What makes a great sports year? Do we define a sports year when the unthinkable becomes reality? When we say goodbye to greatness? Do we define the world of sports with the motto “anything could happen”? As we turn the page on 2016 in to 2017, the contributors of Back Sports Page look back at the year that was 2016 with their highlights and memories. Today the staff looks back at 2016 for MMA, NHL, Soccer and Tennis!!
Danielle McCartan (Pro Sports Review): MMA: Rhonda Rousey lost the first match of her entire life. Subsequently, she appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres show and stated that, immediately after the contest, had suicidal thoughts and questioned her purpose in the world. Nobody is perfect. I believe she set a terrible example for both her fans and for die-hard and casual MMA fans. I am glad she recently lost again and now, hopefully, she can disappear into oblivion.
Matt Berkson (Back Sports Page):
The NHL really didn’t have a defining moment in 2016. There were a few storylines that are worth mentioning:
The first major sport to put a team in Las Vegas
June 29, 2016 (from 3:34pm to 3:57pm) - During these 23 minutes Taylor Hall was traded for Adam Larsson, Shea Webber was traded for PK Subban, and the potential biggest free agent in NHL history, Steven Stamkos, resigned with the Tampa Bay Lightning
“Mr. Hockey,” Gordie Howe passed away at 88 years old.
John Scott, a known NHL fighter with minimal offensive talents, became the fact of a movement by NHL fans to mock the system and was voted into the NHL All-Star Game
However if I had to separate out one storyline from this group it would have to be that Jaromir Jagr not only continued to play in the NHL at age 43, but he did at such a high level that he not only led the Florida Panthers to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but also passed Mark Messier for #2 on the NHL’s all-time scoring – Only behind Wayne Gretzky. While we’ll always have the debate, one could argue Jagr that he’s one of the top 5 players of all time, and to still be playing that well into his 40’s is a remarkable sports achievement.
The 2016 college sport story is the story that probably won’t die until it’s resolved – The fact that college athletes aren’t paid for their time, efforts, and certainly their risk of injury. This probably wouldn’t be much of a debate if the colleges, coaches, merchandisers, vendors, media outlets, bowl representatives, and everyone else BUT THE VERY PEOPLE WHO ARE THE PRODUCT BEING SOLD, weren’t raking in millions and millions of dollars. Once again we have a metaphor for society where the ones that have want to keep others in less powerful positions from sharing in what they do have.
In my mind there’s no question college athletes should be paid. Name another aspect of our society where a group of people, through their own blood, sweat, and tears, generate profits in the hundreds of millions…But get zero of it. College sports is the only place where this happens.
So when a star college athlete like Christian McCaffrey decides not to participate in a meaningless bowl game to protect the very thing that will earn him money this Fall, his body, I stand up and applaud him. Of course you’ll hear some outrage that he “absondeond his team,” but believe that is coming from people who either stand to gain from him playing, stand to gain by fanning the flames of that debate, or don’t have the awareness/empathy to put themselves in another’s shoes and understand an unjust situation.
The bottom line is that those who are making tons of money are desperately trying to keep a system in place where other less powerful human beings are being exploited for profit. I applaud anyone who stands up in the face of the NCAA and anyone else who refuses to acknowledge this and want to keep the athletes from sharing in all of their profits.
I am not a fan of the MMA. I have never watched more than a few seconds of any fight. In fact when commercials come on I often try to change the channel before I see anyone receive a punch to the head or a kick to the stomach. It’s truly a barbaric sport and I’ve reached the point in my life where I respect life too much to want to see it damaged – Even when the people enter the octagon voluntarily.
And yet said, after all of that, I kept one eye on the sport of MMA because of one man: Conor McGregor
For people who don’t follow MMA, the buzz on McGregor had been building for sometime as his star rose within the sport. His persona had been bubbling into the mainstream for a few years, but in 2016 it bashed in the front door. Conor McGregor is now a full-blown star, and it has as much to do with his personality as it does his physical talent. In fact it is that persona that makes him so electric. From the first time I saw an interview with him I was hooked. He just has that “it” factor where you want to see what he’s going to do or say next. He’s as engaging as they come and that transcends the sport that earns him his living. When you have a star like this people will tune in and spend their money – Even if they don’t like or know the sport he plays. That’s how you grow a sport and there’s no better ambassador for MMA now than McGregor.
I mean the fact that he’s even being mentioned in the same breath as Floyd Mayweather tells you where McGregor stands now as a star. He should not get into a boxing ring with Mayweather (and probably won’t), but the public doesn’t see it that way. They need to see who unbelievable stars meet and see what happens. It would be like a once a decade athletic science experiment played out in the world of sports. And if a Mayweather/McGregor fight ever did happen, no matter who won, the big winner would be MMA. In fact they’re a winner even if the fight doesn’t happen, but the publicity they’re getting now is massive, and it’s all thanks to one man.
