WHO SAW THAT COM­ING?

Ral­lies, un­ex­pected mo­ments high­light top games

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - NEWS - BY ED­DIE PELLS

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.

SU­PER COME­BACK

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.”

SEE­ING GREEN

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.

SOME FAREWELL

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.

LONG BALL

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

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.

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