2016 in sports: Cubs and Cavs, Rio and retirements

It's hard to come up with a top 10 list of the biggest stories in sports. So rather than ranking them, here's a look at ten that had fans talking or had historical or global significance.

"Hey, Chicago, what do you say? The Cubs are going to win today"

Seventeen presidential administrations had passed since the last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. And it looked like we were going to reach 18 when the Cubs were down 3-1 in the Fall Classic to the Cleveland Indians. But Chicago survived an elimination scare in Game 5, then blew out the Indians in Game 6 before playing a classic Game 7 that included a rain delay and a 10th inning nail-biter. The Cubs won the series 4-3 to end a 108-year title drought.

An interesting stat: The Cubs and Indians both scored 27 runs in the series.

Cavaliers end a half-century of frustration in Believeland

That loss by the Indians would have been more salt in the wound for Cleveland sports fans if not for what happened five months earlier. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from their own 3-1 deficit to the seemingly unstoppable Golden State Warriors to take their first NBA title. It ended a 52-year major championship drought for the city of Cleveland.

And they weren't going to miss this party.

Now, if the Browns could just do something.

Manning retires after Super Bowl win; Cam sulks in defeat

In Peyton Manning's rookie season in Indianapolis in 1998 was the same year John Elway led the Denver Broncos to their second Super Bowl title -- then retired. 17 seasons later, the former repeated the feat of the latter. After a foot injury had forced Manning to sit out six games, he returned late in the year to manage the Broncos' offense. It culminated with a victory over the 17-1 Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50.

And as Manning walked away in glory, the other quarterback -- known for his boisterous, fun-loving demeanor in victory -- sulked in the postgame press conference, giving short answers before finally walking out.

Biles, Phelps, and Ledecky shine for U.S. in Rio

The United States again dominated the world at the Summer Olympics. And three names, in particular, stood out.

First, the old guard: Michael Phelps, in what he said will be his final Olympics, won five gold medals and a silver to increase his overall record total to 28 (23 of them gold). And he did it at 31 years old -- an age when most swimmers are already retired.

Michael Phelps holds back tears on podium

 

He also had us asking: What's up with those red marks on his back?



And he gave us "Phelps Face."

Also in the pool, Katie Ledecky proved herself as the most dominant distance swimmer in the world. She won four golds and a silver. The most eye-popping of this was her victory in the 800-meter freestyle. As the television cameras watched her reach the end of the pool, nobody else was even in the frame.

Katie Ledecky shatters 800m free world record for 4th gold

 

But America lit up with the performance of Simone Biles. She was already crowned a world gymnastics champion three times, but her coming out party was in Rio. She won five medals including gold in the All Around and team competitions. With 19 Olympic and World Championship medals, Biles passes Shannon Miller as the most decorated American gymnast ever. She will go down as the highlight of the "Final Five" U.S. women's gymnastics team -- named in honor of Martha Karolyi, who coached her last Olympics.

Athletes take a knee and launch America into a debate

It started in a preseason game. 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first sat, then kneeled, for the national anthem. His reason? To bring awareness of what he called oppression against blacks in the wake of police shootings. Other athletes, both professional and amateur, joined him. Some kneeled. Some held their fist up high.

It has launched America into a debate with many facets. Some support these athletes to exercise their First Amendment rights. Some say they are disrespecting the flag and veterans (Veterans are split, with some criticizing and some supporting the demonstrations). Some think it's hypocritical that an athlete who makes millions of dollars criticizes the country where he makes his fortune.

It's led to larger discussions and other forms of demonstration deemed more positive by some. The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints gathered in a circle and joined arms before a game. Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, whose father was a police officer, used it as a platform to seek more training for officers faced with those shooting scenarios -- not just to protect the public, but the officers as well.

Big Ten dominance throws College Football Playoff into chaos

For years, the SEC was the dominant conference in college football. Five years ago, two SEC teams played for the national championship.

This year, 13-0 Alabama remains universally recognized as the top program in the nation. But the Big Ten became the top conference -- and gave the College Football Playoff committee major headaches in preparing its final rankings.

Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin were all able to make an argument for being included in the field of four. The only one selected was Ohio State -- a team that didn't even get to play for the conference title after losing earlier in the year to eventual Big Ten Champion Penn State. But the committee felt the Buckeyes were the third best team in the nation. Pac-12 Champion Washington, despite what was seen as weak non-conference schedule, edged the Nittany Lions for No. 4.

Are fans losing interest in the NFL?

The NFL dealt with something in 2016 it hasn't seen in a long time -- people turning off the TV. According to the website Sports Media Watch, NFL viewership has dropped significantly. Although nobody is panicking yet, there have been many theories introduced to explain why.

- Oversaturation of the product (bad games on Thursday night)

- More live streaming on Twitter and mobile devices

- The Kaepernick effect: Players kneeling or sitting during the national anthem

- The No Fun League: Not allowing players to show their personalities

- Poor officiating

- Intense interest in the presidential election

Ryan Lochte embarrasses a nation

The headline sounded so stunning when it came out on a Sunday morning: American swimmer Ryan Lochte robbed at gunpoint in Rio.

There were questions of whether it was true after Lochte's mother announced it. But Lochte himself confirmed it happened -- saying he and three other swimmers were forced to hand over money.

Except it didn't happen. We later learned Lochte was covering up for a drunken encounter at a gas station.

Rio, which was under scrutiny for several failures in hosting the Olympics, did not take it well. Lochte has since been charged in Brazil for filing a false robbery report. He and the other swimmers involved were suspended by U.S. swimming. Lochte lost multiple sponsors, and protesters interrupted him while he appeared on "Dancing With The Stars."

It will remain a permanent black eye for the 12-time Olympic medalist.

As if Golden State wasn't good enough already ...

Steph Curry. Klay Thompson. Draymond Green. As fearsome a set of triplets that has ever taken an NBA floor.

Now add former MVP Kevin Durant. A team that won an NBA record 73 games last season and came one win away from a second straight championship got frighteningly better.

Some wondered if this wasn't going to work. Too many stars and only one basketball to go around. And the league was stunned when the Warriors lost their opening game of the season.

But by all reports, the team has quickly gelled, and egos are out the door. They have the best record in the NBA and the odds-on favorite to win another crown.

Curry's No-Look Alley-Oop Pass to Durant - NBA.com

On the break, Stephen Curry throws a beautiful no-look lob to Kevin Durant for the slam.

Jimmie Johnson joins the greatest of all-time

Richard Petty

Dale Earnhardt

Jimmie Johnson

The only three men to win seven NASCAR Sprint Cup championships. Johnson joined the exclusive club after winning the season-finale race at Homestead-Miami -- a track he had failed to conquer before that day. And he won his seven titles in just 11 seasons. Johnson, 41, is still plenty young enough to win one more and become the most decorated NASCAR champion of all time.

Walking away: Sports legends who called it a career

Kobe Bryant: The future Hall of Famer scored a season-high 60 points in the final game of his career. He walks away with five NBA titles for the Lakers.

Tim Duncan: He seemed timeless. Like Bryant, he won five NBA titles with the Spurs. Unlike Bryant, his teams never missed the playoffs during his career.

David Ortiz: The 40-year-old posted his best season in a decade (.315 average, 38 home runs, 127 RBI). Next stop: Cooperstown.

Marshawn Lynch: Beastmode's retirement was like his demeanor with the press -- quiet. With most NFL teams passing more than running, Lynch's 10,000 yards rushing (regular and postseason) may be enough to get the mercurial running back into Canton one day.

Alex Rodriguez: History will judge whether he's a hero or villain. He left with 14 All-Star appearances and was just four home runs shy of 700, but many will wonder how many of those came with the help of performance-enhancing substances.

Tony Stewart: The three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion will hang up his racing helmet and focus on being a team owner.

Vin Scully: After a 67-year career in the baseball broadcast booth, Scully's legendary voice will no longer be heard calling ballgames. Scully turned 89 in November.

In Memoriam:

Muhammad Ali: 1942-2016 -- The Greatest Of All Time

Arnold Palmer: 1929-2016 -- Won seven majors

Pat Summitt: 1952-2016 -- Coached Tennessee Lady Vols to eight NCAA titles

Gordie Howe: 1928-2016 -- Fourth on the NHL all-time scoring list

Craig Sager: 1951-2016 -- NBA reporter

Copyright 2016 KING


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