Best/Worst Sports Moments of 2016

For the eighth year in a row, I am publishing an account of my top 10 best and worst sports moments of the past year.  Scroll through the blog archives if you want to see the previous 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 tremendous year in sports for me featuring several moments that I will remember for the rest of my sporting life and even some that are intimately associated with the birth of my first child (see favorite moment # 3). Without further ado, here are my best and worst sports moments for the year 2016.

Best Moments:

1.  Villanova hits buzzer beater to beat UNC in National Title Game (April 4, 2016)– My # 1 sports moment of the year typically occurs when one of my favorite teams/players wins a championship. Villanova, however, is not one of my favorite teams.  This moment is # 1 because it was the greatest sporting event I have ever witnessed, and may ever witness, in person.  My wife and I traveled to Houston in early April for a Final Four Babymoon that could largely be classified as disappointing for the first couple of days.  The two national semifinal games were ugly blowouts featuring a largely uninterested crowd.  The fanfest was weaker than usual, and the line was so long for the annual Sunday night concert that we weren’t able to get in.  However, this amazing championship game with its incredible ending made up for all that.  My reaction here says it all: https://www.facebook.com/brad.matthews2/videos/10100487466475143/

2.  Chicago Cubs win World Series to end 108 year drought (November 2, 2016)- As far as sports moments go, it doesn’t get any more historic than this. The ultimate lovable losers finally broke through by winning their first World Series in over a century and breaking the longest championship drought in American sports history.  The unbelievably dramatic, come-from-behind way in which they did just made this moment that much sweeter for the casual sports fan as well as the Cubs diehards.  I will always link this moment in my mind with Donald Trump’s historic presidential triumph because it was a similarly shocking and earth-shattering event that happened just six days later.

3.  Andy Murray wins 2nd Wimbledon Championship (July 10, 2016)- Most years this would be the # 1 moment but given the incredible circumstances surrounding moments # 1 and 2 this drops to 3. However, ultimately this moment will probably mean the most to me in the long run.  It had been three years since Murray had captured a grand slam championship and when my wife went into labor in the early morning hours of July 8, 2016, I sat by her side watching her give birth to our first child… while also watching Andy Murray’s semifinal win over Tomas Berdych.  Our baby was born early in the 3rd set of that match and when we found out it was a boy, we had to name him Andrew.  Fittingly, Murray sealed the deal on the championship two days later just as we were being discharged from the hospital.  It capped off a weekend I will never, ever forget.

4.  Frantic First Round Friday (March 18, 2016)– Typically during Christmas (aka the First Round of the NCAA Tournament), one day of games (either Thursday or Friday) is full of upsets and the other is rather chalky with all of the top seeds advancing.  So this year, when there were a couple of surprises on Thursday (Arkansas Little Rock and Yale), my expectations for Friday chaos were greatly tempered.  Boy was I wrong!  Every single slate of games, from the early afternoon to the late evening, featured a cataclysmic upset.  It started with upstart 13-seeded Hawaii manhandling California in the early slate of games.  Then, the shocker of all shockers, 15-seeded Middle Tennessee upset 2nd seeded Michigan State.  In the early evening. Stephen F. Austin, knocked off 3 seeded West Virginia, and in the nightcap, Northern Iowa hit the greatest half court shot of all-time to knock off Texas.  I will never forget running around my house screaming hysterically when the UNI shot dropped shortly after midnight on that historic day.  Sadly, all four of those squads lost their second round games the following Sunday, two of which were in heartbreaking fashion (see worst moment # 2).  Nevertheless, these little guys gave us an NCAA tourney day that I will never forget.

5.  Dustin Johnson wins first major championship at U.S. Open (June 19, 2016)- Over the years, the golfing gods have been especially cruel to me. Not only have I never been able to play the sport effectively (never breaking 100) but all of my favorite golfers have lost numerous heart-breaking major championships.  Kenny Perry, Tom Watson, Greg Norman, and Dustin Johnson are just some of the prominent names on this list, but DJ finally broke through this year by winning his first major championship this past June.  It looked like the demons were once again going to haunt Johnson after he was inexplicably penalized a stroke for having his ball move due to natural causes on the 5th hole after it was addressed, even though rules officials originally told him that it was alright.  Nevertheless, Johnson dominated the last few holes of Oakmont to win the championship by three shots despite being assessed the ridiculous penalty stroke.

6.  UNC Wilmington wins Colonial Tournament to punch ticket to the Big Dance (March 7, 2016)– I didn’t officially become a resident of Wilmington until this December, but the Seahawks have been my local team for four years now, so of course I was elated to see them qualify for their first NCAA tournament in ten years this past March with a thrilling overtime victory over Hofstra.

