Mein Deutschland und Schweiz Journal (My Germany and Switzerland Journal)

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Germany and Switzerland with a group from Anderson University.

After an incredible trip, I have enjoyed sharing about my experience with people back in the U.S. over the last few days.

Below is the journal I kept throughout the trip, chronicling our activities from each day, along with some of the pictures I took along the way.

 

Sunday May 14-Monday, May 15

May 14-15 really just felt like one really long day with a nap.  After starting May 14 in an Anderson hotel after graduating the previous day, my parents and I went to Atlanta for my 10:15 pm flight from Hartsfield-Jackson.

We were at the airport about 7 pm, and I was at the gate by about 8, although I did have to go through security twice—I didn’t empty my pockets the first time.  In talking with the agent, I made an unintended pun: “I’ve never flown before, so I’m learning on the fly.”

I started the flight from Atlanta to London by watching the flight tracker on the in-flight entertainment screen.  I know flying is very fast, but I got a tangible example as we crossed South Carolina (from just south of Anderson to around Rock Hill) in about 15 minutes.  I didn’t sleep much while watching some of the in-flight entertainment, and actually dozed off on approach to London Heathrow and was woken up by the feeling of the landing.  I slept for most of the London-to-Berlin flight, which was roughly an hour and a half.

Brandenberg Gate

Leaving the airport in Berlin, our group had an interesting moment when not everyone got on the same bus, and one group—the one I was in—had neither professor.  Through cell phones, we figured out where to get off the bus.

Our hotel is nice, and very close to the city center, and most of our attractions for the next couple of days are within walking distance.  Dr. Duncan told us it was built for when the World Cup was here (2006).

After dinner tonight, we walked back to the hotel, passing the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag, among other notable landmarks.  These old structures lit up at night is really cool.

Tuesday, May 16

Our first full day in Berlin was a full day, for sure.

Berlin Wall Memorial

We began with a guided tour of the Berlin Wall Memorial.  There stands one of the only sections left of the wall itself, plus vertical steel beams marking more of where the wall stood.  I never realized 139 people were killed as a result of the Berlin Wall.  There is also a chapel there where a church once stood that was torn down during the Wall era, and the outline of the church foundation is still there.  Behind the chapel, we walked through a cemetery, where all the graves are from since 1985 except the ones that have been restored.

At the Berlin Wall gift shop, they sell pieces of the wall for a remarkably cheap price: 4,50 Euros for a piece of history.  I guess they’re that cheap only because there’s a lot of pieces, since the wall was around 100 miles long.

After the wall and lunch, we walked by Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate in daylight, then walked to the Holocaust Museum.  It was an interesting juxtaposition to have World War II (Holocaust) and the after effects of it (Berlin Wall) back-to-back.  Germany has certainly not hidden its worst history, and does quite a job of preserving it.  In the Holocaust Museum, there are displays of letters and diary excerpts from Holocaust victims, and the stories of numerous families, all of which had none or few survivors.  This really humanized the tragedy; it is often a challenge finding individual stories when appr. 6 million Jews (and up to 11 million altogether) were killed.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Just a couple blocks from there, ironically, is Hitler’s Fuhrerbunker.  Now, it is just a parking lot surrounded by apartment buildings, because the German government doesn’t want any kind of memorial or acknowledgement there, for obvious reasons.  There is a historical marker, kind of like the ones on streets in the U.S. but a little bigger and more thorough, in both German and English.

After Fuhrerbunker we passed the site of Hitler’s pre-bunker home (once again, now built over) on the way to the bus stop.  We rode to Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which was bombed in World War II and only partially restored.

After dinner, we rode the bus (a double-decker) out to a more suburban part of town to walk thorugh a neighborhood and find Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s home.

The streets here aren’t as busy as I expected, although it’s partially because many people use public transportation.  As a result, train stations (the one at central city) look like shopping malls.  The trams that ride the lanes of the street while attached to cables above are really cool.

Wednesday, May 17

Checkpoint Charlie

We spent this morning at “The Luther Effect” exhibit at a big museum downtown.  The exhibit featured artifacts from the Reformation in Germany, and other parts of Europe, but also the “effect” of the Reformation and the Protestant Church in Sweden, Tanzania, South Korea, and the U.S.  The U.S. portion included quotes from many well-known Americans, including Abraham Lincoln and Susan B. Anthony, on Protestantism.

After lunch at the massive Mall of Berlin food court, we went to Checkpoint Charlie, the former gate/entryway between East Berlin and the American sector of West Berlin.

From there, we visited the Topography of Terror.  This museum is at the location of the Nazi SS Police building, some of the foundation of which still stands.  This museum included information about the Nazi’s rise to power and persecution of the Jews and others.  There was also a temporary exhibit on the

connection of Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic writing and his 450th birthday in 1933 to the rise of anti-Semitism in the Nazi regime.  The location of the Topography of Terror also includes another still-standing portion of the Berlin Wall.

I have never been to a city where the people are surrounded by history in their day-to-day lives like they are here.  It seems at every turn there is a historical landmark, or that something happened in that location.  That said, I’m also looking forward to seeing small-town Germany (I can relate to it more) as we visit Wittenberg tomorrow (although it certainly also has many historical landmarks and events).

Castle Church

Thursday, May 18

Today we took a 45-minute train ride to Wittenberg, the home of Martin Luther for most of his adult life.  Wittenberg is completely different from Berlin.  While Berlin has kind of felt like an American-style city with a European flavor, Wittenberg was a look into small-town and historic Germany.  The streets in the downtown area are cobblestone and virtually everyone walks or rides a bike.

We saw the Castle Church, where Luther posted the 95 Theses (1517) and is buried.  The door (although not the actual door; it was burned down in the 18th century) is a great photo-op.  We got a guided tour through town, by the City Church where Luther preached, the University of Wittenberg, and the homes of Luther, Phillip Melancthon (university professor and fellow reformer alongside Luther), and Lucas Cranach (artist and Luther’s friend who painted him many times).  We toured the inside Lutherhaus and Melancthonhaus; Luther’s home included many of his writings and some printed Bibles, while Melancthon’s included the original Augsburg Confession.

The location at Castle Church where Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses in 1517

After the tour, we went back to Castle Church for an English-speaking service.  Afterwards, we looked at the altar area, which includes some incredible architecture and the grave marker for Luther.  There was some discussion in the group as to whether that’s his literal gravesite or if it’s just somewhere on the church grounds.

Between seeing the historic sites pertaining to Luther, and doing so in a charming small town like Wittenberg, this was probably my favorite day of the trip so far.

Castle Church interior

Stained glass at Castle Church

Martin Luther’s grave marker

City Church, Wittenberg

City Church interior

Friday, May 19

Tiergarten and the Berlin skyline, as seen from Reichstag Dome

Today began at a Starbucks, right in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate.  I’m not a coffee person, but Dr. Neal suggested to another student who doesn’t like coffee to try a mocha, so I had an iced mocha and liked it.  It was an early morning, so I knew coffee would help with energy for the day.

