The Deadspin staff pick their favorite sports moments from 2017, and explain what made them so special. Here they are.
There is a lot of baggage tied to the Patriots that would take way too long to get through in the blurb of a year-end list, so I’ll keep it short and just say that it felt wonderful when the two hours of taunting notifications on my phone stopped because my coworkers were processing that the evil team ripped out the throat of a horse they knew they should’ve never backed. - Samer Kalaf
Just before the Big 10 tournament, a fairly average 20-11 Michigan team was forced to evacuate a plane after it slid off a runway before takeoff. Less than 24 hours later, they had to play a win-or-go-home game, with their NCAA tournament hopes potentially on the line.
The Wolverines destroyed Illinois by 20 points. Then, the next day, they outlasted regular-season champs Purdue in overtime. The next day, they beat Minnesota. And on Sunday, in the final, Michigan took home the trophy against Wisconsin. Senior Derrick Walton, in his final conference games, averaged 22.5 points and 6.3 assists per game over that run, and his 20-11 squad suddenly, having just dealt with some very scary circumstances, transformed into something special.
It didn’t even stop there, with the team building on that momentum to win a nail-biter against Oklahoma State and a slugfest against Louisville in the NCAA tournament, but their season finally ended on a missed buzzer-beater against Oregon in the Sweet 16. By some harsh measures, that makes Michigan’s season a failure, or at least a disappointment, but looking back from several months out, none of that matters.
Maybe this is only significant to me because it all went down right at the end of what just happened to be my last season watching every Michigan game in Ann Arbor, but trying to wrap my head around what Michigan did in those two springtime weeks is still jaw-dropping in the most joyful way. The team had to deal with a scary near-disaster, and then they had to win four games in four days. It felt like a cruel challenge, making a bunch of college athletes play cutthroat basketball right after facing millions of people’s greatest fear, but somehow they did it. Maybe it’s impossible to know how that feels for an athlete on the inside, but as a fan, when all the players you’ve loved are both safe and triumphant, it’s the most extraordinary thing. - Lauren Theisen
Yeah, portraying this as a single moment is a cop-out, but the best sports story of the year was the Nashville crowd throughout the Predators’ unlikely run to the Stanley Cup Final. Sure, Nashville’s not a “traditional” hockey market—whatever that means. I guess that it’s not cold there? Who cares, indoor rinks exist—but it is a city represented in only one other major sport, and those are exactly the types of cities that throw their numbers behind a team, especially one that was as fun to watch as these Predators.
So it made some hockey traditionalists pissy? Good. So it probably gave Gary Bettman a boner to see his Southern Strategy validated? Regrettably gross, but if you’re a hockey fan, I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t be excited to see new hockey fans. And if you enjoyed Nashville’s 2017, the Predators are significantly better this year, and solidly equipped to be good for a long time. - Barry Petchesky
Encouraged largely by the orange chud in the White House and his band of tiki torch-wielding supporters, our country spent much of the year resolutely drilling its way through rock bottom to find new levels of shame and bigotry, making life tangibly worse for Americans right now and for decades to come. As a citizen of this declining nation, there are few moments to point to and say, “Hey, that made me want to stand in a crowded bar and chant ‘USA! USA!’ with a bunch of strangers.”
But there was one: On June 2, America’s wonderteen Christian Pulisic scored a pair of beautiful goals to beat Trinidad and Tobago in a World Cup qualifier. Yes, Trinidad and Tobago are no soccer powerhouse, and yes, the USMNT would go on to eat shit in front of the whole world and fail to qualify for the World Cup in one of the easiest regions in FIFA. But for that one night, Pulisic gave me a tiny glimmer of what it might feel like to one day be proud of America again. - Laura Wagner
American distance running is in the middle of a major renaissance right now, and each global championship medal is a little less shocking than the one that came before it. Any time you’re blown away by a shocking, hard-to-understand moment in track and field, just wait for the other shoe to drop. But neither of those things make what Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs did any less stunning. The two Americans somehow went 1-2 in the steeplechase against the best field of all time at the track and field world championships.
Four of the five fastest women ever, all Kenyan-born, were in the final, and all had run 9:00 or faster in the last year. Coming into the race, Coburn’s American record was 9:07; Frerichs’s PB was 9:19. In other words, there was 50 to 100 meters separating Coburn and Frerichs from the Kenyans at their best.
