The national championship game once again proved the power of sports to unite – Los Angeles Times
Everything stinks. Everybody is a fraud. Nothing makes sense.
The refrains of anger and negativity sweeping across our country in recent months have threatened to turn America into the land of the fury and home of the bitter.
Then Monday night happens. A fearless college kid throws a touchdown pass in the final ticks of a four-month season to upset a giant opponent and win a national championship.
A coach collapses in joy on the field. Strangers dance in each other’s arms. The fearless college kid weeps.
Yet again, just when it seems like we are being swallowed by our own cynical misery, a nation is witness to true drama, real emotion, and the absolute truth found in the glow of a scoreboard.
With Clemson’s final breath of a 35-31 win over Alabama in college football’s title game, sports once again saved us from ourselves.
Did you see it? Did you occasionally gasp at the outrageousness of it all? Did you talk about the game Tuesday morning with folks at work, about its man-child heroes, its eternal lessons, talk that streamed refreshing light into a room darkened by political and cultural morass?
Riding an elevator at the office, I was addressed by a coworker who was marveling about the game — not as a fan, but as an observer of the human condition found within its four quarters. I asked what he thought it all meant. As he exited the elevator and walked in a different direction, he said, simply, “Hope.”
It was, indeed, about the hope that this country is still grounded in the notion that great achievements can be accomplished by unity, great moments created without bluster, and that there are trophies that cannot be bought.
For all its imperfections, sports works. Its athletes are flesh, its scores are final, and, when it performs like it did in the past year, its magic is unmatched.
During that period, maybe the greatest stretch in the history of American athletics, four major sports championships were each decided in final moments heavy with history, teeming with drama, and filled with that hope.
Begin nine months ago on another Monday night, the first one of April, when Villanova defeated North Carolina, 77-74, on a three-pointer by Kris Jenkins at the buzzer for the men’s college basketball championship.
The Tar Heels had just tied the score on their own three-pointer, by Marcus Paige. Villanova had five seconds to win it. Ryan Arcidiacono dribbled upcourt and flipped the ball behind to Jenkins, who threw it up as time expired.
“Bang,” cool Villanova Coach Jay Wright said from the sidelines as the ball soared toward the rim.
Boom went the college basketball world, as the shot swished and Villanova stormed the floor, smothering Jenkins while colorful streamers rained upon them in celebration of the Wildcats’ first title in 31 years.
“They said we couldn’t, they said we couldn’t, they said we couldn’t,” Jenkins later shouted.
Real stuff. Human stuff. And it was just the start.
A couple of months later, the Cleveland Cavaliers fulfilled LeBron James’ promise to bring a championship to his home region by defeating the Golden State Warriors to win one of the most compelling Finals in NBA history.
The Cavaliers became the first major sports champion from Cleveland in 52 years. They were the first team to win an NBA Finals after trailing three games to one. And they did it with a knuckle-biting 93-89 win in Game 7 at Oakland.
Remember it? They won the game in the final two minutes with James blocking the potential go-ahead layup by Andre Iguodala, then Kyrie Irving hitting the game-winning three-pointer in the final minute.
It was such a monumental game that back in Washington, D.C., President Obama refused to leave Air Force One at the conclusion of a trip until he could watch the final moments on television. It held such meaning that afterward, the rich and famous James fell to the gym floor and cried.
“I’m coming home with what I said I was going to do,” James said, because sports is one place where, through effort and will, promises can still be kept.
Those two events were merely opening acts for the greatest sports drama of the year, in the first week of November, when the Chicago Cubs ended sports’ longest title drought with their first World Series championship in 108 years.
They didn’t just win it, they seized it with what some people believe was the most riveting game in baseball history, a 10-inning, 8-7 Game 7 victory over the Cleveland Indians that occurred after a three-run Indians comeback and a 17-minute rain delay.
During the delay, in a tiny weight room underneath Cleveland’s Progressive Field, Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward gave his team a speech that left some players in tears. The Cubs came to the plate at the start of the first extra inning, scored twice on a double by Ben Zobrist and a single by Miguel Montero, then held on in the bottom of the 10th for the win.
The lasting images were not of the Cubs bouncing around the middle of the diamond, but of thousands of celebrating fans dancing in the streets of Chicago, singing “Go Cubs Go.”
“This one about made me pass out,” Zobrist said afterward.
Once again, at its best, sports wasn’t about sports, but about the human spirit, and how witnessing and participating in this spirit can strengthen the resilience of humanity.