After breakfast, we went to the Reichstag Dome.  This is the glass dome on top of the Reichstag (Germany’s Parliament building), which provides great views of the city in all directions.  It also has an exhibit on the history of the Reichstag.

We took an almost two-hour train ride to Erfurt at midday.  The train rides in rural Germany provide a neat glimpse of the countryside.  Many of the towns are very small and compact, and some are even just the area of two or three football fields in total.  A lot of these don’t even have a train stop.

Erfurt is a larger, more modern version of Wittenberg in some ways.  There are many churches here, all aesthetically pleasing.  200,000 live here, but it still has an intimate feel.

Augustinian Monastery, Erfurt

This afternoon we toured the Augustinian Monastery.  Luther lived there as a monk before moving to Wittenberg.  Seeing and hearing about the lived led by the monks was very interesting, and I had been looking forward to this site after writing a paper on it.

We continued through the tour through more of Erfurt, seeing old homes and churches, as well as the buildings where Luther studied at the University of Erfurt.  It rained, with some thunder and lightning, through this part of the tour.  We ended at a massive and beautiful cathedral, where Luther was ordained.

A cell at the Augustinian Monastery

Erfurt Cathedral

Saturday, May 20

St. George’s Church in Eisenach, where Bach attended

Today was a long and crazy day.

We began with laundry in Erfurt, which was crazy in itself (picture 16 Americans in Europe at a laundromat).  As a result of that, we missed our train to Eisenach, although we simply ate lunch in Erfurt and caught another train an hour later.

In Eisenach, the streets are cobblestones, all the buildings are old, and there are many old churches.  One of these is the church Johann Sebastian Bach attended, and Luther briefly did as well.

From the area of Bach’s church, we hiked up a mountain to go to Wartburg Castle.  It was a solid three-fourths of a mile, at least, and mostly straight uphill.  I had not listened to Dr. Duncan and Dr. Neal and didn’t have water for the hike.  There was a bratwurst stand halfway up, where I got “medium” water, halfway between sparkling water, which is popular here, and “still water.”

This hike was totally worth it, because the castle is absolutely phenomenal.  It dates back over 700 years and has lots of history, including Martin Luther using it as a hideout after his conflicts with the Catholic Church.  This year

Wartburg Castle, Eisenach

the castle is the third site of the national Luther exhibit for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, after the two we saw in Berlin and Wittenberg.

After hiking back down, dinner took a while but was quite interesting.  It was a restaurant where everyone gets the same meal, cooked as if from the Reformation era, and served by waiters dressed like Luther.  It started with bread, then beef soup, then some vegetables, then the main course of bratwurst and a meat and vegetable roast.  Dessert was what I can only describe as “flaming fruit.”  Due to the length of dinner we missed our original train, then had to run about a half-mile to make sure we caught one back to Erfurt.

Looking back to Eisenach from Wartburg Castle

Sunday, May 21

This morning we went from Erfurt to Mainz by train.  On the ride, we passed through Frankfurt, and saw some distant mountains.

Once we were in Mainz, we met with the chaplain from a Christian student group at the University of Mainz.  He showed us their student housing building, and their church building where students meet to worship.

From there, we visited the Gutenberg Museum.  We saw demonstrations of how Gutenberg’s pages were printed, and saw some of the original Gutenberg bibles.  The museum had a lot of stuff about various forms of printing, including the history of the newspaper, although many of the exhibits did not have English on the information plaques (most places throughout the trip have had German on the top or left and English on the bottom or right).  The museum sells replicas of different pages of the Gutenberg bible—I got Genesis 1 and John 1—as well as replicas of the letters used in his movable type printing.

From the museum, some of us went down the couple of blocks to the Rhine River for a few minutes, then walked back up to near the museum to Mainz Cathedral.  This cathedral was, as many are here, quite beautiful.  Many archbishops are buried there.

Today was a day for Italian food in Germany—I had pizza for lunch (at a shop in the train station), and lasagna for dinner (at an Italian restaurant).

Tonight is our last night in Germany, before we cross the Swiss border tomorrow.

Monday, May 22

Grossmunster Church, Zurich

This morning, we rode a train to Worms for breakfast.  After breakfast we walked a short distance to the location of Luther’s Diet of Worms speech—the building no longer stands in is a courtyard, although the church itself is still there (a Catholic church).  We also passed a beautiful and elaborate Reformation monument with statues of Luther, Melancthon and others.

We got back on the train to go to Zurich, arriving mid-afternoon.  We rode through some low mountains, a nice prelude to tomorrow’s Alps trains.  We crossed the Swiss border at Basel.

Zurich is kind of a high-class city.  Things are more expensive, and there are fashion stores and really nice cars around every corner.

We toured the Grossmunster Church, where Ulrich Zwingli started the Reformation in Switzerland—our tour guide explained to us that although John Calvin in Geneva was sooner, Geneva was not yet a

The view of Zurich from the tower at Grossmunster Church

part of Switzerland at that time.

The church is beautiful, as many of them are here.  After touring the main part of the cathedral, as well as the crypt and a chapel and a pastor’s study, we got to go up a lot of stairs to one of the church’s two towers.  The view from there of the city, Lake Zurich, and the Alps in the distance (with snow on the tops in May!) was amazing.

We had a unique dinner at a cafeteria on the top floor of a department store, which Dr. Duncan said was because things are so expensive in Zurich.  We walked back to the hotel down Bahnhafstrasse, one of the main streets of Zurich.  I am writing this from our hotel balcony, which is adjacent to the back of a church, and has a partial view of the distant skyline.

The view of Zurich, Lake Zurich, and the distant Alps from Grossmunster Church in Zurich

Tuesday, May 23

Today we traveled by train from Zurich to Geneva, passing through the Alps.  This part of the world is so beautiful, and words don’t do it justice.  The mountain tops had snow, even with the temperature at “ground level” above 70.  These mountains are all very steep, and most are untouched at the top.  The rivers and lakes in the valleys only added to the views we experienced.

The Swiss Alps

One of our stops was in Montreux, We walked down to the bank of Lake Geneva, with the Alps and the Swiss/French border looming across the lake.  From there, our last train was from Montreux to Geneva, and was mainly along the lakeshore.

Geneva itself is the busiest city we’ve been in on the trip, or at least it seems that way.  Our hotel is tucked in the top few floors of a building, the rest of which is office space.  I don’t know what New York feels like, but I imagine it to be kind of like this.

After dinner, we walked by the (unlit) Reformation Wall, then by St. Pierre’s Cathedral.  The church is beautiful at night, and we’ll tour the inside tomorrow.

The Swiss Alps; notice the waterfall in the center

The Swiss Alps

The Swiss Alps

Wednesday, May 24

St. Pierre’s Cathedral, Geneva

We began our first full day in Geneva with breakfast in our hotel rooms (croissant, wheat roll, orange juice, and hot chocolate).  We then walked to the Reformation Wall, then to St. Pierre’s Cathedral.  This church had someone playing the organ (it sounded like they were just practicing), and it made the atmosphere more authentic.  We climbed to the top of the two towers and got great panoramic views of the city.

