With a few days of separation since Super Bowl LI, we now have a chance to breathe for a little bit, and assess exactly what we just saw on Sunday. Man, unbelievable...
Now, having had a chance to assess not just the game itself, but how lucky we were to have it right here in Houston, well, that triggers another memory. After all, it's been just ten months since that same stadium hosted a buzzer beater by Kris Jenkins of Villanova to win the NCAA basketball tournament...
Wow, TWO instant classics in the SAME BUILDING within the same sports season! But why should we be surprised? 2016 was the Year of the Instant Classic in championship play, and NRG Stadium provided the bread to the Instant Classic sandwich, for in between Jenkins's dagger and Tom Brady's heroics, we had LeBron's epic comeback from down 3-1 to the 73-win Warriors (including a triple double in Game 7)...
...the Cubs breaking their 100-plus year curse, after nearly coughing up a 3-1 lead of their own...
...and Deshaun Watson marching the Clemson Tigers right down the throat of college football's most fearsome defense of the last two decades...
I think it goes without saying this was the greatest season of title games/series ever. All of them had riveting drama and massive historical significance. The question is, does any other set of championship games/series come even close? I came up with the honorable mentions, with a couple of rules...
1. For our purposes, in this post, I am grouping the NCAA finals, NBA finals, World Series, College Football Playoff title game and NFL regular season from the 2016 calendar year together. So even though the CFP title game and the Super Bowl happened in early 2017, those are grouped with the 2016 entries from NCAA hoops, the NBA and the World Series.
2. The year must have included a very good to great Super Bowl to be considered. In the pantheon of championships, the Super Bowl is like the final exam — it counts for half your grade. If a year had a crappy Super Bowl, it doesn't make the cut, which means John Elway and the Broncos singlehandedly torpedoed some pretty good years in 1986, 1987 and 1989.
Here is my short list of honorable mention years, all of which are flawed in some way in trying to go against 2016's flawlessness...
NCAA Basketball: Danny Manning leads underdog Kansas to an NCAA title
NBA Finals: The Showtime Lakers win their final NBA title and first back-to-back winner since the Celtics of the late '60s
World Series: Dodgers upset the Bash Brother A's, Kirk Gibson's epic home run wins Game 1
College Football: Notre Dame wins first national title in same season as "Catholics vs. Convicts"
Super Bowl XXIII: Montana-to-Taylor in waning moments lifts 49ers over Bengals
NCAA Basketball: Underdog Arizona (Miles Simon!) wins title
NBA Finals: Bulls win fifth NBA title, Michael Jordan "flu game" in Game 5
World Series: Marlins rip out Cleveland's heart in bottom of 9th of Game 7
College Football: Split title between Nebraska and Woodson-led Michigan
Super Bowl XXXII: Terrell Davis leads underdog Broncos to upset of Favre and Packers
NCAA Basketball: Duke wins Coach K's third title
NBA Finals: Kobe and Shaq win second consecutive title over Iverson and Sixers
World Series: Arizona wins on walk off single in Game 7 over Yankees
College Football: Miami Hurricanes smoke Eric Crouch and Nebraska
Super Bowl XXXVI: Tom Brady wins first Super Bowl, last second FG, 13.5 point underdog to Rams
NCAA Basketball: Carmelo Anthony leads Syracuse to title over Roy Williams and Kansas
NBA Finals: Spurs win second title of the Duncan Era, close out David Robinson Era
World Series: Marlins upset Yankees in World Series (LCS had Aaron Boone HR in AL, Bartman in NL)
College Football: Split title between LSU (Nick Saban's first title) and USC (Pete Carroll's first title)
Super Bowl XXXVIII: Patriots win second title on last-second field goal over Panthers
NCAA Basketball: Connecticut wins NCAA title after epic comeback in semifinals versus Duke
NBA Finals: Superstar-less Pistons win NBA title over Lakers, Kobe and Shaq breakup looming
World Series: Red Sox break the Curse of the Bambino, after historic comeback in ALCS vs. Yankees
College Football: USC destroys Oklahoma in Orange Bowl for BCS title
Super Bowl XXXIX: Patriots win third Super Bowl by three points, beating McNabb and Eagles
NCAA Basketball: Kansas beats Memphis in OT after epic comeback and Chalmers three pointer
NBA Finals: Newly assembled Big Three win Celtics first title since 1986
World Series: Phillies win first World Series since 1980 over upstart Devil Rays
College Football: Florida and Tebow knock off Oklahoma and Heisman winner Bradford
Super Bowl XLIII: Santonio Holmes's circus catch wins Super Bowl for Steelers over Cardinals
NCAA Basketball: Butler's buzzer beater at half court falls short versus Duke
NBA Finals: Lakers win back-to-back titles, defeat Celtics in seven games
World Series: Giants beat Rangers for first of three World Series in five seasons
College Football: Cam Newton leads Auburn to late win over Oregon
Super Bowl XLV: Rodgers wins first (and only, so far) Super Bowl in duel with Big Ben
NCAA Basketball: UConn wins Final Four of misfits in Houston
NBA Finals: Mavericks win title after Heat celebrate too early, the last we've seen of mortal LeBron
World Series: Cardinals stage late comeback in Game 6, beat Rangers in seven games
College Football: Alabama smokes LSU in rematch of regular season bloodbath
Super Bowl XLVI: Eli Manning beats Brady again for second Super Bowl title
Some solid years, all of them. None as great as 2016, though. It almost makes up for all the prominent celebrity deaths last year. Almost.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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