2016 has given us a lot to think about, and it’s given us a lot of great sports moments. Seriously, a remarkable amount of memorable action happened this year. Here are our favorite moments:
Dee Gordon Honors José Fernández With a Home Run
Ben Glicksman: There were a lot of good moments this year, but only one that I’d consider transcendent, the type that caused some people to smile and others to cry and others still to sit in stunned disbelief, as if trying to make sense of the fact that they’d just witnessed divine intervention.
Dee Gordon, the second baseman for the Miami Marlins, was a teammate and close friend of ace pitcher José Fernández. Fernández died in a boating accident on September 25, a tragedy that was incomprehensible then and remains incomprehensible now. Fernández not only could throw a curveball that didn’t so much break as vanish; he was a beacon of light for his franchise, his city, Miami’s Cuban community, and more — he was a “Singular Superstar” and the “Future of Baseball and America.”
The day after his death, in a game against the New York Mets, Gordon led off the bottom of the first inning. He took the first pitch of his at-bat from the right side of the plate to pay homage to Fernández. Then, with a 2–0 count, he swatted Bartolo Colón’s offering into the right-field bleachers.
It was perfect. It was magic. It was at once so unlikely and so overwhelming that it caused Gordon to break down in tears as he rounded the bases, and later to marvel, “I ain’t never hit a ball that far, even in BP.”
It was Gordon’s first and only home run of the year.
Neymar’s Gold-Winning Penalty Kick
Rodger Sherman: Covering the Olympics in Rio was amazing. My press pass got me into any event I wanted to see. I didn’t sleep much. I felt like if I slept, I would miss an opportunity to witness the greatest moment of somebody’s life.
The Brazilian fans seemed to feel that way too. They knew the games were an economic catastrophe that drained billions of dollars from a nation that couldn’t afford even basic services. But the fans at the events embraced every moment: From fencing to diving, every event with a Brazilian competing was a party. They cheered louder for Brazil’s best table tennis player than I’ve ever heard Americans cheer at an NBA game — and he lost 4–2.
The Olympics shouldn’t have been the biggest moment of Neymar’s life. He’s one of the most popular players for perhaps the most popular sports team in the world. Unlike Katie Ledecky or Simone Biles or America’s incredibly dominant women’s water polo team, this was not his grandest stage. The Olympic soccer tournament is a glorified U23 tournament, an event with a much smaller scope than the World Cup that Brazil lost in 2014. But you wouldn’t know it from the 80,000 Brazilians in the Maracanã, including Neymar. When he scored the winning penalty, the stadium erupted, and Neymar just fell, weeping, and stayed there for minutes. I saw Brazil’s favorite person achieve his favorite moment in Brazil’s favorite sport in Brazil’s most famous stadium. I’m not sure I’ll ever witness that much joy again.
The Back-to-Back 3s in the NCAA Title Game
Jonathan Tjarks: UNC vs. Villanova was a thrilling, back-and-forth game that featured two great college teams playing beautiful offense and throwing haymakers for 40 minutes. However, we are an impatient generation, so let’s talk about the final seconds, which is all anyone will remember anyway.
Down 3 with under five seconds left, Marcus Paige, UNC’s often-embattled senior point guard, hit a shot that should have lived forever, a double-clutch 3-pointer between two Villanova defenders. Then, with the game tied, Ryan Arcidiacono brought the ball up the court and shoveled a pass to Kris Jenkins, the trailing big man, for a 30-footer as time expired. When you consider the amount of pressure and the degree of difficulty, those were two of the greatest shots in college basketball history … and they happened within a few seconds of each other!
You don’t have to enjoy sports to appreciate the drama of that moment. And if you can’t get into that moment, you aren’t going to enjoy much of anything.
Kris Bryant’s Smile As He Fields the World Series–Winning Out
Ben Lindbergh: The most fascinating statistical story of the 2016 baseball season was the Chicago Cubs’ hit prevention; relative to the league, they allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play of any team since 1900. Against ground balls, the Cubs allowed a .197 BABIP and a .413 OPS, the best marks in baseball by 21 points and 40 points, respectively. So it was especially fitting that on the final play of the year, with Chicago up by one run in the 10th, the tying run on first, and one Indians out keeping the Cubs’ curse alive, the best statistical story met the most emotional moment and produced a giddy grin on Kris Bryant’s face.