From there, we split into smaller groups.  We have a “Geneva Pass” which gets us free entry into most of the landmarks and attractions.  Three of us ate lunch at McDonald’s—I’d honestly wanted to see what American fast food was like over here—and I got a “cheeseburger royal,” which sounded different but was just a regular burger with some kind of extra sauce.

We then walked to the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum (that was an experience—some very different and unique artwork).  The whole group came back together for a lake cruise, which lasted about an hour.

Our small group then stopped at Starbucks (iced mocha for me again) and Coop, a store that is a mix of a department store and supermarket, strung out over several floors of a city building, before eating dinner.

Geneva and Lake Geneva from the tower at St. Pierre’s Cathedral

The Reformation Wall, Geneva

Thursday, May 25

The Mont Saleve cable car

Today was Ascension Day in the European Church, a holiday which marks the ascension of Christ on the 40th day after Easter.  Because of the holiday, some of the tourist attractions in Geneva were closed.

We did still get to go just over the border into France, just outside the city, and ride a cable car up Mont Saleve.  The cable car ride was less nerve-wracking than I thought it would be, and the view of the city and Lake Geneva, as well as the surrounding mountains, was amazing.  We spent a couple ours at the top, eating lunch and walking around a small park that’s up there.

Our final dinner was at a nice French restaurant near our hotel in Geneva.  I ordered “beef tartare,” which I figured was some variation of beef with tartar sauce, or something like that–but my guess was lost in translation.  When I got the dish, I was surprised to see it was barely-cooked beef, finely chopped and mixed with onion, pepper, and other seasonings, and spread over buttered bread.  I typically don’t like “raw” meat, but this dish wasn’t bad, and was certainly unique.

Tomorrow will be a long day—we fly Geneva to London to Atlanta, which is roughly 11 hours of combined flying.

The view of Geneva and Lake Geneva from the top of Mont Saleve

Friday, May 26

The flight home wasn’t as bad as I expected.  On the Geneva to London flight, I had a window seat, which provided a great final view of the Alps and Lake Geneva, as well as a distant view of Paris.  The second flight (London to Atlanta), I listened to music and watched some of the in-flight entertainment, and slept some.

I’m writing this on Saturday afternoon, and I am so grateful we flew back yesterday and not today, because British Airways has had a massive IT failure and all flights in London are cancelled.

I’m glad to be home, because I’m excited about sharing my experiences with everyone.  But I do already miss the experience of being in and exploring new places, seeing things I haven’t seen before, trying different food, and learning about the culture and history of another place.

Traveling abroad is such a fulfilling experience, which I would recommend to anyone and everyone.  This was my first foreign trip, but certainly won’t be my last.

Fast Five: Memorable Sports Farewells

I’ve attended academic classes for five days a week, nine months a year from the time I was three years old, through two years of preschool, 13 years of K-thru-12, and four years of college.

But last week, I walked out of a college classroom for the last time, ahead of my graduation from Anderson University this Saturday.

As the sports aficionado I am, I couldn’t help but compare myself leaving school–retiring from school, in a sense, after what amounts to a 19 year academic “career”–to many of my athletic heroes in recent years walking away from the game.

Sure, the conclusion of my school years has come with much less fanfare than many of the highly-publicized retirements, such as Chipper Jones, David Ortiz, Tony Stewart, Alex Rodriguez, Paul Pierce, Landon Donavan, and even broadcaster Vin Scully, over the last several years in the sports world (in addition to some of the athletes listed below).  But, like many of these stars, I am also unsure of what is next.

But while the finish of my last final exam was as mundane as me handing it to the professor and quietly walking out the door, these athletes had more memorable farewells:

Honorable Mention:  Jeff Gordon

The four-time NASCAR champion’s final season came alive when he won at Martinsville in The Chase for his 93rd career win, clinching a spot in the Championship Round.  Gordon was one of four drivers to compete for the title at Homestead in the season finale, when he finished 6th behind champion Kyle Busch after leading nine laps.  The roar of the fans when Gordon took the lead could be heard over the roar of the engines in the race’s broadcast.  While Gordon has returned as an injury replacement for Dale Earnhardt Jr., his final full season was a memorable and successful farewell in a sport where many stars’ careers have ended either in mediocrity or by injury/death.


Honorable Mention:  David Ross

Ross, a “role player,” was never a household name, playing mostly as a backup or platoon catcher during stints with the Dodgers, Pirates, Padres, Reds, Red Sox, Braves and Cubs.  In his final season with the Cubs, “Grandpa Ross” hit 10 home runs in 67 games in the regular season, most often getting playing time as Jon Lester’s personal catcher, and was a leader of the 103-win Cubs team.  But his farewell will be remembered for his playoff performance.  Ross hit .250 in the postseason with two home runs, with a .400 batting average in the World Series.  In his final at-bat, Ross became the oldest player (39) to homer in a World Series Game 7, helping the Cubs to their first championship since 1908.


5.  Kobe Bryant

The Black Mamba played his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, and by the final season was playing reduced minutes in most games as his body was less durable than in his prime.  But on his final night in the NBA, Bryant played 42 minutes and exploded for 60 points, the most by any player in a game in the 2015-16 NBA season.  Bryant made 22 of his 50 shots, including six threes, and was 10-for-12 on free throws.  Bryant outscored the opposing Utah Jazz 23-21 in the fourth quarter, helping the Lakers to a 101-96 win to eliminate the Jazz from playoff contention.

The only thing that could have made this farewell better was if it were in a game that counted for the Lakers.  But as Bryant ended a career that included five NBA championships, his Lakers struggled to a 17-65 record.


4.  Ted Williams

Teddy Ballgame was one of the greatest hitters in MLB history.  His .482 career on-base percentage is the best of all-time, and he is the last player to hit .400 or better in a season (.406) in 1941.  Williams hit .316 with 29 home runs and 72 RBI in his final season in 1960 with the Boston Red Sox, where he played his entire 19-year career.

The final home run, the 521st of his career, came dramatically, in his final at-bat at Fenway Park on September 28, 1960.  Williams never acknowledged the crowd during his career, but later said he almost tipped his cap while running around the bases after the home run as the fans roared.  The Red Sox’ final three games of the season were in New York, but Williams played in none of them, making the Fenway home run the final at-bat of his illustrious career.


3.  Peyton Manning, John Elway and Jerome Bettis

This group of two Hall of Famers and Manning, who will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when eligible, each culminated their careers with a Super Bowl title, with each overcoming the criticism of not being able to win “the big one” over the course of their careers.

Manning won Super Bowl XLI with the Colts, but also lost Super Bowls XLIV with the Colts and XLVIII with the Broncos.  He was able to finish with a second championship by winning Super Bowl 50 with a 24-10 win over the Panthers (although it should be noted the defense had more to do with the championship than Manning’s tired arm).  Manning didn’t announce his retirement until weeks later, although fans and the media alike could sense that Super Bowl 50 was very likely his final game.