All other sports (Soccer, Tennis etc...)
Every year there are hundreds of sports stories we could talk about and all would be relevant. In fact many of which come from sports not played out on the biggest stage so we often don’t even know about them. So we can only discuss what we know and as with any year, 2016 had plenty of big time stories to discuss. However there was one that really needs it’s due because I don’t think many of us fully appreciated what occurred.
If I told you that going into a season a team…
Was one of the worst teams in the league the year before
Their biggest star was playing semi-pro leagues just a few seasons before
Had the lowest payroll in the league – About 150 million less than the top teams
Had a head coach who everything thought was lackluster at best
Was a 5,000 to 1 shot of winning the title in 2016
…How in the name of all universal physics would you believe that team could win a championship? Yet that is the story of the Premier League’s Leicester City. Against literally all odds, they won the Premier League in 2016 and are truly the sports story of the year. In the United States we aren’t as into soccer (real “football”) as the rest of the world, but that doesn’t reduce their accomplishment in the slightest.
That said because us Americans don’t’ follow soccer as much, let’s put this in perspective…
In 1987, the Twins were 500 to 1 to win the World Series
The ’99 Rams, 300 to 1 to take the Super Bowl
Greece, a 150 to 1 shot to win the 2004 Euro title
The Miracle Mets of ’69 a mere 100 to 1.
Once again Leicester City was 5000 to 1 to win the Premier League in 2016. And that’s a league with only 20 teams each year. As a comparison right now for the 2018 Super Bowl, the Cleveland Browns are 300 to 1. Pleas first absorb how dysfunctional and devoid of talent the Browns are…And then try to imagine a team 16 times less likely to win a championship.
That is the story of Leicester City in 2016 – The sports story of the year (and perhaps the past 20).
Ryan Morik (Beast of the East Sports):
For me, my favorite NHL moment of 2016 was watching Martin Brodeur have his number retired by the New Jersey Devils. Marty left the Devils to play for the Blues and then join their front office, which led to a bit of tension between Brodeur and the Devils. However, that night in February proved that it is business, and the Devils and their fans will forever be grateful for Marty. Every Devil great was in attendance that night, and Prudential Center was the loudest it had been since Adam Henrique put the Devils in the Stanley Cup Final back in 2012.
Watching Kris Jenkins give Villanova the NCAA Men's Basketball title was a thrill. First of all, Marcus Paige hits an incredible shot before that, then everyone in the world thinks Ryan Arcidiacono will go for the win, but Kris Jenkins ends it. Watching the confetti drop right after the shot goes in was awesome. They don't call it March Madness for nothing - my bracket was finished after day one, but this game and this shot made me happy I watched that tournament.
Conor McGregor's victory over Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205 was my favorite MMA moment of the year. McGregor has become one of my favorite athletes - usually, I hate the athletes who are all talk, but Conor isn't all talk. He backs it up every single time. His "walk" has now become a statement whenever someone succeeds (touchdowns, slam dunks, etc). Conor proved he's the best in the game.
Dustin Johnson winning the US Open was one of my favorite sports moments of 2016. Dustin has gotten a ton of scrutiny for being a choke artist. Losing the 2015 US Open on a three-putt, blowing the lead in the 2010 US Open, and even in this tournament where he had no idea if he was going to be assessed a stroke penalty or not. All signs pointed to Johnson choking away yet another Major, but he took care of business and proved he can succeed on tour.
David Mignano (Back Sports Page):
The rise of Connor McGregor. For those that follow MMA I’m sure McGreggor was a name long before 2016, but for the casual fan like myself, I’d never heard of him. That soon changed as he became the face of the sport. His brash, unapologetic, cocky style rubs many people the wrong way, but there is no doubting he backs it up. Even his loss was easy to forgive as he had a last minute opponent and weight class change. He also spent part of the ear retired then unretired. This Mayweather fight nonsense will never come together, but there’s no doubting that McGreggor’s style has brought a lot of eyes to the UFC.
There may have been bigger stories in the sport across the world, but the most impactful was the tragic crash of the Chapecoense Soccer Team’s charter flight. With the amount of time that all types of teams spend in the air it’s amazing we don’t hear more stories like this, but unfortunately 71 people’s lives were tragically cut short that day with plenty more changed forever. Even more disheartening was the fact that the crash could have been prevented as the plane ran out of fuel, flying a route that was already at the end scale of its capabilities.
This was a team that came from obscurity and was headed to play in the finals of the Copa Sudamericana. How could anything be more impactful than them not making it?