The Redshirt Senior: 2016, a year of sports moments to remember
I’ve had a lot of time to think recently.
I’ve had time to think about important things, like how much I should buy at the grocery store to minimize my trips, and unimportant things, like how much League of Legends I’ll have to play to get as good as my friends. I’ve thought about my past writing and felt validated about my previous request to the Ivy League to relax its graduate student-athlete restrictions, which I wrote after seeing how many basketball players are grad-transferring to powerhouses like Alabama, Duke, Michigan, Ohio State and Seton Hall. I’ve previously done a lot of this thinking on the golf course, but that won’t happen in the future since New York closed all the courses in the state. Is golf social distancing? Let me know your thoughts.
With my day mostly being taken up by watching repeats of old sporting events on ESPN, it’s not hard to reminisce about certain events that impacted me. I recently re-watched Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, and that movie has a lot to say about the past and nostalgia. Do you remember what it was that made you start to follow your favorite sports team? Do you wish you could go back to that time and re-examine that team you once liked in your childlike innocence? Sure, Midnight in Paris might define nostalgia as “the denial of the painful present.” But today’s present sure is painful, so let’s indulge in some denial.
First, imagine you’re a neutral sports fan, and it’s January 2016. You have no allegiances, and you’re heading into the new year with the desire to just watch some exciting games. The first championship on the list is the 2016 College Football Playoff Championship featuring the undefeated University of Clemson Tigers against the second-ranked University of Alabama Crimson Tide. This is the second year of the playoff featuring a matchup with two teams new to the championship (something we won’t say again for a few more years). Clemson would hold a 24-21 lead going into the fourth quarter, when all hell would break loose.
Forty combined points would be scored between the two teams in the fourth quarter, including a 51-yard touchdown by Crimson Tide tight end O.J. Howard and a 95-yard kick return by Kenyan Drake to give Alabama the win, 45-40. Heisman Trophy runner-up Deshaun Watson set a record for total yards in a championship game with 478, but would lose the shootout to Heisman winner Derrick Henry. 2016 started with a shootout.
After watching the Denver Broncos defense drag Peyton Manning to one more championship before his retirement after a victorious Super Bowl, you turn your attention to college basketball in the beginning of April. The championship featured the North Carolina Tar Heels against the Villanova Wildcats. The first half was closely contested, with neither team leading by more than five points in the first 19 minutes. Villanova started to gain the upper hand in the second half, taking their largest lead of the game, 67-57, with five minutes remaining. North Carolina then surged back, setting up a heroic comeback in the final minutes, with Marcus Paige sinking a double-clutch three to tie the game with five seconds left. However, Ryan Arcidiacono found Kris Jenkins for a buzzer-beating, championship-winning three-point shot, with Villanova defeating North Carolina by a score of 77-74.
You then turn to … golf? I mean hey, this Jordan Spieth guy won two majors in 2015, including the Masters at 18 under par — he’ll probably do pretty well at the Masters this year. He would indeed lead wire-to-wire after the first three and a half rounds. Then it all fell apart, with Jordan hitting two balls in a row into the water on the par-three 12th hole to lose the Masters in an epic collapse, with Danny Willett taking the title.
After reading about the improbable odds of Leicester City winning the Premier League because your cable provider doesn’t show Premier League soccer, you hear about the 73-9 Golden State Warriors in the NBA. This team has been touted by sports media as one of the best teams since the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, but they’re down three games to one against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. You turn on Game Five hoping to see a historic upset, but the Warriors win Game Five, and Game Six and Game Seven. The Warriors would advance to the NBA Finals to face LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, again, and would lead the series 3-1 after four games. Then the Cavs won the next three games off of an emphatic block on Andre Iguodala by James (“LeBlock?”) to ice the game. LeBron fulfilled his promise to bring a championship to Cleveland, but the Warriors may be getting some help in free agency.
You think to yourself: “Wow, this sports season has been pretty exciting, maybe I’ll start watching baseball.” In addition to being a neutral sports fan, you also happen to go to a small, liberal arts college in New Hampshire, and you just happen to notice that an alumnus of your college, Kyle Hendricks ’12, plays for the Chicago Cubs, who will face the Cleveland Indians in the World Series. The series goes to extra innings in the seventh game, and the Cubs manage to hold off the resilient Indians in extras to win their first title in 108 years.
2016 was probably one of the best sports years in recent memory. The year was even bookended by Clemson beating Alabama in the 2017 College Football Playoff Championship on a last second touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson to Hunter Renfrow to ice the game. Maybe it’s coincidence that I think of this year so fondly after spending the last quarter of it studying in Paris, the city that serves as a background for Midnight in Paris’ sharp commentary on nostalgia.
Unfortunately, I didn’t meet Ernest Hemingway.