As this year winds down we’ve recapped its highlights to bring you the best of 2017 in fashion, sneakers, music, movies and more.
To say that this year was an amazing year for sports would be an understatement. Championships came to down the last second, dynasties were born, unbelievable comebacks were pulled off: and that’s just what happened on the field.
Off the field, sports emerged as a microcosm of our broader society. The cliche phrase “stick to sports” died an unexpected death. Broader political and social issues seemed to intrude on the sports world constantly, making greater heroes and villains out of star athletes and owners.
This year will not only go down in the record books, but also the history books, and it’s because of moments like these. We’ve compiled the 15 biggest sporting snapshots from throughout the year 2017 but, of course, the tribalistic and opinionated tendencies of sports fandom mean we’ve more than likely missed one of your favorites. If so, we’ll see you in the comments.
The Patriots Stage Epic Super Bowl Comeback
Outside of the Dunkin’ Donuts wall of the Boston metropolitan area, pretty much no one roots for the New England Patriots. Following so closely on the heels of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Super Bowl matchup between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons took on a political dimension, as Trump supporter Tom Brady became a MAGA stand-in for much of America. There was a giddiness online and in a sports bars across America when the Falcons went into halftime with a 28-3 lead. It looked like the Evil Empire would be toppled.
And then it wasn’t.
Tom Brady, now inarguably the greatest quarterback who ever lived, led yet another comeback, and yet another city’s long-held hopes were dashed by the merciless efficiency of Bill Belichick’s coaching. Ancient for a QB at 39 years old, Brady won his fifth Super Bowl ring, going 43 for 62 for 466 yards and dominating a second half in which the Falcons looked powerless.
With this victory, the question was no longer, “who can beat Tom Brady?” That day the question became: “When will time finally beat Tom Brady?” Judging by his performance in Super Bowl LI, we may have to wait some time for the answer.
Golden State Warriors Begin a Dynasty
Great eras in basketball have been defined by great rivalries: the Lakers and the Celtics in the ’80s, the Knicks and the Bulls in the ’90s, and, in recent years, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. For better or worse, 2017 was the year the Warriors proved the rivalry might be becoming a bit lopsided.
A year after LeBron James brought his team back from three games down to shock the NBA, the Warriors took care of business in just five games this year. The dominance that the Warriors had in the series was on full display in the final game, as Golden State went on a fifteen point second quarter tear, and never trailed again.
Though the Cavaliers have always had their hands full against a Steph Curry led Warriors team, losing the title to them in 2015 and barely squeaking by with a game seven win last year, the addition of finals MVP Kevin Durant has given the Warriors the definite edge. With two championships under their belt, 2017 may have marked the year that the Warriors go from being part of a great rivalry to being a true dynasty.
Neymar Breaks Soccer’s Transfer Fee Record
Paris Saint-Germain paying Barcelona handsomely for Neymar’s services would have been a big deal no matter what the number. But, the final haul of $263 million shook the soccer world this year. The Qatari-owned team paid Barcelona double the previous record. That number is so astonishing that it isn’t just a big deal in the sports world, but the business world has taken notice as well.
Neymar de Silva Santos Jr. is considered among the three best players in the world, but his transfer fee changes the landscape for such payments throughout soccer. Television revenues continue to grow worldwide, and as a result, transfer fees have grown exponentially. The record in 1990 was $11.6 million. Last year, the record was set at $116 million. This rate of growth could easily lead to a $350 million payment next year; for who, exactly, we’ll have to wait and see.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. v. Conor McGregor
Sometimes the big sports moments are more about the build-up than the payoff, and that was exactly the case with the fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor.
The problem with pitting giants of two different sports against each other—Mayweather is a boxing legend and McGregor is a UFC great—is that you have to pick a sport. And while MacGregor has been dominant in the UFC world, he is not a boxer. That was on painful display as the much anticipated match actually came to pass.
Even the most generous readings of the match can’t dance around the harsh reality: this thing was never close. Though the match went ten rounds, Mayweather was in control for the entirety of the bout. After a few rounds of letting McGregor tire himself out, Mayweather just started toying with the brawling Irishmen.
It’s a miracle of modern marketing that so many people bought a pay-per-view that was so clearly going to be lopsided. With pay-per-view profits exceeding $500 million, in some ways, both men won, as they both walked away with over $100 million. And while the match may not have been a rewarding watch, it was still the dominant conversation all over America for weeks before what some thought would be a bang, ended up a whimper.
