2016: The sports year in pictures
Plenty of diamonds in a rough 12 months
The year 2016 was … not the best.
But if you could keep moving through the rough, there were plenty of diamonds to be found.
John Scott and Peyton Manning got the happy endings they deserved. Cleveland became … the city of champions?! A soccer team reminded us why we put our money on the long shots. Two young Olympians captured Canada's hearts. Sid hoisted. Bolt … well, Bolted. The Cubs won!
In celebration of the best moments of this year, we've selected one photo from each of the 12 months to tell the story of 2016 from a Canadian sports fan's view.
January: Great Scott
Bobby Orr. Wayne Gretzky. Mario Lemieux. John Scott? The longtime enforcer with five career goals joined the list of NHL All-Star-Game MVPs after scoring twice to lead his Pacific team to victory in Nashville, Tenn. Scott, who was playing in the minor leagues at the time, revealed before the game that a league official tried to talk him into bowing out after an internet campaign to vote him a captain went viral. In spite of the NHL's best efforts, hockey got its feel-good story of the year and Scott got his 15 minutes of fame before retiring in November.
February: Last ride
It's not quite a storybook ending when you complete only 13 passes for 141 yards, turn the ball over twice and don't throw for a touchdown. But riding a fierce Broncos defence, Peyton Manning went out on top in what he called his "last rodeo" as Denver defeated Carolina 24-10 in Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, Calif. A month after winning his second ring, the five-time NFL MVP — and its all-time leader in both passing yards and touchdowns — announced his retirement at age 39.
March: Bloody Saturday
With mike skills surpassing even his considerable talent inside the octagon, Conor McGregor cemented his status as MMA's brightest star in 2016. But in a sport famous for upsets, the Irishman fell victim to a big one when Nate Diaz choked him out in the second round of their bloody welterweight bout at UFC 196 in Las Vegas. McGregor would avenge the defeat by winning the rematch by decision in August, then go on to beat Eddie Alvarez in November's lightweight title fight.
April: Crazy like a Fox
How insane was the idea of Leicester City winning the Premier League title in 2016? Entering the season, British bookmaking company William Hill posted 5,000-1 odds — the same it offered for Elvis being found alive or Kim Kardashian winning the U.S. presidency in 2020 (though that last one doesn't seem as far-fetched now, does it?). But with star striker Jamie Vardy leading the way, a team that was promoted to England's top division only a season earlier had all but clinched the title by the end of April. A draw by then second-place Tottenham on May 2 gave the Foxes perhaps the most improbable championship in pro sports history.
May: Bringing it all back home
When LeBron James announced his return to Cleveland in the summer of 2014, his goal of delivering a championship may have seemed like wishful thinking. The snake-bitten city's title drought had reached 52 years by the time the four-time MVP rose up for this dunk in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final against Toronto. LeBron's Cavaliers would finish off the Raptors in six — ending that franchise's deepest playoff run — then go on to become the first team ever to rally from a three-games-to-one deficit to win the NBA Finals. In Cleveland's historic upset of Golden State, which was coming off a record-breaking 73-9 regular season, LeBron led all players in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.
June: Talent, toughness … and grace, too
During a year that brought the deaths of such beloved sports figures as Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer, Jose Fernandez, Pat Summitt, John Saunders and Craig Sager, mourners stopped by Detroit's Joe Louis Arena to pen their respects for Gordie Howe, who died on June 10. Over his 32 pro seasons, "Mr. Hockey" became the embodiment of his sport's Canadian ideal, blending skill (802 goals) and grit (legend has it he'd hunt down opponents for daring to steal the puck from him) on the ice with an endearing gentleness once his skates came off.
July: Canadian clubber
Before she was old enough to legally sip a celebratory cocktail in most of her country, Brooke Henderson captured the third title of her budding career by repeating as champion of the Portland Classic on July 3. The victory came three weeks after Henderson, at age 18, won the Women's PGA Championship in a playoff over top-ranked Lydia Koe to become the second-youngest golfer to win a women's major and the first Canadian to take one since 1968. At the Rio Olympics, Henderson missed the podium by two strokes.
August: Fast friends
Andre De Grasse and Usain Bolt created one of the most charming moments of the Rio Olympics when they flashed grins at each other as a surging De Grasse pushed the favourite to the finish line in their men's 200-metre semifinal heat. The endearing display of camaraderie and sportsmanship was one of several shared by the Jamaican great and his young Canadian challenger during the Games. Bolt won gold in the 100, 200 and 4x100 to complete his third consecutive sweep of those events and burnish his status as the greatest sprinter of all time in what he says was his final Olympics. De Grasse, 21, staked his claim as the heir apparent to Bolt by taking silver in the 200 and bronze in the other two events.
September: The Pen is mightiest
Sidney Crosby beat Russian goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for a first-period goal that helped Canada to a 5-3 win in their World Cup of Hockey semifinal in Toronto on Sept. 24. After Canada's subsequent two-game sweep of Team Europe in the final, Crosby was named the tournament's most valuable player — part of a remarkable year that also saw the Pittsburgh Penguins captain win his second Stanley Cup along with the Conn Smythe Trophy as the NHL's playoff MVP. Crosby also surged to the top of the NHL goal-scoring race with a hot start to the 2016-17 season.
October: Cubs win!
First baseman Anthony Rizzo celebrated after securing the final out of Chicago's NLCS victory over Los Angeles on Oct. 22 at Wrigley Field, sending the Cubs to their first World Series since the year the Second World War ended. Rizzo would strike an almost identical pose early in November after completing the final play of Chicago's dramatic, extra-innings victory in Game 7 of the Fall Classic in Cleveland. That win delivered Cubs fans their first championship since 1908 — four years before the Titanic sank. The end of the most notorious drought in sports led to a parade that drew some five million revellers to the Second City — estimated to be the seventh-largest gathering of humanity in history.
November: Hey kid, have a cigar
Forty-one-year-old Ottawa quarterback Henry Burris turned back the clock in helping Ottawa to a 39-33 overtime upset of heavily favoured Calgary in the Grey Cup in Toronto. Despite pulling the old-man move of tweaking his knee in warmups, Burris threw for 461 yards and three touchdowns — including an 18-yard strike to Ernest Jackson in OT — then toasted his victory alongside his 10-year-old son Armand.
December: Sweet 16
Penny Oleksiak exploded out of the starting blocks for the women's 100-metre freestyle final at the short-course swimming world championships in Windsor, Ont. Oleksiak went on to win bronze — one of four medals she collected at the meet, including a pair of relay gold. Virtually unknown when the year began, the 16-year-old high-school student from Toronto became a national celebrity by winning four medals in Rio — the most by a Canadian in a single Summer Games — and becoming her country's youngest-ever Olympic champion when she tied for gold in the 100 freestyle. Before 2016 came to a close, Oleksiak won the Lou Marsh Award as Canada's athlete of the year.