This was an extraordinarily high-pressure play, whose outcome (good or bad) was certain to be replayed for the rest of Bryant’s life. But it was also the type of opportunity the Cubs converted more often than anyone else. And Bryant, the best player on baseball’s best team, wasn’t worried about the dribbler off Michael Martínez’s bat: In his head, he was already spraying champagne, being buried under a dogpile, and bidding farewell to a title drought that began more than eight decades before he was born. His expression broadcast his confidence, but it also displayed an infectious excitement: We’re about to win the World Series! As Bryant went through the familiar motions, millions of spectators smiled. And for once, a sport that’s long prided itself on a stodgy solemnity smiled back.
Mongolian Wrestling Coaches Protest in Rio
Claire McNear: Let’s be real: Watching the Olympics is not about the triumph of the human spirit. It is not about the outer reaches of corporeal possibility or heartwarming tales of personal conquest. It’s about rabid nationalism, screaming at your television, and pretending to know obscure rules of sports you haven’t watched in four years. So I offer this moment — two Mongolian wrestling coaches protesting a judgment against their competitor by engaging in a semiviolent striptease — as the summit of Olympic spectatorship:
Look at the moment — 0:28 — when the second coach, who had been sedately following the first and picking up his shed garments, decided that, fuck it, he was going to strip too. He takes off his freaking shoes!!! What is happening? Why are they doing this? Is this customary in Mongolia? Is this customary in wrestling? I don’t know, but it’s fucking awesome.
Serena Williams Ties Steffi Graf’s Record
Amanda Dobbins: She made it to 22 Grand Slams. Whatever you want to say about Serena Williams’s 2016 — and I’m sure she herself would say plenty, especially about Angelique Kerber — a Wimbledon championship and tying a Steffi Graf record is more than most could hope for. If you think Williams should’ve done more, then I’ll refer you to the above video, which for my money is the greatest music video of 2016. Serena Williams isn’t sorry. Long live Serena Williams.
Matthew Centrowitz’s Dad Celebrates His 1,500-Meter Gold
Shea Serrano: Before the Olympics started, I did not know who Matthew Centrowitz was. To be honest, I still don’t really know who he is. I don’t know where he’s from (besides “America,” anyway). I don’t know if he’s 21 years old or 35 years old. I don’t know where he went to college, or even if he went to college, or even if he knows how to read. There are legit literally only two things I know about him. I know: (1) He won the gold medal in the 1,500-meter race at the Olympics (the first gold medal in that event for the U.S. in more than a century), and (2) his dad fucking lost his mind in the stands as it was happening.
The race was close, and Centrowitz led the group for the entire way, so I imagine those first three laps were pretty tense for his dad. But on that last lap, particularly the last half of it, which is when and where legends are born, Centrowitz dominated, and as it was happening his dad was jumping and screaming and shoving everyone near him and it was so much fun to watch. This is very much one of those situations where it’s not enough for me to just try and describe to you what was happening. You have to watch it. You have to see him. You have to feel that joy through the screen and then feel that lump in your throat. You’re asking me what my favorite sports moment of the year was? That’s what it was. Not the race. The dad. That joy. That love.
Conor McGregor Knocks Out Eddie Alvarez
Danny Kelly: The MMA couldn’t have dreamed up a better lead character than what it has in Conor McGregor. There couldn’t be a more perfect face of the company. He’s the real-life version of bare-knuckle boxing champion Mickey O’Neil. He’s a shit-talking Irish brawler who’s gone after anyone and everyone who has crossed his path, and there’s just about nothing in sports more dangerous than his left hand. But after he beat Eddie Alvarez to capture the UFC Lightweight Championship belt back in November, toward the end of his vainglorious post-fight interview when he said to Joe Rogan, “Listen …” there was a split second there, a quick moment when he paused to take it all in, when we all thought that maybe the chip on his shoulder had split and was on the verge of crumbling. There was just a split second there when we all thought maybe we’d see some humility and grace in victory. Then he did this, and it was the best thing I’ve ever seen.
The double champ does what the fuck he wants.
Cristiano Ronaldo in Euro 2016
Chris Ryan: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the Euro 2016 final, and a moth landed on Cristiano Ronaldo’s face. The stage had been set for an epic finale to the monthlong tournament: The best player in the world (sorry, Leo) against the most talented team (sorry, Germany), which also happened to be the host nation. Portugal had no business getting so far in the competition, but got lucky — beating Croatia in extra time in the Round of 16, sliding by Poland on penalty kicks in the quarters, and scooting through the semis against an underdog Wales team that finally regressed.
