It is the general consensus that 2016 was, all together now, The Worst Year Ever. We all have our favorite version of the meme at this point. This one is mine:
me at the beginning of 2016 vs me at the end of 2016 pic.twitter.com/Stxd3VbM4e- Adam Frazier (@AdamFrazier) December 10, 2016
Of course, as I've argued before, the Worst Year Ever syndrome is an annual affliction: Every year is the worst year ever because, well, life is hard. At the end of 2017, we'll say, "what a terrible year. Save us, 2018!" And it won't, but it's almost charming that we pretend it will. It takes a certain sort of courage to believe that this year of heartbreak was unique, to be kicked in the face by humanity's worst instincts over and over and over and think it's just a blip, a bug rather than a feature. It's how we move on; it's how we deal with all of it. So here's to 2017: May its miseries ultimately be washed away by future miseries! Cheers!
All that said: As bad as 2016 was, for some people in our little bailiwick of sports, it was a really bad year. Here's a look at some individuals (and one institution) who came into 2016 on top of the world … before having it all fall apart over the next 12 calendar months.
Bruce Arians. The Kangol-wearing Arizona Cardinals coach was the face of the new, "Cool" NFL coach after he took the Cardinals to the NFC Championship Game and carefully cultivated his image as the lunatic NFL coach it was OK to like. But after his star turn in Amazon's "All or Nothing" -- in which he seemed to relish playing this character almost as much as the actual coaching -- all the brash offseason talk ("the goal is to win the Super Bowl," he said) turned to mush once the season started. The Cardinals had a ton of talent but all the hallmarks of a poorly coached team: mental lapses, special teams screw-ups and costly fourth-quarter miscues. Arians' halo is gone now … and all of a sudden his team looks a lot older and a lot past its prime. The Arizona Cardinals boomlet already appears to be over.
Zack Greinke. The three biggest free-agent prizes last baseball offseason were David Price, Jason Heyward and Greinke. All three were sort of disappointing -- Price had a fine season but fell short in the playoffs, and Heyward struggled all year but ended up winning a World Series -- but Greinke basically fell off the map. After a 1.66 ERA in 2015 with the Dodgers, Greinke posted a 4.37 ERA in 64 fewer innings for one of the worst teams in baseball in Arizona. The Diamondbacks appear to be rebuilding around him, and he has five more years with them. Greinke was once called the "future of pitching." Now he's a wildly overpaid mess with a team that's easily ignored. Remember how devastated the Dodgers were when they lost him? They're OK with how this has turned out.
Jurgen Klinsmann. This summer's Copa America Centenario actually went sort of well, which is worth remembering considering what would happen later. After months of disjointed play and open disgruntlement among his players, Klinsmann watched as his questionable tactics and standoffish attitude toward the U.S. soccer establishment finally caught up with him after two losses to kick off World Cup qualifying. Did you know there was a book about Klinsmann's success with U.S. soccer this year? There was! It looks a little dated now! That said, Klinsmann helped put together a foundation of success here that may pay off years down the line. But 2016? 2016 was not the best.
Michigan State. On New Year's Eve, Alabama smashed Michigan State in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff. And that might have been better than everything that happened with Michigan State's big revenue-producing sports this year. In the NCAA Tournament, Tom Izzo's men fell in the first round to Middle Tennessee State in the tourney's biggest upset. Then the football team -- which, again, was just in the playoff -- imploded, going 3-9 and losing to Illinois. Then the basketball team, in the 2016-17 season, got off to the worst start of the Izzo era, culminating in a home loss to Northeastern that wasn't even as close as the 81-73 score indicated. This had been looking like a major challenge to the Ohio State-Michigan-Wisconsin triumvirate in the Big Ten. It looks less so now.
Cam Newton. This was supposed to be Cam's revenge year, the year that the reigning MVP rebounded from that disastrous Super Bowl (before, during and after) to distribute righteous fury and vengeance on the rest of the NFL. Instead, the Panthers got off to a terrible start, Cam had a few more moments of surliness and all those people who (unfairly) wouldn't get off his back next year doubled down on their Cam Takes. This isn't an academic issue, just a one-off no-big-deal season. Football careers are short. Cam won't get as many chances to be Cam as we, or he, might think. It's tough to just drop the sort of wasted year like the one Cam just had. It wasn't Cam's fault that the Panthers couldn't get it together this year … but because it's Cam, he'll take the hits regardless.
Brock Osweiler. On Dec. 28 of last year, Osweiler was still the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos, the team with the best record in the AFC and a team considered a major contender for the Super Bowl. A week later, as the calendar turned to 2016, he was benched for Peyton Manning, who ultimately would win every game the rest of the year, and the rest of his career, as the Broncos won the Super Bowl. Osweiler turned this into a fancy contract with the Houston Texans … who last week benched Osweiler for someone named Tom Savage. Savage of course is now going to lead the Texans to a Super Bowl victory. Hey, maybe that means another new contract for Osweiler!
The St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals not only lost control of the National League Central -- a division they had won for three consecutive years -- they, for the first time since 2010, missed the playoffs entirely. And not just that: They then watched as their most hated rival, the Chicago Cubs, won the World Series and captured the imagination of the entire country. The Cubs have eaten the Cardinals' lunch for 14 consecutive months now. One Dexter Fowler signing can't erase the worst year the Cardinals have experience for more than a decade. This is the darkest timeline.