Top 15 Sports Moments of 2016
2016 was actually a pretty solid year for sports moments. We had some records destroyed, some once-in-a-lifetime moments occur, and instances that elicited pure elation, devastation, and even utter confusion.
Here are the top 15 sports moments of 2016.
August 7- Ichiro gets career hit #3,000
Ichiro came to play baseball in America from Japan in 2001, where he quickly established himself as one of the top hitters in the game. His longevity, prolonged skill, and subsequent accomplishments are astounding: He won the rookie of the year AND the American League MVP in his first season; he holds the record for most base hits in a single season (282), and has amassed well over 4,000 hits between his two careers in America and Japan. On August 7th, Ichiro finally crossed the threshold into the illustrious “3,000 hit club,” as he clocked a triple against the Colorado Rockies for his 3,000th hit in Major League Baseball. This milestone is yet another notch in the belt of a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer.
September 25- Dodgers clinch division with walk-off home run in Vin Scully's last game at Dodger Stadium
In November 1949, Vin Scully broadcasted a football game from the roof of Fenway Park (you read that correctly, the roof). Scully left his coat and gloves at his hotel, as he was expecting an enclosed press box, but never once mentioned his discomfort in the air. Almost 70 years later, he was broadcasting his final home game for the team he had been broadcasting for since 1950, the Los Angeles (formerly of Brooklyn) Dodgers. At the All-Star Break, the Giants led the Dodgers by seven games atop the National League West. The Dodgers rallied to close the gap on August 9th, and had extended their lead in the division by eight games when September 25th rolled around. In the 10th inning of their final home game of the season against the Colorado Rockies, Charlie Culberson hit a walk-off home run to clinch the division for the Dodgers, which was fitting, as it was Scully’s final home game before retiring at the end of the season. In a touching tribute to their beloved play-by-play announcer, the Dodgers tipped their caps to Scully at the end of their celebration.
June 26- Billy Hurley III wins the Quicken Loans National
The road for Billy Hurley III’s win at the Quicken Loans National is a long one. He attended the Naval Academy, earning a degree in quantitative economics. He spent five years in the United States Navy, rising to the rank of lieutenant, and was deployed twice aboard the USS Chung-Hoon. He navigated ships through areas like the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and the Suez Canal. However, he never gave up his dreams of being a professional golfer. He turned pro in 2006, while still on active duty. The tournament in question, the Quicken Loans National, takes place in the D.C. area, where Hurley is from. In 2015, while he was playing in that very same tournament, Hurley learned that his father had committed suicide. A year later, Hurley returned to the tournament in 2016, this time being held at Congressional Country Club in Maryland. Hurley, the leader after the first three days, carded a 2-under 69 to win his first PGA tour victory in 104 starts. The day was capped off by a fantastic chip in on #15, and a 27-foot putt on #16 to effectively seal the deal. For someone to go through all that Billy Hurley III has gone through and come out on top in front of a home crowd is nothing short of remarkable. Watching him celebrate his victory is a thing of beauty.
January 31- John Scott gets voted onto the NHL All-Star team, scores two goals and wins MVP
I, personally, am a fan of the new NHL All-Star Game format. Instead of the traditional East vs. West, the teams are now divided between the four divisions, and each game is contested in a 3-on-3 format, with the winner of the two Eastern Conference Divisions facing off against the winner of the two Western Conference Divisions. John Scott, an enforcer for the Arizona Coyotes, was voted onto the All-Star team through a fan vote. Not only that, he was named as captain of the Pacific Division. Things all went south when Scott was traded out of conference to the Montreal Canadens. To make matters worse, he was then demoted to the Habs’ AHL affiliate, the St. John’s Ice Caps. However, on January 19th, the NHL voted to uphold Scott’s status as an All-Star team captain, even though he was not on an NHL team. In the end, Scott ended up being the MVP of the All-Star tournament, scoring two goals in the process, helping to lead Team Pacific over Team Central, and eventually help them again in their win over Team Atlantic. It’s a bizarre story and an even weirder turn of events, but Scott’s success despite all these outside events is pretty spectacular.