Elway lost three Super Bowls early in his career (XXI, XXII, XXIV), but reached two more Super Bowls (XXXII, XXXIII) in his final two seasons and finished with back-to-back titles.  After beating the Packers in Super Bowl XXXII for his first championship, Elway led the Broncos to a convincing 34-19 win over the Falcons in Super Bowl XXXIII, his final game, and finished his stellar career by winning Super Bowl MVP.  Like Manning, Elway didn’t officially announce his retirement until after the season.

Bettis, the lone player in this group who played running back instead of quarterback, played his final 10 seasons with the Steelers after playing for the Rams his first three years.  Super Bowl XL was the first Super Bowl appearance of his career, which included six Pro Bowl appearances and the 2001 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.  After Bettis’s Steelers won the Super Bowl with a 21-10 defeat of the Seahawks, Bettis announced during the post-game trophy presentation that “the last stop for ‘The Bus'” would be with the NFL title won in his hometown of Detroit.

2.  Derek Jeter

The Captain, whose jersey will be retired this Sunday night by the New York Yankees, was one of the most beloved players throughout his career as the Yankee shortstop.  The .310 career hitter, who hit .308 in the playoffs in his career while leading the Yankees to five World Series titles, announced before his 20th season in 2014 that he would retire at season’s end.

Through eight innings of Jeter’s final home game at Yankee Stadium on September 25, 2014, Jeter had a double, two RBI, and a run scored.  But after the Yankees blew a 5-2 lead in the top of the ninth, Jeter got an additional at-bat in the bottom half, with the game tied and pinch-runner Antoan Richardson at second.  Jeter delivered one of the great moments in recent MLB memory, collecting a walk-off single to right field in his final home at-bat for his third RBI of the game, giving the Yankees a 6-5 win.

But the season still had three games remaining, which were played in Boston.  Jeter played DH–he wanted his final game at Yankee Stadium to be his final game at shortstop–and on September 28 earned an RBI infield single in his final at-bat, before being pinch-run for by Brian McCann.  As dramatic as his final home at-bat had been, his final overall at-bat in Boston showed how respected Jeter is, as he left the field to a standing ovation from the fans of the Yankees’ archrivals.


1.  Lou Gehrig

Gehrig was the “Iron Horse,” a durable player who was twice American League MVP as the Yankees first baseman, was a part of six World Series titles, and is one of 12 modern-era players to win a Triple Crown.  But Gehrig’s performance began to diminish in late 1938, and by the beginning of the 1939 season, it was clear something was physically wrong.  On May 2nd, Gehrig took himself out of the lineup, ending a streak of 2,130 consecutive games over the previous 14 seasons, a record that would stand until 1995.

Gehrig was diagnosed with ALS (nicknamed Lou Gehrig’s Disease), on June 19, and officially retired on June 21.  On July 4, the Yankees held Lou Gehrig Day.  Between games of a doubleheader, after Gehrig’s #4 became the first number retired by a team in MLB history,  stirring tributes were given by Babe Ruth, New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia, and Yankees manager Joe McCarthy, among others.

Once Gehrig stepped to the mic he was, at first, too emotional to speak.  But once he did, he delivered a speech that has long been remembered beyond the realm of baseball:

“Fans, for the past two weeks, you’ve been reading about a bad break. 

“Today… I consider myself… the luckiest man… on the face of the earth.  I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

“When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such fine-looking men as are standing in uniform in this ballpark today?  Sure, I’m lucky.  Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert?  Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow?  To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins?  Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy?  Sure, I’m lucky.

“When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something.  When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies – that’s something.  When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something.  When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing.  When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.

“So I close in saying that… I might have… been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.  Thank you.”

Gehrig’s remarks were followed by a two-minute standing ovation from the sellout Yankee Stadium crowd.

Gehrig was immediately elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, as the writers who vote waived the typical five-year waiting period for eligibility due to Gehrig’s illness.  Gehrig died of ALS on June 2, 1941.

Column: The Atlanta Sports Curse Remains Alive and Well

Throughout the first three-plus quarters of Super Bowl LI, it appeared the Atlanta Falcons would practically erase the collective stain of Atlanta sports heartbreak with a victory over the mighty New England Patriots to claim the biggest moment in the city’s sporting history short of hosting the Centennial Olympics in 1996.

But after the Falcons fourth-quarter collapse and overtime loss, the curse on Atlanta sports may be stronger than ever.

Cleveland has been the city whose sports were a collective analogy for heartbreak, but now claims the defending NBA champion Cavaliers.  Meanwhile, after an Atlanta team lost a Super Bowl, especially in the way they did, the Big Peach is now the biggest portrayal of the agony of defeat once again–call it Atlanta anguish.

No team has ever led a Super Bowl by 11 or more points and lost.  The Falcons led by 25 before the Patriots’ first touchdown with 2:06 left in the third quarter, and still lost.  The offense was clicking on all cylinders, scoring 28 points on the league’s top-ranked defense in the game’s first 36:29, then failed to scored again.

According to the modern stat of win probability, the Falcons had a 99.6 percent chance to win as late as the 9:00 mark in the fourth, and was still at 85.1 percent at the two-minute warning, before falling to 0.0 moments later once the loss had concluded.

Some will say they did it to themselves, with poor offensive playcalling in the fourth, a key turnover with 8:25 left at their own 25-yard line, and their sudden fourth-quarter inability to stop the Patriots offense.

Others will point to Brady and Patriots, and rightfully so.  They’re the ones who scored two touchdowns and two conversions in the final 5:56, and another touchdown in overtime after winning the coin toss and scoring in just 3:58, giving the Falcons no chance to possess the ball.

But whatever the reason (and it’s really a little of both), the bottomline is that the most heartbreaking loss in Super Bowl history now belongs to Atlanta.  And while none match the magnitude of this super sorrow, the city is no stranger to crushing losses for its teams.

The Braves are 65-75 in the MLB playoffs since moving to Atlanta in 1966, including 11-18 in the World Series, winning only one of their five World Series appearances.  They have won just 12 of their 30 playoff series–and just 9 of 27 when you take out the lone championship run–and are 10-23 in a stretch of eight straight series losses dating back to the 2001 NLCS.

A team that has essentially been a perennial playoff team (the last couple years notwithstanding) hasn’t advanced past the NLDS in 16 years.  The losses have come in unique fashion:  utility infielder Chris Burke’s walkoff in 2005, the “Infield Fly Game” in 2012, Juan Uribe’s go-ahead homer after he couldn’t bunt in 2013.

In the 1990’s run of five National League pennants in nine years, the World Series moments are just as crushing, if not more so:  extra inning losses in Games 6-7 in 1991, including Game 7’s famous scoreless tie through nine innings; an extra-inning loss in the 1992 clincher; Jim Leyritz’s unlikely homer in Game 4 in 1996, a game the Braves had led 6-0 in a series they led 2-0 before losing 4-2.

