It was a year full of triumphant victories that made people renew their faith in the world, excruciating defeats that brought on agonizing days-long depressions, and games so close that fans needed to be resuscitated in the hopes of recovery. As a welcome distraction to the (mostly shitty) news of the year, 2017 in sports provided a few delicious treats of athletic escapism that allowed everyone to check out of reality and take out their frustrations on the games of the day. From the Astros soothing a weary Houston by winning their first World Series, to a captivating spar-session in a ring between a boxing legend and a UFC great, to upheaval in the NFL, here’s what will go down in history as 2017’s very best moments in sports.
It’s not every year that a college football game winds up becoming an all-around highlight, but this championship match between the South Carolina squad and Alabama’s Crimson Tide made jaws not only drop, but eyes pop and tongues wag Mask-style. In a thriller worthy of a Liam Neeson flick, top-ranked Alabama all but had the game in the bag leading 31-28 with a mere two minutes left on the clock. Then Clemson hustled, working their way to the game’s last literal second when the school’s QB Deshaun Watson made the throw of his young career to Hunter Renfrow, thus reigning supreme in an upset for the ages. Noted the exasperated play-by-play announcer after it went down, “They’ll talk about that play in Clemson nation forever.”
An audience of 111.3 million folks huddled around their televisions, chips dripping with synthetic nacho cheese in hand, to witness one of the most exciting Super Bowls in recent memory. What looked like a total spanking of the Patriots courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons turned into an epic comeback that had Atlanta fans reaching for the Zoloft and New England fans reaching for the bubbly. In the end, Tom Brady and his Pats triumphant to win it all, thus kicking of a, well, interesting year for the superstar.
She’s one of the most dominant athletes of the modern era and the greatest tennis player of all time, but Serena Williams cemented her legend in January when she trumped her sister Venus with a 6-4, 6-4 victory Down Under. The win secured her seventh Australian Open title, thus making her the most prolific grand slam winner of the modern era. Even more impressive, the champ did it all while pregnant. It wasn’t until April when the world found out that Williams was eight weeks pregnant at the time, thereby making Williams the most badass of moms even before the baby was even born. Said Williams later, “I’m always trying to defy the odds, you know.”
For Steph Curry and crew, winning an NBA championship was the basketball-sized cherry on top of an incredible run. Armed with a dazzling group of talent, from Curry to Kevin Durant, Draymond Green to Klay Thompson, Golden State successfully navigated to not only garner the best postseason record in NBA history, but clinch it all. (Of course, it was all much to the chagrin of LeBron James and his band of Cavaliers.) The coup led Curry to light up a celebratory cigar upon being crowned champion. “The backstory to this is, after Game 7 last year, I told one of my close friends to save this for a year from now,” Curry explained, alluding to coming up short in 2016. “To be able to enjoy the process and journey. I’ve been waiting a whole year to smoke this, so I’m going to enjoy every last bit of this.”
It was a night the Yankee rookie removed all doubts about his status as baseball’s next superstar. Aaron Judge winning the otherwise silly home run derby was only one of a string of star-making moments for the California native who only made his major league debut less than a year earlier. Throughout his wild debut season – which saw the Bronx Bomber breaking both Mark McGuire and Joe DiMaggio’s long-standing home run records for a rookie – Judge made 2017 his year. Judge succinctly explained the secret to his success post-Derby: “I had no pressure going into it. I’m a rookie.”
Billed as the fight of the century… or at the very least, it was the match of the summer. When boxing powerhouse Floyd Mayweather Jr. faced off against the rough and tumble MMA great Conor McGregor, the nation stopped in its tracks to see just who would come out on top: the 40-year-old Money Mayweather who was fighting against an impressive undefeated streak, or the Notorious McGregor, 11 years Mayweather’s junior and raised in the confines of a UFC ring. In the end however, Mayweather came out on top in front of an audience that included everyone from LeBron James to Demi Lovato. “We know in MMA, he fights for 25 minutes,” said the champ after the fight to reporters. “After 25 minutes, he started to slow down. I guaranteed to everybody that this wouldn’t go the distance.” Regardless, both fighters made more money that late August night than some GDPs of developing countries.
Hey, wanna create a politically charged firestorm? After a summer of simmering racial tension, put the most prominent league in the country on a collision course with the new, polarizing President of the United States and you have one of the most notable protest movements America has seen since the Sixties. After Colin Kaepernick kickstarted the protest against racial injustice in 2016, but it continued to snowball. Then Donald Trump took to the stage at a rally in Alabama and criticized the NFL and NBA and called anyone who kneeled during the national anthem a “son of a bitch.” So it all exploded on Sunday, September 24th: a day when what happened before the actual games was just as important as what went on during them, as many players and owners opted to to #TakeaKnee during the National Anthem. “The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race,” tweeted President Trump as the country rolled its collective eyes so far back into their heads that their pupils disappeared. “It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!” Whatever you say, man.
It was a moment that beleaguered Houston fans were waiting for… forever, really. After a roller coaster of a series which saw Astros and Dodgers trade heartbreaking losses and triumphant wins, it all came down to a nail-biter of a game seven with everything, including baseball history, on the line. By the third inning, the Astros (playing in enemy territory, mind you) were up 5-0 and were bracing for a tough slog. But by the end of the game, the Dodgers only managed a single run. The Astros earned their first World Series title since its founding in 1962, a win made all the more sweet considering Houston is still recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey. Said third baseman Alex Bregman of the win: “We thought that we had to play for (the city) the rest of the year. The people of Houston were there for us.”