you’ll see the young guns making the best defence in the tournament look silly. In replace of the injured Matt Murray, John Gibson made himself a wall between the pipes, stopping 35 of 38 shots, including one from Daniel Sedin on a breakaway in overtime. Finally, in the last minute of the extra period, it was Nathan MacKinnon who deked Lundqvist out of his skates to score the game winner. While North America didn’t make it out of the group stage, it goes to show that the kids can really skate with the big dogs and get the job done. It’s evident these kids are already tearing up the NHL, as players like Matthews and MacKinnon make Toronto and Colorado a little scarier to face.
September 4- NCAA Football Regular Season, Week 1
Texas 50, Notre Dame 47 (2OT)
In hindsight, both of these teams finished the season at a combined record of 9-15, and neither of them made a bowl game. But the opening game of the season would have made you think that Notre Dame and Texas were going to meet again in the College Football Playoff in January. In a game where we were fed a crazy amount of hype, from Texas’ turnaround as a football program, having been embarrassed in South Bend the year prior 38-3, to the questions surrounding Notre Dame’s depleted defense and quarterback controversy, the two teams did not disappoint. The Fighting Irish and Longhorns traded jabs through halftime, but Texas built up a 31-14 lead midway through the third quarter. Notre Dame QB Deshone Kizer showed poise the rest of the way, leading the Irish back with 21 unanswered points to put Notre Dame ahead 35-31 with just under 11 minutes to play. Three possessions later, Texas broke through to retain the lead on a 19 yard run from D’Onta Foreman, putting Texas back on top, 37-35. The extra point attempt was blocked and returned by the Irish for a two-point, defensive PAT, knotting the score back up at 37 apiece. In overtime, Texas struck first on a touchdown from Tyrone Swoopes, but Notre Dame answered back on its first play of OT with a 25-yard pass from Kizer to C.J. Sanders. In double overtime, the Irish broke the tie with a field goal, only to have Texas drive back down the field and score a game winning touchdown. “Texas is back!” exclaimed broadcaster Joe Tessitore, as Swoopes plowed into the end zone to win the game. While their record might show otherwise, this was one of the best games the college football season would have to show. Texas jumped from being unranked to 11th in the nation as a result of the win. Neither team would finish ranked at the end of the season.
The Top 10:
10. July 17- The Open Championship, Final Round
Henrik Stenson vs. Phil Mickelson
I say this about pretty much every other sport, but it’s really great when you have a classic one-on-one duel in golf. In the final round of the British Open at Royal Troon, Henrik Stenson began the day with a one-stroke lead over Phil Mickelson. Mickelson, who has a history of blowing it in pressure situations, and particularly in major championships, held pat, actually taking over the lead with a birdie on the first hole, while Stenson bogeyed. From there it was pretty even. Mickelson evened the score up again at 14-under with an eagle on #4. The two traded blows, and it was close until the very last hole, when Stenson’s birdie put him at 20-under, 267 for the tournament, which would be an all-time record for an aggregate score at any Open Championship. Mickelson would finish three strokes back at 17-under.
9. May 16- NBA Western Conference Finals, Game 1
Oklahoma City 108, Golden State Warriors 101
The Warriors hadn’t faced much adversity in their historic 73-win campaign. They had only lost twice on their home floor- albeit their two losses came within a week of one another toward the end of the season. Regardless, the defending champions opened up the Western Conference Finals on their home floor of Oracle Arena against the Oklahoma City Thunder. With 17.2 seconds to play, and the Thunder up 105-102, Russell Westbrook took the inbound pass and crossed over into the front court, and appeared to travel as he tried to stop and reset his feet. Much to the dismay of the begging Warriors coach Steve Kerr and the rest of the fans at Oracle, the travel was not called. A few seconds later, Westbrook hit a key free throw to put the Thunder up by 4, and the game was pretty much out of reach for the defending champs from there, who ended up falling on their home floor, 108-102. The game was the subject of much criticism due to its poor officiating, but it sure made for some memorable moments and lots of excitement.
8. March 20- NCAA Tournament, Second Round
Texas A&M 92, Northern Iowa 88 (2OT)
This was supposed to be a shocking upset. Instead, it turned into one of the most stunning comebacks/collapses in the history of college basketball. Northern Iowa, an 11th seed in the tournament, had already knocked off Texas in the first round on a half-court buzzer beater from Paul Jesperson. They faced the Aggies from Texas A&M in the second round, a 3rd seed. This game really only gets exciting in the second half, but the scene is this: NIU is up by 10 points with 31.1 seconds remaining in regulation. They’re ready to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16. That’s when A&M mounts a comeback for the ages. Northern Iowa, who were without primary inbound passer Matt Bohannon and out of timeouts, were throwing the ball all over the court, as they were swarmed by the Aggie defense. A&M capitalized on four NIU turnovers and went on a 10-2 run in the final 30 seconds to tie the game at 71. Northern Iowa had its chance to win the game in the first overtime, but two of the team’s seniors fouled out, leaving Texas A&M’s deeper bench to win it in the second overtime. At the 44 second mark, statistical analysis showed that Northern Iowa had a 99.9% chance to win the game, with A&M’s chances sitting a less than .1%. But, of course, this is March Madness, and this game will go down as one of the best of the tournament, and possibly the greatest collapse in the history of basketball.