Ronaldo had scored three goals, added three assists, and taken an outrageous 46 shots throughout the tournament. He was going for the one honor that had eluded him throughout his sparkling career: An international trophy. He was 31, and he was never going to be this good on a stage this big. This was his moment. Then it turned into the day of the locusts.
“Day of the moths” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. After a crunching tackle in the eighth minute from France’s Dimitri Payet, Ronaldo went down. He tried to get up, but he just kept going down. This wasn’t play-acting. He wasn’t diving. He had dragged Portugal to the top of the mountain, and he wasn’t going to see the peak. He knew it; his teammates knew it. He would try to get up and jog it off, only to collapse. And when he went down for good, the footballing gods added insult to injury, as moths descended on this statuesque superstar, mocking his plight.
You’re not allowed to Crying Jordan someone who is actually crying. This was tough to watch. You want to see the best compete when it matters most — everything else is fantasy sports. With Portugal’s best on the sideline, in tears, France seemed destined to celebrate victory in a brasserie of its choosing. And then Eder happened. And then this happened.
The best player in the world was just a fan.
Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy’s Duel at the Ryder Cup
Megan Schuster: On a beautiful fall day in early October, Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy achieved the impossible: They convinced me that playing — and watching — golf can be incredibly, ridiculously fun. Reed and McIlroy were involved in some of the best Friday and Saturday matches of the 2016 Ryder Cup, but their Sunday singles match will go down as one of the greatest in tournament history.
Golf is typically a serene sport. But from the moment the Reed-McIlroy final round was announced (shouts to U.S. captain Davis Love III and European captain Darren Clarke for giving the people what they wanted), the galleries at Hazeltine National, which had been at Noise Level: Rowdy earlier in the week took it up to “Monster Truck Rally Inside an Echo Chamber.” Rory played his part as villain to the overwhelmingly American crowd (replacing Danny Willett), while Reed became the U.S. team’s knight destined to slay the dragon.
The match combined some truly masterful golf with the kind of celebrations one might expect from a Chad Johnson highlight reel: Fist pumps, crowd shushing, bowing, finger-wagging accompanied by some truly epic eye contact, and my now all-time favorite sequence of events in competitive golf:
Reed won the match 1-up through 18, and ultimately Sunday’s singles matches gave the U.S. its first Ryder Cup victory since 2008. Reed’s point wasn’t the clincher (that honor belonged to Ryan Moore, the last man added to the U.S. team), but he and McIlroy pumped some life back into golf, and brought Bill Murray to his feet.
Addison Russell’s Grand Slam in Game 6 of the World Series
Robert Mays: I did my best to savor every detail of the Cubs’ World Series run, but for reasons that I don’t quite understand, the ball exploding off Addison Russell’s bat and over the center-field wall remains my fullest memory. I remember where I was sitting — at the bar inside Happy Camper, a pizza place in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood with booths in an empty Airstream and tire swings for seats. I remember what I was drinking — a Half Acre Vallejo, which was already a few weeks out of season and a welcome surprise. And I remember what I was doing — standing on the footrest underneath the bullet-plated bar, screaming like an idiot.
It wasn’t the best moment of this season, not even close. But the reason Russell’s swing sticks with me is that in those seconds, I realized it was actually happening. With a 7–0 lead, the Cubs were headed to Game 7, and all the heartache — from the first four games, from the past 108 years — was one swift blow from irrelevance. I had a flight scheduled for the next morning, one booked before I even wanted to consider the possibility of a seventh and deciding game. By the time Russell was rounding second base, I was already pleading with my (benevolent) Ringer bosses to let me stay in Chicago. With one swing, it had all become real. And yet, almost two months later, I still can’t believe any of it was.
Kobe’s Last Game
Sam Schube: We all came around on Kobe Bryant by the end. He spent the bulk of his time in the NBA labeled a diva, a gunner, ruthless, weird, self-involved, confusing, a bad teammate, the worst teammate. (And a five-time champion. That, too.) But as Kobe limped into old age, the public perception seemed to soften. It wasn’t as much fun to hate him anymore. Not this version, at least: the Kobe who shot two free throws on a torn Achilles tendon, who played piano in a suit late at night, who seemed comfortable acknowledging the slightly muddled nature of his legacy. And by the time his final game rolled around — April 13, against the Utah Jazz — we were ready to send him off in style. But I’m not sure anybody saw that coming. Fifty shots, 60 points, 13 of them unanswered in the final 2:16. It was dominant, and more than a little preposterous: This was the Kobe whom basketball had left behind, the me-first statslord out of place in a pass-and-move NBA. Most of all it was charming, in a demented sort of way. Kobe had come full circle. I’m sure he really wanted to score 60. I also think he was in on the joke.
