For the seventh 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 2009-2014 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 sports year got off to a strong start for me but ended with a very disappointing fall. As a result, you will see that most of my favorite moments of the year occurred during the first half of 2015, while most of the worst occurred in the latter part of the calendar year. Without further ado, here are my best and worst sports moments for the year 2015.
1. American Pharoah wins Horse Racing Triple Crown (June 6, 2015)– This was going be my # 1 moment for 2015 no matter what happened before or after it. The only thing that could have possibly eclipsed it was a Kentucky basketball undefeated season, but as I will discuss later, that didn’t happen. As many of you know, I had carried around and obsessed over five major sports goals throughout the majority of my life. They were in order or priority: (1) 16 seed over a 1 seed in basketball, (2) Wake Forest football or basketball national championship, (3) Triple Crown in horse racing, (4) British tennis player wins Men’s Wimbledon Singles Championship, and (5) Kentucky football ends epic drought against Tennessee. Interestingly enough, goals 3-5 were all realized in descending order within the past five years. Prior to that, a combined 139 years had gone by without those three things happening. Pretty amazing stuff
2. New England Patriots win Super Bowl in dramatic fashion (February 2, 2015)- The Patriots have been my favorite pro football teams ever since I was six years old and applied my affinity for a WCW tag team to my sporting interests. The New England franchise was absolutely terrible at the time but 25 years later they have become one of the great dynasties in sports history. This wasn’t my favorite of the Pats four super bowl victories—that would have to be me their first one in 2002. However, this would be a close second given the 10-year hiatus between championships and the unbelievable way in which they were able to close this one out with Butler’s interception on the goal line.
3. Georgia State upsets Baylor in first round of NCAA Tournament (March 19, 2015)- On the face of it, Georgia State’s win over Baylor doesn’t rank as big of an upset as several that have occurred in recent NCAA tournaments. In fact, there have been three 15 seeds to beat 2 seeds in the past four years and this was only a 14 seed over a 3. Baylor is also not a traditional powerhouse and has struggled in the early rounds of the Big Dance before. However, the way this upset transpired was what made it truly memorable. The Panthers were all but out of the game trailing by 12 points with only 2:54 to go in the second half. However, the coach’s son and future NBA draftee, R.J. Hunter, led a furious rally that culminated with him hitting a three-pointer with 2.8 seconds left to beat the Bears 57-56. The best part of the entire sequence was Coach/Father Ron Hunter falling out of his chair in celebration after tearing his Achilles tendon the conference championship celebration just a few days before. Hunter then proceeded to roll around in his medically prescribed scooter to celebrate. March Madness at its finest!
4. American Pharoah wins first-ever Grand Slam of Horse Racing (October 31, 2015)– When the 2015 triple crown campaign began, American Pharoah was not my favorite horse in the field by a long shot. I’ve never been a huge fan the horse’s trainer Bob Baffert fan, and I thought even less of its owner Ahmed Zayat. However, by the time I arrived in Churchill Downs in June for a Kentucky wedding weekend I was buying American Pharoah championship memorabilia left and right. My affection for this horse grew even greater when I got the chance to witness his final race on Halloween at Keeneland in the Breeder’s Cup Classic. That was quite possibly the most historic sporting event I’ve ever attended and this was quite possibly the greatest racehorse of my lifetime.
5. Golden State Warriors win NBA Championship (June 16, 2015)- The Warriors haven’t historically been one of my two or three favorite teams in the NBA, but I have, like most of America, become particularly fond of this likable squad of undersized shooters. I had the opportunity to see Stephen Curry play in-person four times during his college career and like most scouts I thought he’d make a decent pro, but nothing spectacular. Instead, Curry has become the best player in the league, and this past June, he led these overachieving Warriors to an NBA Championship while playing an exciting, old-school, and high-scoring brand of basketball.
6. Kansas City Royals win World Series Title (November 1, 2015)– The Royals joined the Warriors as the darlings of professional sports this season when they also utilized a “team first” philosophy to win a world championship in dramatic fashion. This championship was particularly satisfying because of the heartbreaking manner in which the Royals lost last year’s World Series to the Giants (last year’s worst moment # 5).
