The Deadspin staff pick their favorite sports moments from 2014, and explain what made them so special. Here they are.
Madison Bumgarner's Game 7
When I played little league baseball, we had a kid on our team named Paul who was the best pitcher in the league. Paul wasn't really bigger or stronger than any of the other kids in the county, but he could throw much, much harder than any kid his age should.
We were basically guaranteed to win every third game or so, because Paul would take the mound, throw fireballs right past a bunch of kids who looked like they were about to pee their pants, and rack up 10-12 strikeouts. Those of us in the infield would stand around and crack jokes with each other until the game was over. To this day, Paul is still the most dominant athlete I've ever seen in person.
I hadn't thought about Paul for a long time, until I watched Madison Bumgarner win the World Series all by his damn self. The great thing about Bumgarner's five innings of dominant relief pitching in Game 7 was that it was a legendary moment in slow burn. Everyone who watched it knew they were watching something historic, but unlike a game-winning homer or three-pointer, we had a few hours to swim around in the greatness.
There's something else I love about Bumgarner's performance, though, and that's the simplicity of it. Being an adult sports fan means knowing that what happens on the field happens on top of a mountain of context. Results, even the awe-inspiring, unexpected ones, are born out of things like tactical scheming, personnel matchups, and pure dumb luck. But for five innings, Madison Bumgarner wiped away any thoughts of context. It didn't matter that he was pitching on two days' rest, or which helpless Royal he was facing, or even, it seemed, what pitches he decided to throw. There was just Bumgarner, as stoic on the mound as he was in the dugout, whipping the ball over the plate and dominating the last five innings of the biggest game of the season. The eventual outcome felt fated almost as soon as his outing started, so much so that even when the Royals got the tying run on third in the bottom of the ninth, I honestly didn't doubt for a second that Bumgarner would get the next hitter out.
I never doubted that Paul could get an out whenever he wanted to, either, and not because of some tactical or mental edge he possessed, but because he was simply better than everyone else. For five innings in the biggest baseball game of his life, that was Madison Bumgarner too. — Tom Ley
The saddest Skins fan
Nothing in sports this year got me going like that sad sack trying to keep a bag over his head during the Rams-Skins broadcast. The scene, at once funny and poignant and enlightening, reminded me that there's no professional sports team worth following more than Dan Snyder's. Even for folks who don't give a rip about football—hell, especially for folks who don't give a rip about football—Snyder's the gift that keeps on giving.
Being a Skins fan during Snyder's reign has for some time been a lot like being a fan of Friday Night Lights during its glorious run on NBC. With either the Skins or FNL, the on-field action is only a small, not-well-acted part of the experience. The games are necessary only to advance the narrative. The real drama and entertainment comes off the field. This year, we had the Snyderization of RG3: his "buddy of the owner" label was a surer harbinger of career doom than any MRI of his shredded tendons would be. And we had a coach using the media to emasculate a player, and management using the media to emasculate a coach. And another double-digit loss season. And Snyder selling outdated consumables. Same as it ever was.
Snyder used to be just D.C.'s embarrassment, but this year, we've his operation mocked on a New Yorker cover and in two(!) South Park episodes, plus his name being dropped all over that worst-owner polling and even the flippin' BBC's storyboards, so, he's the world's embarrassment now. It's a small wonder that seats to watch the games live at his stadium—at least those he hasn't ripped out or turned into "standing room only" sections just to keep up that totally fictitious sellout streak intact (fact: the Skins haven't really sold out a single home game since Snyder bought the team)—are now being unloaded on the secondary market so cheaply that memes like "medium latte or Skins tickets" and "for less than a Big Mac" now pop up on football Sundays. Why anybody goes to Snyder's hellhole of a stadium anymore, no matter the cost of a ticket, is almost beyond explanation.
Almost. As my guy in the ripped bag understood, the only reason left for showing up is to demonstrate dissatisfaction with the current regime. Snyder tried convincing everybody he's a real fan as soon as he bought the team. Nothing he's done since proves it. If he wanted anybody buy his act, he should have shown up for the Rams game with a bag over his head, ripped or not. — Dave McKenna
The Seahawks' defense in the Super Bowl
Only football, at its best, elevates saying "go fuck yourself" to an art. I'm just not sure what else to say about the Seahawks' utter decimation of the Broncos' offense in the Super Bowl. Yes, we could go over the stats; we all know what they say. But this isn't about that. It's about the way football makes us feel, what sets it apart from the other sports America loves. In no other contest does a group of players say, We will exert our will to stop you. We will never let you score. We will decimate you and destroy you until nothing is left of it except tears and broken dreams.
