So we begin 2018, hot, with Alabama-Clemson III, and even though they're not fighting for the title this year, it still feels as big in college football as Warriors-Cavs III did last June in the NBA.
We won't have Deshaun Watson on the field this time, the way we did in Alabama-Clemson II, which I believe is the best national championship game in college football history, which means better than Vince Young beating USC in the Rose Bowl one time. But we get Nick vs. Dabo again. We get Jalen Hurts, the Alabama quarterback, getting another chance to finish the job against Clemson the way Watson got a second chance to finish off 'Bama a year ago. Hurts ran 30 yards with two minutes left to put Alabama ahead, 31-28, and the only mistake he made was leaving too much time on the clock for Watson.
Deshaun Watson: Who didn't just finish off Alabama, but finished off a two-game performance against Saban's team, both of those games with the title on the line, in which he rang up Saban defenses for nearly 1,000 yards in total offense.
Now they do it again, on Monday night, in New Orleans, after Oklahoma and Georgia play the other semifinal in the Rose Bowl before that. They start out the year in sports that way, four teams and two big games. But before they do, it is worth remembering the amazing year in sports we just had, one that I believe had as many big and memorable and even historic big games as any sports year has ever had.
Think about it:
In the same year, we had Watson throwing it to Hunter Renfrow with one second left to beat Alabama and win the national championship for his team.
Then, less than a month later, we had the greatest granddaddy Super Bowl of them all, and the best championship game in all of pro football history. Tom Brady brought the Patriots back from 28-3 down in Houston (who knew that this was only the beginning of the sports drama we would see in Houston in 2017?) and finally beat the Falcons in the first overtime game in Super Bowl history.
Nine months after that, we just happened to get the greatest World Series game in history, in Houston, Game 5, Astros finally beating the Dodgers 13-12 in 10 innings, less than a week after Game 2 of that Series, which in the moment was called one of the most memorable Series games ever played.
All that in 2017. A year that was all that.
Roger Federer came all the way back from injury. Rafael Nadal came all the way back from injury. And we got Federer-Nadal back. Federer won two majors, one of them in the Australian Open in January when he came from 1-3 down in the fifth set to run the table against Nadal and win his first major in four years, at the age of 35. Nadal would later win the French and the U.S. Open. In golf, Sergio Garcia finally won a major, at the Masters. Jordan Spieth -- literally -- came from the driving range to win the British Open.
Jose Altuve, at 5-foot-6, won the MVP Award for the American League, and that was just before he became such a little big man for the Astros in October. Aaron Judge, at 6-foot-7, hit 51 home runs and finished second in the AL MVP Award voting. Giancarlo Stanton, now in the same batting order with All Rise Judge at Yankee Stadium, chased 60 home runs until his last at-bat of the season, and his last at-bat as a Miami Marlin.
Serena Williams won another major even though she was eight weeks pregnant and her sister made another major final at Wimbledon, as they continued to write a sibling story, even into their late 30s in women's tennis, that will never be matched in American sports.
The Warriors added Kevin Durant, and when Durant made it to the NBA Finals, he played as if the Warriors had added Michael Jordan. The Warriors won in five games, even as LeBron James played another five games in the Finals for the ages. Michael was the best I ever saw; he never played anybody as good as the Warriors when he was going 6-0 in NBA Finals himself.
So who do you think should be our Athlete of the Year at SoE? Is it Brady, already the GOAT in pro football, who threw for 466 yards in the Super Bowl and brought his team all the way back, and did all that at the age of 39? Is it Altuve, who for one luminous season was even a better baseball player than Mike Trout? Was it Durant? Or Federer, who did things after the age of 35 in men's tennis that no men's champion had ever done?
POLL: Who should be Sports on Earth's athlete of the year for 2017?— Sports on Earth (@SportsonEarth) December 30, 2017
And after you decide who was Athlete of the Year, what game was the Game of the Year for 2017?
Poll: What was the game of the year in 2017?— Sports on Earth (@SportsonEarth) December 30, 2017
Was it Clemson-Alabama II? Think back one more time about what Watson and Clemson did that night, coming back one year after losing a heartbreak title game and then giving 'Bama a heartbreak loss of its own.
Or does it just have to be Patriots-Falcons in the Super Bowl? Say it again: The Patriots were losing 28-3 in the first half. And even as they were coming back, they not only had to score the way they did in the second half, they had to make two two-point conversions. Which they did. Because at that point Brady convinced you that he would make every throw and every play he had to make to win him and Bill Belichick their fifth Super Bowl together.
But if you watched that World Series that the Astros and Dodgers played, was there really a better moment than we got in Minute Maid Park in a game that began on a Sunday night and ended on Monday morning? The Dodgers led 4-0 that night with the great Clayton Kershaw on the mound. Then it was 4-4. Then it was 7-4 for the Dodgers after Cody Bellinger hit one. Then it was 7-7 after Altuve hit one. Then it was 12-9 for the Astros going into the ninth. Before the Dodgers tied it at 12-12, and before it ended with Alex Bregman, wearing Derek Jeter's number, knocked in the winning run in the bottom of the 10th.
You decide. You vote for our Athlete of the Year. You vote for the Game of the Year, in an all-time year for big games. Let's ring out the old year in sports that way, just as we ring in the new.