The blessing, and the curse, of a sharp memory is that you always win the games of can-you-top-this.
Brady? Nah, Unitas was just as good with different rules.
LeBron? Guess you’re not familiar with Oscar.
But the past 12 months have silenced any and all contrarians.
Almost before James White broke the final plane, people were anointing Super Bowl 51 the best in history. Maybe so, maybe not, but the past 12 months have brought the most unforgettable run of championship games that anybody’s ever seen.
So much unforgettability, in fact, that it prompts a brief refresher:
• Kris Jenkins swishes a trailing 3-pointer with zeroes on the clock, propelling Villanova to a 77-74 NCAA championship victory over North Carolina.
• LeBron James, already holding a triple-double, swoops out of some broom closet to knock away Andre Iguodala’s layup. Then Kyrie Irving drills a 3-pointer, over Steph Curry’s face, to give Cleveland a 93-89 Game 7 win over Golden State in the NBA Finals.
• Henrik Stenson shoots nine-under-par 63 with 10 birdies in the final round of the Open Championship at Troon. He holds off Phil Mickelson, who shot 65, and becomes the first Scandinavian man to win a major championship and also sets a major championship record with a winning score of 264.
• The Cubs take a 6-3 lead over Cleveland in Game 7, watch it evaporate, and hang on to an 8-7 win in 10 innings. That was the Cubs’ first World Series trophy since 1908. (Was there even a trophy then?)
• USC leads Penn State 27-14 in the Rose Bowl, trails 49-35, rides quarterback Sam Darnold to two fourth-quarter touchdowns, and winds up winning 52-49 on a last-second field goal.
• Clemson’s DeShaun Watson fires a 2-yard touchdown to Hunter Renfrow and gives the Tigers a 35-31 College Football Playoff win, breaking Alabama’s 26-game winning streak after the Crimson Tide had led 14-0 and 24-14.
• Roger Federer, 35, who hadn’t won a Grand Slam title in five years, gets past Rafael Nadal in five sets to take the Australian Open, his 18th major title.
• Down 28-3 at halftime and down by 19 points in the fourth quarter, New England storms back to tie Atlanta with two touchdowns and two 2-point conversions in the final six minutes. Then Tom Brady leads the Patriots to a touchdown in overtime and a 34-28 victory, the top comeback in Super Bowl history.
Both the Cavaliers and Cubs had to overcome 3-1 series deficits and won both titles on the road. No NBA team had come back from 3-1 to win a Finals.
The Patriots won theirs without Rob Gronkowski, the NFL’s best tight end. Watson was a Heisman Trophy finalist but Renfrow was a walk-on receiver.
There was also a buffet of second-guessing to indulge. Why didn’t the Falcons run the ball and kick a field goal for an 11-point lead? Why didn’t the Nittany Lions settle for overtime instead of throwing the interception? Why wouldn’t the Cubs let Kyle Hendricks continue to pitch in Game 7?
And there were mystery guests throughout, snatching airtime: Phil Booth coming off Villanova’s bench, Leon McQuay III with the Rose Bowl interception, Miguel Montero getting the Cubs’ big hit.
This is why the cable networks have postgame talk-a-thons, with far more designated experts than it took to break down John Glenn’s three orbits.
For the College Football Playoff, ESPN showed the game, two “film room” analyses of the game, a “homers” channel so ’Bama and Clemson fans could hear a broadcast unfiltered by rationality, and a “personalities” channel, in which Bill Walton dressed up like Uncle Sam.
Is sports out of control? Yes. Name something that isn’t.
Too many college players are unqualified academically and overindulged behaviorally. Too many prepubescent kids are devoting their time to one sport only. Too many slicksters are making money off “travel ball.” Too many football players are waking up one morning and wondering where and who they are (Mike Adamle, the latest example).
But as an entertainment property, sports never has been better.
We have seen game after game that has us talking for day after day. And we find ourselves reassessing our complaints.
No, the games are not too long. No, the seasons are not too long. No, the players are not overpaid.
No, there is no reason to subvert extra innings by putting a runner on second base to start the 10th, in the interests of time.
When presented with games that we wish could last forever, what’s the rush?
Better just to let them play.
After all, they let us watch.
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