Coburn and Frerichs destroyed them in the final, somehow. This wasn’t a fluke—though Beatrice Chepkoech may have cost herself the race when she forgot to hurdle the first water jump and had to circle back—and it wasn’t a triumph of genius tactics like Matt Centrowitz winning the Olympic 1500 meters. Coming off the final water barrier, it was clear that they were the two fittest women in the field and that everyone else’s legs were shot. Coburn won so comfortably that it was clear she’s the best steeplechaser in the world right now. I still can’t fucking believe it. - Dennis Young
Apologies for the homerism here, but of course it’s Case Keenum. I’m sure his carriage will turn into a pumpkin right after the Vikings ink him to a long-term deal. But for now, I’m gonna savor his ascent as a rare moment when an afterthought of a quarterback turns out to be the exact right fit for a team, just as Rich Gannon was in Oakland. Plus he’s a smokeboy. I have given up trying to fight it. I love Case, and I will still love him even after the inevitable day he breaks my heart. - Drew Magary
It’s often hard, even just a few months later, to remember many specifics from a championship game or series. Maybe it’s a sign that I have a bad memory, or am just a selfish person, but the finales I have the easiest time remembering are the ones that took a direct toll on my physical person. I’ll always remember the swelling I felt in my chest when LeBron made his block, the week-long exhaustion I endured during the 2004 World Series, and the dinger-induced delirium that came over me during the 2017 World Series.
That series, which will forever be known to me as The Goddamn Dinger Series, was a fitting coda to a regular season in which we all watched baseball devolve into a bacchanal of dingers, dongs, and roundtrippers. The league hit 6,105 home runs this year, the highest total ever and nearly 500 more than the second-highest season total. If there was ever a season to become so worn down by big-time slams to have developed a real distaste for them, this was it.
And yet I found myself laying on my couch, sleepier than I’d like to admit, getting high as a kite from each dongerooni the World Series brought me. It was a clarifying experience for me, as I realized that, no, I would never tire of the sight and sound of a well-stroked ball leaving the yard. In fact, sir, I’d like some more. - Tom Ley
MMA is a brutal sport where even the best competitors get punched in the face over and over again, no matter how large of an advantage they have. It’s inescapable, and the internecine nature of fighting makes it hard to bust out show-stopping highlights all that often. That said, all-time great Demetrious Johnson defended his UFC belt for a record-breaking 11th straight fight earlier this year, and after challenger Ray Borg gave Mighty Mouse all he could handle and resisted every fight-ending shot for more than four rounds, Johnson pulled out something magical.
That move should not be physically possible. Nothing about this move makes sense, especially since Borg is a very gifted wrestler. While most champions could only hope to retain their belts, Mighty Mouse is pushing the very boundaries of the sport. May he keep winning forever. - Patrick Redford
Before I had anything else to worry about, or anything but myself to care about, I hated Michael Jordan with everything I had. I hated that he won and how he won, what I first perceived as his ease and then later understood as his helpless and obsessive cruelty. Mostly I hated that he beat the dumb, bad basketball team that I had chosen to care about, reliably and mercilessly. It soured my memories of him and canceled out a sizable number of others entirely, and so I tried to be sure to enjoy LeBron James when it became clear that I was somehow getting a second chance to appreciate a once-in-a-generation talent.
This was not easy, because LeBron is so big and so good and because he always seemed somehow in control of his own story. He wasn’t, of course. That sort of control is almost always an illusion. Mostly my stupid storytelling brain needed him to have a struggle that I could understand; I needed to see him try to do something impossible before I could quite get to yes with wanting him to do it. In his three NBA Finals against the Golden State juggernaut, this all took a shape that I could understand. In the first of those, his persistence in the face of the inevitable was legitimately inspiring; in the second, he somehow succeeded; in 2017, he and the Cavaliers were overwhelmed. It was a mostly anticlimactic route to a seemingly preordained outcome, give or take Game 4, when LeBron stubbornly tilted things his way in a futile and defiant blowout win. The Cavaliers were plus-32 in his 41 minutes.
