WHO SAW THAT COMING?
Rallies, unexpected moments highlight top games
It began as The Year of the Comeback.
In college football, Clemson got the last laugh in a wild fourth quarter in which the lead changed hands three times. And in pro football, the New England Patriots rallied from 25 points down to send the Super Bowl to overtime for the first time in the big game’s history, then cruised to a quick touchdown for the franchise’s fifth title.
The rest of 2017 might have been called The Year of the Surprise. From Sergio Garcia’s long-overdue green jacket to Roger Federer’s late-in-the-game return to the top to Usain Bolt losing not once, but twice in his finale, the year’s best games, races and rounds certainly kept us all guessing.
Here’s a look at some of the best games of 2017:
BACK AND FORTH
In January, Clemson and Alabama advanced through the College Football Playoff to meet for the second straight year with the national championship on the line and one question to answer: How would they top the 45-40 thriller from the year before? Alabama won that game and appeared to be on track for a repeat, leading 24-14 after three quarters that were more or less a snoozefest. The fourth quarter was a much different story. It included four touchdowns, three lead changes over the final 4:38 and ultimately the game-winning touchdown — a 2-yard throw from Deshaun Watson to Hunter Renfrow with a second left that gave Clemson the 35-31 win and its first national title since 1981.
“That has to be one of the greatest games of all time,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
The debate over Super Bowl LI in Houston lingers: Did the Atlanta Falcons choke this game away or did the Patriots wrest it away? Either way, it was a comeback for the history books. Atlanta took a 28-3 lead with 8:31 left in the third quarter. From there, the Falcons’ prevent defense and questionable calls on offense combined with New England’s refusal to give up turned it into an all-time classic — for everyone but Atlanta fans. The Patriots’ tying drive was highlighted by a remarkable catch by Julian Edelman. New England tied the game at 28, won the overtime coin toss — and Atlanta’s shocked defense offered no resistance as the Patriots won 34-28.
“No panic,” Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater said while explaining the comeback. “Our bodies and minds were ready, and we just kept believing in one another.”
ONLY A NUMBER
He was 35, coming off a knee injury and much closer to the end of his pro tennis career than his prime. Nobody could be blamed for overlooking Roger Federer. Yet the father of four, playing his first big tournament after sitting out for six months, came back in classic fashion, turning back the clock to top longtime rival Rafael Nadal in a memorable Australian Open final. Federer overcame a break in the fifth set to capture his 18th Grand Slam title with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory. It was Federer’s first major championship since Wimbledon 2012. (He would go on to take No. 19 later in 2017 at, again, Wimbledon).
“For me it’s all about the comeback,” Federer said, “about an epic match with Rafa again.”
Two shots behind with six holes to play, the Masters looked like another in an unbearably long string of major disappointments for 37-year-old Sergio Garcia. But Garcia did not fade at Augusta National. He saved par after hitting his drive into an azalea bush on No. 13, then made eagle on No. 15 to set up a playoff with Justin Rose that Garcia won. Garcia could have won it with a five-foot birdie putt on No. 18, but it rolled out. Yet he persisted. Rose hit his drive into the trees on the playoff hole and couldn’t scramble to save par. The result: Garcia wearing the green jacket and capturing his first major. No one had ever played more majors as a pro (70) before winning one for the first time.
This year’s world track and field championships were supposed to be a stroll down the straightaway followed by an oversized going-away party for the sport’s biggest star, Usain Bolt. Not even close. Bolt finished third — behind former University of Tennessee sprinters Christian Coleman and Justin Gatlin — in the final 100-meter race of his career, unable to find the overdrive that had sparked him to all those Olympic medals. Then, in his curtain call, the 6-foot-5 sensation pulled up lame in the anchor leg of the 4x100 relay. The crowd gasped. Bolt was placed in a wheelchair and later limped off the track. It was proof, yet again, that nobody commands the spotlight quite like Bolt — even on those rare occasions when he doesn’t run away with the win.
Ten innings. Seven home runs. Five hours, 17 minutes. Twenty-five runs. The Houston Astros topped the Los Angeles Dodgers 13-12 in Game 5 of the World Series, a contest in which no lead — or arm — was safe. The teams combined for 28 hits and used 14 pitchers. In a game in which the long ball reigned, it was a simple single off the bat of Alex Bregman that brought home Carlos Correa for the winning run.
Said Correa: “The best game ever, for sure.”
BEST OF THE REST
Who says a 6-1 soccer game can’t be a thriller? Paris Saint-Germain had beaten Barcelona 4-0 in the first part of a two-leg Champions League matchup. An impossible hill to climb? Not quite. Barcelona won the second leg by scoring three times over the final eight minutes to advance. … Even if the fight wasn’t the greatest, the spectacle certainly was. Floyd Mayweather Jr. slowly wore down Conor McGregor in the showdown between boxer and UFC champion. Ringside seats went for $10,000, and 4 million people bought the fight on pay-per-view. … On the 13th hole in the closing round of the British Open, Jordan Spieth made arguably the best bogey in majorchampionship history on the way to the capturing the third leg of the career Grand Slam at age 23.
New England’s Julian Edelman makes a catch against the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5 in Houston. The Patriots came back from a 25-point deficit to win 34-28 in overtime for the franchise’s fifth title.