The Hawks are 94-145 in the NBA playoffs since moving to Atlanta in 1968, winning just 16 of their 48 playoff series.  The team has never reached the NBA Finals, going 1-12 in Eastern Conference Finals games (the one win was in their first season in Atlanta).

The Hawks best chances at championships have come when they’ve run into some all-time players and teams in the playoffs.  For instance, they have been swept the last two seasons (and 2009) by a LeBron James-led Cavaliers team, including the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals as the top seed.

Even when the Hawks had the great Dominique Wilkins, they met Larry Bird’s Celtics (1983, 1986, 1988), Isiah Thomas’s Pistons (1986-87, 1991), and Michael Jordan’s Bulls (1993, and 1997 after Wilkins left), losing each of those series with the exception of a 1986 first-round win over the Pistons.

Similarly, the Falcons are 9-13 in the NFL playoffs after last night’s loss, although their history differs from the Braves and Hawks.  While the postseason losses for the Braves and Hawks have been fairly frequent after solid runs of regular season success (including a 14-year division title streak for the Braves), the Falcons are 341-437-6 all-time (.439), with long periods of futility broken by the occasional playoff berth.  Before a three-year playoff streak from 2010-12, the Falcons had never reached the playoffs in consecutive seasons.

They did reach the Super Bowl in the 1998 season, losing Super Bowl XXXIII to John Elway’s Broncos, but within two years had the worst record in the league.  Top draft pick Michael Vick electrified the franchise, but Vick failed to reach the Super Bowl, coming closest in a 2004 NFC Championship loss, before being released after his dogfighting conviction.

This year Matt Ryan, who was drafted third overall to replace Vick, and the rest of the Falcons realized their full potential.  It looked like the year the Falcons would bring a championship to Atlanta–and then Tom Brady had other ideas.

Ryan was named NFL MVP on Saturday, and I was surprised to read that he was the first non-baseball MVP in the sports history of this city of Wilkins, Vick, and so many others (the Braves have had four MVPs).  24 hours later, Ryan became the eighth straight MVP to lose the Super Bowl.

Many brush off any talk of about any pro sports curse, saying Atlanta is a college sports town.  While college sports are more predominant in Atlanta than maybe any other major American city, the athletic teams at Georgia (located in Athens with a large fanbase in Atlanta) and Georgia Tech (located downtown) have joined in the curse, as they also had a knack for not performing well in big games.

Atlanta does have one pro sports championship, and it was in my lifetime–I was eight months old when the Braves won the 1995 World Series.  And yet, in the shadow of Sunday’s Falcons collapse, that title doesn’t seem to completely eradicate the Atlanta curse.

For one thing, the one championship doesn’t balance out the losses when the losses are so numerous.  And for another, the 1995 Braves title came against the Cleveland Indians, a team that hasn’t won a World Series since 1948 which resides in a city whose collective drought ran from 1954 until just last year, in a series that someone had to win (if you know me, you know I’m glad who it was).

I know, each game and each season are independent of each other, and each sport is definitely exclusive from the others.

But you can’t help but think about a curse after watching one city with just one title get its hearts broken as another celebrates its 37th pro sports championship.

Column: Check Championship Parade Off My Sports Bucket List

I’ve always wanted to attend a championship parade.

Ideally, said parade would be celebrating a championship for a team I pull for (I’m looking forward to the parade, one of these years, the first week of November on Peachtree Street in Atlanta), but just in general I’ve wanted to be a part of something as jubilant and festive as tens of thousands of fans celebrating their team accomplishing the ultimate goal.

Where else, besides being at a championship game itself, can you be a part of a group of so many people from so many backgrounds, all celebrating the same thing?

Monday night, Clemson University’s football team won the national championship, winning a thrilling 35-31 game over Alabama with a last-second touchdown.

I am not a Clemson fan (I pull for two teams, who happen to be a rival and an annual ACC Atlantic Division foe) but by the time I went to bed Monday night I had realized there would be a championship parade 30 minutes from my doorstep, and immediately considered going.  By Friday night, a friend with similar rooting interests but an equally similar perspective agreed to join me.

Championship parades have always been fun to watch on TV, especially when the team celebrating has not won a championship in many years.  In the past year, Cleveland ended a 52-year city-wide championship drought (Cavaliers), and the Chicago Cubs ended their 108-year curse, and both parades were enormous events in those respective Midwestern cities.

The Chicago parade, with an estimated 5 million in attendance, was actually the seventh-largest gathering in human history (the largest in American history), trailing only religious pilgrimages and funerals of world leaders.

While Clemson didn’t have quite as big a crowd, I thought going in that it may be as chaotic, with the reasoning that tens of thousands of people in the small town of Clemson was equitable to 5 million in a place as big as Chicago.

An estimated 30,000 lined the route, which led from downtown Clemson to Memorial Stadium, and about 65,000 attended the championship pep rally in the stadium after the parade.

Like many patrons, we were part of both crowds, positioning ourselves near the gates of Memorial Stadium to watch the parade, then entering after the parade passed.

The energy built as the parade neared (the marching band was first, so we could hear it coming), and continued as the parade progressed through the band, cheerleaders, 1981 championship team and other former players, as well as school president Jim Clements and athletic director Dan Radakovich.

Coach Dabo Swinney and his family rode on the back of a convertible, and the coach seemed to be taking it all in.  As the parade slowed to a stop in front of us, he even took out his phone to take a picture of the assembled crowd.  Some fans even ran out into the street to shake the coach’s hand.

The first players in the parade were quarterback Deshaun Watson and linebacker Ben Boulware, the offensive and defensive MVP of the championship game, standing in the back of an orange Jeep.

Other fan favorites followed, including tight end Jordan Leggett, center Jay Guillermo, defensive tackle Carlos Watkins and safety Jadar Johnson, followed by the rest of the team (including wide reciever Hunter Renfrow, who caught Monday’s game-winning touchdown), on the backs of flatbed trucks, sorted by class.

After a hike to the upper deck, we watched the championship pep rally, which featured the presentation of the two national championship trophies (College Football Playoff and Coaches’ Poll) and speeches by Clements, Radakovich, several players including Watson and Boulware, culminating with Swinney.

Now, before my Gamecock friends (and, for that matter, Demon Deacon friends) disown me, I kept a poker face through the entirety of the event.  I didn’t chant “C-L-E-M-S-O-N” while the band played Tiger Rag, and didn’t cheer during the pep rally.  An occasional, light applause was reserved for individuals that I have a tremendous respect for, like Ben Boulware, Deshaun Watson, and coach Dabo Swinney, especially on mentions of academic success and strong character for them and the team.

I went simply to take it all in, and experience the jubilation of a team’s championship.  I would imagine the atmosphere was more electric in Clemson on Monday night, as the championship victory was fresh, but on this day the fans got to show their gratitude, up close, towards their football heroes after the program’s first championship in 35 years.

I look forward to, hopefully, being one of those fans at a future parade in another location (Atlanta, Columbia, Winston-Salem, etc.), but on this day, as more of an observer than a participant, I simply took it all in.

