The Patriots incredible comeback win over the Falcons in Super Bowl LI was the exclamation point on what is the best stretch of sports championship games and series ever.
From April 2016 to February 2017 sports fans witnessed some of the all-time great games and series across all sports. It began with Villanova and North Carolina playing in an instant classic for the NCAA championship. Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beating three-pointer for the Wildcats erasing what could have been an all-time NCAA Tournament moment from Marcus Paige after his double-clutch three to tie the game.
Two months later, the Cleveland Cavaliers became the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals against the best regular season team in history as LeBron James put up absurd numbers against the Golden State Warriors. In a series that will go down in history, the Cavs and Warriors also gave us one of the most thrilling Game 7s in NBA Finals history, with an iconic moment coming from James with his chasedown block of Andre Iguodala.
In October, the Chicago Cubs broke their 108 year title drought with a historic comeback from 3-1 down of their own, with a Cleveland team ending up on the wrong end of history on this occasion. Like the NBA Finals, Game 7 between the Cubs and Indians will go down as one of the best deciding games ever as Cleveland rallied back from a three-run deficit in the eighth inning to tie the game at 6-6, before the Cubs took a two-run lead in the top of the 10th and held on for the 8-7 victory.
Despite the calendar flipping from 2016 to 2017, the magic didn’t run out in the sports world. The year began with an amazing National Championship game between Clemson and Alabama that saw Deshaun Watson and the Tigers pick apart one of the best defenses in recent college football history to the tune of 420 passing yards in a back-and-forth 35-31 Clemson win, avenging the loss to Alabama in 2016.
And finally, on Sunday, the Patriots made Super Bowl history with the largest comeback ever, rattling off 31 unanswered points in the second half against the Falcons in a 34-28 overtime win. Tom Brady and New England broke nearly every passing record in the Super Bowl record book, and in total the game broke 24 single-game or all-time records. Julian Edleman’s juggling catch across the middle will now live next to David Tyree’s miraculous catch on his helmet from 2007 as one of the greatest Super Bowl catches.
Those five sporting events all happening within a period of 10 months is unfathomable considering how much history was made and how many iconic moments came out of those five games or series. What makes each of them so incredible to look back on isn’t just what the winning teams accomplished, but how there were moments and plays from the losing teams that, had the games gone the other way, would have lived forever in sporting lore.
This past year gave us so many great moments, but just as many incredible “what ifs” and amazing plays that will be forgotten over time because the outcome of the game or series went the other way.
Marcus Paige’s double-clutch three-pointer could have lived on every NCAA Tournament highlight film until the end of time. A Warriors series win would’ve sparked debates about whether they were the greatest team of all time, in the NBA or across any sport, after having set the regular season wins record.
Cleveland could have ended two championship droughts in a span of four months and Rajai Davis’ game-tying home run in the eighth inning would have gone down as one of the city’s greatest sports moments had the Indians pulled it out in extra innings.
The 2016-17 Crimson Tide could have cemented itself as one of the all-time great college football teams with a win, and Bo Scarborough’s name would have gone down in Alabama history along with other Tuscaloosa legends.
And finally, the Falcons could have brought the Lombardi Trophy back to Atlanta for the first time ever, and instead of Edelman’s catch, it would’ve been Julio Jones’ insane grab on the sideline with four minutes to play that would’ve been on the all-time Super Bowl highlight reel.
The past 10 months have been an incredible ride for sports fans. We’ve seen records broken, historic seasons close in heartbreak, championship droughts ended and some all-time individual performances. For all that to happen in one year seems absurd, but it’s been fitting for this particular year.
Sports are supposed to be people’s escape. It’s one of the reason people get so invested, to divert attention and emotion away from problems or stresses of real life. In a tumultuous year-plus where it’s felt nearly impossible to avoid stress in the real world, the sports world managed stepped its game up when we needed it, providing entertainment and excitement on a level that we’ve never seen before.