September 13- Kevin Harlan makes the greatest sports call of all time as drunk fan runs on field
Kevin Harlan is a national treasure. He’s the lead play-by-play announcer for Westwood One’s radio coverage of the NFL, but he also works for CBS when they do the NFL and NCAA tournaments. In this early season contest between the 49ers and Rams on a Monday night, Harlan was calling the snoozefest. The 49ers were up 21-0 in the fourth quarter, but the reality of the situation was that both teams sucked and no one cared. That was until a drunk 49ers fan ran onto the field, and Harlan made the sports call of the century. Take a watch/listen and see what I mean. Even Harlan himself commented on the event, calling it “the most exciting thing to happen all night.” The man is a legend. There are calls, and then there are GREAT calls. Raise a glass to Kevin Harlan.
The Top 15:
15. August 7- Jim Furyk shoots a 58, lowest round in PGA Tour history
Who says old guys can’t keep up with the young guns? You can be old and good- Jack Nicklaus won the Masters when he was 46, after all. At the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, Connecticut, Furyk, also 46, finished his third round with a 72, leaving him at 1-over for the tournament. Furyk’s next round was one for the ages: he finished with a PGA-record 58, the lowest round ever recorded on tour. He finished the front nine with a 27- shooting six birdies and an eagle. His back nine was just about as good, shooting a 31 with four birdies. Furyk hit all 18 greens in regulation during this round (which, as a golfer, is hard to do even for one hole), and his record-setting round left him in a tie for 5th place at 11-under par. And to think, this one was almost wiped out, as his playing partner nearly signed off on a scorecard which had an incorrect score written down- which would have had Furyk disqualified. Thankfully, the score of 58 stood, and we were able to witness one of the most historic performances ever by one of the most timeless golfers ever.
14. February 6- Denver Broncos win Super Bowl 50, Peyton Manning retires on top
I am reluctant to include this selection on this list (see my article about the 2016 AFC Championship game here), but, for the casual sports fan, this one is a great moment in sports this year. Peyton Manning nearly lost his starting job to backup Brock Osweiler in 2015 after he injured his ankle. Osweiler brought the Broncos back from nearly missing out on the playoffs to keeping them in contention for the #1 seed in the AFC. In the last week of the season, Osweiler struggled against the San Diego Chargers, and Manning came in to save the day, clinching home field advantage throughout the playoffs for Denver. While still injured, Denver’s defense was able to aid Manning in wins over Pittsburgh and New England. For a quarterback who is known to choke his team out of the playoffs, Manning was steady while his defense ate up opposing quarterbacks. The Broncos held the heavily favored Carolina Panthers to just 10 points, while Manning was able to keep the score just out of reach for Carolina. In a game in which he had zero touchdown passes, and the Broncos set a record for fewest total yards for a winning team (not to mention Manning becoming the oldest QB to win a Super Bowl), the Broncos won 24-10, sending Peyton Manning off into the sunset one last time- a winner.
13. December 4- Tom Brady becomes the NFL's all-time winningest quarterback
The guy seems to get better with age. Tom Brady’s win against the Los Angeles Rams on December 4th vaulted him one win past Peyton Manning (coincidentally, he’s also one spot ahead of him on this list) for most wins by a quarterback in the history of the NFL, with 201. Brady led his New England Patriots to a 26-10 win over the Los Angeles Rams, the team, which, coincidentally, he defeated to win the first of his four Super Bowl wins in 2002. Since that time, Brady has accrued various accolades, including three more Super Bowl wins, three Super Bowl MVP awards, two league MVP awards, a single season passing touchdown record, led the Patriots to an undefeated regular season, and seems to get better as he gets older. With this records that will far exceed 201, it seems like Brady is only solidifying his place in Canton, Ohio as one of the best to ever play the game.
11. May 11- Leicester City defies 5,000-1 odds and wins the Premier League
I saw Leicester City play Aston Villa in Birmingham in the early months of 2015. I wasn’t blown away by their performance. Turns out, neither had anyone else during the 2014-15 season, as they were nearly relegated out of the Premier League. Aston Villa went to the finals of the FA Cup that year. The 2015-16 campaign saw a reversal of fortune for both squads. Leicester City began the season with 5,000-1 odds to win the Premier League. They signed a new manager, Claudio Ranieri, and took a money-ball-esque approach to the game, utilizing many free transfers and loans from other clubs. Manchester City spent more money on its players in the last two seasons than Leicester City ever has in its 111 seasons in existence. The team lost three matches all year, and had winning streaks of three, four, and even five games nearing the last months of the season. With a draw to Chelsea, and a draw between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelea, the Foxes turned the sports world on its head. English football pundits have called it the “most unlikely triumph in the history of team sports.” To go from essentially last to best, and get an emotional win in one of the toughest football leagues in the world is nothing to slouch at. Leicester City is still playing strong, as they have advanced to the UEFA Champions League knockout phase. As for Aston Villa? Well, they’re currently sitting in the middle of the pack of the Championship League, after they were relegated, losing 27 games in 2015-16.