7.  Coastal Carolina wins NCAA Baseball Championship (June 30, 2016)- This was truly an amazing sports story that unfortunately didn’t get the national attention it deserved. Not only had the Chanticleers never won a national championship in any sport before this year, but the entire Big South Conference had never won one either.  That all changed on the afternoon of June 30, when Coastal held off a furious 9th inning rally by Arizona in the final game of the Championship series. Interestingly enough, I actually watched the conclusion of this game in the middle of a criminal court administrative session, which definitely made it even more special and memorable than it already would have been.

8.  Alabama denies Clemson College Football National Championship (January 11, 2016)- I am in the state of Alabama as I write this article, but please notice how I have phrased the headline for this moment. I wasn’t as happy by Alabama winning the title game as much I was elated that Clemson lost it.  Clemson Football is one of my most hated squads in all of sports (along with Duke basketball) so it would have been absolutely devastating for me to see them claim the crown.  Unfortunately, the way they have recruited and performed under Dabo the past few seasons, I think it is just a matter of time before a Clemson national championship will be topping this list as my most devastating sports moment of the year.  And believe it or not, I think that championship could very well come in this year’s College Football Playoff (see worst moment # 7 below for more detail).

9.  Andy Murray becomes # 1 ranked player in the world (November 5, 2016)- This moment would probably be higher on the list if it wasn’t sandwiched between the Cubs World Championship and the Trump election. As a result, it unfortunately kind of got lost in the early November shuffle.  Nevertheless, this is an accomplishment that I never thought Murray would attain, and for him to not only take over the # 1 spot but also beat Novak a few weeks later to validate it and finish the year # 1, put the finishing touches on an incredible 2016 in sports for me.

10.  Wake Forest Football beats Temple to win Military Bowl (December 27, 2016)– I originally had the United States’ Ryder Cup victory as my 10th favorite sports moment of the year but that victory was knocked off this list yesterday by my alma mater’s first bowl win in eight years. The Deacons overcame the Wakeyleaks scandal and an injury to star quarterback John Wolford to claim their first winning season since 2008 by upsetting the 24th ranked Temple Owls in dramatic fashion.  For college football elites like Nick Saban who say that non-playoff bowl games don’t matter, you need to get out of your ivory tower and see what wins like this mean to programs like Wake Forest, Idaho, and Old Dominion.

Worst Moments:

1.  Carolina Panthers lose Super Bowl 50 (February 7, 2016)- The Panthers have always been my second favorite NFL team behind the New England Patriots and because they played the Pats in their first trip to the Super Bowl back in 2004 I was very much looking forward to cheering for them in this year’s edition. And as much as I hate Cam Newton, I have been fascinated with seeing the city of Charlotte win a championship ever since I moved there in the summer of 1998.  Unfortunately, the heavily favored Panthers laid an egg in the big game and the Queen City still holds the distinction of being the only professional sports town with at least two teams to never win a championship.

2.  Northern Iowa and Stephen F. Austin Choke Away Second Round NCAA Tourney Games (March 20, 2016)- As you read earlier, both UNI and SFA’s first round wins were part of my # 4 favorite sports moment of the year. Unfortunately, as often happens, midnight strikes quickly on potential Cinderella stories and the heroes of the first couple of days of the tournament turn into the basketball equivalent of pumpkins by the end of the first weekend.  That is exactly what happened this past year as all Friday Cinderellas Hawaii, SFA, UNI, and SFA all lost their second round games on Sunday.  However, having these teams lose is one thing but having them snatch defeat from the jaws of a certain victory is entirely another.  Both Stephen F. Austin and Northern Iowa possessed comfortable, multi-possession leads going into the final minute of each of their respective second round matchups.  However, when all was said and done, Notre Dame knocked off the Lumberjacks at the buzzer and Texas A & M outlasted the Panthers in overtime.  This was truly a heartbreaking day for me.

3.  Gonzaga chokes away Sweet 16 game against Syracuse (March 25, 2016)- Just when I thought the NCAA tournament couldn’t get any worse following my # 2 worst moment of year, the last remaining Cinderella squad, the 11-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs, were knocked off the following Friday night by a Syracuse team that Zaga had dominated for most of the game. Unfortunately, bad end of game execution once again proved to be the downfall of the 2016 Cinderella as the ‘Cuse ended the game on a 12-3 run to beat the Zags by 3.  This loss stung especially bad because it ended the career of one of my favorite players in college basketball, former Kentucky star Kyle Wiltjer.