Leicester Wins the Premier League
Ryan O’Hanlon: This should be one my least favorite sports moments of 2016: unlikable scarecrow scores an outrageously simple goal for a small, recently promoted club en route to doing the thing that my favorite club — a big, wealthy, never-relegated club — hasn’t been able to do since I was born.
Except this was the first time I really felt like Leicester was going to win it all. And that’s what the Foxes were: a feeling, one giant gut punch to what we all thought we know about the Premier League and European soccer’s unbreakable hierarchy. Their numbers made no sense. Each team took Leicester’s biggest swing, and none of them was able to get up. The knockout of Liverpool was the most emblematic of their season: The defense turns over an opposing attack, Riyad Mahrez plays a long straight ball that never works, Jamie Vardy takes a first-time swing that never works, and it all, well, works. Here’s the thing: Soccer is supposed to be hard — there are 22 players, there are barely any rules, you can move the ball only with your feet, the goal isn’t that big, and the guy guarding it is the only one who can use his hands — but for a year, Leicester proved that it doesn’t always have to be. If enough bounces go your way, all of the wrong things can line up to make the final product look just right.
Rajai Davis’s Home Run
Craig Gaines: Baseball is the greatest sport for the very reason its detractors so often cite when knocking it: pace. Hockey and basketball are played at a smooth flow, and football progresses in a lurching march. Baseball conducts itself novelistically, scenes building into chapters building into multilayered epics. The moments when the ball is in play are for the men on the field, but the moments in between are for the fans. After each at-bat and before every pitch, we are allowed the space to imagine all the scenarios that could ensue. From the moment Cleveland’s Rajai Davis stepped into the batter’s box to face the Cubs’ Aroldis Chapman in Game 7 of this year’s World Series, fans had just under three minutes to run through the possibilities. A home run was doubtless among the first images that popped into our heads, but that dream was quickly shoved aside by everyone over the age of 13, too wise or too cynical to dream that the light-hitting Davis (55 homers in an 11-year career as he dug in in the bottom of the eighth) might park one against the fearsome Chapman. A bounce-out or a strikeout? Sure. A single? Many of us would have taken it. But when Davis reached down and golfed a screamer just inside the foul pole in left field to tie the game? When that was the play that landed on the roulette wheel of fretful guesswork that spun around in our heads? It was jarring in the way only baseball can be. The Cubs would end up winning the game and the championship, but it was the Indians and Davis who would solidify Game 7 as the best we’ve ever seen.
LeBron’s Almost-Dunk on Draymond
Jason Concepcion: The last two minutes of Game 7 of the NBA Finals between the Cavaliers and the Warriors was bursting with cataclysmic statement plays — LeBron’s block, Kyrie’s go-ahead 3-pointer, Kevin Love’s smothering of Steph Curry on the perimeter. My favorite, though, was LeBron’s attempted dunk on Draymond Green with about 11 seconds left in the game and the Cavs up three. Those other plays will live forever in highlight reels and advertisements as proof-of-player brand ambassadors to future generations of hoops fans. The missed dunk? That will be a footnote. It’s been given over to the universe now. It belongs only to those who watched it happen.
Simone Biles Dominates in Rio
Haley O’Shaughnessy: In the midst of the unraveling identity crisis called 2016, America’s solace was a 19-year-old. Simone Biles was the most incredible athlete the world had seen since, well, LeBron James in Games 5, 6, and 7 two months earlier. Four-foot-8 Biles topped the sport, the Olympics, and, aside from the King, the year. She was too young for the 2012 Games, but competed in 2016 with energetic fury, snagging one gold medal for every year she had to wait. Finishing first in vault, floor exercise, team, and individual all-around, Biles won the most gold medals at a single Olympic Games by an American female gymnast. She also left with a bronze in beam and a signature move, the Biles.
Zac Efron kissed her, Leslie Jones fangirled over her, and Americans with little gymnastics knowledge fought for her, screaming at their TVs when learning that having your toes crossed in the air was a deduction. She was a winner and we cherished her, an American symbol worth rallying around.