7. Michigan State football knocks off defending national champion Ohio State (November 21, 2015)- Despite my issues with the way this years’ college football season played out (see worst moments of 2015 below), my # 1 goal of the season was to have Ohio State not repeat as champion. That was fortunately accomplished thanks to a thrilling road upset by my favorite team in this year’s college football playoff, the Spartans of Michigan State.
8. Great Britain wins first Davis Cup since 1936 (November 29, 2015)- Andy Murray became my favorite athlete in the current sports world when he ended the great British Wimbledon drought in 2013. Murray added to his incredible tennis legacy this year by ending another long British drought and leading the Brits to the Davis Cup title over Belgium.
9. U.S. Women’s Soccer win World Cup Championship (July 5, 2015)- Hard to believe that this squad hadn’t won the World Cup since their dramatic 1999 victory over China in the Rose Bowl, but their drought ended in dominating fashion over Japan this summer.
10. Houston Cougars football upsets Florida State in Peach Bowl (December 31, 2015)– Talk about up to the minute updates, as I am writing this blog entry, a sports moment has emerged that warrants inclusion on this list. I absolutely love when “Group of Five” powers (formerly called non-BCS teams) knock off major powers in the big bowl games. These “Group of Five” teams have now gone to 2-0 in the Playoff era as the Cougars just knocked off the Noles of Florida State 38-24. If Clemson falters in the playoff, then I fully expect to rank Houston as the # 1 team in the country in my final CFRA ballot of the season.
1. Wisconsin basketball beats Kentucky in NCAA Final Four (April 4, 2015)- A Kentucky Final Four loss is bad enough but when it derails a historic 38-0 season then that moment becomes the worst of my sports year. I thought all year my Cats would lose at some point, so I was hoping it would happen before the start of the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, it didn’t and the overwhelming pressure of completing an undefeated season ended up being too much for me (sorry, William Shanahan), Big Blue Nation, and Calipari’s young squad, as the Cats fell to the Badgers on 71-64.
2. Ohio State football wins first National Championship of Playoff Era (January 12, 2015)- I’ve never been a big Ohio State fan, but I certainly don’t hate them as much as entities like Clemson, Duke, and ISIS. Nevertheless, their national championship last year was particularly bothersome for me because they had no business qualifying for the playoffs in the first place (see last year’s worst moment # 2). Both Big 12 co-champs, TCU and Baylor, were more deserving of a playoff bid, but the committee proved to have an inherent bias towards traditional powerhouses and selected the Buckeyes as the # 4 seed in the playoff. Then Ohio State beat my two favorite perennial powerhouses, Alabama and Oregon, to claim the first-ever national championship in the College Football Playoff era.
3. Holocaust Saturday I (November 7, 2015)- It seemed like almost every College Football Saturday this past fall every team I cheered for found a way to lose a game. The first two Saturdays in November, however, stand out as being particularly bad which is they are listed as # 3 and 4 on this list. On this first “Holocaust Saturday” of November 7 2015, Ole Miss saw its SEC title hopes dashed by a miraculous Arkansas 4th and long conversion in overtime. South Carolina fumbled away their hopes of bowl eligibility on the final drive against Tennessee. East Carolina also saw their bowl hopes dashed by South Florida. Michigan State, my favorite of the unbeatens at that time, choked away a big 4th quarter lead against Nebraska thanks to a controversial catch from a receiver who came in from out of bounds. Vanderbilt blew a golden opportunity to pull off the upset of the year when they lost to Florida on a field goal with 2:22 to play. Kentucky fell to Georgia. TCU had its national championship hopes dashed with a blowout loss to Oklahoma State. Florida State blew a chance to derail Clemson’s playoff hopes and undefeated season. That’s what you call a bad day in sports!
