For the sixth year in a row, I am publishing an account of my top 10 best and worst sports moments of the past year. (click here for 2009-2013 editions). Keep in mind that these are given from a purely subjective viewpoint. When I say “best/worst moments” I’m not talking about great or horrible sporting events. I’m talking about moments that affected me the most positively or negatively. Overall, this was a pretty solid sports year for me, so I hope you enjoy reminiscing about these events with me.
1. Kentucky basketball beats Wisconsin in NCAA Final Four (April 5, 2014)- Part of the immense exhilaration I experienced with this game had to do with the setting in which I watched it. I was attending a good friend’s wedding earlier in the day, so I was surrounded by close friends at a crowded Wilmington bar when Aaron Harrison drained yet another game-winning three-pointer. After the Cats’ defense held off the Badgers in the final seconds, the thrill of victory sent me yelling and screaming through the streets of downtown Wilmington. The magical Wildcat run came crashing down two days later (worst moment # 9 on this list) but for that one night in Wilmington, all was right with the world.
2. Ole Miss football stuns Alabama Crimson Tide (October 4, 2014)- If you want evidence as to why college football is the greatest sport in the world, look no further than this game. No other sport could possibly feature a regular season game with this much importance, emotion, pageantry, and postgame revelry. College Gameday made its first-ever trip to Oxford to see the Rebels pull off a dramatic come from behind victory over # 1 ranked Alabama. After the game goalposts were torn down and carried around campus, Bo Wallace was carried off the field by random members of the student body, and most shockingly Katy Perry partied the night away in various Oxford bars (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcXT75Y9y34 ). Only in college football…
3. Mercer basketball upsets Duke in NCAA Tournament Round of 64 (March 21, 2014)- The biggest and most prominent upset I’ve ever witnessed in person…
4. Dual Fantasy Football Championships for Team Matthews (December 22, 2014)- It’s because of moments like this one that I spend hours a day each fall analyzing and scrutinizing my fantasy football lineups in five different leagues. Before last week, I had not won a fantasy football championship in three years. Now, thanks to a terrible game by Andrew Luck and a breakout performance by Jeremy Hill I find myself the current champion of two different fantasy leagues. Both Super Bowl victories were come from behind efforts against good friends whom I work with on a regular basis.
5. California Chrome wins Preakness Stakes (May 17, 2014)- I held small gatherings at my house for both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes this year, and I really embraced the California Chrome underdog story throughout the spring. I distinctly remember yelling “Belmont! Belmont!” as Chrome held off his challengers to take the second leg of the Triple Crown.
6. Florida State ends SEC Reign of Terror (January 6, 2014)- You know things are pretty bad when a rapist-led touchdown drive makes the list of greatest sports moments of the year. However, despite Jameis Winston’s despicable behavior, the SEC Reign of Terror needed to end sooner rather than later, and his Noles did just that last January with a thrilling victory over Auburn.
7. South Carolina football upsets undefeated Georgia (September 13, 2014)- Like events # 3 and 9 on this list, this moment is subjectively enhanced because I attended the event in person. South Carolina had a largely disappointing 2014 season, but one of their few shining moments came on a rainy evening in early September when the Gamecocks knocked off rival Georgia in dramatic fashion.
8. San Antonio Spurs beat Miami Heat to win NBA Championship (June 15, 2014)- I have never really like the Spurs very much, but it was great seeing them emphatically deny the “Evil Empire” Miami Heat a third consecutive NBA title.
9. Andy Murray wins 2nd round Wimbledon match against Blaz Rola (June 25, 2014)- As stated previously, events # 3, 7, and 9 are given a boost on the list because I personally attended each of them. However, events # 3 and 7 would have likely still been on this list had I not been there to see them live. The same cannot be said for this moment # 9. This match’s significance is based solely on the unbelievable luck I encountered in obtaining 5th row Court # 1 seats to see my all-time favorite tennis player defend his Wimbledon Championship. Murray certainly didn’t disappoint as he put together one of the most dominating performances of his career to destroy Blaz Rola.
10. Vanderbilt wins College Baseball World Series (June 25, 2014)- Amazingly, events # 9 and 10 are two unrelated moments that occurred on the same day, half a world apart. Just hours after experiencing a full day of tennis at Wimbledon, the Vanderbilt Commodores, one of my favorite SEC teams, won its first major national championship with a 3-2 win over Virginia in the final game of the College World Series. The Dores’ win was also significant in that it preserved Wake Forest’s (my alma mater’s) claim to fame as being the only ACC team to win a national baseball championship.