Yes, other sports have defense, but of the major American sports, it's football alone that deigns to have masters, players whose only job is to deny, deny, deny. Damn, that's special. Because defense isn't sexy or commercialized; there are no posters of Michael Jordan executing a trap. We need it, but only football truly celebrates its stoppers.
Let Peyton Manning cry, if he did. I won't feel bad about his tears. I've had enough of the pretty boys, the ones with the golden arms, the guys with the right pedigree, the right colleges, the proper ability to read the defenses. I like to think the old coal miners could have picked any sport, but they chose football, because yes, it's ugly, the toll high, the bodies broken, the brains left forever bruised. But, damn, the glory of the defense, of willing yourself to deny another human what they see as their right? It's brutal and horrific and terrifying and honest.
It is what we are—creatures protecting our territories, whatever the cost might be. Perhaps the cost is too high. For now, we'll revel in what we have. And, damn, wasn't the Seahawks' defense good. — Diana Moskovitz
Atlético Madrid almost surprising the world
It seems like so long ago now, but heading into last season's Champions League final, Atlético Madrid had the chance to complete the greatest club season of all time. They'd already shocked the world by winning maybe the most exciting La Liga title race of all time ahead of Real Madrid and Barcelona, two clubs whose salary and transfer budgets are to Atléti's as alligators are to crawdads. Somehow, those little buggers managed to pinch and poke their river rivals into submission.
In some ways, their league triumph was more impressive than would have been the European trophy they came so close to lifting. The Champions League is a playoff, after all, and while the two-leg ties in soccer usually do a good job of selecting for the better team, some friendly scheduling, a stout defense, and a fortuitous bounce or two can win you the whole thing (see: Chelsea in 2012). To stack up a bigger pile of points than two superclubs after 38 matches is a feat luck alone can't gift you.
But Atlético made an even further mockery of the proper order of things by fighting through to the Champions League final with the fiercest, most tenacious style of play in all of Europe. They stalked, kicked, and shoved their opponents off the ball while on defense, sprinted and crashed through back lines on offense, and never stopped running and scrapping for all 90 minutes. It was as effective as it was beautiful, and in a sport with such specific aesthetic values as soccer, making kickboxing-ball seem elegant is no little accomplishment.
A whole season of this did take its toll, of course. Rev a team's engine into the red for 90 minutes twice a week and the parts are always going to suffer from wear. A squad as deep as Real Madrid's would have a tough time making it through a whole year of that, let alone Atlético's meager 14-deep rotation. Heading into the final, Atléti couldn't even dress their most creative player, Arda Turan; star striker Diego Costa was available but probably just as gimpy. (He started the match, but only lasted nine minutes.) The Rojiblancos had overcome every obstacle, and in order to scale the last, they'd have to combat their own bodies.
For much of that final, against crosstown rivals Real, Atléti looked like they would do just that. As we noted after the match, for right around 70 minutes, the UCL final was everything Atlético's season was. They attacked in defense and attacked in attack, frustrating their supposed betters in all phases of the game, nipped the go-ahead goal from a set piece, and looked set on victory despite being down their two best players. As long as Atlético had enough in the tank to play their game, they had the better of Real. But after about the 70-minute mark, with the team running on fumes, all they could do was sit back and cling to their one-goal lead with all they had left.
Even then, Atlético took their advantage all the way to stoppage time, only for Sergio Ramos to head in the equalizer. In extra time, everyone who had watched these gladiator-like Rojiblancos claw their way to the summit—which they had no business standing upon—was forced to helplessly witness those same players kicked off and tossed back down the mountain as Real tacked on goal after goal. Instead of the astounding testament to smart transfers, badass managing, streetball playing, and no-fucks giving that this unparalleled double would've stood for, Real Madrid's victory was another victory of the status quo.
Rather than fretting on what wasn't, though, it's better to remember how amazing Atléti's journey was, how, watching that match, they came so close to convincing us that the impossible was inevitable. That loss, together with Liverpool's Premier League collapse of the same season, hammers home that true shockers rarely happen. But it also proves that they are possible. It's that little hint of unpredictability—that line between what we know will happen and what we dream might, however unlikely—that makes sports worth watching. — Billy Haisley
Antonio Brown stepping on a punter's face
Sometimes, when I'd come home from college, I'd play pickup basketball with this guy who had been a D-1 punter, and had a few tryouts with NFL teams. He exerted about a third of our effort and clearly hadn't played much basketball before, but when he tried, he would just totally destroy us. He was on a different plane of athleticism than everybody else on the court.