11. August 17- Abbey D'Agostino and Nikki Hamblen show amazing sportsmanship in Rio
It began as an ordinary heat of the women’s 5,000 m, as American Abbey D’Agostino and New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin made their way around the track. About midway through the race, as the two were toward the rear of the pack, Hamblin fell, and D’Agostino fell over her, also toppling to the ground. D’Agostino was the first to get back up, but instead of continuing the race, she comforted Hamblin for a brief moment, and then helped her up to finish the race. Even though D’Agostino hopped back up first continued the race, it quickly became evident that her injury was far worse- she had torn her ACL in the fall. Instead of continuing past her, this time, Hamblin was the one who stopped and helped her competitor on. The two finished in last place in the heat, but the organizers decided to reinstate the two as finalists, along with another runner who was also impeded by the collision. Hamblin went on to compete in the final, finishing in last place. After the race, the two were awarded the Rio 2016 Fair Play Award by the International Fair Play Committee. The two exemplify great sportsmanship as well as the Olympic spirit. In short, it’s one of the most touching moments of these past (as well as any) Olympic games.
10. Max Scherzer ties MLB record with 20-strikeout game
Striking out one batter is very difficult. Striking out 20 is absurd. In fact, only two other pitchers have ever done it- Roger Clemens (who did it twice) and Kerry Wood. Max Scherzer has been very good for a very long time- he’s won two Cy Young Awards, he’s only the sixth pitcher in Major League history to throw two no-hitters in a season, and yet, he consistently flies under the radar as one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball. In 2015, he was dealt from the Detroit Tigers to the Washington Nationals. On May 11th, against that very same team he was dealt from, Scherzer rung up 20 strikeouts on his former teammates. In a 3-2 victory, Scherzer allowed two runs on six hits, both home runs, one in the 3rd to Jose Iglaseas, the other in the 9th to J.D. Martinez. This dominant performance was one of the many reasons Max Scherzer earned himself the 2016 National League Cy Young Award.
9. June 27- Iceland shocks the world, defeats England in Euro 2016
One typically doesn’t associate Iceland with soccer. One typically doesn’t associate Iceland with many things related to sports (D2: The Mighty Ducks doesn’t count). In the group play stage of the Euro 2016 tournament, Iceland placed second in its group, after drawing with both Hungary and eventual tournament winner Portugal, as well as a win against Austria. England, which featured some of the best stars from the Premier League including Wayne Rooney, was expected to do extremely well in the tournament, and finished second in its group only to Wales. In the round of 16, Iceland was expected to be throttled by the far-more-experienced England. It showed early, as Rooney scored in the fourth minute on a penalty kick. Almost immediately though, Ragnar Sigurðsson scored two minutes later to equalize the score. Shockingly, Iceland scored within 15 minutes later, as Kolbeinn Sigþórsson scored to make it 2-1. Iceland held strong the rest of the way, shockingly eliminating England from the tournament.
The reaction from both sides was night and day. Many English players were seen lying face down on the pitch in tears, and, in turn, were being booed off the pitch by their own supporters. Iceland, on the other hand, led their fans in an emotional, triumphant cheer. England fired their manager, Roy Hodgson, shortly thereafter. The defeat by Iceland has been called one of the most humiliating defeats in the history of international football. Iceland, on the other hand, would be a part of one of the most stunning upsets in sports history, although they would go on to lose in the quarter finals to France, the host nation.
8. April 13- Golden State Warriors finish 73-9, best regular season record in NBA history
The 95-96 Chicago Bulls won 72 games out of the 82 in an NBA season, a record no one ever thought would be match. Then came the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors, fresh off a championship season of their own, poised to break that record. With the emergence of a hot offensive lineup that featured the “Splash Bros,” Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, as well as the presences of Draymond Green, the Warriors exploded out of the gates, winning their first 24 games, another NBA record. The season also featured a 54-game home winning streak, ended in the last two weeks in the season by the Boston Celtics, as well as a single season three-point record (Curry had 402). With only a single-digit loss column, the Warriors were the best team in the NBA by a longshot, and dominated all the way to the NBA finals for a rematch against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. We will get to that.