4.  Kentucky loses to Indiana in 2nd Round of NCAA Tournament (March 19, 2016)- It is bad enough to have a Kentucky squad that was in the preseason top 5 get terribly under-seeded by the selection committee and lose in the first weekend of the tournament, but it is even worse when that loss comes to archrival Indiana.  Unfortunately, that was the fate that befell my Kentucky Wildcats this season as a team that had the talent to win it all couldn’t even get to the Sweet 16 to setup a grudge match with archrival North Carolina.  I know I am in the minority of Kentucky fans when I say this, but the Calipari experiment has failed in Lexington.  The only way to win a national championship with a collection of “one and dones” is to get a once in a generation talent like Anthony Davis.  And guys like that come around literally once every 20-30 years.  How many underachieving squads led by raw, inexperienced superstars will it take before Big Blue Nation realizes that Calipari is not a long-term savior for this the program.

5.  South Carolina and Monmouth get snubbed by NCAA Basketball Selection Committee (March 13, 2016)- My 2016 March Madness disappointment began long before games tipped off across the country. That is because this year’s Selection Show was the most disappointing I can remember.  My annual bracket projection actually ended up being pretty decent compared to other bracketologists across the country (27th out of 143) but there some crucial decisions the committee made they were particularly disheartening.  Not only was Kentucky mis-seeded (should have been a 3 instead of Texas A & M) but both South Carolina and Monmouth put together tournament-caliber seasons and were denied bids by the committee.  This hit home because South Carolina has always been one of my favorite teams, and  I, like much of America, had fallen in love with the Monmouth bench and wanted to see them get a chance to strut their stuff in March.  On a larger scale, the committee’s actions were even more troublesome because there was a clear message sent that major conference mediocrity see (Vanderbilt, Pittsburgh, Michigan, Syracuse) was awarded over mid-major dominance (see Monmouth, San Diego State, St. Mary’s, St. Bonaventure).  The days of the at-large bids for the VCU’s, Ionas, UABs, and BYUs of the world seem to be over and that is a trend that is truly disheartening and contrary to what the NCAA Tournament is supposed to be about.

6.  Cleveland beats Golden State in NBA Finals (June 19, 2016)-I always thought the end of Cleveland’s great championship drought would be a moment of great celebration for me. I generally love to see long championship droughts end, and I have always had a generally positive opinion of all of the Cleveland sports teams.  However, I have become a diehard Golden State fan over the past few years and I have grown to dislike Lebron quite significantly over the past half decade, so when the Warriors choked away a 3-1 series lead against the Cavs to lose the series on an overrated block by “King James”, I was beyond distraught.

7.  Clemson Football annihilates South Carolina en route to 2nd straight College Football Playoff bid (November 26, 2016)- It would have been too much for me to ask to have my young, upstart Gamecocks knock off # 2 ranked Clemson on the road during rivalry weekend, but I was definitely hoping for a better performance than the 56-7 shellacking the Gamecocks received. This moment coupled with Clemson’s narrow escapes of Louisville, NC State, Auburn, and Florida State combined to raise my level of disdain for Clemson football to even greater heights than it has even been before.  Unfortunately, as I alluded to earlier in this article, I have a eerie feeling that this could be the year Clemson wins it all.  They matchup really well against Ohio State so I fully expect them to knock off the Buckeyes on New Year’s Eve, and assuming they then play the top ranked Crimson Tide in the title game, I think they will learn from last year’s mistakes and find a way to upset Bama in one of those weird payback games.  Here’s hoping I’m wrong though…

8.  The Death of Muhammad Ali (June 3, 2016)- Along with Andy Murray, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Tom Brady, Ali is one of my top five all-time favorite athletes, so naturally I was devastated by his passing.

9.  Wake Forest loses Men’s Soccer National Championship Game on Sudden Death Penalty Kicks (December 11, 2016)- It has been nine years now since my alma mater has claimed a national championship in any sport. That drought appeared to be coming to an end this past December, as the Deacons possessed a 4-3 lead after four rounds of penalty kicks in the national title game against Stanford.  All Wake needed to do was to either stop Stanford’s final kick or convert their own final attempt, and the Deacs would win their 2nd soccer national championship and the 9th in all team sports.  Unfortunately, neither of those things happened, and Stanford clinched the title on the first round of sudden death PKs.  There are a few things more gut-wrenching in sports than having a penalty kick to win a championship and still finding a way to lose.

10.  Ohio State Football beats Michigan with Controversial Finish (November 26, 2016)- Even though both of my paternal grandparents graduated from the University of Michigan, I have never been a huge Wolverine fan. Nevertheless, I always cheer for them against their despicable rival Ohio State.  The Buckeyes currently sit second behind only Clemson on my list of most hated teams in college football, largely because of OSU”s unjustified inclusion over TCU and Baylor in the first-ever College Football Playoff in 2014.  This year, it appeared Michigan was going to upset the Bucks to prevent them from getting a another shot at the title but the referees clearly weren’t going to let that happen as a slew of bad calls down the stretch all seemed to go in favor of Ohio State including their world famous fourth down spot in overtime.

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