And, with so many people exhibiting such jubilation, it was one of the coolest sports-related events I’ve ever been a part of.

 

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My Interview with Clemson Radio’s Kevin Selman

Wednesday night, just two days after Clemson’s thrilling victory over Alabama in college football’s National Championship Game, I had the chance to interview Clemson Tiger Sports Network football spotter Kevin Selman, at halftime of my autrojans.com broadcast of Anderson University basketball, where Kevin serves as PA announcer.

The interview includes his thoughts on Clemson’s national championship, the contrast to last year’s title game loss, and his role as the spotter for Tigers play-by-play announcer Don Munson.

Stiles on Sports’ Best of 2016

*Editor’s Note:  This post was originally scheduled to be published on December 31, but due to personal sickness was delayed until now. 

 

As the crazy sports year of 2016 comes to a close, here’s a look back at some of the year’s biggest and best stories from Stiles on Sports, featuring everything from the historic Cubs World Series title to the Ryder Cup to the Braves’ final season at Turner Field to the deaths of Arnold Palmer and Jose Fernandez.

2/22:  Hamlin Bucks Trends to Win Daytona 500

5/1:  Column: Gordon’s Ban Puts PED’s Back in Spotlight

6/17:  Column: Who is Baseball’s Real Hit King?

7/7:  Fast Five: Reasons I’m Still Watching the Atlanta Braves

7/24:  Column: A Historic Sunday to Savor at The Brickyard

8/16:  Column: Shaunae Miller Dove Across Olympic Finish Line. So What?

9/25:  Column: Jose Fernandez Didn’t Live a Long Life, But Lived a Full One

9/26:  Column: Long Live The King

9/28:  Fast Five: Greatest Ryder Cup Matches

9/30:  It Is… The Ryder Cup

10/1:  Fast Five: Greatest Games at Turner Field

10/2:  Column: A Sentimental Sunday of Baseball

10/11:  Column: Braves Make Only Logical Choice, Hire Snitker

10/18:  Fast Five: I Was There

10/23:  Column: The Last Time the Cubs Were In the World Series

11/2:  Column: The Game of the Century

11/3:  Column: Game 7 WAS the Game of the Century

11/8:  If Sports Stars Became President

12/14:  Column: “WakeyLeaks” is Disgusting–And Far From Over

 

2016 Champions

College Football Playoff Championship:  Alabama Crimson Tide def. Clemson Tigers, 45-40
Heisman Trophy:  Louisville QB Lamar Jackson

Super Bowl 50 Champion:  Denver Broncos def. Carolina Panthers, 24-10
NFL MVP:  Panthers QB Cam Newton
Super Bowl MVP:  Broncos LB Von Miller

NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament Champion:  Villanova Wildcats def. North Carolina Tar Heels, 77-74
Naismith Player of the Year:  Oklahoma G Buddy Hield
Final Four Most Outstanding Player:  Villanova G Ryan Arcidiacono

Stanley Cup Champion:  Pittsburgh Penguins def. San Jose Sharks, 4-2
Hart Memorial Trophy (Regular Season MVP):  Blackhawks RW Patrick Kane
Conn Smythe Trophy (Playoff MVP):  Penguins C Sidney Crosby

NBA Finals Champion:  Cleveland Cavaliers def. Golden State Warriors, 4-3
NBA MVP:  Warriors G Stephen Curry
NBA Finals MVP:  Cavaliers F LeBron James

College World Series Champion:  Coastal Carolina def. Arizona Wildcats, 2-1
Golden Spikes Award:  Mercer OF Kyle Lewis

PGA Tour FedEx Cup Champion: Rory McIlroy
The Masters:  Danny Willett
U.S. Open:  Dustin Johnson
The Open Championship:  Henrik Stenson
PGA Championship:  Jimmy Walker
PGA Tour Player of the Year:  Dustin Johnson

World Series Champion:  Chicago Cubs def. Cleveland Indians, 4-3
NL MVP:  Cubs 3B Kris Bryant
NL Cy Young Award:  Nationals RHP Max Scherzer
AL MVP:  Angels OF Mike Trout
AL Cy Young Award:  Red Sox RHP Rick Porcello
World Series MVP:  Cubs 2B/OF Ben Zobrist

NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion:  Jimmie Johnson
Daytona 500 Champion:  Denny Hamlin
IndyCar Series Champion:  Simon Pagenaud
Indianapolis 500 Champion:  Alexander Rossi

Kentucky Derby Winner:  Nyquist
Preakness Stakes Winner:  Exaggerator
Belmont Stakes Winner:  Creator
Breeder’s Cup Classic Winner:  Arrogate

 

Stiles on Sports Sportsmen of the Year:  Chicago Cubs
Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year:  LeBron James
AP Male Athlete of the Year:  LeBron James
AP Female Athlete of the Year:  Simone Biles
AP Sports Story of the Year:  Cubs win the World Series

Fast Five: 2016 Year in Review

*Editor’s Note:  This post was originally scheduled to be published on December 31, but due to personal sickness was delayed until now. 

 

2016 was a crazy year in sports.  From exceptional and historic championship events, to the good and bad of the Olympic Games, to saying goodbye to several big names who retired or passed away.

From the best events of the year to the biggest stories, here is a look back at the year that was in 2016:

Best Events of 2016

5.  Jul. 14-17:  Henrik Stenson wins The Open Championship

The Open at Royal Troon began on Thursday with Phil Mickelson getting hot on the back nine, and eventually facing a putt for a 62, which would have been a record for any major championship.  The putt somehow stayed out of the hole, and Mickelson shot 63, becoming the 28th to do so in a major championship.


Swede Henrik Stenson shot 65 on Friday to pull within one of Mickelson, setting the stage for a fantastic weekend duel.  Stenson shot 68 Saturday to Mickelson’s 70, giving Stenson a one-shot lead entering the final round.

In the final round, Stenson and Mickelson went back and forth, and Mickelson ended the Open with a bogey-free 65, finishing 17-under par with the best 72 holes he had ever played in a major and 11 shots clear of third place J.B. Holmes.  There was only one problem for Lefty:  Stenson shot 63, joining Johnny Miller as the only players to shoot the mark in the final round to win a major.  Stenson took the lead for good on the 14th hole, birdieing four of the last five holes and 10 in the round to win his first major, beating Mickelson in an Open duel reminiscent of 1977’s “Duel in the Sun” between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus.

4.  Jan. 11:  Alabama 45, Clemson 40 (NCAA Football, National Championship Game)

As the clear two best teams in the country fought for the national title, they produced a game that many compared to the legendary USC-Texas Rose Bowl in 2006.  The two teams traded the lead throughout the first three quarters, with Alabama getting two rushing touchdowns from Heisman winner Derrick Henry, and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson finding former walk-on Hunter Renfrow for two touchdowns.

