On the Field, 2016 Wasn't a Total Loss
in fact, the past year brought surprising success to long-suffering teams and their fans
The general consensus of 2016 is that this was a bad year. A wave of legendary musicians passed away. Our two prime presidential candidates had perhaps the worst collective favorability in modern political history – and nearly half of the country is either bewildered or horrified at the result (though, if one is in the other half, the end result was more to your favor). Overall, I see a good number of people wishing the year would end already.
Fair enough: 2016 has been, at a minimum, a perplexing year. The cumulative effect of events has led to folks terming unusual-yet-likely happenings as being so “2016.” Yet, unusual and seemingly impossible does not necessarily equate “bad”; one only needs look to the sports world to see where the improbable became the pleasantly possible.
You can be disappointed at the outcome of the Badgers’ conference title game, but remember where you thought the football team was going to be, and where they are now.
While there may be hardly any supporters of Cleveland sports teams in western Wisconsin, and not that many Cubs fans (though one of my sports talk show co-hosts is a die-hard), we have to acknowledge the ending of two of the longest-running title droughts in the athletic world. This was the year that the city of Cleveland scored its first professional sports championship in 52 years, following many-a-heartbreaker of a season amongst its three teams. About the only storyline that could top LeBron James and the Cavaliers doing what had not happened in a half-century was that of the Chicago Cubs doing what had not happened in more than a century: winning the World Series. ‘Nuff said.
To a lesser degree, the idea that hope is more alive than we think for our teams was seen right here in the Badger State – starting with, well, the Badgers. Both their football and men’s basketball teams far exceeded expectations in the past 366 days.
As last season’s Big Ten schedule began, new basketball coach Greg Gard was hoping to win enough games to gain the job on a permanent basis, with maybe an NIT appearance coming in March. Not only did he perform so solidly that he got the full-time status before season’s end, but Bucky made the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament.
Expectations were similarly down for Badger football, with the hope of a below-the-median bowl game as far as the public predicted. Only the players dreamed bigger, and won ... and won ... and lost close a couple of times ... and won ... and found themselves ranked sixth in the nation while playing for the Big Ten Championship. You can be disappointed at the outcome of that conference title game, but remember where you thought the football team was going to be, and where they are now.
Even the Brewers won more than many figured they would, despite a sub-.500 record. While the Bucks did not quite match their hype to #OwnTheFuture last season, that hashtag seems to apply to the current campaign, with The Greek Freak regularly displaying near-term MVP potential.
Right here in the Chippewa Valley, this the year of a solid first half by the Eau Claire Express, which led to a playoff spot, a North Division championship, and the team’s third-ever appearance in the Northwoods League Championship Series. This past spring, the Blugolds men’s basketball team had its best performance in recent memory – and has followed that with a top 10 national ranking in the current season.
The point here is that there was some surprising goodness in 2016, especially if your focus was on sports (this point gets reinforced when talking about the Phelps/Biles/Ledecky/Bolt Olympic quad of excellence in Rio). No, not every team we follow had a better-than-average year: Witness the Packers’ struggles, or talk to any fan of Minnesota sports in-general – like me – and you’ll hear plenty of “Let’s get this year over with” talk.
Of course, not every team can win, but what stood out were some of the storylines – the ends of two apparent curses, some pleasant outcomes from young squads – all often focused on the teams we follow. For the supporters of the teams still waiting for their moment – the Vikings, Memorial/North football/basketball, and others – 2016 was a lesson that your time to win it all may yet come. Work hard and believe; perhaps 2017 will be your 2016.