Where to even begin is challenging enough. Right back in NRG stadium for the NCAA Basketball Championship might be an appropriate commencement locale. First, Marcus Paige’s double-clutch, game-tying three from back in Chapel Hill with under 10 seconds left in the championship seemed to be the shot that everyone would remember, sending this instant classic to overtime. Villanova had their own heroics, though, as Josh Hart sunk a crazy three from back in Philly at the buzzer, sinking UNC and winning the Wildcats their first NCAA Championship since 1985. That fantastic finish capped off an amazing championship game as the two teams went back and forth for a full 40 minutes.
Houston, specifically NRG Stadium, home of the Texans, seems to have an affinity for hosting great championship games, as evident by the April 4th affair above and Super Bowl 51 just a few days ago. Super Bowl 51, instantly the greatest game ever played because it went to overtime, rounded out a calendar year of memorable championships. Sports fans have been fortunate to have some great championship games in recent memory, but the games don’t always turn out to be good; case in point, Super Bowl 48, when the Seahawks trounced the Broncos 43-8; the game was over by the halftime.
This last calendar year has been littered with amazing championships that will not be forgotten anytime soon. It starts with Villanova’s thrilling win and continues through present day. The only championship that might not be quite as exceptional as the others would be the Stanley Cup Final, but that series was still very competitive and went six games, with the Pittsburgh Penguins finishing off the San Jose Sharks. For media sake, the teams playing were small market and the US doesn’t care that much about hockey, especially when the NBA Finals are happening almost simultaneously. There was no American Pharaoh drama in the Triple Crown this time around the track either, but that shouldn’t take away from the championship luster of the past figurative 365 days.
The NCAA Championship game has already been touched upon, so the next worthy championship would be the NBA Finals, where LeBron made good on his promise and brought Cleveland its first title since the Browns won the NFL Championship in 1964. The series went the distance and actually contains some striking similarities to Super Bowl 51. Through six games, the series may have been even at three games apiece, but none of the games were actually close. Many of the contests were blowouts and if it wasn’t for a tightly-contested Game 7 upset, the series might not have left fans with as much closure. LeBron bringing a championship to Cleveland after being down 3-1 in the series was also a great ending storyline, although if the Warriors won, there was little debate that they would be named the greatest team ever after a 73-win regular season.
As usual, for those who get bored of baseball like myself, the summer was one long layover to football, but as the dog days of summer wore on and the Chicago Cubs kept surging, there was once again this feeling that even I picked up that this could in fact be their year. By October the Cubs had scraped their way back to the National League Championship Series and in front of a charged up crowd at Wrigley on a chilly night they ousted the Dodgers in Game 6 and party number one began in the Windy City. The MLB might not have dreamed up the Cleveland Indians making the World Series, and the same for FOX, but with the Cubs in the series, they probably didn’t care all that much. Plus, the storylines on both sides couldn’t allow fans to go wrong: Either the lovable losers win their first World Series in 108 years and break the curse of the Billy Goat, or the Indians, who hadn’t won a World Series of their own in 67 years, break their streak and Cleveland wins two sports titles in the same year after going championship-less for 52 years. Well, Game 7 had it all on that faithful November night, with the Cubs holding a considerable lead before giving it up on a game-tying home run to Rajai Davis in the eighth inning. Eventually, the drama led into extra innings, where the Cubs’ Ben Zobrist played curse-breaker and drove in the game-winning run in the top of the 10th; it was also only fitting that the Cubs won their championship on the play in which young gun and franchise cornerstone Kris Bryant threw across the diamond to young gun and franchise cornerstone Anthony Rizzo for the final out. Staying up into the wee hours of the morning after a rain delay, America rejoiced as one. And one other thing- the Indians blew a 3-1 lead.
Next Stop: Tampa, and Raymond James Stadium, where vengeance was in order. The third College Football Playoff had produced two stinker Semifinal games, with Alabama rolling over Washington, 24-7 and Clemson shutting out Ohio State, 31-0. A rematch of last year’s title game, in which Alabama outscored Clemson 44-40, in a game dominated by offense, this year’s matchup generated a lot of anti-Alabama sentiment, as many college football fans couldn’t bear to see the Saban Dynasty reign yet again. Alabama boasted the country’s number one-ranked defense by a wide margin and the entire team was seen as better than the previous year’s champions. Alabama got out to a hot start, but the magic of Clemson’s standout Senior quarterback, Deshaun Watson, brought the Tigers back, and from the end of the second quarter all the way through the final drive of the game, the Tigers and the Crimson Tide went tit for tat. The final drive of the college football season had the ball resting in the hands of Watson, primed to make his final impression on NFL scouts in gameplay and bring a college football title back to Clemson for the first time since 1981. Watson marched down the field and hooked up with star wideout Mike Williams for some insane plays a couple times on the drive to move the Tigers to the Alabama two-yard line. With one second left on the clock, Watson then found Hunter Renfrow wide open in the end zone for a touchdown that delivered all the goods for Watson, coach Dabo Swinney, and the rest of Clemson nation. Alabama led by 10 points going into the final quarter, another championship game ending after a blown lead.
Now we are here, in February, as pitchers and catchers are gearing up to report in a couple of weeks; we are back in Houston, where this all started, except this time instead of there being a hardwood floor in the middle of NRG Stadium, there are 120 yards of specially painted turf for Super Bowl 51. Matt Ryan vs Tom Brady; one who longs to be elite vs the GOAT. If some people still weren’t sold on Brady being the best of all-time, this game was the dealmaker; it’s midway through the third quarter and the Atlanta Falcons are rolling over the Patriots, 28-3. What is happening? America is once again rejoicing as one, this time because one team is losing, and losing badly. But slowly, as the greats do, Belichick and Brady clawed their way back, and with a little help from Atlanta, the Patriots miraculously answered with 25 straight points to send the Super Bowl into overtime for the first time ever. Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank had been standing on the sideline for the majority of the fourth quarter waiting to hoist the Lombardi Trophy, but no such celebration ever occurred. The Patriots won the coin toss in overtime and proceeded to take the opening possession right down the field and James White scored on a toss play from the one-yard line, cementing the largest comeback in Super Bowl history as the Pats scored 31 straight and came back from 25, blowing away the previous 10-pt deficit vs Seattle in Super Bowl 49, which at the time was tied for the record. It was a tale of two games, and an unbelievable ending for any sports fan.
What starts in Houston ends in Houston, and that was a fantastic, and historic, year of championships. Let’s get those planning committees to give more championships to Houston.
The man behind the mic for several of these championships, Joe Buck, got to call both the World Series and the Super Bowl; does he have the best job in the world, or what?
If there’s one lesson to take from this string of stellar championships, it’s the old adage my gym teacher frequently offers during various tournaments: it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.