After Alabama tied the score at 24-24 with 10:34 to go, coach Nick Saban made one of the gutsiest calls of his career, calling for the onside kick, which the Crimson Tide recovered, leading to a touchdown.  After Clemson answered with a field goal, Kenyan Drake returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to give Alabama a 38-27 lead.  A Watson-to-Artavis Scott touchdown with 4:40 left pulled Clemson to 38-33, before a long Alabama drive to milk the clock ended with the Tide putting the game away with Henry’s third touchdown.

3.  Apr. 4:  Villanova 77, North Carolina 74 (NCAA Tournament, National Championship Game)

After the Final Four in Houston saw two less than stellar semifinals, with Villanova beating Oklahoma 95-51 and North Carolina beating Syracuse 83-66 to advance to the championship game, the Wildcats and Tar Heels made up for it with one of the best championship games in NCAA Tournament history.

After North Carolina led 39-34 at halftime and by as many as seven points early in the second half, Villanova came back to tie the score at 44-44 and then take a 67-57 lead with 5:29 left.  Then the Tar Heels came back, led by threes from Joel Berry II and Marcus Paige.  After getting as close as 72-71, North Carolina trailed 74-71 in the closing seconds when Marcus Paige hit a contested, off-balance, game-tying three with 4.7 seconds left–given the circumstances, one of the greatest shots I’ve ever seen (honestly, because of the degree of difficulty, even more of a clutch shot than the one that happened next).

After a timeout, NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Ryan Arcidiacono brought the ball up the floor, setting up Kris Jenkins for an open three that will forever live in basketball lore.  Jenkins’ buzzer-beater gave Villanova their second national title (1985) in thrilling fashion, culminating a game CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander called “a thrilling, undeniably heart-stopping, instant classic of a title game.”

2.  Jun. 19:  Cleveland 93, Golden State 89 (NBA Finals, Game 7)

Game 7 had some fantastic storylines beforehand.  The Cavaliers and Warriors were playing a rematch of the 2015 Finals, which had been won by Golden State.  The Warriors had reached The Finals by overcoming a 3-1 deficit to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals, then they led Cleveland 3-1 before the Cavaliers fought back to force a Game 7.  The Cavaliers were trying to become the first Cleveland pro sports team to win a championship since 1964, led by native son LeBron James, and doing so on the road in Oakland.

The largest lead of the game for either side was seven, which Golden State enjoyed at halftime, and the game saw 11 ties and 20 lead changes.  After a Warriors layup by Klay Thompson tied the score at 89 with 4:39 to play, the teams combined to miss 12 consecutive shots, including a phenomenal James block from behind on an Andre Iguodala attempted layup.  Kyrie Irving broke the scoring drought with a clutch three, over league MVP Stephen Curry, with 0:53 remaining, and after Curry missed a three, James was fouled hard on a fast break with 0:10 left, staying on the floor for a few moments before hitting one of the two free throws to give Cleveland a 4-point lead, before Curry missed again and time expired, and James fell to the floor in tears as a champion.

The story of LeBron James returning home to Cleveland and winning the city the championship it so desperately wanted was a great story to watch unfold, even as someone who was (mildly) pulling for the Warriors.  As the city won its first title in 52 years, ESPN broadcaster Mike Breen proclaimed, “Cleveland is a city of champions again!”

1.  Nov. 2:  Chi. Cubs 8, Cleveland 7, 10 inn. (World Series, Game 7)

“Game of the Century” is an overused term in the sports world, but leading into just the fifth Game 7 of a World Series since 2001, I said this was legitimately the biggest baseball game in the 21st century thus far.  But even with the Cubs coming from down 3-1 to force a Game 7 in a series between teams with 68- and 108-year title droughts and the matchups of Kluber-Hendricks and Francona-Maddon, I wondered if it could possibly live up to the hype.  And yet, somehow, it surpassed it.

So many moments from Game 7 were memorable on their own, and together they combined to truly make the greatest baseball game of this century to date, and one of the greatest ever.  Dexter Fowler led off the game with a homer for the Cubs, and Javy Baez added one of his own, giving the Cubs a 5-1 lead.  The Indians pulled to within 5-3 after two scored on a wild pitch, the first such play in a World Series since 1911.  David Ross, in his final career at-bat, homering to make it 6-3.  A furious Indians rally against Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman in the 8th, culminating with a game-tying homer by Rajai Davis, the latest in any World Series Game 7.

Nine innings weren’t enough for this classic, and with the game tied 6-6 and going to extra innings, the whole world got to catch its breath with a short rain delay.  After a Ben Zobrist go-ahead double, the Cubs took an 8-6 lead to the bottom of the tenth, but the Indians didn’t go down without a fight, scoring off of Cubs rookie Carl Edwards.  Mike Montgomery, who had never recorded a save in pro baseball, relieved Edwards with two outs, and got Michael Martinez to hit a soft grounder to third that will become one of the most replayed baseball highlights in history:  the final out of the Cubs’ first championship since 1908.

In my post on the game the next day, I summed up Game 7 this way:  “The Cubs and their fans have literally waited a lifetime to celebrate winning the World Series.  It’s only appropriate that the game of a lifetime put them over the top.”


Honorable Mention

Jan. 16:  Arizona 26, Green Bay 20, OT (NFL Playoffs, Divisional Round)

Jan. 23:  Denver 20, New England 18 (NFL Playoffs, AFC Championship)

Feb. 21:  Denny Hamlin wins Daytona 500 photo finish

Mar. 18:  Northern Iowa 75, Texas 72 (NCAA Tournament, First Round)

Mar. 20:  Wisconsin 66, Xavier 63 (NCAA Tournament, Second Round)

Mar. 20:  Texas A&M 92, Northern Iowa 88, 2OT (NCAA Tournament, Second Round)

Apr. 7-10:  Danny Willett wins The Masters

Jun. 30:  Coastal Carolina 4, Arizona 3 (College World Series Championship, Game 3)

Aug. 11-14:  Olympic Men’s Golf Competition (G: Justin Rose, S: Henrik Stenson, B: Matt Kuchar)

Sept. 30-Oct. 2:  United States wins Ryder Cup

Oct. 1:  Tennessee 34, Georgia 31 (NCAA Football)

Oct. 1:  Clemson 42, Louisville 36 (NCAA Football)

Oct. 4:  Toronto 6, Baltimore 3, 11 inn. (AL Wild Card Game)

Oct. 5:  San Francisco 3, N.Y. Mets 0 (NL Wild Card Game)

Oct. 9:  Toronto 7, Texas 6, 10 inn. (AL Division Series, Game 3)

Oct. 10:  San Francisco 6, Chi. Cubs 5, 13 inn. (NL Division Series, Game 3)

Oct. 13:  L.A. Dodgers 4, Washington 3 (NL Division Series, Game 5)

Nov. 12:  Pittsburgh 43, Clemson 42 (NCAA Football)

Nov. 20:  Jimmie Johnson wins Ford 400 and NASCAR Sprint Cup championship

Nov. 26:  Ohio State 30, Michigan 27, 2OT (NCAA Football)

 

Biggest Stories of 2016

5.  Retirements

Every year has its fair share of retirements, but it seemed 2016 had more big names saying goodbye than most years.  Peyton Manning retired as a Super Bowl champion.  David Ortiz was an MVP candidate at age 40 in his farewell.  Kobe Bryant scored 60 points in his final game.  David Ross homered in Game 7 of the World Series in his final career at-bat.  Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira walked away from the New York Yankees.  Vin Scully said goodbye after an unfathomable 67-year run as a Dodgers broadcaster.  Fellow broadcaster Dick Enberg said “Oh my!” one final time.  Tony Stewart won one of the year’s best races at Sonoma as part of his final season.  Family man Adam LaRoche walked away from millions after his son was unwelcome in the White Sox clubhouse.  The accolades for this list seem endless, and they have given us many moments we’ll never forget.


