Monthly Archives: December 2016

2016-THE YEAR IN REVIEW PART II

When I left you last week the Stanley Cup was residing in Pittsburgh and the Larry O’Brien Trophy took up residency in Cleveland.  So much more happened in 2016 so let’s look back at the rest of the year.

As the city of Rio de Janeiro and the nation of Brazil prepared to host the world in August there were many challenges.  The zikka virus was running rampid and the waters that were supposed to host the rowing competition was still polluted.  Crime was a problem and some venues were still under construction.  All in all the city and nation was sucessful in hosting the Olympics.

Long before allegations of the Russian government tinkering with the American presidential election, their athletes were involved in a doping scandal.  The suspicion of PED use followed the Russian Olympic delegation from before the Games and all the way through the competition.

At the Rio Games the United States dominated the medal count.  The Americans led the way with 121 total medals (46 gold, 37 silver, 38 bronze).  The 2016 Games were highlighted by two Olympic icons, one in the pool and one on the 100 meter track.

American swimmer Michael Phelps, who had decided that the London Olympics in 2012 would be his last, had a change of heart in 2014.  What a decision that turned out to be! Phelps won a total of five gold medals and one silver to leave Rio de Janeiro as the most decorated olympic athlete of all time.

There was also a passing of the torch on the American swim team.  Katie Ledecky won five medals of her own at the Rio Games.  Ledecky became the first woman to sweep the Olympic 200, 400, and 800 meter freestyle events.

The second olympic icon that made headlines was Jamaican runner Usain Bolt.  He defended his title of World’s Fastest Human by winning his third straight gold in the 100 meter event.

Finally, the USA mens and women’s basketball teams once again came home with gold medals.  Lebron James and Stephan Curry did not participate in the Olympics.  Curry was recovering from an injury while James decided to rest.   Lead by Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant, team USA had some challenges on their way to securing the Olympic title. Anthony announced his retirement from Olympic competition following the Gold Medal Game.  Carmelo retires with three gold medals around his neck.   A WNBA all-star team dominated at times to claim the women’s gold.

Major League Baseball’s pennant races and postseason was one for the ages.  The American League East was a three team affair that came down to the final couple of weeks with the Red Sox winning the division by 4 games.  The two teams trailing the Sox would claim both American League Wild Card spots, with the Orioles and Blue Jays finishing tied.  In the National League West the Dodgers and Giants battled almost to the end of the season with the boys from Hollywood coming out on top.

Broadcasting legend Vin Scully called it a 60 year career this year.  It is this writer’s opinion that the calming, story telling voice of this icon will never be replaced.  Thanks for years of memories Mr. Scully, now it’s time for you to pull up a chair and take in a ball game.

The tale of Loveable Losers would take center stage in the postseason.  The Cleveland Indians came out of nowhere this past summer to dominate the American League Central Division.  The Tribe was never really challenged and won the division by eight games over second place Detroit.  Speaking of domination, what went on in the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field this year was simply magical.  The Cubs would win an MLB best 103 games while running away with the National League Central.  The Cubbies won the division by 17 1/2 games over the second place Cardinals.

On a magical Saturday night in October, the Chicago Cubs shutout the Los Angeles Dodgers by the score of 5-0. The win gave the Cubs a 4-2 NLCS win.   It was a night not seen on the Near North Side of Chicago since 1945!  The Cubs were National League Champs!  The fun was just starting in the Windy City.

Meanwhile, on the shores of Lake Erie another long-suffering franchise was making its own magic.  On a late Wednesday afternoon in Toronto the Cleveland Indians also won a league championship with a shutout.  The Indians defeated the Blue Jays 3-0 to win the American League Championship in five games.

The World Series was a seven game thriller for the ages.  The Indians, who had home field advantage thanks to an American League victory in the All-Star Game, returned home from Wrigley Field as the calendar turned to November. Cleveland was one game shy of winning it all.  The Indians, who held the second longest championship drought in the majors (68 years), needed one win at home to claim the World Series championship.  The Tribe fell short.

Following a Cubs victory in Game 6, Chicago would hold a 6-3 lead after six innings in game seven.  Cubs fans had to start wondering if the curses that followed their team were waking up again when Cleveland erupted for three runs in the eighth inning to tie the game.  Following a very short rain delay the Cubs would score two in the top of the tenth inning and give up a run in the bottom of the extra frame.  So after so many twists and turns for the first time since 1908 the Chicago Cubs are the reigning World Series Champions.

So much happened in the year 2016 in the sports world and beyond.  The Cubs, and Cavs became winners after so many years.  The Carolina Panthers, Washington Capitals, and the Golden State Warriors dominated and fell short.  Vin Scully and Dick Enberg hung up their microphones.

In 2016 there was also tragedy.

