Welp. If you’re reading this you’ve managed to survive one of the weirdest, most divisive, celebrity-death-filled years in human history. Congrats…I think? 2016 was full of surprises to say the least, and we’ve reached the squares of the calendar that remind us of our favorite and least favorite parts of the year we’re leaving behind.
Most best-of lists you’ve read this month are focused in the arts–best albums, films, books–and admittedly, it’s tough to put together a sports-focused list that makes any sense. Hell. I felt like anything more than five would be long-winded and guarantee I’d overlook some great game that I probably didn’t even see. Perhaps that’s still the case–I watched every game on this list.
This short list was created without any difficult decisions, and using simple criteria: The games needed to be nationally viewable, meaningful, (they’re all postseason contests,) and entertaining AF.
With every effort to be as objective as possible, these are the five most entertaining games of 2016.
5. NFL Wildcard Playoff, January 9th–Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals
There’s nothing better than a rivalry game in the NFL–except when it’s also a playoff game.
This game had everything–violence, rain, a quarterback knockout followed by a triumphant return, a comeback, another comeback, and an iconically bitter IG post to sum up one star player’s disappointment.
These two teams genuinely hate each other, and it showed in January when the Steelers stole this playoff game from the bengals, and literally needed police protection to escape from Cincinnati.
Whether it was a coach grabbing a player’s dreads on the sideline, Martavis Bryant’s summer-saulting-butt-catch, or vontez burfuct’s attempt to murder Antonio Brown— this game was ugly and beautiful all at once.
The Steelers baited the Bengals into emotional self-immolation–low-key, this may be Mike Tomlin’s best effort as an NFL head coach–and won on a chip-shot walk-off field goal after the Bengals committed 30 yards of penalties on a single play.
4. American League Wildcard, October 4th– Baltimore Orioles @ Toronto Blue Jays
While this game didn’t quite have the drama of the greatest inning of all time, in which the Blue Jays participated a year earlier–it was a fantastic baseball game.
The Baltimore Orioles survived the first ten innings at Rogers Arena–this being the second game on this list in which a visiting player was assaulted with a full beer–but the Blue Jays won in the eleventh when Edwin Encarnacion walked-off against Ubaldo Jimenez while the game’s best closer sat idly by, awaiting a chance to pitch that never manifested itself.
After watching how two league champions used their best relievers throughout the postseason, Buck Showalter’s decision not to use Zack Britton in this game will be second-guessed in Baltimore for years to come.
3. NFL Divisional Playoff, January 16–Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals
It wasn’t the Super Bowl, but let’s face it–unless you’re a hardcore football nerd, or won money gambling, Super Bowl 50 was pretty boring.
This NFC divisional playoff game was not the most well-played game of the postseason–but it was easily season’s most enthralling.
This game was fucking insane–Multiple hail-marys, a coin that didn’t flip, playoff overtime.
Needing a touchdown and an extra point just to tie, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers found himself taking a snap on 4th and 20 from HIS OWN DAMN END-ZONE with no timeouts, and under a minute to play. Even mister-I-bang-Olivia Munn-while-launching-game-winning-passes-and-negotiating-world-peace-with-my-dope-ass-mustache couldn’t overcome this hopeless situation. This game was fucking OVER.
Consider that prior to this play, during the previous two seasons, teams had attempted to convert on forth-and-twenty 36 times with a success rate of ZERO.
Not only does mister hero-face convert the 4th and twenty, seconds later–with zeros hanging on the game clock–he goes ahead and completes ANOTHER HAIL MARY to tie the game.
The part of my soul which hates Aaron Rodgers as much as Cancer, Soccer, and Mayonnaise combined (and if you know me, I reaaaallly hate mayonnaise,) wanted to vomit–but god I love American football. And chaos.
This shit was riveting.
The story had a happy ending, though. Thanks to Larry Fitzgerald–who probably secured a bust in Canton, OH on this Saturday night–the Packers lost in overtime, and their fans were made to suffer in the worst possible way. Which was totally awesome.
2. Game 7, NBA Finals, June 19–Cleveland Cavaliers @ Golden State Warriors
I will share two of my dirtiest sports secrets here:
A: In my younger days, I loved the Cleveland Browns. The loins of Clay Matthews Sr. may have produced one of my most hated athletes on earth–but he was one of the best middle linebackers ever to play the game. Also, Bernie Kosar is one of my childhood heroes.
I once wrote him a letter and–undoubtedly from some Browns PR intern–received an autographed photo in return.
B: I really don’t care about basketball, and despite being a native Chicagoian–Michael Jordan had zero influence on me.
While pounding down a bag of Doritos, I watched ESPN’s, “Believeland,” two nights before Game 7 of the NBA championship.
My roommate is originally from Cleveland, and loves basketball.
These are probably the only two reasons I chose to watch game seven of the NBA finals, rather than a nationally televised Cubs/Pirates Sunday night game (although I did tune in briefly, and was lucky enough to see Willson Contreras hit a home run in his first major league at-bat.)
This game was on some next-level shit, and I’ll never forget it.
To watch this game in the company of a great friend, whose interest in sports spawned at least partially from my own geekary, was fascinating entertainment in spite of my general lack of interest in its outcome.
However, for pure competitive drama, there are few games that will ever compare with this one–an entire city hanging on its outcome while a native attempts to right the wrongs of history and overcome his own misgivings.
Opine what you will about LeBron James, but the passion with which he played this final game of the NBA season was thick enough to tar your roof.
This championship meant everything to a city that hadn’t experienced one in over half a century, and appreciating its beauty from a competitive and sociological perspective was immensely satisfying. Not to mention the difficulty of overcoming a 3-1 deficit in a best-of-seven series…
1. Game 7, World Series, November 2–Chicago Cubs @ Cleveland Indians
Obviously it was difficult to be objective when choosing the best game of 2016. However, while there have been some amazing games seven in the history of American sports, this was arguably the greatest game ever played.
In any sport.
There are not enough superlatives in the English language to describe game seven of the 2016 World Series.
If someone were to write a fictional depiction of what actually happened in Cleveland on the night of November 2nd, it would be disregarded as over-the-top, melodramatic bullshit.
But it did happen. Real-time.
There’s a reason this was the most-watched World Series game in decades, and if you weren’t on your feet or the edge of your seat for most of it, you’re either taking too many drugs or not enough of them.
Obviously we expected a dramatic conclusion once The Cubs erased a 3-1 deficit to force a decisive final game between the teams with the two longest championship droughts in baseball. I’m not a religious person, but I’ve imagined that before Corey Kluber took the mound to deliver the game’s first pitch, the Baseball gods held a quorum during which it was deemed necessary–regardless of the outcome–for fans of both teams to squirm in agony for a few hours.
“Guys. I got this. How bout’ right before the tenth inning starts…rain delay. BOOM. Not a long one or anything–just a few minutes. Make em’ really sweat that shit.”
Game seven of the 2016 World Series was a microcosm of all of the cool stuff that sports are to those of us who care about them–the essence of competitive spirit, displayed by fifty dudes who wouldn’t have quit if the game lasted until 2017.
I can’t imagine a better game ever being played, but there’s always next year.