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  • Mason Masters

Christ, Another Year In Review Post (2019 Edition)

End of year lists; they are so reductive. We list a few championship teams, a great individual performance or two and then move on to the next year as we tie it all together, trying to glean some meaning from the chaos. Every single outlet does it. I mean it’s just so contrived and routine that I don’t know why we continue to write such complete bulls—

Anyway… please enjoy a trip down memory lane as we remember ten great moments from the year of our lord 2019 and three which should be remembered but not celebrated.

Good: Fallon Sherrock Makes Darts History

Although beloved by this author, professional darts isn't really on the front burner of the global sports landscape. To be honest, it's not really on the backburner either. The game of darts is that casserole brought over by your weird aunt that gets kept warm in the microwave. So, it was one of the best surprises of the year when the PDC’s World Championship tournament made global headlines and history when 25-year-old Fallon Sherrock became the first woman to ever beat a man in a match. In a male-dominated sport that embraces its frat-like party atmosphere, watching the crowd grow to adore Sherrock and her impressive skills during her two-win run in the tournament was fantastic. Even in defeat, they sang her off the stage, helping complete the instant legend of the Queen of the Palace

Good: Kawhi’s Philly Special

It had been a while since the NBA had an honest to god show-stopping moment. The last one I can remember was LeBron’s epic block to win the city of Cleveland its first title in 50 years. Then Kawhi Leonard decided to have a moment. Well actually, a few moments. Perhaps no athlete has had such a drastic change in standing in the span of one season. Leonard went from leaving San Antonio after sitting out a season due to a dubious “injury” to winning a title in Toronto and then winning one of the most impressive free agency chess matches in history. He went from the dregs all the way over the brim. But his impressive year will always be encapsulated within a single moment during the end of the Raptors - 76’ers playoff series. After throwing up a Game Seven prayer, Leonard, his teammates, and the entire arena watched in silence as the ball teased all sides of the hoop and the dreams of both teams as it danced along the rim, only to gently drop in, sending Philly home and the city of Toronto into pandemonium.

Good: Megan Rapinoe… Exists

The only person that had a better year than Kawhi Leonard was Megan Rapinoe. The Seattle Reign FC midfielder played in her 3rd World Cup and in typical Rapinoe fashion, she did not shy away from anyone or anything. When asked (before the tournament had even started) if she would visit the White House after a United States victory, she scoffed and said, “I’m not going to the fucking White House.”

From that moment on she became a lightning rod and a symbol for all the people who agreed with her disdain for the current occupant of the office as well as those offended by that disdain. That kind of instant-pot pressure from the resulting press would have crushed a lesser person. Instead, Rapinoe rose above it all, becoming the rock the USWNT roster needed during their toughest tournament yet. Winning the World Cup, the Golden Boot, as well as a pair of world Player of the Year awards for her performance was impressive. More impressive however was her unwavering commitment to being who she was, a proud social justice advocate and a proud American who understands the value of holding her country to a higher standard.

Good: Lamar Jackson finally brings NFL into the 21st century

For being America’s favorite sport… football isn’t that cool. It’s a sport that is slow to adapt to trends and reluctant in many ways to embrace the modern look of society. For nearly 70 years, the nation’s image of an NFL quarterback has been a white guy with barely more mobility than a block of cheese, chucking balls down the field from the pocket. Michael Vick was briefly very cool before he became the complete opposite of cool. Post Vick though, the NFL remained stoically bland. College football, for all of the NCAA’s general shittiness, has seen its best programs flourish under the leadership of “non-traditional” quarterbacks over the past decade.

Finally, FINALLY, an NFL team managed to grow the balls to take a chance on one of those QB’s and be brave enough to change the nature of the pro game to fit his strengths. Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens have been hands down been the best story in football this year. Jackson is a Madden Create-A-Player, burning defenses with his speed and agility. When those defenses try to contain him to the pocket, he shreds them to pieces through the air, dropping more dimes than a bank teller. After going years without a single quality quarterback successfully entering the league, the NFL is being transformed by the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson & Lamar Jackson. It’s about damn time.

