Column: Sports offer the best distraction of all

As issues in the political and pop-culture world escalated, the sports world was right there giving fans bigger and better performances as the year went on.
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Sports are meant to be an escape from the rest of the world. They give us an ability to exit our own real lives and dream the impossible.

In the past year, they have done exactly that.

Outside of the sports world, people have made each other upset, angry and all other kinds of emotions. For many, it’s been a pretty rough year.

But for sports fans, it has been one of the best years ever.

On Sunday night, the New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons in the largest comeback in Super Bowl history. Down 28-3 with 8:31 remaining in the third quarter, Tom Brady and the Patriots found a way to pull off an improbable victory in overtime.

If you have been following sports over the past year, this level of excitement is nothing new. The championships have been some of the best in each of their respective sports’ history, which has made this one of the best sports years in recent memory.

The craziness all started with a simple phrase: “Jenkins for the Championship!”

Jim Nantz screamed those now-famous lines as Kris Jenkins of Villanova nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to win the NCAA Championship over North Carolina. A win that was perceived as an upset from people who weren’t paying attention was almost universally dubbed as the greatest championship game in NCAA basketball history.

We should have known then that it was only the beginning.

As Villanova was celebrating its college basketball title, the Golden State Warriors were polishing off a record 73-win season and were making the push for the team’s second straight NBA championship. Warriors fans wish it had been that simple.

The Warriors made it look easy through most of the first four games of the NBA Finals, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then, Draymond Green was suspended and the Warriors lost Game 5. Then, LeBron scored 41 points and the Cavs ran by the Warriors in Game 6. And finally, Kyrie Irving drilled a three to give the Cavaliers their first championship in franchise history and the city of Cleveland’s first championship in over 50 years.

Cleveland had finally turned the corner, and it was now a winning city (excluding the Browns, of course).

The Cleveland Indians backed that statement up, as they raced to a 3-1 lead over the favorite Chicago Cubs in the World Series. There was no way another team could blow a 3-1 lead in the same year.

Until they did.

The Cubs, subject to a 108-year championship drought, rallied back to force Game 7, which became one of the greatest games in World Series history. The two teams went to extra innings to determine the winner. The Cubs prevailed, ending the longest championship drought in sports history.

Both Cubs fans and Indians fans cried that night. For Cubs fans, it was because none of them had felt this feeling before, while Indians fans cried after blowing the lead they had been laughing at the Warriors for losing since June.

In either happiness or sadness, they were distracted. As things heated up in the presidential election and the outside world, sports gave them an escape, a “Hey, look at what’s going on over here.”

But sports weren’t done yet.

Protests, rallies and fights were going on across the country, but those took a back seat for four hours on Jan. 9.

Alabama and Clemson football took their places on the gridiron in Tampa, Florida, in what would make for yet another classic. The Crimson Tide was the prohibitive favorite, but favorites weren’t safe in this year’s championships. Alabama jumped out to a 14-point lead, but just like the other eventual winners, Clemson rallied.

The fourth quarter made for one of the greatest in college football history as both teams traded touchdown drives. The game ended a lot like the Super Bowl did on Sunday night. Deshaun Watson, arguably the best quarterback in college football this year, found Hunter Renfrow for a two-yard touchdown pass with one second left.

Clemson became the champion of college football after defeating the empire that is Alabama in a classic. How could this be topped?

Fans returned to the real world thinking that while the NFL Playoffs were going on, they wouldn’t get much better than what they had seen already this past year.

They returned to find turmoil at a high. “Sticking to sports” was no longer a thing, and everywhere you looked, you saw fighting and animosity toward others. Sports writers found it hard to write only about sports because the news felt like it was overshadowing everything. No matter which way people leaned politically, it was becoming an exhausting exercise to simply check the news.

The Super Bowl is always a fun time, but this year, it was needed.

Sports fans turned to the game hoping for a distraction, but they weren’t alone. Even those who normally do not venture into the world of sports tuned into the most anticipated sporting event of the year.

The sports world made them wait, but the performance they were given was well worth it.

Brady, arguably the greatest player in NFL history, led the Patriots back from a 25-point deficit on sport’s grandest stage. Four quarters were not even enough, as this one required the first overtime in Super Bowl history.

If you looked at Twitter on Sunday night, you didn’t see the protests or violence seen most recently in the media; instead, you saw fans admiring an effort by one of the greatest to ever lace it up.

There was unity, and it felt good.

Sports are not the most important thing in the world, but sometimes it’s nice to escape from everything and simply enjoy a game.

As issues in the political and pop-culture world escalated, the sports world was right there giving fans bigger and better performances as the year went on.

A distraction every now and then from what’s going on in the “real” world is more than welcome, and this year’s sports championships did not disappoint.

If the upcoming year’s championships are anything like these past ones, you can count me as one of the many willing to pull up a seat to the best distraction in the world.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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