7. April 13- Kobe Bryant puts up 60 points in the final game of his career
In last year’s list, one of the great sports moments of 2015 included Kobe Bryant’s announcement of his retirement. In 2016, he left us with one last indelible image of a legendary career. In his final game, at home against the Utah Jazz, the Black Mamba put on a clinic, shooting 22 of 50 from the floor, making 6 threes, and 10 from the line, while posting 4 rebounds and 4 assists for an grand total of 60 points, the high for any NBA player that season. Bryant hit the winning shot for the Lakers with 31.6 second remaining, capping off a 4th quarter in which he outscored the entire Jazz team, 23-21. In his 1,346th and final game, he put the exclamation point on a career many of us can only dream of having. The Lakers, ironically had their worst season in franchise history last year, going 17-65, and winning only one game in the final month of the year. But the one win came on the back of one of the greatest athletes ever to grace the basketball court. It’s an understatement saying that the sports world will miss Kobe Bryant.
6. August 14- Usain Bolt wins third consecutive 100 meter gold medal
At the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt shocked (puns) the track and field world by running the 100 meters in 9.79 seconds- a new world record at the time. Had Bolt not celebrated the last 10 meters and finished the race in a full on sprint, he may have made it in under 9.6 seconds. In 2012, Bolt did it again, defending his 100 m gold medal in London. This past summer in Rio, the then-29-year old competed one more time in his signature race, determined to become the first man to win three golds in the 100 meters, and also the first person to win three medals in the same event. Sure enough, in a flash, Bolt beat out American Justin Gatlin by .08 seconds to win his third consecutive Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters. Usain Bolt is a freak, plain and simple. To have the ability to still perform at such a high level not only at 21, but 8 years later at 29 is simply remarkable. Bolt, now 30, has since said that he will retire after the 2017 World Championships- it’s almost as if he was electrifying crowds as a 21 year old just yesterday. A legend of the track for three consecutive Olympics, Usain Bolt made track cool again.
5. August 13- Michael Phelps caps off career with 23rd Olympic Gold medal in final race
Long removed from his legendary string of eight gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and a four-gold performance in 2012 in London, Michael Phelps came out of retirement in 2014 to pursue another set of gold medals in Rio. At 31 years of age, well past the prime for any other competitive swimmer, he competed in six events, and win gold medals in five of them, only finishing in a three-way tie for silver in the 100 meter butterfly. His final event was in the 4 x 100-meter medley relay, a team event with fellow swimmers Ryan Murphy, Cody Miller and Nathan Adrian. With Phelps swimming the butterfly leg of the relay, the Americans won the gold by nearly two seconds over Great Britain, setting a new Olympic Record of 3:27.95. To be able to watch this man swim in the pool for 12 years has brought this nation so much pride (not to mention all the gold). Phelps retires as the most decorated Olympian of all time, with 28 medals in total, with a ridiculous 23 of them being gold.
4. September 3- Nebraska lines up with 10 men in formation to honor late Sam Foltz
On July 23rd, Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler were tragically killed in a car accident on their way home from a kicking camp in Wisconsin. Foltz, set to be a fifth-year senior, was a returning starter and a successful walk-on. He was the Big 10 Conference’s Punter of the Year, and ranked fifth in school history in punting. On September 3rd, in Nebraska’s home opener against Fresno State, the Cornhuskers lined up on 4th down to punt early in the first quarter. They lined up in a typical formation, but left the punting spot open- keeping only 10 men on the field to honor their late teammate, letting the clock run out and taking a delay of game penalty. The scene, as you can imagine, was extremely emotional. You can see in the video above just how much Foltz meant to the students of the University of Nebraska, his friends, his family, and the spirit of college football in general.
