By JOSH BARD
Well, this year, the Cubs won, finally. The Cavs won, surprisingly. The Broncos won, somehow. The U.S. Ryder Cup team won, with flair. Michael Phelps won, a lot.
The U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team cleaned up. So did Usain Bolt x3 and Katie Ledecky x4! Villanova won at the buzzer; Leicester City won against all odds, and Alabama won because the Crimson Tide always do, forever and ever. Amen.
But you know the zero-sum nature of SPORTS! require that there can only be one winner. So let’s delve into it and figure out who won SPORTS! in 2016. The envelope, please…
Second Runner-up: The City of Cleveland
For decades a multi-faceted punchline, Cleveland was a bigger exporter than importer of championships, thanks to the Ravens (previously the Browns) and LeBron James (who previously took his talents to South Beach). But while 2016 killed all of our favorite people, it also brought happiness to the Mistake by the Lake. The Cavs avenged a 2015 NBA Finals loss by coming back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Warriors, for the city’s first championship—in any major sport—in 52 years.
Meanwhile the Cleveland Indians surprised most with their blue collar World Series run. And even though they fell a few outs short in an incredible game 7, many Clevelanders (the people, not the hotels) found it worth the ride. The Browns still haven’t found the elixir that the other Cleveland teams did, but don’t forget that Cleveland was the city that handed Donald Trump the GOP nomination, on his path to the Oval Office. Way to go, guys.
First Runner-up: UnderArmour
2016 was a big year for UnderArmour, as the athletes who represent the company took home the MVP awards in the NFL (Cam Newton), the MLB (Bryce Harper reigned as MVP during 2016) and the NBA (Steph Curry). And even though Jordan Spieth didn’t win a major this year, UA spokesman Andy Murray did win Wimbledon. Baltimore’s other pride and joy, Michael Phelps, took home five gold medals at the Rio Olympics without being allowed to show the logo on his swimsuit, but Simone Biles and the U.S. Women’s gymnastics team were plastered with UAs. And if you needed more, UA added actor/wrestler/People Magazine’s Sexiest Man, Dwyane ‘The Rock’ Johnson.
Runner-up: Political Activism
Political activism was everywhere in 2016. Athletes spoke out about the things happening in their world, outside their respective arenas (and outside of “locker room talk”), most notably with Colin Kaepernick and his decision to kneel during the national anthem. Gobs of teams donned pregame and postgame shirts with messages conveying their opinions on a number of political issues. At the ESPYs, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade delivered a charge to be more social active.
And it wasn’t all liberal messaging, either. Tom Brady had a “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker, and Bill Belichick was caught passing notes to Donald Trump on the eve of the election.
The Big 2016 SPORTS! Winner: Chicago Cubs
Perhaps the most obvious nominee are the artists previously known as “The Lovable Losers,” whose 108-year wait for a World Series title trumps everything that has happened in sports in the last decade. Only a handful of Cubs fans were even alive 108 years ago!
And it isn’t just about ending the drought, but the way they did it. Also down 3 games to 1 (like the Cavaliers), the Cubs ran off 3 wins in a row, including a Game 7 extra-inning classic, which included the oddest 17-minute rain delay in baseball or weather history. The Cubs blew a 3-run lead in the 8th inning and almost blew another 2-run lead in the 10th before slamming the door on Cleveland and on history. Plus, it wouldn’t be a historical American success story if we didn’t leave a wake of distraught Indians.
Here’s how big of a deal the Cubs World Series was: The championship parade was reportedly attended by five million people, making it the seventh largest public gathering in human history!
Sometime the obvious choice staring you in the face is not the correct one. This is not one of those times. So congratulations to the Chicago Cubs and their fans for winning SPORTS! in 2016!
Josh Bard is a producer for ESPN’s Around the Horn and a writer for The Prompt Magazine. Check out his other works at: http://www.thepromptmag.com/