Michael Phelps’s 200 IM Gold
Chris Almeida: Here are a few things that were true during the 2004 Olympics in Athens: LeBron James had just finished his rookie year in the NBA, Attack of the Clones was the most recently released Star Wars movie, Friends had just wrapped up its final season, and a teenage Michael Phelps won the 200 individual medley by more than a full second.
Every once in a while, during a broadcast from Rio, NBC would show a clip from the Athens games that would look like ancient history: Justin Gatlin finishing first in the 100 meters or Paul Hamm’s controversial all-around gold. But one thing hadn’t changed in between Athens and Rio: Phelps’s position atop the podium in the 200 IM. In Beijing, he’d finished about two seconds ahead of the field, but he dropped his margin to under a second in London. By the time Rio rolled around, Phelps was 31 and the field was full of prime-age competitors. But if there were any doubts that Michael Phelps was still Michael Phelps, they were quelled quickly.
Phelps won by nearly two seconds once again — as if nothing had changed since that race in Athens. A handful of athletes can control a single moment or season or Olympic Games, but even fewer can be in control for so long that they change the way viewers perceive time.
North America vs. Sweden, World Cup of Hockey
Michael Baumann: In a cash-grab event nobody cared about, a game eventually rendered moot by Russia’s victory over Finland the next day, out of nowhere we got four of the most exciting minutes of hockey in the past decade — a Sweden team full of the best passers and skaters in the NHL against the North American U23 team representing not only the next evolution of hockey talent, but full of players who are too callow to be weighed down by the knowledge that they aren’t invincible, all in acres of space to skate. More than in any other sport, great moments in hockey make you stand up out of your seat and scream, and this overtime period was four minutes of uninterrupted “OooooooWAAAAAHHHHAAAAAAAAAA!!!”
The best thing about Team North America wasn’t getting a first good look at the marquee stars — Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews — but realizing how good the secondary cast was. Johnny Gaudreau is that fast, Colton Parayko is that big, Shayne Gostisbehere can shoot the puck through a steel plate. And it was one of those secondary players, Nathan MacKinnon, a former no. 1 pick whose star was swallowed whole by the McDavid-Eichel-Matthews generation, who found himself alone in front of Sweden goalie Henrik Lundqvist, with enough time and space to patiently uncork a 35-move dangle and pot the game winner. I’ll have that image burned into my memory as long as any hockey moment that actually mattered.
Allen Iverson’s Hall of Fame Speech
Micah Peters: Once you’ve finished tearing up, barrel-laughing, and then flat-out ugly-crying at Allen Iverson’s Hall of Fame speech, YouTube suggests other videos of players speaking at their enshrinement ceremonies: Shaquille O’Neal, Yao Ming, Dennis Rodman, Michael Jordan, and others. They’re all great in their own ways — the players, obviously, and their speeches, too — but AI’s speech is now the gold standard against which all enshrinement speeches will now be judged. Sorry. Some highlights:
- Talking to his youngest daughter in a weird, sort of Lollipop Guild-y Smeagol voice that’s totally endearing and adorable regardless of how bad that description makes it sound.
- Referencing the “Rick James” skit from Chappelle’s Show to describe meeting Jordan for the first time.
- SHOUTING OUT JADA, BEANS, FAB, AND DIPSET.
I said it then and I’ll say it again now: Allen Iverson is the greatest ever and I will be accepting no further applications.
Alabama’s Surprise Onside Kick Against Clemson
Riley McAtee: So much of college football is defined by its sloppiness. In contrast with the polished product of the NFL, many of college football’s most memorable plays of the last year have looked like this or this or this or this. Some teams win games on broken down plays that turn into magic. Some win on improbable feats of athleticism that make you realize “these kids aren’t actually that good at this.” Some win with plain old luck.
Then there’s Alabama.
Alabama’s onside kick against Clemson — which came while the championship game was tied 24–24 with just over 10 minutes left — is the most perfectly executed surprise play I’ve ever seen. The Crimson Tide have been, over the course of the Nick Saban era, an in-your-face, no-tricks-needed type of team, which is what made the onside attempt so surprising that January night. Yet the play is so classically Saban. It exploits a tiny detail — that Clemson was lining up just a bit too clustered together, leaving 20 yards of open space on the far side of the field — to change an entire game. Surprise onside kicks are roughly a 50/50 play, but this one was a 100–0. The ball floated off Adam Griffith’s leg into Marlon Humphrey’s arms 15 yards down the field — the Tigers never had a chance, and the Tide, who scored on the ensuing drive, never trailed again.