7. November 26- NCAA Football Regular Season, Week 12
Ohio State 30, Michigan 24 (2OT)
One of college football’s biggest rivalries resulted in one of the best games of 2016. Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh was determined to make an advance on his record in his second year as head coach. The Wolverines were ranked #3 in the nation, only to Urban Meyer’s #2-ranked Buckeyes of Ohio State. Even though the game was in Columbus, the Wolverines controlled the better half of the game, as they led 10-7 at halftime, and 17-7 in the third quarter. The Buckeyes cut the lead to three after a late third quarter touchdown, and tied it with five seconds to play on a field goal. One of the best college football games this year wouldn’t be complete without overtime. On the Buckeyes first possession, Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett ran all over the Michigan defense, putting the buckeyes up by seven. Michigan answered with a touchdown of their own, and added a field goal in the first half of double overtime to make it 27-24. On Ohio State’s next possession, Barrett faced a 4th and 1 from the Michigan 16. He ran it right up the gut, and looked like he was stopped right at the line to gain, his foot barely crossing the line. It would hold up after video review, and Ohio State was given a first down. On the very next play, it was Ohio State RB Curtis Samuel who scored the game winning touchdown, scoring from 15 yards out. The red-clad Ohio State faithful poured out onto the field after the victory, as Ohio State’s push for the national title was very much alive. As for Michigan, the controversial play on 4th and 1 is still disputed. They will face a tough Florida State team in the Orange Bowl.
6. January 2- Valero Alamo Bowl
TCU 47, Oregon 41 (3OT)
The Alamo Bowl featured another fantastic playoff comeback between the TCU Horned Frogs and the Oregon Ducks. The Ducks had stumbled to a .500 start to begin the 2015 season, but ended the season on a six game winning streak. The Horned Frogs were the opposite, starting the season 8-0, and being ranked as high as #3 in the nation, but backed into the playoffs, only winning two of their last four games. Regardless, the game was set to feature two teams with very good records. Out of the gate, it was all Oregon, as TCU was without some of their key players, including first-team All-American WR Josh Doctson, and QB Trevone Boykin, who had been suspended for a violation of team rules. The Ducks jumped out to a 31-0 lead at halftime. However, Ducks QB Vernon Adams Jr. left the game with a head injury and would not return. The Horned Frogs mounted the biggest comeback in Bowl Game history, tying the game at 31 and sending it to OT. The teams traded blows for two overtimes until TCU scored to make it 47-41, and then stopped the Ducks on a 4th and 8 to win.
5. April 4- NCAA Tournament, National Championship
Villanova 74, North Carolina 71
The NCAA Tournament is referred to as “March Madness” for a reason. Take this past April’s National Championship game between the Villanova Wildcats and North Carolina Tar Heels, for instance. The game was nip and tuck for the first half, with neither team leading by more than five points in the first 19 minutes. North Carolina was up by seven near the end of the first half, but Villanova’s Phil Booth hit a jumper that cut the lead to 39-34 at halftime. After the break, however, it was Villanova who took over, going on a 13-2 run. North Carolina was left to chip away. Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono hit a three to keep the lead solid at 6 points. With just about 5 minutes to play. Villanova led 67-57, its largest of the game, until North Carolina went on a 10-3 run of its own. Down 70-64, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige hit a three to cut the lead to three points. Villanova’s ensuing possession saw Arcidiacono make an errant pass that sailed out of bounds, giving the Tar Heels the ball. Another field goal later, and the Villanova lead is one. With 35.7 seconds to play, Booth was fouled and hit both free throws, extending the lead back to four for the Wildcats. With 22.2 seconds to play, North Carolina made a key offensive rebound and basket to cut the lead to 72-71. Villanova’s Josh Hart was fouled and hit both free throws. 74-71, Villanova. On one of the plays of the year, Paige hit a sensational double-clutch three-pointer with 4.7 seconds to go to tie the game. It would have been the play of the year, had it not been unseeded by the play that followed. Arcidiacono received the inbound, and passed to Kris Jenkins, who knocked down a three at the buzzer to win the national title. It was the first since Lorenzo Charles’ dunk in 1983 for NC State against Houston. Villanova is known for one of the greatest tournament upsets of all time, when, in 1985 they (then an 8 seed) defeated top-seeded Georgetown to win the championship. This team, this game, and this finish, are up there, though.