Serena Wins Her 23rd Grand Slam
Setting records and changing history is nothing new for tennis great Serena Williams. The best tennis player in the world outdid herself once again in January. After an 81-minute match against her sister Venus, Serena emerged victorious and earned yet another place in the record books. With the win she passed Steffi Graf as the all-time leader in Grand Slam victories with 23 trophies.
Her win was also her 216th win in a Grand Slam match, further extending her world record number. It also marked her 7th Australian Open victory. The moment was also a big one for Venus, who returned to a grand slam final after an eight year hiatus, and would have been the oldest female grand slam winner had the match gone the other way.
Penguins Win Stanley Cup
While there is a lot of talk about the greatness of the dynastic performances of the New England Patriots and the Golden State Warriors, not nearly enough attention has been given to the Pittsburgh Penguins on a national stage. While their sustained greatness hasn’t led to a yearly Stanley Cup—in fact, prior to last year, they were absent from the Cup finals for six seasons—they have managed a level of excellence with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on their team that can’t be understated. With two of the best players of their generation on the same squad (currently rated #2 and #5 on NHL’s top players list), the Pittsburgh Penguins have been an exciting and welcome burst of energy in the NFL over the last decade.
Winning back to back titles is a nearly impossible feat in the NHL, and the last time it was done was all the way back in 1998, when the Detroit Red Wings repeated. It seems that coach Mike Sullivan was the missing piece needed to harness the Penguins potential; Sullivan has coached the team to two cup victories in as many years.
Astros Win Their First World Series
Only a few months after Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston, the Astros brought a World Series trophy home to Texas. Never before in the team’s 55-year history did they bring home the title, and only once before had they even made the World Series. But, this year, all of that changed in spectacular fashion.
This World Series was hard fought by both the Astros and their opponents, the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Series not only went to seven games, but two of those games went to extra innings. In contrast with the rest of the Series, game seven was decided quickly. World Series MVP George Springer set the tone early with a double and two-run homer and the Dodgers never quite caught up. With his home run, Springer tied a Series record hitting runs in for consecutive games against the Dodgers.
What for the Astros was a fairytale ending was a heartbreaking defeat for the Dodgers, who came so close to ending their 30 year championship drought only to come up just short.
Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko’s Brutal Brawl
The other big fight of the year was a far more entertaining match than Mayweather v. McGregor. The heavyweight fight between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko lasted 11 rounds, and ended up being one of the best championship fights in recent memory.
Both fighters landed some major hits in the course of the bout. Joshua knocked Klitschko down in the 5th, and Klitschko returned the favor in the 6th. Though Joshua ended the fight with a fierce performance in the fight’s final round that compelled the referee to step in, it is a testament to just what kind of battle this was that the decision was only 2-1 in his favor in terms of scoring.
Joshua’s victory means that the young fighter maintains his perfect 19 of 19 record ending his heavyweight fights with stoppages, another statement victory in what has been an impressive four-year career for the British fighter.
Usain Bolt Retires
Last summer, perhaps the greatest runner of all time, Usain Bolt of Jamaica, ran his last race. The retirement was surprising to some in the track and field community, as Bolt is only 30 years old. However, given just how high a level Bolt has been running at for years, it’s understandable that the legendary runner would want to go out on top.
Though he is still a champion runner, he had been slipping off of his all time great marks. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, he ran a 9.81 100 meter dash, almost 0.3 seconds off of his world record setting run half a decade earlier. Back issues have also plagued Bolt in recent years, further building a case for his relatively early retirement.
Bolt walks away from track and field a true legend. After winning 19 of his 21 world championship races, the greatest argument in support of his retirement might be that there just isn’t much else left for him to achieve.
The Return of NFL Celebrations
In a season dominated by heavy issues like racial inequality and the impact of concussions on player safety, the return of touchdown celebrations brought some sorely needed levity to the NFL season. Now, a touchdown play isn’t truly over until you get to see how the players will celebrate their seven points. Stars like the Pittsburgh Steelers Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster have taken their celebrations to new heights, doing their best to outdo each other with more and more ridiculous celebrations on a weekly basis.
Russia Banned From the 2018 Winter Olympics
Sometimes justice is served. Eventually.
One of the most interesting sports stories of the year reached a climax mere days ago. When documentarian Bryan Fogel was making much lauded Icarus, he thought he was making a film about trying to dope his way into becoming a better cyclist. The film ended up becoming so much more.