On June 3, 2016 all of humanity lost an icon when Muhammad Ali passed away.  Ali did so much for his fellow man in a lifetime that went way beyond the boxing ring.  On the morning of September 25th the entire community here in South Florida as well as the sports world woke up to an unthinkable story.  Marlins superstar pitcher Jose Fernandez and two of his friends were involved in a boat crash off Miami Beach during the night.  All three were found dead.  Such talent, such personality gone way too soon.  Between parts one and two of this blog another sad story emerged.  This past Wednesday the sports reporting community lost one of its own.  Craig Sager, who earlier this year gave such an upbeat and inspiring speech at the ESPN Espy Awards show, lost his long battle with cancer.  He almost had it beat and vowed to keep beating it.  To quote Stuart Scott “You beat cancer by how you live.”  Stuart was so right and Craig lived the same way.

To wrap up the year, I give you my first annual awards:

Athlete of the Year: Michael Phelps for walking away as the most decorated athlete in Olympic history.

Lifetime achievement Award:  Vin Scully

Story of the Year:  Chicago Cubs win the World Series.

This is my final blog of 2016.  I will begin 2017 by publishing here on wordpress on January 8th.  Here’s to a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza,  and a Happy and Healthy New Year to all my readers.  If you are enjoying my weekly blogs, please spread the word.  I appreciate each and every one of my readers.

 

 

 

 

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2016-THE YEAR IN REVIEW

As we continue to wind down the sports year of 2016 it is time to take a look back.  It was a year that saw Cleveland of all places take center stage twice.  We saw the city of Denver throw a retirement party for a football icon.  We witnessed a team owned by an iconic figure, led by a future Hall of Famer buzz-saw its way to hoisting the Stanley Cup.  We also witnessed baseball history that was over a century in the making.

Eleven days into the year Alabama defeated Clemson to win a national championship game for the ages.  It was a thrilling  45-40 offensive show in which the schools traded touchdowns in the final 1:07 of the game.  The University of Alabama has now won 16 National Championships.  2016 was the fourth under head coach Nick Saban.

The Carolina Panthers were the story throughout most of the 2015-16 NFL season.  Their 15-1 record made them the favorite to win Super Bowl 50.  The Denver Broncos endured six weeks without future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning who was sidelined with a foot injury.  The Broncos finished the regular season with a 12-4 mark, good for first place in the AFC Western Division by one game over the 11-5 Kansas City Chiefs.  Manning would return from his injury in time for the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs.

Peyton Manning’s return and the Broncos relentless defense would develop into the story of the 2016 NFL Postseason.  Following a bye during the Wild Card Round the Broncos would knock off the Steelers (23-16) and win a nail biter for the ages in the AFC Championship Game.  Denver defeated the New England Patriots 20-18 to advance to the 50th Anniversary Super Bowl.  The Broncos defense would sack Patriots quarterback Tom Brady 4 times, knock him down 20 times and intercept him twice.

The 15-1 Panthers would win the NFC Championship by defeating the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Round (31-24), and dominating the Arizona Cardinals 49-15 in the NFC Championship Game.

The Broncos defense lead by Super Bowl MVP Von Miller would be the story of the Super Bowl.  League MVP Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was sacked seven times.  The Denver defense would also force three turnovers.  Peyton Manning would finish his storied career on top.  Despite his injury ridden final season Manning would walk away wearing his second championship ring.

The Carolina Panthers weren’t the only Panthers team making headlines in January.  The NHL Florida Panthers began 2016 riding a winning streak that began on December 15, 2015 with a 5-1 victory over the New York Islanders at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.  They entered 2016 winning ten straight.  Victories in Ottawa on January 7, and in Edmonton on January 10th capped off the longest win streak in the NHL in 2015-16, and 2016-17 to date. Florida would finish the season with a team record 103 points on their way to an Atlantic Division Championship.  More importantly the long floundering franchise from South Florida has become relevant again.

Just days before the Florida Panthers became the talk of the NHL, an event happened in Pittsburgh that would have an impact on the rest of the season.

On December 12 the Penguins were out of the Metropolitan Division (and Eastern Conference Wild Card ) picture with a record of 15-10-3.  Owner Mario Lemieux felt their was a need for a leadership change.  Head coach Mike Johnston was let go and replaced by Mike Sullivan.  Sullivan was head coach of the Penguins AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre.  Under Sullivan’s leadership Pittsburgh would go 33-16-5 the rest of the way.  They finished 2nd in the Metropolitan Division behind the President’s Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals.  The Pens would enter the postseason with the second best record in the Eastern Conference.

Pittsburgh was dominant during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Victories over the New York Rangers (5 games), Washington (6 games) and Tampa Bay Lightning (7 games)  would send  them to the Stanley Cup Finals where they would defeat the San Jose Sharks in a 6 game series to win Lord Stanley’s Cup.  It was Sidney Crosby’s second championship, he also skated away with the Conn Smythe Trophy.

The San Francisco Bay area was buzzing with playoff excitement this past spring.  While the San Jose Sharks were battling the aforementioned Penguins, there was an even bigger story grabbing local and national headlines.  The Golden State Warriors dominated the NBA regular season with a record-breaking 73 wins.  Golden State would follow the regular season with dominant 5 game victories over the Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers.

