Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Could 2015 Be The Best Sports Year Ever?

We should have known something was up on the first day of 2015.

For the first time in history, major college football gave us a playoff and the results far exceeded anything anyone could have expected. The Rose Bowl and Superdome crackled with life for hours. The Oregon destruction of Florida State was a history-making event. The Ohio State/Alabama Sugar Bowl was an all-time great game.

2015 sugar bowl
When Ezekiel Elliott sprinted for the game-clinching touchdown, the Superdome exploded – as did I hundreds of miles away in my living room. As a college football fan, it was what I always wanted. I wanted to see the best teams fighting it out to determine who was best. Not pollsters or coaches or commentators – it was players on the field leaving it all on the line.

It was the best New Year’s Day in two decades and rivaled many of them before that. Of course, the morons that run college football moved those games on New Year’s Eve for this year, but that’s a story for another day.

In short, the first college football playoff kicked off what has been the most thrilling six months on the sporting calendar that I can ever remember, rolling right through Dustin Johnson’s unforgettable three-putt on Sunday during a train wreck U.S. Open.

As you’re reading this, I’m sure you have your own moment running through your head. From every sport – save NASCAR, which has been completely awful – there have been indelible moments that will pop up in montages for decades.

What is your favorite?

The NFL provided multiple heart-stopping playoff games, culminating in a Super Bowl that concluded on the one-yard line with one of the most controversial play calls in history.

The NBA Finals gave us LeBron James putting forth the best statistical effort ever while the Warriors redefined how the sport was played. The first round series between the Clippers and Spurs gave us one of the best Game 7s ever, which just happened to take place after the Kentucky Derby and before the biggest prizefight in a generation.

Speaking of horse racing, that sport delivered the first Triple Crown in 37 years and American Pharoah looks to recalibrate the ceiling of an entire sport.

The Stanley Cup playoffs, well, I guess they did what they do every year. There were seemingly multiple overtime games on a nightly basis for weeks. The two conference finals were thrilling, particularly the battle between the Blackhawks and the Ducks. The Final series didn’t feature a two-goal lead until the bitter end.

rickie fowler win
The PGA Tour ushered in a much-needed new era of American golf with Jordan Spieth running away with the Masters and Rickie Fowler winning the Players Championship in the most exciting final round shootout in that tournament’s history. Even Tiger Woods’ decline has been fascinating in that rubber-necking, “I can’t look but I will” sort of way.

March Madness lived up to its billing but, unlike so many previous iterations, the excitement did not die once everyone’s brackets were torn up. It built to a glorious crescendo, with Kentucky escaping by a thread against Notre Dame in the Elite Eight and then losing their undefeated season to a motivated Wisconsin team in the Final Four. That Duke won the title in another thriller is almost irrelevant.

Even baseball, whose season is less than three months old, has given us a wide range of fascinating subplots, such as the resurgence of the Cubs and the emergence of Bryce Harper.

Personally, there have been more moments in the past six months where friends have texted, or the bar I was in exploded, or the party I was at stopped, than I can ever remember. It felt like every time there was a major sporting event – yeah, we’ll exclude Mayweather/Pacquiao – it lived up to the hype and then some.

That is made even more remarkable by the time we live in. Everything is hyped to the point of exhaustion. The Golf Channel does an hour-long pregame show for the Colonial. I think ESPN began its pre-game for the first college football title game on Saturday. It takes something extraordinary to make all that talk seem worthy and, time and time again, the sports world delivered.

We spend too much time analyzing and not enough time appreciating. In the past two weeks, I saw a Triple Crown, an incredible Stanley Cup Finals, a once-in-a-lifetime performance by LeBron James, the beginning of the Women’s World Cup and a fascinating golf major. It’s been an embarrassment of riches for the sports fan.

We still have six months to go. If they rival the first six, 2015 will cement its place as the greatest sports year ever.

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