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.