When Nick Saban needed something extra to secure his fifth national championship, he didn’t wait for a lucky play. He made his own.
Steph Curry’s 3 to Beat OKC in Overtime
Zach Kram: Steph Curry released this game winner from so far away that I think he was technically in Seattle city limits at the time (sorry, Sonics faithful; too soon?). But more than a splash that tied the NBA record for 3-pointers in a game (which Steph has since broken, because of course), and more than a shot that reached down my throat and emerged with a primal yelp that caused two people in the next room to run in and ask if someone had died, this moment was the best of 2016 because it best represented the daily delight that was Golden State’s quest for 73 wins. While this NBA regular season seems like nothing more than a six-month appetizer to Cavs-Dubs Vol. 3, the Warriors turned last year into a whole multicourse outing in and of itself. Curry’s shot was the dessert, but it’s the whole meal I’ll remember fondly.
The Return of Tom Brady
Kevin O’Connor: Henry David Thoreau lived nearly his entire life in Concord, Massachusetts, just a one-hour drive from Foxborough, where Tom Brady plays for the New England Patriots. Thoreau died in 1862, seven years before the first American Football game was played, back when “Patriot” prompted thoughts of Adams and Jefferson, not Brady and Belichick. But if Thoreau were alive today there’s a chance he would be a Patriots fan. Maybe Thoreau’s perpetual thanksgiving would extend from “what I am and have” to Brady, Belichick, and four Super Bowl titles. It wouldn’t be unusual because that’s exactly how Patriots fans have universally felt the past 15 years.
Except for 2008, I’ve watched Brady play every week with my dad from September through January (and sometimes February) since 2001 — when I was only 11. Those are a lot of memories I’ll have forever. It’s a strange realization. There are few things that were important then that still are today. Friends and family have lived and died. Interests and phases have come and gone. Brady leading the Patriots is one of the rare constants. Fans of teams across sports can empathize with that thought. Duncan, Kobe, Manning, and Ortiz all dominated for over a decade. They’ve won and lost, but they’ve always transfixed those who watched them play.
Those legends have since retired, and someday Brady will, too. This ride won’t last forever. That’s why Brady’s return from a baseless four-game suspension and his remarkable MVP-level season is my favorite sports moment of the year. Brady has reached a level where he’s become more a myth than a man. He’s more passionate, more pliable, and more productive at age 39 than he was at 29. The adversity Brady faced has only sparked a higher level of success — a reminder of what greatness entails. As Thoreau might have put it: “We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.”
Von Miller’s Strip Sack in the Super Bowl
Caitlin Blosser: Super Bowl 50 should have been an epic battle of old and young quarterbacks. It could have been remembered as the capstone of Peyton Manning’s legendary career, or for Cam Newton dabbing his way to a Super Bowl win to go with his MVP award. It wasn’t. With a decrepit Manning, the Broncos offense couldn’t produce anything. So the team relied on its Von Miller–led defense to completely neutralize Newton.
The best and most memorable plays of the game came from Miller. He had not one, but two strip sacks. The first resulted in an early TD. The second cemented a Super Bowl win. With the ball lying on the turf, Cam Newton hesitated and the Broncos defense swarmed. Manning didn’t have to do anything, not that he really could, and Newton, the seemingly unstoppable MVP, was left defeated.
Usain Bolt Goes Three-for-Three
Carl Brooks Jr.: Usain St. Leo Bolt dominated his field for the third consecutive Olympics this summer, winning gold medals in the 100 meters, 200 meters, and 4x100m relay, adding a perfect ending to his Olympic career. He’s come a long way from his poor showing in 2004 at the Athens Olympics — when he was just 17 years old — at which he failed to advance to the quarterfinals in the 200 meters. But now he’s built a case to be considered among the greatest Olympians ever, not only because of his incredible performance, but also the gravity of all of his actions; you can’t keep your eyes off of him. This sweep, coupled with his meme-worthy dominance, will not be forgotten anytime soon.
Katie Ledecky’s Win in the 800 Free
Jack McCluskey: I won’t pretend to be an expert on competitive swimming. I don’t know all the fine details of the butterfly, or why Swimmer X beats Swimmer Y. But even if you strip away all the competitors’ identifiers (names, ages, nationalities, etc.), this speaks loud and clear:
That’s Katie Ledecky, winning the 800-meter free with a world record in Rio. And that’s as dominant and memorable a performance as any athlete’s had this year.
