Tag Archives: World Series

The 5 Best Games of 2016

 

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.

THIS SHIT WAS RIDICULOUS.

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. 

Ever.

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.

Texts From the Ledge

The best part about when your favorite team wins the World Series are all of the awesome personal moments. 
Some of my strongest memories are attached to Baseball–probably a large part of why I’m so geeky and nostalgic about the game–and over the past month I’ve created memories that will last a lifetime. 

The ups and downs of October Baseball were a lot more fun with the support of some other wonderful Cubs fans–whether close friends or total strangers. Intentionally or otherwise, Cubs fans share a unique support system–especially over the past two seasons–and it’s pretty cool to be a part of.

Beginning some time in 2014 I became something of a personal baseball therapist for one friend who’s emotions are particularly volatile.

 These messages provided comic relief during some of the more difficult moments of the Cubs World Series run. 

These are texts from the ledge.

Remember that time it seemed like the Cubs were never going to score another run again?


It was definitely a rough couple days…


Remorse…

 Blame, and other coping mechanisms…

John Lackey induced angst…

Projection…

  Irrational ideas spawn from fear and anger…

Acceptance…

 Well-being checks…
Fucking previous engagements…
Overreaction…
 

Depression leads to anger, anger leads to hatred…

But yeah, fuck the Marlins, still..
Jed Hoyer DID draft him…

They’re never there when you need them…
Don’t get so worked up…It’s just a game, right?
Because let’s face it, it wouldn’t be as fun if they’d lost…

Mission accomplished, John

Tonight is Everything. I Love you All. Let’s F-cking GOOOOO!!!

We root for laundry. We’re suckers for brand loyalty, desperately seeking the distraction of that which we cannot control–but sports are just the essentially just the same things happening over and over, again and again, right? Just the silly satisfaction of supremacy and needless disappointment of loss dancing awkwardly together in different costumes depending on the season.

I can’t explain what it is to emotionally thrive or suffer because of the uncontrollable actions of those who wear a particular color pattern to someone who’s disinterested–I’ve tried and failed. I’ve realized there are things I don’t care for–and will never fully empathize with those who care for them. I’ve learned it is unfair to judge the interests of others. But there are moments when the act of investing all of one’s emotions into the act of strangers playing a children’s game transcends distraction and entertainment and tomfoolery. And, these moments–to those who care–are fleeting, and unforgettable and misunderstood like life itself.

Somehow, I found myself within the confines of Wrigley Field on Saturday, October 22nd–surreal, considering I woke up that morning unsure where I’d even watch the game, let alone that I’d be lucky enough to possess a lottery ticket of epic proportions. However, I can, in one word, describe how it felt to be present during the sports equivalent of the moon landing.

Whoa. 

In spite of a breezy, dominant performance by Kyle Hendricks and the Chicago Cubs, and the overwhelmingly positive vibes that ebbed and flowed throughout the concourse for three plus hours, as Keke Hernandez came to the plate to begin the Dodger half of the 9th, I suddenly felt as though I was on an elevator that had dropped 50 stories without warning. 

I looked to the left at my friend–who, like myself, hours earlier had ridiculously, and impulsively committed to the risk of entering the bleachers knowing we may be leaving them not only financially, but emotionally broken–all four of our eyes already wet and reddening–and said, “whoa. Whooooaaah, dude.” 

If, instead at that moment I’d reached the top of Mount Everest, or was myself stepping on the surface of the moon, I can’t conceive a greater level of awe.

It’s been ten days since the Cubs clinched their first National League title since 1945–three years before my dad was born–and we now live in a world where the Chicago Cubs are the champions of baseball. There are few people–even few sports fans–who can comprehend the meaning of that fact. 

Fact: The Chicago Cubs won the Fucking World Goddamn Series.

For 37 years and 343 days, the only planet on which I’ve lived has been square. Today it is round, and for the rest of my days, it will always be round. 

There are no words, typed or written or spoken. 

There is nothing but transcendence and joy and love. 

There is nothing but a phone call to my dad. Nothing but the same bleachers where I’d sat at 15 years of age–a bag of McDonald’s cheeseburgers tucked under my seat. A 120 minute bus ride to watch a mediocre baseball team wearing the appropriate laundry, representing my chosen brand, in the city where I happen to live on a small patch of grass on a square planet.

The Sammy Sosa cork game. 

Doug Dascenzo chasing a a fly ball.

Jose Guzman’s 8.2 innings of no-hit ball.

But here I am. Telling the kids in front of me, “Don’t count outs, you know better,” from the same outfield at the same address where we became the worst versions of Cubs fans, mercilessly booing LaTroy Hawkins–who happened to be a human being–as the Cubs were eliminated from contention. 

This can’t be the same place.

And I am so lucky to be here–not just at Wrigley Field the night the Cubs broke the glass ceiling– but to have suffered long enough on this square planet to appreciate witnessing the Cubs win, perhaps, the greatest World Series ever played. 

To have dropped to my knees–sobbing in public–without a moment of embarrassment.

To have embraced some of my favorite people while we cried tears of joy.

They’ve never made it easy, but they’ve always made it fun.

Let’s. Go.