The Western Conference Championship Series turned out to be one for the ages.  The Warriors would hold on to win in seven games over the Oklahoma City Thunder.  The Thunder was led by Kevin Durant, who would by the way, sign with Golden State as an unrestricted during the summer.

Like the Carolina Panthers and the Washington Capitals, the Golden State Warriors dominance would be challenged.  Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were leading a dominant charge of their own in the Eastern Conference.  Four game sweeps of the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks, followed by a six game victory over the Toronto Raptors sent the Cavs to the NBA Finals to take on Golden State.

A seven game epic would end with the Cavaliers winning their first ever NBA Championship.  While Sidney Crosby was hoisting the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup, Lebron James was hoisting the Finals MVP Trophy and the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

There is so much to cover in what has been an eventful year, too much for one blog.  This is the first of a two parter.  Next week we cover the Olympics, baseball and who was the best of the best.  Stay tuned and see you next week to wrap up a loaded sports year.

‘TIS THE SEASON FOR LOTS OF FOOTBALL

`With the holiday season  in full swing there is so much activity around us.  Office Holiday parties, Christmas tree vendors lining the roads, homes being lit up with holiday cheer, and of course crowded stores.  This can only mean one thing.  Lots and lots of college football!

Although that sounds like a wonderful promo, it’s not necessarily a good thing.  I just took the time to count up all of the bowl games on this year’s NCAA docket.  The total comes to a whopping 40 bowl games plus the National Championship Game.  It was reported towards the end of the NCAA regular season that this year (as was the case last year) there are more bowl games slated than appropriate schools to fill them.  This will once again, result in teams with losing records qualifying for bowl berths.

In looking at the schedule of this year’s barrage, I have a few questions.

  • Do we really need to see New Mexico and University of Texas at San Antonio play in Albuquerque?
  • Do we really need to see Central Michigan play Tulsa at Marlins Park (which isn’t even equipped for football) on a Monday afternoon?
  • Although the matchup of this one is good, why is Memphis taking on Western Kentucky at a 35,000 seat on-campus stadium at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida on a Tuesday night?
  • This is one I really don’t understand.  Friday afternoon football to kick off Christmas weekend in the Bahamas?
  • Why do we have minor bowls slated in cities that already have major bowls (South Florida, San Diego, New Orleans, Phoenix/Glendale, Central Florida, Dallas) ?
  • Can someone tell me the logic behind a game being scheduled at an outdoor cold weather venue (Yankee Stadium Pinstripe Bowl) when the whole concept of bowl games was to reward winning schools by having them play in warm weather over the holidays?  And to boot, why are we playing it at 2:00 on a Wednesday?  Is this a cold weather version of getaway day for the Yankees?

Of course, the point I’m making is too much of a good thing brings in the law of diminishing returns.

I do understand that ESPN, FOX, CBS and NBC have contractual obligations with the NCAA to promote the bowl schedule and the National Championship.  Here’s my suggestion.

We all know that the current championship  format centers around a practically hand-picked final four.  This year’s winners are Alabama (1), Clemson (2), Ohio State (3) and Washington (4).  The National Semi-Finals will take place on New Year’s Eve at 3:00 (Peach Bowl in Atlanta) and 7:00 (Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, AZ), with the Championship taking place on Monday night January 9th at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

The semi-final schedule was moved up from last year so not interfere with the stroke of midnight when nobody is watching football and all eyes are on Times Square.  Call me crazy but how about championship college football the way it was for decades?  Being played on New Year’s Day itself? (or January 2 this year since January 1 is a Sunday and will belong to the NFL as is usually the case).

In my opinion the format itself is still flawed.  I know many are going to agree with me when I say that the top four ranked teams aren’t enough to decide a national champion.  Again I offer a suggestion.

Instead of not having enough suitable talent to fill up 40 post season games, and leaving many worthy schools shut out of playing for the national championship, consider this.  Instead of minor bowls consisting of sub-par schools, lets include some of them in the playoff schedule.

Just like the four brackets in the NCAA basketball championship, which consist of 16 teams, why not make the football tournament one bracket of 16?

This year’s schedule would play out something like this:

Leave December 10th for the Army-Navy Game.

December 17:

16 West Virginia vs 1 Alabama

15 Western Michigan vs 2 Clemson

14 Auburn vs 3 Ohio State

13 Louisville vs 4 Washington

12 Oklahoma St. vs 5 Penn State

11 Florida St. vs 6 Michigan

10 Colorado vs 7 Oklahoma

9 USC vs 8 Wisconsin

December 23 (since the NFL is playing on Christmas Eve this year):

National Quarterfinals (winners from December 17)

December 31:

National Semifinals

January 9

National Championship.

This format would allow the top 16, which would include the winners of the major conferences, to actually play in a tournament.  It would also give meaning to some of the bowls that are played during the week at odd times when nobody is really watching by having them scheduled on the weekend.

All of that being said, the current format is what it is.  Let’s sit back and watch our college kids play on their somewhat big stage and see who comes out on top.