There was nothing really new about it, give or take him serving himself a psychedelic alley-oop off the backboard, but that’s not LeBron’s fault, really. He’s been this great for so many years that there are only so many surprises left to spring, and the outcome of the series was by that point no longer in doubt. Paradoxically or not, though, the absence of hope at that point in the series and the imminence of the end only made the performance more resonant. In a dark year, in a hopeless place, in the face of something that couldn’t be denied, the dude threw the ball off the backboard, to himself, in a NBA Finals game. The bar where I saw it happen responded like this: The air went out of it in a gasp, and then blew back in as laughter. Strangers high-fived strangers. It changed very little; in the long run of the series, it changed nothing much at all. But the effect of it, in the moment, was incandescent—a spark that found some oxygen, and however briefly lit things all the way up. - David Roth
Bryan Bickell had to retire from the NHL last year due to being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis after years of puzzling injuries that punctuated the end of his 10-year career. The Hurricanes started Bickell in his final two games, and when Carolina headed to a shootout with Philadelphia in its final game the team put Bickell out as their first skater—despite that Bickell was all of zero-for-one in shootouts for his NHL career. He scored, of course, bringing even the most hardened Philly fans to their feet and bringing tears to most soul-possessing people’s eyes. - Tim Burke
In covering college sports for Deadspin, you spend a lot of time looking at the ugly parts—the NCAA’s incessant fight for amateurism; the failure of universities to come close to correctly handling issues of sexual assault and harassment; fucking Dabo Swinney. But sometimes, every blue moon, a scandal will come along. Most are forgettable, to be replaced in three weeks by the next ding-dong, but then comes that one, the one you can’t force out of your mind no matter how badly you want to. This, for me, was the Hugh Freeze escort scandal.
It was beautiful, the narrative perfectly crafted as if by grand design. And then, after the stories broke, after we all know exactly what Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss didn’t want us to know, we got The Press Conference. Athletic director Ross Bjork and Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter, two Very Serious men in the same ways that Hugh Freeze was a Very Good Christian, had to trot out in their suits, sit at a table in front of an Ole Miss backdrop, and tell the nation, in vague and deflecting terms, what is plain as day: Hugh Freeze fucked, or at least tried to fuck. Thank God for Houston Nutt. - Nick Martin
The Giants had a very bad year. But for a glorious few minutes during a game in late May, the badness stemmed not from their inability to score some dang runs, but from the epic stupidity that was Hunter Strickland beaning Bryce Harper as revenge for a pair of dingers Harper hit off him—three years ago.
This was a beautiful basebrawl. There’s so much hair, for one thing. And Buster Posey definitely not risking his season (or even a short suspension) to come to the aid of the blustery idiot on the mound. And Harper maybe chucking his helmet into the ground on purpose or maybe failing at a very simple physical task while also being a professional athlete. And a whole bunch of solid punches. And Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija bursting into the fray with such reckless abandon, they bonked heads so viciously and Morse was left concussed. And Strickland kicking and screaming like a toddler having a meltdown while his own teammates struggled to drag him off the field. Altogether, this was not sports at its finest. But (with apologies to Morse for his nontrivial suffering) I enjoyed the heck out of it—and every last one of the GIFs it engendered. - Hannah Keyser
My favorite sports moment of 2017 came on a flea flicker play the Chargers ran midway through the third quarter of a Dec. 10 home game against the Washington Redskins. Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen executed the play to the nines, but their execution wasn’t what got me going. The real thrills came from the reaction of Skins cornerback Josh Norman the instant he realized he was fucked.
Norman is about as elite as elite gets in the NFL. But as Allen ran past the Skins corner into a bunch of green field in front of him, Norman didn’t immediately turn on those elite jets and give chase. Nah, Norman’s initial reaction to learning he’d been fooled is to give up. With Allen running into space, Norman can be seen pointing at the guy who’d just beat him and begging safety D.J. Swearinger for help.
