Well, 2016 is almost over. But before we welcome 2017, let’s honor 2016 with our inaugural Boyce of the People Awards . . .
Best Moment of the Year: The Cleveland Cavalier Win it All
My parents were teenagers when the original Cleveland Browns won the 1964 NFL Championship. My mother was only five months old when the Indians won the 1948 World Series; my father was born 14 months later. Add in the heartbreaking moments over time and we here in Cleveland felt hopeless. Then came the day in 2014 when LeBron announced he was coming back to Cleveland. After LeBron carried a MASH unit to the 2015 NBA Finals (in my opinion his finest performance to date), one had to feel like we may never enjoy that moment of being on top of the sports world. The Warriors’ dominance didn’t help a Clevelander’s confidence, either. Nor did the Cavs falling behind 3-1 in the Finals.
But then the King put the Warriors’ coronation on hold. With some help from Kyrie the brought the series back to Cleveland. Then, as Joe Posnanski put it, “. . . LeBron James broke the Warriors the way the protagonist finally breaks the enemy robot in the movies, you know, with sparks spitting and flickering and battery acid leaking out the side and a stream of unrelated words and stutters releasing in an ever slower rhythm.”
Game 7 felt hopeless at the open of the second half as the Warriors looked like they were pulling away, but J.R. Smith hit a couple of big threes and they Cavs were back in it. With just over four minutes left the series and Game 7 was dead even; not only was the series tied 3-3 and the game tied 89-89, but the aggregate score for the whole series was 699-699. Then, two of the best offensive teams in the sport forgot how to score. For three minutes neither team looked like they had all year. The one moment where it looked like Golden State would take the lead James came out of the proverbial phone booth donned in a cape and blocked Iguodala’s layup attempt. The Cavs finally came out of a time out with a play set up to get Kyrie Irving one-on-one with the unanimous MVP and Kyrie delivered. The Kevin Love came up with the biggest defensive stop of his career, and LeBron hit one huge free throw to put the game out of reach*.
*-I said it then and I’ll say it now: If LeBron would have finished that monster slam the Bay Area would have been able to hear the entire Northeast Ohio contigent; with all of the Cleveland transplants around the country they would’ve been surrounded by the sound.
When the horn sounded we all jumped for joy and elation. It felt like a 2,000-pound gorilla was removed from our backs. For once, we the fans got to celebrate.
The following day my boss, Mike, and I had two customers coming in for a meeting from England. They were going to be there at 8 AM which meant that we would have to be there at 7 AM to make sure we were fully prepared. The best part was that they understood our jubilation; remember, they were just coming over after a team with 5,000:1 odds to win the Premier League actually won it.
Game of the Year: The Indians Are Going to the World Series??!?! Are You Kidding Me?!!?
Let’s be honest: If you told me in March that:
- That the Indians’ best hitter would miss pretty much all season
- That in August the Indians would lose two of their top three starters
- That the Indians’ starting catcher would be injured and ineffective when healthy and
- That the Indians would be in the World Series
I would have told you that the guys in the white coats won’t hurt you. They really had no business being in that position. Then add in what led up to Game 5 of the ALCS. Because of a full blown bullpen session in Game 3 and Kluber going on short rest in Game 4, Terry Francona turned to a kid who was rated as the Indians’ 22nd best prospect. He was soft tossing lefty named Ryan Merritt. When I got to the bar I was asked by five different people “What do you know about this Merritt kid?”. I told them simply, “he’s a soft tossing lefty, let’s hope for the best.” We got the best.
The Tribe scored early when Napoli started the party with a double that scored Frankie Lindor as the left fielder didn’t play it cleanly off the wall (at least that’s what the official scorer felt) for a 1-0 lead. Merritt got the first three in order. He did it again in the second. Carlos Santana showed how you beat the shift in the third with a homerun to make it 2-0. Merritt retired the side in order again. Coco Crisp stunned an already quiet Blue Jay crowd with another homer to make it 3-0. Merritt finally gave up a hit in the fourth but the infield erased it with a double play. In all Merritt went 4.1 innings without allowing a run. Shaw was shaky but effective enough for an inning, and then came the moment that truly finished up the series.
Shaw gave up a one-out single to Jose Bautista in the sixth and Francona went to his main weapon, Andrew Miller, to face reigning MVP Josh Donaldson. I think the world of Josh Donaldson as a player, but this was probably the worst at-bat of his major league/minor league/little league/backyard career. Donaldson swung at the very first pitch he saw and hit it right to Frankie Lindor, who started the 6-4-3 double play and the inning was over. Miller would go two more innings and hand it over to Cody Allen.
When Santana caught Tulowitzki’s pop foul and dropped to his knees, we all left our feet. As my friend Kenny Beavers said that night as we all hugged and cheered and celebrated, you will never see great thing that unites us better than sports. Much like that magical night in June, we were hugging total strangers and we all loved it.