1. California Chrome loses Belmont Stakes (June 7, 2014)- This past June, California Chrome became the ninth horse since I began following horse racing in the mid-1990’s to fail to win the Belmont after capturing the first two legs of the triple crown. The other eight losses (except Big Brown’s) hurt a lot, but this one was definitely the worst. First of all, Chrome had one of the most likeable set of connections in horse racing history with an underdog trainer and a pair of humble, middle-class owners. Chrome also seemed to be the most capable of the recent Triple Crown hopefuls, as he had coasted by his competition in his previous six outings. However, a slow start in this year’s Belmont put him in a difficult position throughout the race, and this amazing story ended with a disappointing 4th place finish. The post-race tirade by owner Steve Coburn just added insult to injury (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sFzjoVEm9s).
2. Ohio State beats out Baylor and TCU for final playoff spot (December 7, 2014)- When the creation of the College Football Playoff was announced in spring of 2011, I finally thought that college football’s years of exclusionary practices were over. Boy, was I wrong! Seven of the last eight national championship races have featured contenders outside “the traditional powerhouses” who were excluded from the National Title Hunt because of greed, selfishness, and prejudice. I didn’t think it was possible that a committee filled with seemingly competent college football fans and administrators would engage in the same practices when a total of four teams were finally given the opportunity to play for the national title. However, that’s exactly what happened when two small, Christian-based colleges (Baylor and TCU) were bypassed by a big-named, secular university with a vastly inferior resume (Ohio State) for the final playoff spot.
3. Holocaust Saturday: South Carolina and Ole Miss simultaneously lose stunners (November 1, 2014)- The second-straight Saturday of college football that almost left me in tears (see worst moment # 4). Ole Miss was a yard away from scoring a touchdown, knocking off Auburn, and controlling its destiny in both the SEC and National Title races. However, at that exact moment, star wideout Laquon Treadwell was awkwardly grabbed from behind by an Auburn defender causing him to trip, break his leg and fumble the football resulting in an Auburn victory and the end of Treadwell’s collegiate career. All things considered, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more devastating play in the history of sports than that one. Minutes later, my South Carolina Gamecocks choked away their third double-digit fourth quarter lead of the season against Tennessee, losing to the Volunteers in overtime. Luckily, I was hanging out with good friends who kept me upbeat that evening. Otherwise, I’m sure I would have been crying under a bridge somewhere.
4. Heartbreak Saturday: BC, Auburn, LSU, and Ohio State edge out Wake Forest, South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Penn State (October 25, 2014)- The forementioned Holocaust Saturday could not have been possible without the heartbreaking weekend of college football that preceded it. On October 25th, I was celebrating my wife’s 30th birthday with family in Winson-Salem, NC. I, first of all, saw Wake Forest lose a heartbreaker in person to Boston College. Then, in my hotel room later that evening, I sunk to even greater levels of despair as South Carolina lost to Auburn on the last play of the game, Penn State dropped an OT thriller to Ohio State, and Ole Miss’ undefeated season was derailed by a late LSU comeback.
5. San Francisco Giants beat Kansas City Royals in Game 7 of World Series (October 29, 2014)- The Kansas City Royals would have been the feel-good story of 2014 if they had managed to get past the Giants in the deciding game of this year’s World Series. However, Madison Bumgarner had other ideas as he shutdown the Royals on just two days rest to clinch another World Championship for the Giants. Interestingly enough, this game was played right in-between worst moments # 3 and 4 discussed above, thereby making the last week of October my worst sports week for 2014.
6. South Carolina football chokes away game against Missouri (September 27, 2014)- As mentioned above, South Carolina football lost three double-digit fourth quarter leads this season. The first of these choke jobs was by far the most painful as the Gamecocks had both their SEC and National Title hopes taken away with two Missouri touchdowns in the final four minutes of this late September contest.
7. Clemson football finally beats South Carolina (November 29, 2014)- This game wasn’t close for most of the second half but just because it wasn’t a heartbreaking defeat like most others on this list, doesn’t mean it wasn’t devastating.
8. Andy Murray loses to Grigor Dimitrov in Wimbledon Quarterfinal (July 2, 2014)- I was hoping that my trip to Wimbledon this summer would bring good luck to Murray and allow him to successfully defend his Wimbledon Championship. However, it wasn’t meant to be, as the British # 1 was upset in straight sets by Maria Sharapova’s boyfriend. I will never forget walking through the Palace and Gardens of Versailles as I intently followed this disheartening result on my phone.
9. UConn Huskies knock off Kentucky in Men’s National Championship Game (April 7, 2014)- You would think that seeing my favorite college basketball team (aside from my alma mater) get upset in the national championship game would be higher on the list, but Kentucky’s run to the championship game was so satisfying and surprising that I didn’t get too upset about their ugly loss to UConn.
10. San Francisco 49ers blast Carolina Panthers in NFC Divisional playoff game (January 12, 2014)- Just like events # 3, 7, and 9 on my best moments of the year list, the emotional impact of this event was enhanced based on my attendance at it. I am not a huge Carolina Panthers fan (the New England Patriots have always been my favorite NFL team), but making a 4.5 hour trek home on a Sunday night after seeing the Panthers throw this game away, was a truly miserable experience.