In order to pass his drug tests, Fogel enlisted Russian scientist and Olympic veteran Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s anti-doping labs, to assist him. But, Fogel quickly found himself a minor part of the Rodchenkov’s story. Midway through the film, Rodchenkov revealed that he had been a part of Russia’s systemic doping at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and had been facilitating the use of banned substances by Russians for years. As the documentary was being completed, he and Fogel went to the New York Times with information about a widespread Russian doping scandal that implicates many of the Russian athletes, trainers, scientists, and even Vladimir Putin himself.
In early December, Rodchenkov’s whistleblowing was vindicated. Russia is banned from the 2018 Olympics; any athlete who passes drug tests will compete under a neutral banner. Though he now lives in an undisclosed location in the US for his safety, the Russian scientist can now know the risks he took were not in vain.
Isaiah Thomas Goes off for 53
Second round playoff games don’t always make year-end lists, but Isaiah Thomas’ performance in Game 2 of the Celtics-Wizards series last May deserves a spot. Coming out of dental surgery hours before game time and on the birthday of his sister, who he had tragically lost only one month earlier, there would have be a number of excuses for Thomas to turn in a lackluster game. But, instead, he turned in a performance for the ages. 29 of his points came in the fourth quarter or overtime, while the Wizards only scored 30 combined points in the same period leaving Thomas with an impressive 53 point performance for the game.
That night, the 5’, 9” player, who was drafted 60th overall in the 2011 and then drifted around the league before finding a home in Boston, proved once and for all how much he is worth. His nickname, “King of the Fourth,” is now forever cemented in Celtics history.
When asked to comment on the game, Thomas was clearly aware the he was standing on the edge of history. He said, “I always dream of moments like this. Those are where legends are born. One day I want to be one of those guys.”
Albert Pujols Hits His 600th Home Run With a Grand Slam
Only eight other players in MLB history have hit 600 home runs. In early June, Pujols became the ninth in grand style, by hitting a grand slam. The hit, courtesy of Minnesota Twins pitcher Ervin Santana, also put Pujols just 96 hits shy of another milestone: 3,000 career hits. Pujols will likely join that exclusive club in the early part of the 2018 season, but even if he were to hang up his cleats today, he would go down as one of the greatest ever to wield a Louisville Slugger.
Real Madrid Win Record 5 Trophies
In 2017, Real Madrid achieved the kind of dominance that is impossible in most other sports: the team took home five championship trophies this year. The club won La Liga, the FIFA Club World Cup, Champions League, Spanish Super Cup, and European Super Cup, setting a record for the celebrated team. They earned the fifth trophy with little time to spare in the year, with a 1-0 victory over Gremio on December 16. courtesy of a goal from superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, to win the FIFA Club World Cup.
The achievement is even sweeter for Real Madrid because they easily outpaced their biggest rival, Barcelona, more than doubling their two big wins.
Taking a Knee
The most important sports story of the year came courtesy of someone who wasn’t even on the field. Last season, San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick started to protest police brutality against Black people in the United States by sitting, and, later, taking a knee during the national anthem. This simple gesture has had ramifications across the sports community and the entire United States. Kaepernick was not signed by any team in the off-season, and while inferior quarterbacks are starting all over the NFL, Kaep is still at home. Even though NFL owners have blackballed him, his voice is being heard all over the world.
Dozens of players have kneeled during the national anthem over the course of the NFL season. Over 150 athletes demonstrated in Week 3, following antagonistic comments and tweets from President Donald Trump. This protests have drawn vitriol from right wing politicians throughout the season, and has also resulted in a boycott of the NFL by those who believe a critique of our nation’s policing is somehow unpatriotic. In short, it has catalyzed the dialogue around white supremacy and the police state in the United States.
If Colin Kaepernick never plays another down of football, he will still be written about in history books and memorialized by future generations. He sacrificed tens of millions of dollars and endured scorn on a national level in order to provide the Black Lives Matter movement the largest platform possible.
Kaepernick has already been named GQ’s Man of the Year, but you have to imagine only greater honors lay ahead of him, as his place in history becomes more evident and the voice of the movement he helped to grow is amplified.
Change very well may come to the United States in part because Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee.
Next up; here are the 23 best memes of 2017.
- Main & Featured Image: John Gurzinski / AFP / Getty Images
- Words: Brenden Gallagher