The year 2016 was incredible for numerous reasons. While the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election was the most unusual and publicized election of our lifetime, the world of sports saw incredible feats, accomplishments, and events over the course of the 2016 calendar year. There were political stances taken in sports, notable deaths by prominent sports figures, and rare occurrences on and off the playing field. Throughout the entirety of 2016, the only certainty in sports was that history would be made regardless of the sport being played.
The second Super Bowl win of the legendary career of former Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning started 2016 with a storybook ending to the NFL season. Manning retired being led by a championship winning team with a terrific defense after being the leader of dynamic offenses for virtually all of his career. Super Bowl 50 wasn’t the best Super Bowl ever but it was a historic culmination of a truly special NFL career for Peyton Manning.
Shortly before Super Bowl 50, Nick Saban made some history by winning his fifth national championship in college football after Alabama defeated Clemson in January. Only Paul “Bear” Bryant has more national championships than Saban has with six, and Saban can tie him by winning the College Football Playoff in January 2017. College basketball had one of the greatest NCAA tournament games ever played during its 2016 National Championship game between North Carolina and Villanova. North Carolina’s Marcus Paige hit a double-clutch 3-pointer to tie the national title game at 74, then Villanova’s Kris Jenkins answered with one of his own at the buzzer to give Villanova a 77-74 win and their first championship since 1985.
It was going to be a special year in 2016 by virtue of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There is a good chance that the best swimmer of all time, track and field sprinter of all time, and gymnast of all time competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, and Simone Biles were headliners who lived up to the massive hype leading into the Olympics with historic performances and they were joined by numerous great athletes throughout the world. There was significant achievements in individual sports beyond the Olympics as tennis star Serena Williams tied Steffi Graf’s Grand Slam title count by winning her 22nd in July 2016 at Wimbledon. Also, NASCAR great Jimmie Johnson won his seventh NASCAR championship in November 2016 to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most titles in the sport.
While the Pittsburgh Penguins winning the 2016 Stanley Cup did not rewrite the record books, but they did win the NHL championship despite firing their head coach during the regular season. The city of Cleveland was easily the most tortured sports city in America prior to 2016. Its sports failures were even chronicled in the ESPN documentary “Believeland”. The 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers changed NBA Finals history by defeating the Golden State Warriors, who won a record 73 games during the NBA regular season. The Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit to give the city of Cleveland their first major sports championship in over 50 years.
A much, much longer streak was broken in baseball when the Cubs won the 2016 World Series. The Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years and ended the longest championship drought by any major American sports team. Ironically, they won their championship over a team in Cleveland by defeating a 3-1 deficit. The championships won by the Cubs and Cavaliers were historic and made national news because of the teams and cities involved.
However, 2016 wasn’t without its historic losses in sports as deaths included the legendary Muhammad Ali, who changed boxing and sports forever with his political stances. His passing was a global story and mirrored the global reaction when musician Prince died in 2016. Other notable figures who passed away included golf great Arnold Palmer, longtime Tennessee Lady Volunteers basketball coach Pat Summitt, hockey giant Gordie Howe, and NBA broadcaster Craig Sager. There is no doubt that 2016 was a historic year in sports.