You’re on the clock, Super Bowl LI!
After a 2016-17 of unprecedented drama in the finales of the United States’ favorite sports, there is only one remaining to weigh in before the Greatest Sports Year Ever is in the books, and it is the biggest of all.
Whichever teams survive the NFL playoffs to meet in Houston — the Patriots and Cowboys, if television executives have their way — they will have four hard acts to follow, most recently the instant classic between Clemson and Alabama on Monday night/Tuesday morning to decide college football’s national championship.
If the Super Bowl does give us a royal flush of fantastic finishes, it will complete a circle that began in the same venue, NRG Stadium.
It started there in early April with Kris Jenkins’ three-pointer at the buzzer to give Villanova a 77-74 victory over North Carolina in the NCAA men’s basketball championship game.
Two months later, LeBron James’ Cavaliers became the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in an NBA Finals by taking a dramatic Game 7 on the road against a Warriors team with the best regular-season record in league history.
Four months after that, the Cubs overcame a 3-1 deficit in the World Series by winning another dramatic Game 7, over the Indians on the road, for their first championship in 108 years.
Then came Monday night, with Clemson shocking mighty Alabama, 35-31, on a 2-yard TD pass from Deshaun Watson to Hunter Renfrow with one second remaining to win the CFP National Championship.
Many things were said and written last month about how despite 2016 being a year marred by toxic politics and too many celebrity deaths, it was partially redeemed as one of the best sports years in memory.
But most sports fans view year’s end not as Dec. 31 but rather Super Bowl Sunday, when the previous year’s seasons really come to an end.
By that measure, 2016 only has gotten better since the calendar turned – including a memorable Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.
Many cool things happened in sports in 2016, including Olympic moments, the Penguins’ return to Stanley Cup glory, Jimmie Johnson’s seventh NASCAR title and Leicester City’s shocking run to the English Premier League soccer title.
But for the purposes of our little discussion, we are focused on the championship rounds of the five sports that are the biggest draws for U.S. fans – college football and basketball, the NBA, MLB and NFL.
By that standard, there is not much point in even discussing where 2016-17 ranks. It is No. 1 by acclimation, a status cemented Monday.
If you come up with something better, congrats, and please email me immediately at firstname.lastname@example.org to explain yourself.
Anyway, it is not quite time for the sports year to go into “victory formation” and take a self-congratulatory knee. The Super Bowl looms, and a thriller would be the appropriate way to go out.
After what Villanova, the Cavs, the Cubs and Clemson have done, nothing short of an epic is required.
Given that Villanova hadn’t won it all since 1985, the Cavaliers since forever, the Cubs since 1908 and Clemson since 1981, a recent champion such as the Patriots, Seahawks, Packers or Steelers won’t do.
So, an early prediction:
The Falcons (no Super Bowl victory since their founding in 1966) lead the Chiefs (last Super Bowl victory after 1969 season), 21-17, in the final minute and are seeking to run out the clock with one last first down near midfield.
But undrafted rookie linebacker Victor Ochi, an alumnus of Valley Stream Central High, Stony Brook and the 2016 New York Jets (last Super Bowl victory after the 1968 season), bursts through the line, breaks up an attempted handoff from Matt Ryan to Devonta Freeman, scoops up the ensuing fumble and runs it back 50 yards for the winning touchdown.
That sounds about right.