I happened to be watching the Skins-Chargers game on TV with a group of my childhood buddies, guys I played pickup games with from elementary school on and in beer leagues til we were in our 40s. We all were once diehard Skins fans, too, but that fandom’s been mostly beaten out of us by now. So when replays showed Norman giving the international symbol for “Li’l help!” we didn’t focus on how the play all but guaranteed another Skins loss; we were free to just guffaw about how we used to react exactly like Norman did when one of us got beat on a play on a football field or basketball court and needed a teammate to clean up our mess. All these years later, we were yelling “Li’l help!” at each other in a suburban basement and howling like mad men for the next half hour. A clique of geezer never-was athletes, absolutely identifying with an All-Pro, and taking comfort in his failure. That’s why we watch the games. Great sports moment. - Dave McKenna
In another time and place, you and I will dissect why people get so much—probably too much—satisfaction from their team winning. But that is not today and certainly not those times. Nowadays, I live in Los Angeles and nothing makes this city quite as happy as when its Dodgers are winning. This night, they won in spectacular fashion, a deal sealed by three crushing homers delivered by Kiké Hernandez, a month after Hurricane Maria ravaged his home of Puerto Rico. Everyone was happy, so happy, maybe even irrationally happy. It was nice to have that joy, at least for a little while. - Diana Moskovitz
Talking and thinking about sports is often an effort to mash a shapeless, unscripted thing—sports—into some easy narrative form. Find the patterns of play. Trace the emotional arc. This is what a commentator is paid to do. Make some sense out of what is basically just the real-time waggling of bodies, a ball moving around. And so the purest, most violent joy you can get from watching sports often comes when these familiar tropes and storylines are smashed like a racket between an angry hand and hard court.
The story goes: If you’re north of 30 and you’ve suffered a season-ending injury, your Slam-winning days are over. The story goes: If you go down a break in the final set to Rafael Nadal—who doesn’t so much close matches out as he briskly slams a door hard in your face, the face of your body, which is dead—you will lose the match. The story goes: If Rafael Nadal hits enough of his heavy topspin to Roger Federer’s backhand, it will eventually fracture under the abuse. The story goes: Roger Federer almost always beats everyone else but then Rafael Nadal almost always beats Roger Federer.
In Melbourne, all these stories melted. There they were, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, both returned from injuries, age 35 and 30, standing across from each other in the Australian Open final. There was Federer, down 1-3 in the last set against the ultimate closer, but then breaking back, then breaking serve again. There was Federer’s backhand, flattening itself out into a curt thwap, doing things it had never done before.
All that thrill can be isolated in this point in the 4-3 game, which just a year later already evokes nostalgia for the sense that something outrageous was going to happen. Here you see the old man winning, the comeback in full swing, the backhand struck flat and merciless and with no memories of all the ways it has failed him before. “I told myself to play free,” said the winner afterward. “Be free in your head, be free in your shots, go for it. The brave will be rewarded here.” Typically I don’t go for athlete inspirational quotes but for once it connects fearlessness and clarity of mind required to do things like this:
That this match even happened was pretty neat; that it went five sets and became one of the best ever played was a gift; that we got to see this 26-shot exchange between the two best ever is the type of shit that justifies a lifetime of funneling often-mediocre sports into your brain.
You consume all that in pursuit of this kind of well-timed lightning bolt right to your guts, when you’re already jittery off the caffeine and the sun has risen and sent unwanted beams into the living room, and your friend, rooting for the other guy, has steadily increased the distance between the two of you on the couch and eventually goes quiet. Soon you are hollering. Soon you are walking the sunny sidewalk feeling keyed-up and king-like when in truth all you have done is stay up all night watching television. - Giri Nathan
I booked a December flight to Los Angeles over the summer when I found a cheap ticket ($287 on a real airline!). The Eagles were playing the Rams that weekend. Neither team was expected to be very good, so I picked up a cheap ticket to the game and figured I’d get to see two crap teams play out the schedule in a cool old stadium.
It turned out both the Eagles and Rams were very good. So was the game. A bunch of Eagles fans were there to see the team clinch the division. The teams combined for 78 points. Though the Eagles lost Carson Wentz for the season, that was more of a postgame storyline. The actual game was great.
But the best part of it was the setting. We sat in the last row of the LA Memorial Coliseum, originally built in 1923. The seats, I later learned, were from 1964. It made me think of going to football games as a kid: In an old dumpy stadium, packed in, with the From our seats you could see everything from the Hollywood sign to the city skyline to the mountains. When the sun set that night it was the first time I’ve used the word “beautiful” to describe the scene at a football game. - Dan McQuade