4. Holocaust Saturday II (November 14, 2015)- Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse in my sports world, the following College Football Saturday of November 14, 2015 ended up being almost as bad as the one that preceded it. On that second “Holocaust Saturday”, the day began with South Carolina football putting the finishing touches on their disastrous 1-7 SEC campaign with a home loss to Florida. Later in the evening, national championship contenders, Baylor, Stanford, and Utah all saw their title hopes dashed thanks to losses to Oklahoma, Oregon, and Arizona all within about an hour of each other. My Boise State Broncos had their conference title hopes derailed at home by New Mexico in a stunning upset. Kentucky’s bowl hopes suffered a major blow with a loss to Vandy. And finally, my favorite MMA fighter, Ronda Rousey, was knocked out in stunning fashion by an unknown challenger named Holly Holm. Another really bad day in the office…
5. Clemson football completes undefeated regular season (December 5, 2015)- As most of you know, Clemson football and Duke basketball are my two least favorite organizational entities, sports or not, in the entire world. The fact that both of them may soon hold the national championships in their respective sports at the same time is more repulsive to me than being put inside a Human Centipede. I actually picked the Tigers of Clemson to qualify for the College Football Playoff in the preseason so I’m not surprised by this development. The Tigers had their typically easy schedule where all of their tough games fell at home. Despite that, they needed the worst offsides call in the history of football to preserve their win over ACC Title Game win over North Carolina.
6. Steve Spurrier retires from South Carolina football (October 12, 2015)-The next two entries on this list can be grouped together and titled “The demise of South Carolina football”. Other than my alma mater, Wake Forest, the Gamecocks are my favorite college football program. And not only did they have a shockingly bad 3-9 season this year, but they also had one of the most disappointing coaching transitions of all-time. It all began when Hall of Fame coach Steve Spurrier decided to retire midseason in order to avoid his first losing season in the sport since 1987. Spurrier was not only the greatest coach in South Carolina history but also one of the most charismatic figures in the sport. College football is in a worse place without him and South Carolina is undoubtedly in a worse place without him (see below).
7. South Carolina football hires Will Muschamp (December 6, 2015)- So who did South Carolina choose to replace possibly the greatest football coach of all-time with? The answer is Will Muschamp, a man that was fired at his only former employer, Florida, which is a much easier place to win than Columbia. Spurrier won a national championship at Florida but couldn’t even win an SEC title at South Carolina. What do you think is going to happen when a guy that couldn’t win at Florida comes to Columbia? A lot of people are high on his early recruiting efforts, but as a Wake Forest fan who tried to be optimistic when the Deacs hired the lowly Jeff Bzdelik to take over their basketball program in 2010, I refuse to support another clearly bad hire.
8. Dustin Johnson chokes away another major championship at golf’s U.S. Open (June 21, 2015)- My favorite current golfer just can’t seem to get over the hump to win a major championship. His latest disappointment came at the 72nd hole of his year’s U.S. Open Chambers Bay when Johnson had a 12-foot eagle putt to win the championship over Jordan Spieth. Instead of sinking it, Johnson missed it badly and then missed a 5-foot birdie putt which would have forced a compelling 18-hole playoff. I’m hoping Johnson ends up like Michelson and is able to finally get the major championship monkey off his back, but after this many heartbreaking losses, who knows if he’s run out of chances.
9. The “Streak of the Deac” ends in College Baseball with Virginia’s national championship (June 25, 2015)- One of my favorite sports trivia questions has always been who is the only ACC team to win a baseball national championship? The answer to the question was shockingly Wake Forest– until Virginia became the first ACC squad since the 1955 Demon Deacons to be crowned as champions this past summer. Don’t get me wrong– I would rather have the Cavs win the title as opposed to several other less-likable ACC powerhouses such as: North Carolina Clemson, Florida State, or Miami. However, the heartbreak here lines in having one of Wake Forest’s last great claims to athletic fame come to an end.
10. Wake Forest soccer loses in Elite 8 of NCAA tournament (December 5, 2015)- The once proud Demon Deacon athletic program has truly collapsed in the past few years. The football program has floundered and failed to produce a winning season since 2008. The basketball team suffered through the Bzdelik years and is still trying to find its identity with Danny Manning. Even the three-time national champion women’s field hockey has come across some relatively hard times recently. That is why it was certainly refreshing this fall for the men’s soccer program to rise to national prominence and obtain the # 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Nevertheless, the Deacs fell to eventual national champion Stanford 2-1 in heartbreaking fashion, falling just short of the College Cup in Kansas City.