3. September 26- Dee Gordon hits home run in first game after death of Jose Fernandez
Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez was an incredibly gifted pitcher. In his four seasons with the Marlins, he amassed a 38-17 record, a 2.58 ERA, and 589 strikeouts. He was a two-time All-Star, and the National League Rookie of the Year in 2013. He was much sought after by many teams, as his contract was set to expire at the end of the 2016 season. Unfortunately, he was taken from this earth far too soon. Late on the night of September 25th, Fernandez died in a boating accident off the coast of Miami Beach. His death left the team shocked, and many other players around the league shaken and deeply saddened. It was very evident how big Fernandez’s impact was on the game of baseball. He was a product of Cuba, a country where the influx of professional baseball players was just beginning to emerge.
The Marlins, in tribute to their fallen teammate, all donned uniforms with Fernandez’s name and number 16 on the back. Other players around the league honored Fernandez by writing simply “JF16” on their hats, gloves, cleats, or even in the dirt on the mound. In the first game at Marlins Park after Fernandez’s death, Marlins outfielder Dee Gordon stepped into the box to start the bottom of the first against the New York Mets, and crushed a home run to the deepest part of right field. As he rounded the bases, Gordon began to cry, and finally crossed the plate, looking toward the sky but ultimately succumbing to the emotion. This was a very special moment in honor of a very special athlete who was gone too soon. Gordon’s teammates helping him to the dugout will surely bring a tear to your eye.
2. June 19- Cavaliers win NBA title after being down 3-1, bring Cleveland first sports championship since 1967
You can hate LeBron James, or you can love LeBron James. But you cannot deny that the torch of NBA greatness has been passed from Michael Jordan to him. Down three games to one in the NBA finals against the defending champion Golden State Warriors, the Cavaliers set out to make history- become the first team ever to win an NBA Final after falling behind 3-1. In game 5, in Oakland, LeBron and Kyrie Irving each put up an astonishing 41 points each, the first two teammates ever to score 40 or more in an NBA Finals game, and sent the series back to Cleveland in a 112-97 clinic. In game 6, it was more of the same, with LeBron putting up another 41 points. The Cavs were determined to send the series back to California, as they led 31-11 at the end of the 1st quarter, and never looked back, holding off furious rallies from Steph Curry and the Warriors at every turn. With a 115-101 win, the teams head back west for a decisive game 7 showdown. In an extremely close game, and the score tied at 89 with two minutes to play, LeBron James stuffed Andre Iguodala as he threatened to put the Warriors ahead again. Kyrie Irving’s three pointer with 53 seconds to play sealed the deal, and the Cavs had given Cleveland its first major sports title in nearly 50 years. You can hate LeBron for leaving Cleveland to go win two titles in Miami, but it’s obvious that his hometown is even more important to him. For a city that has had lovable losers like the Indians and Browns, it’s a nice reprieve for the city of Cleveland to have something to celebrate.
1. November 2- Chicago Cubs win first World Series since 1908
A lot of time has gone by since 1908. Generations have come and gone. Two World Wars were fought and won. Teams have won and lost. But the spirit and tenacity of the Chicago Cubs and their fans has never faltered or faded. The Cubs were so close on a number of occasions, most notably in 2003. But the Billy Goat could not keep this Cubs team down this year. We’ll all remember where we were the night the Cubs finally won it all. It may not have been a traditional underdog victory; the Cubs were the best team in baseball (by a lot) in 2016, and rolled into the World Series, never really facing any kind of tough obstacle on the way there. The Cleveland Indians were the same way, seemingly throttling opponents, losing only one game on their way to the Fall Classic.
The way the Cubs won this World Series was nothing short of magical. After falling behind three games to one over the first four games, the Cubs put together two straight wins, one at Wrigley Field, the other at Progressive Field in Cleveland, to tie the series at 7. In one of the greatest World Series games ever played, the Cubs went up on the Tribe 6-3, headed into the 8th inning, when traditionally reliable closer Aroldis Chapman (who hadn’t been scored on all season), allowed three runs, including a game-tying home run to Rajai Davis. After a rain delay between the 9th and 10th innings, the Cubs were able to score 2 in the 10th and seal the deal, winning their first World Series in 108 years, ending their century-long “curse.” For all sports fans, just about everyone knows how long the Cubs have been baseball’s lovable losers. For them to finally break the mold is history-defining, and it earns them the number one spot on this list.
What sports moments made you jump out of your chair this year? Leave a comment down below.
This is part of the Best of 2016 Series, where we're counting down the best of music, film, sports, and pop culture. You can check out the spread of our other lists HERE.