4.  Rio Olympics

Entering the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the host city was a major story, with concerns about the water quality in Rio, trash in the streets, and risk of Zika virus.

Once the games began, there were some excellent performances by the best athletes in the world, including a successful games for the United States team.  Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all-time, while fellow swimmer Katie Ledecky was utterly dominant in setting multiple world records.  Simone Manuel stunned everyone, becoming the first African-American woman to ever medal in swimming when she won gold in the 100m freestyle.  Simone Biles won five gymnastics medals, with four gold, as the “Final Five” obliterated the competition to win gold going away.

Outside the American delegation, Jamaican Usain Bolt finished his career with a third gold in the 100 meter dash.  Fiji’s rugby team won gold to score the nation’s first Olympic medal ever.  Brit Mo Farah fell down and recovered to defend his gold medal in the 10,000m run.  Golf returned to the Olympics for the first time since 1904, with Great Britain’s Justin Rose and South Korea’s Inbee Park winning gold.

There were still some controversies, both within and outside of competition.  Shaunae Miller dove across the finish line, and while I wrote I had no problem with it, many did.  The water in the diving pool mysteriously turned green.  12-time medalist Ryan Lochte claimed he and three teammates were robbed at gunpoint, before it turned out a drunk Lochte had vandalized a gas station bathroom and fabricated parts of his story.

While the 2016 Summer Olympics were not perfect, but fascinated with these storylines and many more.

3.  Cavaliers end Cleveland title drought

The career of LeBron James has created some of the top stories in years past, as the Akron native left his hometown Cavaliers to play for the Miami Heat in 2010, and after two titles in Miami, signed back with Cleveland in 2014.  After an NBA Finals loss to the Warriors in 2015, the Cavaliers looked destined for another loss to the Warriors in 2016, trailing 3-1, but came from behind to win three straight games, including two on the road, and the title, clinching in a legendary Game 7.

But while this championship was the first for the Cavaliers franchise, this story was about more than just one sport in Cleveland, but all of them, as the city won its first championship in any sport since 1964, ending a drought that led The New York Times to once call Cleveland “the capital of sports heartbreak.”

The Cavaliers fell victim to Michael Jordan playoff buzzer-beaters twice, then lost James in the controversial announcement program “The Decision.”  The Browns lost playoff games on a late interception (“Red Right 88”), an infamous fumble (Earnest Byner), and John Elway’s “The Drive,” before leaving town entirely in 1995 (becoming the Baltimore Ravens), only to be reborn as an expansion franchise in 1999.  The Indians were two outs away from the 1997 World Series title, before a costly Jose Mesa error led to an extra-innings loss to the Marlins.

The Cavaliers title ended the heartbreak, but may also have started a sustained run of athletic success for the city.  While the Browns did go 1-15 in the 2016 season, the Indians reached the World Series, and will have an even better roster in 2017, while the Cavaliers currently have the best record in the NBA’s Eastern Conference as they try to defend their title.

2.  Deaths

Many people of influence in all facets of American and global culture passed away in 2016, but the year seemed to especially hit the sports world hard.  Muhammad Ali, the boxer who was named Sports Illustrated Athlete of the Century in 1999, died after a long battle with Parkinson’s, while Pat Summitt, the longtime Tennessee women’s basketball coach who is the winningest coach in NCAA history, succumbed to dementia.  Arnold Palmer, “the king” of golf, and Jose Fernandez, a young star pitcher for the Miami Marlins, died just hours apart on September 25.

The list also includes broadcasting legends Craig Sager, Joe Garagiola and John Saunders, football coaches LaVell Edwards, Dennis Green and Buddy Ryan, former Heisman winner Rashaan Salaam, basketball legends Nate Thurmond and Pearl Washington, NHL Hall of Famer Gordie Howe, baseball trail blazer Monte Irvin, and dirt racing champion Bryan Clauson.  71 people, including 19 players from Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense and numerous other team staff and media, were killed when a plane carrying the team to a championship match in Medellin, Colombia crashed, while only three players survived.



1.  Cubs win first World Series since 1908

Entering 2016, it was no secret that the Cubs had a great chance to break their curse of 108 years and finally win the World Series, and before the season I picked them to win.  Even still, the way it played out makes this one of the biggest and best sports stories of my lifetime, and one that many veteran baseball writers called the best story they have ever covered.

Coming back from a 3-1 deficit and capturing a thrilling Game 7 to win it all, the Cubs finally rewarded the waiting of their long-suffering fans, some of the most loyal anywhere, with their first championship since 39,466 days before, when Theodore Roosevelt was president.  The resulting reactions from jubilant Cubs fans, nearly all of whom were experiencing their first championship, were expectedly emotional, with many brought to joyous, relieved tears.

The North Side rode the monumental triumph–and, in many cases, disbelief–for days after Game 7, including the Cubs’ victory parade and rally two days after the victory, which saw 5 million people–the seventh largest crowd in human history–pay tribute to their baseball heroes, the unit of Cubs who finally ended sports’ most famous championship drought.

After seeing the Cubs end a historic period of futility in such dramatic fashion, and the depth of the celebration that followed in Chicago and throughout the country, I named the Chicago Cubs my 2016 Stiles on Sports Sportsmen of the Year.


Honorable Mention (in generically chronological order, with yearlong stories listed first)

Athletes get politically involved (Colin Kaepernick, Curt Schilling, ESPYs cold open, etc)

Player conduct (Draymond Green, Grayson Allen, Vontaze Burfict, etc)

Performance-enhancing drugs (Dee Gordon suspension, al-Jazeera report)

Louisville basketball escort scandal

The Rams relocate to Los Angeles

Baylor football sexual assualt scandal

The end of Deflategate

John Scott voted to NHL All-Star Game, wins MVP

Golden State Warriors set NBA regular-season wins record

Leicester City beats 5000-1 odds to win English Premier League

Kevin Durant signs with Golden State Warriors

Dale Earnhardt Jr. sits out with concussion, Jeff Gordon returns

The resurgence of the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders

Tim Tebow plays baseball, signs with New York Mets

Jimmie Johnson wins 7th title, ties Petty and Earnhardt

New collective bargaining agreements in MLB and NBA

The rebirth of Penn State football

Major college football coaching changes (LSU, Texas)

Tiger Woods’ injury and return

Wake Forest game plans leaked to opponents (WakeyLeaks)