Day of the Year: Cavs Raise the Banner, Tribe Opens the Series
This seemed almost surreal.
When Sports Illustrated published the letter LeBron James wrote (just go with it) to announce that he was returning to Cleveland with the intent of bringing the city a championship, few knew what the circumstances would really be. The first team to ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals? Against a team that set the record for most regular season wins?
When the Cavs won that Sunday night earlier in the day the Indians had won their third of that 13-game winning streak. Who knew that was a prelude to an American League pennant?
The NBA announced the schedule during the summer and the big night for the Cavs was Tuesday, October 25. That was when the Cavaliers would raise the banner and begin their title defense. That was also announced in August, well before the Indians had clinched the division. Nobody could have predicted how electric our city would be. When the Tribe clinched the pennant that meant Game 1 of the World Series was in Cleveland. On October 25.
And what a day it was. I don’t think anything was accomplished in the offices in downtown Cleveland (or in any of the suburbs for that matter). And to their credit, neither team disappointed. The Cavaliers got their rings, raised the banner and blew out the Knicks by 29. Across the street, Corey Kluber delivered early and often, striking out eight in the first three innings. The Roberto Perez hit two homeruns and the Indians shut out the Cubs 6-0. Let be known that on October 25, 2016, Cleveland was the center of the sports world.
What Did I Miss Moment of the Year: Good Bye, David Blatt
When I got back from a project in Savannah my buddy Eugene told me that I had to go to Vegas with him. He was cashing in his points to shoot doubles in the Las Vegas Open with our friend Mongo and said I should go along. I carefully thought it over and 20 seconds later I was booking my flights.
We left Friday afternoon, January 22. We landed at McCarran and I took my phone out of airplane mode. I expected some ESPN updates, but my phone exploded. For three solid minutes I received updates, texts, and missed calls (somehow some of my friends didn’t realize that I was leaving for a weekend). So I simply posted:
Landed in Vegas. Did I miss anything?
Despite being 30-11 and falling just two wins short of an NBA title the previous season, David Blatt was ousted as the Cavaliers head coach. So that was a big deal.
Naturally, when we checked into our hotel the first thing I did was look at the sportsbook to see what the Cavaliers’ odds of winning the title were. They had just pulled it off the board. Damn it.
The One Who Got it Started: Stipe Miocic
This entire sports year has been based around local boys. LeBron’s story is well known. Terry Francona grew up here when his father played. And then there was this UFC fighter who wrestled and played baseball and football, and wrestled little bit out of Eastlake that got the championship boulder rolling downhill.
Miocic was named as a replacement for an injured Cain Velasquez to oppose UFC Heavyweight Champion Fabricio Werdum. The fight was originally scheduled for February 6, but was pushed back due to a back injury to Werdum. The fight finally happened on May 14.
MMA and boxing two sports I highly recommend not betting on because of this advice from my friend (and former NAAFS competitor/commentator) John Strmac:
“If Ohio State is playing Ohio Wesleyan, Wesleyan’s kick returner can run the opening kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown. A haymaker, right? Well, they probably still lose, 70-7. In MMA all it takes is that haymaker. It could be the first round, lucky shot, and boom. Match over.”
After trading shots Werdum went at Stipe midway through the first round and had Miocic on the defensive. Miocic threw a right hook and caught Werdum flush on the jaw.
Out. New Champion. Even in his postfight interview he stated how proud he was to bring a championship to Cleveland.
The following month the Lake Erie Monsters brought home the Calder Cup (ironically, also the first time since 1964), then the Cavs brought home the NBA title, and then the Indians came so close despite the depletions. It was a great year, but it got started by a local kid . . .
Loss of the Year: Hall of Famer Phil Simon
Phil Simon is a Cleveland Hockey legend. Growing up just a few blocks from the old Cleveland Arena, Phil got started as a stick boy with the Barons and never left. His role changed, but he was always there. Just two days before the Monsters won their first Calder Cup championship, Phil lost his six year battle with leukemia. He was 83 years old.
Before that clinching game the team had an emblem put on their helmets honoring him. They won that final game, scoring with just 2.9 seconds left in the first overtime period. In one of the classiest moves you can ask of any organization, the entire team – Calder Cup and all – attended Phil’s funeral.
My Top Ten Plays of the Year
- Santana homers, the streak reaches 13
- LeBron less than impressed with the unanimous MVP
- Usain Naquin rounds the bases for the walk off
- Rajai ties Game 7
- J.R. Smith keeps the Cavs in Game 7
- And NEW WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION
- Calder Cup Champions
- LeBron: The Block
- Your American League Champion Cleveland Indians
- Cleveland is a city of champions once again
Here’s looking forward to 2017 . . .