Bartolo Colón’s First Home Run
Katie Baker: “I want to say that was one of the longest home run trots I’ve ever seen,” said Ron Darling after then-42-year-old Mets pitcher Bartolo Colón hit his first career home run, “but I think that’s how fast he runs!” Following a season in which the Mets made it to the World Series, I probably wouldn’t have pegged the second inning of a Mets-Padres game in early May to be the source of one of my favorite baseball moments (or the subject of an oral history). But Colón’s blast — which set a new MLB record for the oldest player to rip a first-career dinger — was a reminder that sports are fun, life is good, and God is great. The many Mets fans on hand in San Diego went wild. Gary Cohen’s voice transitioned, in an instant, from “break room small talk” to “adolescent seeing a naked lady for the first time.” Colón’s short stint as a power hitter, however, may have had the side effect of convincing him that he could be anyone. Two weeks later, in an attempt to play his own lawyer, Colón inadvertently caused an ugly child-support dispute to go public, revealing that he is the patriarch of two separate families. SWING AND A MISTRESS, said the cover of the Post. Not against the Padres, though.
Golden Tate’s Flip Into the End Zone
Danny Chau: Watch Golden Tate’s feet. Don’t lose sight of Golden Tate’s feet. Wide receivers train their entire lives to be able to stop on a dime, and there is something particularly transfixing about the way Tate transfers energy with his legs. Watch the way he uses momentum to kill momentum; watch how his churning legs decelerate so quickly that his staying inbounds is its own juke. It’s perfect, and it only gets better. The stiff arm, the fact that he explodes off his feet 3 yards from the end zone and unwittingly executes the most picturesque spinning heel kick in sports entertainment history. As an expression of style and pure athletic genius, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Clayton Kershaw’s Game 5 NLDS Save
Mallory Rubin: I love witnessing greatness. It’s why I’ll never tire of Alabama winning the national championship, and why I have to respect the Patriots even though I loathe them, and why I feel truly privileged that I’m alive to watch Clayton Kershaw, an all-time baseball great, pitch every five days. And so even though I’m not a Dodgers fan, I felt pain, real true pain, as the “Clayton Kershaw, Playoff Choker” narrative took hold again this postseason. Every time Kershaw stumbled in the seventh inning or gave up a hit to a leftie the past few postseasons, I felt cheated out of some semblance of order, some sense of rightness that conforms to my idea of how greatness is supposed to look and feel. And so when Kershaw demanded the ball in the decisive ninth inning of NLDS Game 5 against the Nationals after giving up eight total runs in his first two postseason starts, I felt like this:
So did all of my colleagues. Baseball lovers and detractors alike gathered in our MLB Slack channel, sensing that we were about to witness something that could only be properly processed as part of a community. Kershaw was magnetic even as a rumor. He drew the eye. He quickened our pulses. The mere prospect of him entering a decisive playoff game, putting himself in position to be blamed again but also in position to regain his glory, made us energized and afraid in a way that’s only possible when the stakes are this high, when the outcome is either total euphoria or total despondence. Here are some of the Slacks that Ringer staffers sent in those moments:
“I’m going to pass out”
“I actually have a stomach ache”
“I feel ill”
“I’m only considering doomsday scenarios”
“I can’t handle him taking the blame if things go south”
“I’M SO NERVOUS”
“I’m so afraid for him”
“I’m honestly sweating”
“I want the redemption but not the possibility of agonizing defeat”
“This is agonizing”
And that was all before Kershaw even came in for the save opportunity! Such was our level of anxiety and dread and longing, all based on the possibility of him demanding the ball — the tweets about him warming up, the shots of him gazing out onto the diamond. When he actually got the nod, we lost our fucking minds. Some more sample Slacks:
“This is one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen”
“I can’t believe this is happening”
“Not to be cheesy but this really is like a movie”
“This is what it’s like to watch a child being born”
“I can’t handle this”
“How are people who actually care about these teams alive right now?”
“This is gnarly”
“It’s so quiet”
“Just end October now”
Seeing the Cubs win the World Series was incredible, because it represented an entire team and city and fan base banding together to accomplish the seemingly impossible. But for me, nothing this year topped Kershaw’s save, because nothing in sports can beat one person transcending the narrative and the very idea of mortality to become a fucking god.