Good: Andy Ruiz Wins One For Us Chubby Guys

It was a Rocky moment. Mexican American Andy Ruiz, standing at the pedestrian (for the modern heavyweight division) 6’2” and weighing in at an alarming 268 pounds took a fight with the Adonis-like Anthony Joshua just a month before fight night, after Joshua’s original opponent dropped out. At 15 to 1, no one in their right mind would have picked Ruiz, a formidable but often frustrating brawler, to win, especially after Joshua almost finished the fight a minute into the 3rd round. Ruiz would lift himself off the canvass and within seconds he would knock Joshua to the ground. From there he went on pummeling the heavyweight champ, chopping the world champion down for good in the 7th round. The look on Ruiz’s face as he realized the magnitude of what did for both the sport and for himself should make any sane person tear up.

Ruiz’s disappointing rematch loss in December does nothing to diminish his upset victory, truly one of the greatest of all time. I was wrong about it being a Rocky moment. It was better.

BAD: Nike Tries To Kill Zion Williamson

Like Lamar Jackson, Zion Williamson conjures within me outdated words I should feel ashamed to say out loud. He is dope, he is bangin’, he is insane, he is sick, but most of all Zion is fucking rad. For those of you just being introduced to Williamson, he’s a big boy. Even for a basketball player. Listed at 6’6” and an Andy Ruiz besting 285 pounds, Zion is more flying tank than man. He attacks the rim like a terminator, laying waste to anything unfortunate enough to get in the way. Even with the considerable hype that has followed him, Zion is going to be a supremely exciting basketball player for the next generation to grow up with. Or at least he was before Nike got to him.

Although clearly ready for the pros, Zion was forced into his year of mandatory indentured servitude to the NCAA at Duke. Against archrival North Carolina, Zion made a cut that was so vicious it tore his premium Nike sneaker in half. The blown tire caused him to tweak his knee and leave the game. Though he did come back later in the season, Zion’s knee warranted an operation shortly before the NBA season. Three months into his rookie year, he has yet to play a single regular-season game. I’m an optimist, so hopefully, that means no one is rushing him back until his leg can properly hold his considerable awesomeness, but from now on, the potential for injury will be in the front of every mind watching him play.

BAD: Tua Tagovailoa’s Murky Future

It keeps happening. Young kids with bright futures and sometimes big future paychecks keep getting gutted by a system that pays for their labor with an “Education” and spits them out as soon as they are no longer valuable. Zion might have gotten out relatively unscathed thanks to only needing one year of eligibility before going pro (which is still an absolute joke) but Tua may not be so lucky. One of football’s best overall players even in his junior year of college, Tagovailoa suffered a potentially career-ending injury at the hands of Ole Miss during garbage time of the first half of a game which was already over. Needing emergency surgery to repair his hip, Tua was rushed from the field, in obvious agony. It’s impossible to know how much of that anguish was from the pain of his injury or the realization that he might have given up his career for the cost of room and board at the University of Alabama. Doctors said the surgery went well and Tua should make a full recovery. He’ll be able to live a normal life. He was meant to obtain an extraordinary one.

Good: Allyson Felix Breaks World Record After Giving Birth

Being a member of the sex that does not personally go through the miracle of pregnancy and childbirth, I cannot speak on what it may feel like. It looks like the absolute worst though. This site has written about the extremes that the human body can go through while carrying, expelling and recovering from a child. The process can push average people to physical extremes seen only in the toughest of ultra-marathon competitions. When the entire body is the tool of one’s profession, the long-term recovery of past physical form can seem like a pipe dream. Allys

on Felix is a big believer in pipe dreams. Felix broke a tie with legendary sprinter Usain Bolt for her 12th gold medal in world championship competition when her 4 x 400m relay team won gold this year. Felix managed to become the most golden of track athletes, a mere 10 months after giving birth to a daughter via emergency C-section. Not only did Felix go through the physical trauma of the surgery, but the mental trauma of having her daughter kept in the NCIU for nearly a month after birth. Whats a little 2020 Olympic pressure after all of that?

