It’s time to put a bow on the sports year. Here are the latest batch of Ceddys, my top 10 sports stories of 2016.
Before we get to the list, honorable mentions go out to Leicester City overcoming 5,000-1 odds to win the English Premier League, Nick Saban winning title No. 5 at Alabama, Team USA’s first Ryder Cup victory since 2008 and Villanova finishing up March Madness with a buzzer beater over North Carolina.
10. Colin Kaepernick starts a movement: After Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade addressed the nation from the stage at the ESPYs, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback made national headlines when he took a knee during the national anthem as a protest against police treatment of blacks in America. Turns out that Kap was more bark than bite as it was revealed that he didn’t even vote in the general election.
9. The Rio Olympics: It started out with concerns about polluted water and ended with reports of U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte and friends paying a dubious visit to a Brazilian gas station, but overall it was a nice Olympics, from gymnast Simone Biles winning the all-around for the team champion United States to Usain Bolt leaving the grand stage with a third straight Olympics with three gold meals — a triple-triple, if you will. And don’t forget Katie Ledecky and the immortal Michael Phelps, who added five more golds, cementing his legacy as the most decorated Olympian ever.
8. Peyton goes out on top: He already had one foot in the pasture, but Peyton Manning went out the right way with a second Super Bowl ring. Now retired to his millions and his commercials, Manning will go down as the best regular-season quarterback in league history and my all-time favorite fantasy league player.
7. Big Fundamental and Mamba depart: Love him or hate him, Kobe Bryant was always good theater. He walked off the court for the final time April 13, but not before scoring 60 points on 50 shots. Tim Duncan retired with the same number of titles as Bryant (five) and the unofficial title of greatest power forward ever. As understated as Bryant was brash, Duncan is quite possibly the greatest teammate the sport ever produced.
6. The Dallas Cowboys dominate: Did anyone see this coming? The Cowboys have been the story of the NFL regular season with rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott powering America’s Team to a 13-2 record and home-field advantage throughout the upcoming playoffs. Who would have believed that after 13 games, Dez Bryant would have more touchdown passes than Tony Romo?
5. Baylorgate. Art Briles had it going in Waco — two consecutive Big 12 titles and a 32-7 record over the previous three seasons had the Baylor coach poised to reach some lofty goals. But when stories began to circulate about Briles and his staff’s mishandling of sexual assault allegations involving his players, the coach had to go, as did school President Ken Starr and athletic director Ian McCaw. Hopefully, brighter days are ahead for Baylor.
4. LeBron James brings the title home: One year after his Cleveland Cavaliers lost in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors, the King brought the championship back to his title-starved city in amazing fashion. The Cavaliers fell behind 3-1 in the best-of-seven series but rallied back for their first NBA title and LeBron’s third. Give James credit for not only duping Draymond Green into a technical foul that got him suspended for Game 5, but also for making the best defensive play in Finals history, a chase-down block of Andre Iguodala in Game 7.
3. Charlie Strong and Augie Garrido depart: Strong just couldn’t get it going in three football seasons at Texas and was relieved of duty after going 6-7, 5-7 and 5-7. After making history as the first black head football coach in school history, Strong didn’t make a winning impact on the field. The same can’t be said about Garrido, who led the Texas baseball team to a pair of College World Series titles and eight appearances in Omaha. The Zen Master was the winningest coach in college baseball history and one of the best quotes ever at UT.
2. Goodbye to Ali: 2016 will go down as the year so many celebrities died, from my guy Prince to David Bowie to Nancy Reagan, George Michael and Carrie Fisher, just to name a few. And on a personal note, my dad passed the morning of the UNC-Villanova game. Sports wasn’t immune as legends such as Pat Summitt, Gordie Howe and Arnold Palmer left us, but tops among them was Muhammad Ali, whose long battle with Parkinson’s disease came to an end June 3. The first man to win heavyweight titles three times, Ali was the greatest athlete/civil rights activist ever. For a black man to sacrifice his livelihood to take a stand against the government in the turbulent 1960s was bigger than anything he ever accomplished inside a boxing ring.
1. Cubs win: The World Series was a classic win-win because it was between two franchises that had gone winless in the Fall Classic since 1948. So the Chicago Cubs’ victory over the Cleveland Indians for the championship is the biggest sports story of 2016. Hats off to the Windy City’s tough-luck franchise, which not only ended a 108-year-old title drought, but also allowed Steve Bartman to leave witness protection. I kid. I kid.