The Year of the Championship Game

The recent passing of arguably the most exciting Super Bowl in NFL history caps what should make 2016 the year of the Championship game, given that both the CFP Championship game and Super Bowl took place in 2017 but are a part of the 2016 sports year. 2016 featured five incredible do-or-die games that all came down to the wire. 3-1 leads were blown, and games looked like they were over but some fantastic comebacks led to even better endings.

The year started off with the NCAA tournament, famously and deservedly nicknamed March Madness. The matchup between #1 seeds Villanova and UNC was tight all game, with Villanova leading 74-71, with just ten seconds to go in the game. North Carolina’s Marcus Paige got the ball and knew he needed to put a shot up to try and tie the game. As the defender dove to tip the pass, Paige looked to be open for a deep three, but Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono came charging at him, to make a last-ditch defensive attempt. Paige double clutched and let the ball fly and, just as the millions of basketball fans looking on, watched the ball circle the rim once and fall to tie the game with just 4.7 seconds remaining. What was looking like an overtime continuation all changed as Villanova inbounded the ball to senior guard Arcidiacono, running up the court to throw up one more shot. UNC covered the paint to prevent an easy bucket, and also stuck Arcidiacono to prevent the long range shot. They were so focused on Villanova’s best player throughout the tournament that they forgot to watch the trailing inbounder Kris Jenkins, who was flipped the ball by Arcidiacono with a second to go. Jenkins put up a deep three and watched it sink as time expired to give Villanova their second ever NCAA championship. This game goes down as one of the best NCAA finals games ever.

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As June rolled around, the NBA playoffs were in full swing and fans were looking at a 2015 Finals rematch between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavilers. The Warriors finished the regular season with the best record in the history of the NBA at 73-9, one more win than the win-total of the NBA Champion 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. Golden State took a commanding 3-1 lead with game 5 and game 7 to be played at home. Draymond Green was suspended for game 5 and Cleveland took advantage of this, defeating the Warriors on the road. They did the job in game 6 as well, tying the series at 3-3 and setting up a series-ending game 7 to be played at Oracle Arena in Oakland against the best team in the history of the NBA. A 3-1 lead had never been blown in NBA finals history. In what was a nail biter from the tip-off, the Cavs had the ball with less than a minute to go in a tie game. Kyrie Irving stepped up into the face of Steph Curry, the league’s reigning two-time MVP and drained a clutch 3-pointer to put them up by three. This three-pointer would end up being the game winner, as Golden State would fail to score again, with a symbolic LeBron James block on Andre Iguodala to seal the deal earlier in the game. The win made Cleveland the first team ever to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals and brought the franchise its first ever championship, and the city’s first in 52 years. LeBron James had finally fulfilled his promise bring home a championship to the city of Cleveland.

After a long summer of America’s pastime, October baseball finally came to fruition and the World Series featured the two longest World Series droughts in baseball. The Chicago Cubs had their infamous 108 year drought, and the Cleveland Indians had a lesser-known 68 year drought of their own. After Cleveland went up 3-1 in the series, the Cubbies rallied back to tie it at 3-3 and set up one of the best game sevens in baseball history. Chicago took a lead early as Dexter Fowler led off the game with a solo homer deep into centerfield. This lead that would eventually jump to 5-1 in the 5th inning and then 6-3 as the bottom of the 8th came around. Aroldis Chapman, one of the game’s best closers came in for the Cubs and got two quick outs in what seemed like the nearing end of the game. Chapman then surrendered two important hits which included a scored run, and brought Rajai Davis to the plate. Davis pulled a line drive on a 2-2 pitch deep down the left-field, which landed over the high wall in Progressive Field to tie the game at 6. As extra innings started, the Cubs were able to get two men on base when Ben Zobrist smacked a double into left field, scoring one and putting two runners in scoring position. They’d tally one more run to end the inning and lead the game 8-6 going to the bottom of the tenth. After two quick outs, the Indians got a man in scoring position, and again Rajai Davis came thru with a two out hit that cut the deficit to one. The next batter, Michael Martinez swung at an 0-1 pitch that was slowly grounded to third. NL MVP Kris Bryant charged the hit and fielded the ball by making a strong throw to Anthony Rizzo at first despite slipping to break the 108 year drought and make the Chicago Cubs World Series Champions.

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The next big game came in the form of the third installment of the College Football Playoff Championship featuring a rematch of the Clemson Tigers and the undefeated Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama took a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter thanks to a pair of Bo Scarbrough rushing touchdowns. After 3 quarters of football, Alabama led 24-14. However, potential top-ten NFL draft pick Deshaun Watson drove his team down the field twice in the fourth quarter, giving Clemson the lead with just 4:38 left. Jalen Hurts, the freshman Alabama quarterback, capped off the following drive with a 30-yard rushing touchdown, leaving Clemson with 2:07 left to operate. Fortunately that’s all the time that the two time Davey O’Brien award winner needed as he methodically marched his team down the field and hit Hunter Renfrow on a two-yard pass to give Clemson the lead, making them National Champions, as well as preventing an Alabama repeat.

The final crazy championship game to cap off any 2016 season was the Big Game: Super Bowl 51 between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta dominated the first half as they led 21-3 before Lady Gaga jumped off the top of Reliant Stadium in the halftime show. As the second half proceeded, Matt Ryan hit Tevin Coleman for a touchdown to extend the lead to 28-3 midway through the third. It looked as though Atlanta was going to run away with the game, as no team had ever come back from a Super Bowl deficit of more than 10. No team who trailed by more than two scores, though, had Tom Brady. The Pats then marched down the field three times, cutting the margin to 28-20 with under six minutes to go. Matty Ice and the Falcons’ offense had trouble all 4th quarter with running enough of the clock down. As Brady got the ball back with three and a half minutes to go, he again drove down the field and hit Julian Edelman on an absolutely ridiculous 23 yard catch in triple coverage that was tipped and bobbled multiple times and somehow ended up in Edelman’s hands while keeping it half an inch off the ground. The drive was capped with a one-yard James White rushing touchdown and a two-point conversion to Danny Amendola to tie the game at 28 with under a minute left. This regulation ending put the Super Bowl into overtime for the first time ever. New England won the toss and elected to receive, and Tom Brady made sure that the league’s MVP never stepped onto the field. He led his team down the field and handed the ball off to who else but James White as he pushed for two yards and crossed the plane for his third touchdown of the game. This gave Brady his record fifth Super Bowl ring and fourth Super Bowl MVP award and cemented Belichick and Brady as the best Coach-Quarterback duo of all time.

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The Super Bowl ended what was easily one of the best years in sports in recent memory and possibly of all-time. Each championship game was filled with heroes and villains; sometimes the Hero came through and in others, the villain crushed the hearts of many opposing sport fans. Altogether, it was an incredibly dramatic and exciting year in sports. Can 2017 top 2016?

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