I mention this anecdote to demonstrate that, despite their goofy position, NFL punters are excellent athletes. While mulling that over, go watch this video of Antonio Brown stepping on Spencer Lanning's face during a punt return. Look how goddamn pedestrian Brown made him look.
I just can't get over how good Brown's return was. He split the Browns' special teams, wriggled free of a few near-tackles, and unleashed the biggest curb-stomping since American History X. Brown ran past ten of the players tasked with stopping him, and stepped on the face of the eleventh. I don't even care that he got tackled. This is everything I want in a sports moment. It's athletic, inventive, demonstrative, successful, embarrassing (for Lanning), and violent without making me feel bad for screaming about it. I love this moment so much, I want to hold it tenderly as it falls asleep on my shoulder. — Kevin Draper
Peter King breaking the news of Robin Williams's death to a stranger
Shut up, this counts as a sports moment. If you read Deadspin, you are almost assuredly familiar with Peter King, and his habit of dramatically describing mundane daily interactions in his tweets. When beloved actor Robin Williams died in August, man, everything came together perfectly.
He used a dateline! Peter King used a dateline for the short story of how he ruined the day of some poor guy in Milwaukee. He also used line breaks to make it into the worst poem ever. The "Thought he would cry," hangs there.
This tweet encapsulates Peter King's personality, but there's so much left out. Did the restaurant host recognize King without telling him? Maybe he was a big fan, and was about to say how much he enjoyed MMQB when King dropped the Robin Williams death-bomb. At what point did this happen? Was King already seated, or was he waiting?
"Table for one, please."
"Absolutely, sir. It'll be just a 10-minute wait."
"Thanks. God, did you hear about Robin Williams?" — Samer Kalaf
Peeing Rangers fan
I'd like to say that concourse-pissing Rangers fan was some metaphor for what sports can do to a fan, how you enter into it with optimism and pride, and then it just grinds you down, physically and emotionally, until you're a pathetic, fleshy lump of base humanity, shame thrown to the wind and soul exposed to the unforgiving elements and the snap of the all-seeing camera-phone panopticon. (In this metaphor, the soul is the wiener.)
I'd like to say that he is a one-fan representation of how it's become harder and harder to justify attending sporting events in person these days, that the ease, comfort, and access of home-viewing technology now far outweighs the cold, the discomfort, and the distance of modern stadiums, to say nothing of your drunk, your belligerent, your repulsive, your hygienically questionable fans yearning to pee free (Emma Lazarus's modern-day wretched refuse) with whom you'll be crammed in dick-to-dick; hell, after all, is other grown men wearing sports jerseys.
I'd like say all that, because it wouldn't be a lie. But Rangers pisser is here because this year should have belonged to him and it didn't. He was the saddest single human being I'd ever seen at a sporting event up until that point, and he didn't even get to keep that title in his own city through the end of the winter. Consider 2014 a successful year if you managed to keep yourself to yourself. — Barry Petchesky
LeBron's first game (and loss) back with the Cavs
I mean, come on: Even as a native Clevelander, it was kind of funny. So poignant, so perfect, so Cleveland. Months of will-LeBron-come-back buildup we tried to ignore to avoid getting our hearts broken a second (or 2,000th) time, and then he writes us a nice letter about how he feels sorry for us now and will rededicate his life to salving our misery at his own personal expense, and I call my mom to tell her, and her reaction—roughly paraphrased—is, Oh, screw him, but then she actually reads the letter and calls me back to tell me it made her cry, and now she's a believer again, too. And then, three months and change later, he makes his triumphant return to the all-too-metaphorically named Quicken Loans Arena, in tandem with a nine-hour-long new Nike spot, with A-list celebrities who otherwise wouldn't set foot in town if we were living in a dystopian future and Cleveland was the last city with a working power grid, and we all swell with pride and rejuvenation and purpose, and then the Cavs take the floor and lose to the fucking Knicks. Welcome home, LeBron. Thank your lucky stars we play in the conference that eats butthole. — Rob Harvilla
Roger Goodell showing his ass
No, Roger Goodell wasn't fired this year, and he probably never will be. But now you know. Now you know that the supposed most powerful man in sports is a brainless stooge who couldn't form a spontaneous, intelligent response to any question without consulting the Greek chorus of white-shoe law firms and corporate lobbyists whispering in his ear at all times. That presser left no doubt. He is a walking disgrace, and while the owners don't seem to give a shit, at least now there's no illusion that the NFL has somehow earned any moral authority. — Drew Magary
Top image by Sam Woolley