The Cubs’ World Se­ries win that broke curse, 108-year drought was AP’s choice.

E very­thing changed for the Chicago Cubs on a rainy Novem­ber night. A cen­tury-plus worth of heartache washed away by a wave of pure joy. There were hugs, cheers and tears — and bot­tles and bot­tles of booze, sprayed every­where from Cleve­land to the shadow

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Jay Co­hen

“The bur­den has been lifted,” man­ager Joe Mad­don said.

The Cubs’ first World Se­ries ti­tle since 1908 is the run­away win­ner for top sports story of 2016, col­lect­ing 48 of 59 first­place votes and 549 points in bal­lot­ing by AP mem­bers and edi­tors. The death of Muham­mad Ali af­ter a long bat­tle with Parkin­son’s dis­ease was se­cond with 427 points, and LeBron James lead­ing the Cleve­land Cava­liers to the fran­chise’s first NBA ti­tle took third with 425 points.

In a year that seemed to be more about what we lost (Ali, Arnold Palmer, Gordie Howe, Pat Sum­mitt, Jose Fernandez and the plane crash that killed most of the Brazil­ian club soc­cer team Chapecoense) than the win­ners on the field, the Cubs pro­vided a feel-good mo­ment that warmed at least the north side of Chicago well into the city’s no­to­ri­ously bru­tal win­ter. They drew huge rat­ings through­out the play­offs, with much of the coun­try tun­ing in to see if it fi­nally was the year. It was. “I think a lot of ca­sual fans were ini­tially drawn to the Cubs in the post­sea­son be­cause of the 108-year drought and the curse nar­ra­tive,” pres­i­dent of base­ball op­er­a­tions Theo Ep­stein said. “But when they tuned in, they saw a tal­ented team full of young, ex­cit­ing play­ers who are also team-first, high-char­ac­ter peo­ple.”

As base­ball sto­ries go, the 2016 Cubs had it all. One last stand for David Ross, a re­tir­ing catcher who be­came a key fig­ure in Chicago’s club­house. Loads of bright young stars, with Kris Bryant turn­ing in an MVP per­for­mance. An ec­cen­tric per­son­al­ity in Mad­don, who ce­mented his sta­tus as one of the game’s best man­agers.

There was his­tory, for the fran­chise and its front of­fice, with Ep­stein help­ing end two of base­ball’s big­gest droughts. See Bos­ton Red Sox, 2004.

That would have been enough to make it one of the top sports sto­ries of any year, but an epic fin­ish only added to the lus­ter of the fran­chise’s third cham­pi­onship. The Cubs dropped three of the first four games in the World Se­ries against the In­di­ans, and then ral­lied to force Game 7 in Cleve­land.

Af­ter Chicago blew a 6-3 lead in the fi­nale, out­fielder Ja­son Hey­ward got his team­mates to­gether dur­ing a short rain de­lay be­fore the top of the 10th. The Cubs caught their breath, and then fin­ished off the famed Billy Goat Curse with an 8-7 win that will live on in the bars of Wrigleyville for many years to come.

“The play­ers-only meet­ing dur­ing the rain de­lay was em­blem­atic of this team,” Ep­stein said. “In­stead of lament­ing the blown lead or point­ing fin­gers, the play­ers ral­lied around one an­other and picked each other up.”

Ali was mourned all over the world af­ter his death in June at age 74.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama called Ali’s wife, Lon­nie, to ex­press his con­do­lences, and a public me­mo­rial in the boxer’s home­town of Louisville, Ky., drew an eclec­tic mix of celebri­ties, ath­letes and politi­cians.

“He was a tremen­dous bolt of light­ning, cre­ated by Mother Na­ture out of thin air, a fan­tas­tic com­bi­na­tion of power and beauty,” co­me­dian Billy Crys­tal said.

James called Ali “the first icon” and an­nounced in Novem­ber he planned to do­nate $2.5 mil­lion to sup­port a mu­seum ex­hibit hon­or­ing the for­mer heavy­weight cham­pion. He also is pro­duc­ing a doc­u­men­tary on Ali for HBO.

It was quite a year for James, who pow­ered Cleve­land to its own come­back from a 3-1 deficit against Golden State for the city’s first ma­jor pro­fes­sional sports cham­pi­onship since 1964. He tried to cheer the In­di­ans to a se­cond ti­tle for Cleve­land, but they fell just short.

A day af­ter Game 7, a hun­gover and hun­gry crew of Ep­stein, gen­eral man­ager Jed Hoyer and a cou­ple of friends were back at Wrigley Field when they de­cided to get some­thing to eat. The main dish was fit­ting.

“We en­joyed some warm goat and cold beer,” Ep­stein said. “It was a nice way to cel­e­brate and flush the whole curse nar­ra­tive once and for all.”

Mark Humphrey, As­so­ci­ated Press file

no. 2, loss of a leg­end: Farzam Far­rokhi, an Ira­nian na­tive now liv­ing in New York, drops rose petals on Muham­mad Ali’s grave in Louisville, Ky.

no. 3, a ti­tle for cleve­land: Cava­liers for­ward LeBron James, cen­ter, cel­e­brates with team­mates in June af­ter Game 7 of the NBA Fi­nals against the Golden State War­riors in Oak­land, Calif. It was the city’s first ma­jor pro­fes­sional sports cham­pi­onship since 1964. Mar­cio Jose Sanchez, As­so­ci­ated Press file

no. 1 losers no longer: The Chicago Cubs cel­e­brate af­ter de­feat­ing the Cleve­land In­di­ans 8-7 in Game 7 of the World Se­ries at Pro­gres­sive Field on Nov. 2 in Cleve­land. The vic­tory broke a 108-year ti­tle drought. Ezra Shaw, Getty Images

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