4. July 10- UEFA Euro 2016 Final
Portugal 1, France 0 (ET)
A series of terrorist attacks rocked Paris in late 2015, during which a football match between France and Germany at Stade de France had to be evacuated. Three explosions occurred near the stadium, killing four, occurring about 20 minutes after the start of the match. Between the attacks in November 2015, the Charlie Hedbo shootings in 2013, and a mass of others, France was reeling. I don’t want to make the gross generalization that sports are the only thing that can bring people together, but it certainly can help boost morale a little bit. France was the host country for the UEFA Euro tournament. Spain, the two-time defending champions of the tournament, was ousted by Italy in the first round. The tournament also found the heavily-favored English team losing to Iceland. France found its way to the final by way of defeats of Iceland, Ireland, and Germany. France’s opponent, Portugal, was seeking its first major international championship. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo was poised to add another notch to his already impressive career resume. But early in the first half, it was Ronaldo himself who went down with injury and had to leave the game. France’s imposed uptempo rhythm was shut down by Portugal goaltender Rui Patricio, who denied shots from Antoine Greizmann and Moussa Sissoko. In the second half, France and Portugal used both of their substitutions, as Portugal brought on Joao Moutinho and Eder, while France brought on Kingsley Coman and Andre-Pierre Gignac. In the final minute of regulation time, Gignac’s potential championship winner beat Patricio, but hit the post, keeping the score tied at 0-0. Most of Portugal’s best chances came in extra time, as Eder had a shot bounce off the crossbar. In the 190th minute, Eder finally struck for Portugal, netting a ball to the lower right corner of the net. Portugal would go on to win its first major international trophy. So, no, the home team didn’t win. But this match between two extremely even opponents was one of the best, if not the best contest of the year from the pitch. Even though there is still a lot to accomplish outside the sports bubble, the 2016 Euro Final showed that for 120 minutes, twenty two men can give it their all and put on an unforgettable display of athleticism, sportsmanship, and respect.
3. June 19- NBA Finals, Game 7
Cleveland Cavaliers 93, Golden State Warriors 89
Reminder: The Warriors blew a 3-1 lead to the Cavs.
The Golden State Warriors of 2015-16 were the New England Patriots of 2007-08. They shattered the mark set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for best record in a season, winning an astounding 73 games during the campaign, losing only two games at home the entire season. The only thing left was a date with destiny: a rematch against the team they had beaten a year prior: the Lebron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers. The defending champs quickly jumped on their opponents, winning the first two at home, and winning a third in Cleveland in game 4. With the critics once again in his ear, Lebron James set out to silence them once and for all. The Cavs won game 5 on Cleveland and Game 6 in Oakland, with James posting 41-point games in both contests.
Set for a decisive Game 7 in Oakland, the Cavaliers set the pace early, but the Warriors kept the game close, and actually led 49-42 at halftime. It was in the second half that James and the Cavaliers took over, outscoring the Warriors 51-40, and not allowing Golden State to score in the last 4:39 of the game. With around two minutes to play, Lebron James chased down 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, who was set to break the tie with an easy layup. Instead, James caught Iguodala and stuffed the ball against the backboard, keeping the game tied. The play would thereafter be known as just “The Block.” With 53 seconds to play, rookie Kyrie Irving hit a go-ahead three pointer over the NBA’s first ever unanimous regular season MVP, Steph Curry, to put the Cavs ahead for good, 92-89. James made a free throw to just about seal the deal, as the Cavs would win 93-89. They were the first team ever to win an NBA Finals after being down three games to one. They would topple a team that was beyond dominant in the regular season. They would end their city’s championship drought, ending a long string of sports despair, which all include iconic names like “The Shot,” “The Drive,” “The Fumble,” “Red Right 88,” “The Decision (which, ironically, involved James himself)” and “The Move.” This time, the Cavaliers finally got an iconic name to fall in their favor, and Lebron James finally brought his city the title he promised 13 years ago.
2. November 2- World Series, Game 7
Chicago Cubs 8, Cleveland Indians 7 (10)
It’s not often we get really good baseball games. We all know by this point that the Chicago Cubs haven’t won a World Series in a very, very long time. 108 years, to be precise. Their GM Theo Epstein had promised the Chicago faithful a Championship- the city was ultimately patient, and the Cubs finished the season with the best record in baseball, cruising to the World Series. The Cleveland Indians, who also haven’t won a world series in more than half a century, were on a miracle tear. They had lost two of their best pitchers in Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, but had only lost one game on their way to the Fall Classic. They even went up three games to one in this series as well. Manager Terry Francona was poised to win his third Championship, an accomplishment that would undoubtedly land him in the Hall of Fame.
