The confetti was still raining down on the joyous New England Patriots after their overtime win over the Atlanta Falcons in Sunday night’s Super Bowl, one that followed an unprecedented comeback, when some observers were reminded of Villanova. Specifically, they were reminded that the Wildcats’ victory over North Carolina for the 2016 NCAA men’s basketball title, on a last-second shot, kicked off a remarkable stretch of major sports championships.
New England’s triumph, which involved coming back from a 28-3 deficit in the second half, occurred 10 months to the day after Villanova’s dramatic win — at the same venue, Houston’s NRG Stadium, no less. In between, we saw the NBA and MLB champions rally from 3-1 deficits to break historic title droughts before Clemson stunned mighty Alabama on a last-minute touchdown for college football’s crown.
The Stanley Cup Finals didn’t quite cooperate, with the Penguins dispatching the Sharks in six games, but the other championships will all go down as among the most memorable in their respective sports’ histories. Each had a signature moment, starting with Kris Jenkins’s shot that gave Villanova a 77-74 win:
In much the same way that Julian Edelman’s miraculous catch in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl quickly superseded Julio Jones’s stupendous grab moments earlier, Jenkins’s shot erased one by UNC’s Marcus Paige. The Tar Heels star had tied the game with just 4.7 seconds left, hitting a three while off-balance and with a defender quickly closing out on him.
That contest did not lack for late-game drama, and neither did the Cavaliers’ Game 7 win over the Warriors. Of course, as the Internet has seen fit to remind everyone repeatedly since then, the NBA Finals also featured the first time in league history that a team came back from 3-1 down.
Those Finals also saw LeBron James make good on the promise he made when he returned to the Cavs by delivering Cleveland its first major pro sports championship in over half a century, at the expense of the league’s reigning two-time MVP, Steph Curry, and his record-setting, 73-win Warriors. James had a massive block with under two minutes left, which was followed by Kyrie Irving breaking a tie by hitting a three-pointer with less than a minute to go in a 93-89 win.
If Clevelanders had waited a long time for a championship, that was nothing compared to what Cubs fans endured, given how that squad had not won it all since 1908. But wait, the Cubbies’ own rally from 3-1 down denied another Cleveland team, the Indians, a long-awaited title. That Game 7 was also a classic that took fans and TV viewers through some unlikely twists and turns, including Rajai Davis’s homer with two outs in the bottom of the eighth that temporarily pulled the Indians back into a tie and had many assuming that the accursed Cubs would inevitably fold.
A tense rain delay and an extra inning that saw both sides score ensued before the Cubs emerged triumphant, 8-7.
A few months later, it was Clemson’s turn to author a heart-stopping win, one that denied Alabama its fourth national title in seven years. Deshaun Watson hit wide receiver Hunter Renfrow on a two-yard touchdown pass with a second remaining, giving the Tigers their first national championship since 1981 (albeit on a somewhat controversial play).
That takes us to … wait, special bonus amazing championship! It would be remiss not to mention Roger Federer rallying from, yes, 3-1 down in the fifth set to win the Australian Open in a turn-back-the-clock match against Rafael Nadal. That came a day after Serena Williams won her 23rd Grand Slam singles title, moving within one of Margaret Court’s record, by defeating none other than her sister Venus, who was in her first major final since 2009.
So sports fans have been spoiled by a succession of championships decided in riveting, historic fashion. 2017 has gotten off to a tremendous start, but it has some work to do to top 2016’s must-C quartet of the ‘Cats, Cavs, Cubs and Clemson. But hey, there’s room for hockey to join the party — would it be too much to ask to get the first seven-game Stanley Cup Finals since 2011?
More from Super Bowl LI:
Couch Slouch: Patriots’ comeback darkens a nation’s already dark hour