Less than 365 days ago, Deshaun Watson tossed a last-second, game-winning touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow to help Clemson knock off Alabama in the National Championship, kicking off a 2017 year in sports that had a lot to live up to.
Those two teams will square off again Monday to open 2018 and hopefully turn things back around in the sports world.
Sandwiched between those two football showdowns was a year’s worth of sports that, as I said, had to follow a tough act. 2016 was arguably (maybe not even arguably) the best sports year in history. And while sports always find a way to deliver us magical moments, 2017 came in with a super-year hangover, and there wasn’t enough ibuprofen to go around.
While Renfrow’s TD highlighted the college football year, the story on the national stage didn’t involve a play of any sorts. The sports story of the year came from the NFL, and it came from the sidelines.
Led by Colin Kaepernick — who began in Aug. 2016 — NFL players protested American injustice by sitting, locking arms and, most controversially, kneeling during the national anthem. As is typically the case with protests, the NFL players heard both backlash and praise, but most importantly, they heard. A discussion — a needed one — grew.
As the kneeling debate went back and forth, Rick Pitino and his Adidas cronies dropped bags on front porches in one of the larger NCAA corruption scandals in recent history. Sure, we all kind of figured greasy Pitino had extra hands in his pockets, but the FBI investigation broke open a can of worms that will most likely change the way players are recruited for the rest of time.
Now, if we just paid college athletes, this wouldn’t be much of an issue, but I’ll save that for a rainy day.
Along those same lines, the entire country of Russia was banned from the Winter Olympic Games for pumping its athletes full of banned substances. Again, something we probably all suspected within Olympic sports but still come out shocked.
And USA gymnastics got hit with devastating revelations of sexual abuse amid a year when the #MeToo campaign drew back the curtain on abuse and harassment that’s been running rampant for decades.
Finally, on the bad news front, the United States failed to qualify for the men’s soccer World Cup for the first time in 30 years. As many of the world’s top athletes jet for the US in a gamut of other sports, the country struggles to catch up in the world’s most popular sport. Not a good look for the US.
Of course, we had champions too.
There was Clemson, and then North Carolina avenged its 2016 heartbreak with a title in college hoops. How could we forget the Atlanta Falcons, who made us forget the Golden State Warriors and blew a 28-3 lead, handing Tom Brady and the Patriots yet another Super Bowl.
Speaking of the Warriors, they brushed off the blown Finals from a year ago and knocked off the Cavs for the 2017 crown, and the whole world is ready for the two teams to battle for the next decade.
Sidney Crosby and the Penguins brought the Stanley Cup back to Pittsburgh, and the Houston Astros completed the climb from the MLB cellar to win the World Series in dramatic fashion.
And Mississippi State’s Morgan William drained a buzzer-beater to snap UConn’s 111-game win streak before the Bulldogs fell to South Carolina in the women’s national championship.
Floyd Mayweather took down Connor McGregor in a publicity-stunt-turned-good-boxing-match. Tiger Woods (hopefully, maybe, TBD) returned to golf. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal gave us one of the best years in tennis history and showed minimal signs of slowing down.
Serena Williams won the Australian Open while eight-weeks pregnant. Usain Bolt lost the final race of his storied career.
JJ Watt’s fundraising campaign collected more than $37 million for Houston and Hurricane Harvey relief. 2017 Athlete of the Year, in my opinion.
Some legends died (Roy Halladay, Tony DiCicco, Joe Tiller, Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka, among others). Some almost died (Ric Flair).
2017 was a year of controversy sprinkled in with some flat-out bad and a hint of good. As we jump into 2018, let’s try to focus on the good and not repeat the bad.
Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney, the ball is in your turf…again. Kick us off.