Good: St Louis Blues Win It for Laila

This decade has brought a lot of ‘firsts’ in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Kings became the first team to win it all after being the last team to punch their ticket. The Penguins became the first franchise to win back to back titles in the salary cap era. Vancouver became the first town to have its second riot after the Canucks' second game seven loss in the finals. But none of these teams did what the St. Louis Blues managed to do in the 2018-19 season. Ranked dead last in the NHL after New Year’s Day, the Blues became a supernova shortly after, riding the best streak of rookie goaltending seen since Patrick Roy. The Blues nearly won their division on their way into the playoffs. To merely attribute their success to Jordan Binnington is unfair to the rest of the roster and (at the time) interim head coach Craig Berube. Its cliché as hell, but this team just believed they were better than their terrible first half of the season. They proved it time and time again in the playoffs, winning a thrilling OT Game Seven against the Dallas Stars and dismantling the Boston Bruins in another one to win the franchise’s first-ever title. The only thing that could make it sweeter (and the only thing making it bearable to those of us who hate the Blues) was the steadfast support from the team of Laila Anderson, who is fighting a rare immune disease. Watching Laila so fully embrace both life and the hockey team she loves just made my heart burst. Seeing her on the ice with the team, holding the Stanley Cup above her head after being flown out to watch the game was the best possible version of the sport.  

BAD: CWHL Suddenly Evaporates

There were several stories that could have been our final depressing entry. The deaths of multiple boxers after fights this year or the complete immolation of the relationship between the NBA and China we covered earlier this year are worth noting. But one thing has personally stuck with me for months. The sudden dissolution of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. The CWHL seemed to be a harbinger of what women’s hockey could be. Formed in 2007, the league survived a near collapse at the beginning of the decade and grew in the following years, finally stabilizing enough to pay its players and even expand into China. The CWHL had strong fanbases, a stout front office, and reliable broadcast partners. The best players from America were even leaving their domestic league, the NWHL, to play elite hockey in Canada. The final between the Calgary Inferno (one of the best logos in sports) and the Toronto Furies (as in furious, you dirty minds) brought in record numbers on a TV broadcast shown live across North America. The Inferno lifted the Clarkson Cup on March 23rd. On March 31st the league announced it would suspend operations.

The sudden evaporation of North America’s strongest women’s hockey league sent shockwaves through the sport. After years of incremental gains, the sport was yet again hanging on by a thread. Over 100 of the best players in the game decided to not play for any league this year, instead forming a union and touring North America to showcase all the excitement the sport has to offer. It is a valiant gesture they hope can build momentum for a united league for Canada and the US, but it is also a dangerous one. Here’s to hoping I can follow up with some good news next year.

Good: Tiger Wins Masters 

You could do an entire Ken Burns-style deep dive into the life of Tiger Woods. He is a complicated man, with a complicated personal history. But for most of his career, the man was golf. Injury and personal demons would strip away that god-like façade as Woods swiftly fell from the sky and was nearly crushed on the rocks below. It had been 11 years since his last major victory. He was done. Or so we thought. To see the man not only be in contention of winning the Masters, the tournament that made him a household name, but then to watch him fully (if only briefly) return to the force of nature he once had been was thrilling. It was only something Tiger Woods could do.

Good: Simone Biles Puts Up A Triple-Double

In a sport like gymnastics, everything is up for debate. Judges can make or break a legacy with an errant score and the smallest of mistakes can be catastrophic to both the mind and the body. But there can be no debate that Simone Biles is the greatest gymnast to ever walk the face of this planet. She makes a mockery out of gravity. The latest (and greatest) example of her G.O.A.T. status blessed us this year as she unveiled the “Triple Double”, a move that has to be seen to be believed. The floor routine move which consists of two flips and three twists before she lands backwards on the floor is something from the wire theatrics of a Hong Kong action movie. After landing it twice at the world championships, Biles cemented her legacy as one of the best athletes of all time.

Good: Angels Honor Teammate With No-Hitter

America has lost far too many people to the epidemic of opioids that has swept across nearly every demographic of the nation. Among them was Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs. He was just 27 years old when he overdosed during a road trip in Texas. As the franchise and his teammates waited for answers, they finished up their trip in a daze. On July 12th, the team would return home to California to play the Seattle Mariners. It wasn’t expected to be an extraordinary baseball game. It was simply supposed to be a chance to grieve for an organization that was reeling from loss. Each player wore Skaggs’ number 45 onto the field and his mother threw out the first pitch. From that pitch on, the Angels would be nearly perfect. Giving up just one walk, pitchers Taylor Cole & Felix Pena would complete the 11th No-Hitter in franchise history. After the final out was recorded, the entire team placed their jerseys on the mound. I’m not a believer in any higher power, but sometimes… sometimes it's awfully hard to believe in coincidences.

Happy New Year, everyone. Make it a year of kindness and curiosity.

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