It’s tradition for newspapers to run a list of the top stories of the year as January approaches. It allows readers to debate which story had the biggest impact, and it gives editors something to fill their papers with at a time of the year when every writer, all at once, decides to take vacation time.
But, c’mon. Was there a bigger national sports story in 2016 than the Cubs winning the World Series, which happens like clockwork every 108 years? No, and there wasn’t anything even remotely close. If it hadn’t been for the tweeter-elect with the hair, the Cubs would have been the biggest story, period, sports or otherwise.
At the risk of sounding like a provincial rube, I don’t care what part of the country is voting. If the top sports story isn’t the team from Chicago that won its first championship since 1908, there is something tragically wrong with our nation’s news judgment.
But I see now that I must be a provincial rube because a poll conducted in conjunction with the Marist (N.Y.) College Center for Sports Communication found that only 56 percent of American sports fans believe the Cubs’ victory was the greatest sports achievement of 2016. Twenty percent of those surveyed by the Marist Poll said that the team gold medal won by the U.S. women’s gymnastics squad at the Summer Olympics was the top accomplishment.
The Cavaliers received eight percent for winning the NBA title, the Broncos seven percent for winning the Super Bowl and Leicester City five percent for winning the Premier League.
All of this leads to me ask:
Who are you people?
I’m tempted to chalk up these results to bitter White Sox fans, but there aren’t that many of you. Fans, I mean.
The U.S. women’s team was considered one of the greatest collections of gymnasts ever put together. It was led by Simone Biles, seen by many as the greatest female gymnast in history. So winning gold was not a story or a surprising accomplishment. It was a coronation.
The Cubs were the favorites all season to win the World Series, but that didn’t mean they were expected to do it. It meant they had all the ingredients necessary for a title, but there was still the matter of putting it all together, no small thing considering what they were up against.
This wasn’t just the story of a group of players winning a championship. It was about a group of players completely ignoring the weight of history, which had broken the backs and the spirits of numerous Cubs teams of the past. It was the story of a group of long-suffering sports fans finally finding its strut. It was the story of a team that won a World Series because of and, ultimately, despite its manager.
It was absolutely stunning. You didn’t have to be from Chicago to appreciate the shock value of it. One day, the franchise was on the outside. The next it was rubbing shoulders with other franchises that had won World Series within actual memory. There are still times it feels unreal, and when I say “times,’’ I mean “pretty much on the hour.’’
The Marist Poll makes it clear that there are lots of people who don’t see the Cubs’ accomplishment the way I do. There is a significant slice of the population that, upon seeing a team of teenage U.S. gymnastics, ODs on an cocktail of patriotism and sugary cuteness.
One of the poll questions was, “Do you consider yourself to be a sports fan or not?’’ Sixty percent said yes, and 40 percent said no. At first blush, that might seem to explain how the Cubs didn’t get every vote. Gymnastics is as much entertainment as sports, and perhaps those polled related more to the drama of that show than to baseball players adjusting their equipment on national television.
But I won’t let those voters off that easy. The Cubs were about more than sports too. They were about perseverance. They were about fans reaching across generations. They were about a fractured city. You didn’t have to like sports to grasp that.
In Chicago, there shouldn’t be any dissenting votes on this, though some combination of Sox fans, robo-voting and alcohol might let a few leak through. But I can’t think of a bigger sports story in my lifetime, let alone this year.
The Sox trading ace Chris Sale and starting a rebuild? Interesting, but talk to me in three or four years when we’ll have a better idea of whether it succeeded.
Future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade signing with the Bulls, his hometown team? How’s that working out?
The Bears? Never mind.
It’s the Cubs of 2016. Forever and ever.