But the Cubs, whose luck had seemingly run out, rose from the grave, forced game seven, and even jumped out to a quick 5-1 lead, started by a leadoff home run by Cubs OF Dexter Fowler, the first player ever to lead off a World Series Game 7 with a home run. The Tribe would tie the game in the third inning, but the Cubs would add two in the fourth and another two in the fifth, knocking Indians P Corey Kluber out of the game. The Indians would make it 5-3 in the bottom of the fifth on a scoring error that allowed two runs to score. In the sixth, Cubs C David Ross homered to make it 6-3, as he became the oldest player to homer in a World Series Game 7.
In the bottom of the eighth with two outs, Cubs manager Joe Maddon called on closer Aroldis Chapman, who, traditionally had been dominating ninth innings, but still had to make four outs in order to win the game. Jose Ramirez’s single and Brandon Guyer’s subsequent double put the Indians within two. The next batter was Rajai Davis, who had hit only 55 home runs in 11 seasons in the majors. He crushed a 2-2 count to deep left field, tying the game at 6 apiece. Fortunately, that would be all the damage allowed, and Chapman would pitch a perfect ninth to send it to extra innings.
Then came the rain, because this game was essentially the apocalypse. A 17-minute rain delay allowed both teams to catch their collective breaths (while essentially killing the Indians’ momentum). The Cubs scored two runs in the tenth on hits by Ben Zobrist and Miguel Montero. The Indians got a run back in the bottom half of the frame, but Cubs P Mike Montgomery was able to close the door, as he got Michael Martinez to ground out to Kris Bryant, winning the Cubs’ first World Series title in 108 seasons. Billy goats and curses aside, this game was a final exorcism for the Cubs, who had staved off elimination in three consecutive games, finally winning it all in the most dramatic of fashions. This may be one of the greatest World Series games ever played, if not the greatest.
1. January 16- NFC Divisional Playoff
Arizona Cardinals 26, Green Bay Packers 20 (OT)
The legend of Larry Fitzgerald and the mystique of Aaron Rodgers continue to defy all logic. The recent history between the Packers and Cardinals is intense. During the 2009 playoffs, Kurt Warner and the Cardinals beat the Packers 51-45 in overtime in a crazy wild card game. Arizona would go on to play in the Super Bowl. Three weeks prior to this match up, the Cards had throttled the Packers at home, 38-8. This game would top them all, and gave us the best game of the year in only the third week of the 2016. Ironically, the game was relatively tame at the outset. The Packers had lost Devante Adams and Randall Cobb (their two best receivers), and the Cardinals’ typically potent offense couldn’t get anything going when on the field. The game was a stalemate through the first half, with Arizona up 7-6 at halftime. With Green Bay ahead 13-10 with about 3 minutes or so to go, QB Carson Palmer drove the Cardinals down the field, getting break after break with receivers catching ridiculous passes, with the go-ahead touchdown getting batted up in the air and caught by Michael Floyd, putting Arizona ahead, 17-13 with 10 minutes and change left to play in the 3rd quarter. The Cardinals would give the ball back to Green Bay after kicking a field goal at the 2 minute warning, this time up 20-13. Facing a 4th and 20 from his own 4 yard line, with 48 seconds left, Aaron Rodgers moved the Packers 96 yards in two completed plays, both to Jeff Janus. The first was a 60 yard bomb, which moved the Packers to the Arizona 36. Still, they needed a touchdown to tie the game. After a false start penalty and a time out spent, Rodgers and the Packers found themselves at the Arizona 41. With five seconds to play, Rodgers flushed out of the pocket, and threw a deep strike toward Janus once again. Janus, who had seven catches during the game (five more than he had all season), jumped between Cardinal defenders Patrick Peterson and Rashad Johnson and came down with the ball, effectively tying the game and sending it to overtime. But on the first play of the extra period, it was the Cardinals’ turn to spin a little postseason magic of their own, this time in the form of the “Hail Larry.” Palmer fooled the Packers defense, finding a wide open Larry Fitzgerald, who scrambled 75-yards down the field to the Green Bay 5. On the next play, Palmer found Fitzgerald again on a shovel pass to win the game. I for one really hope we get to see more matchups like this in the future between these two teams, because they always seem to put on a show whenever they meet. This game featured career-defining performances from both Aaron Rodgers, who had thrown his second successful Hail Mary in a season, and Larry Fitzgerald, whose 8-catch, 176-yard performance will long live in NFL playoff lore.
What games kept you on the edge of your seat this year? Leave a comment down below.
You can check out the rest of According to Andrew's "Best of 2016" spread by clicking HERE.