By TERRY LYONS, Editor-in-Chief
BOSTON – As we dig into the New Year of 2017, it’s important to review the sports-related history left behind from the tumultuous year of 2016 with hopes of learning something from that history, rather than repeat it in the year to come.
Most frequently, the typical “end of year” lists review the ups and downs, the wins and losses, the biggest moves of the year and we, too, will take that route to chronicle history. This list will be a little different from the others, however, as it will include a very definitive message by naming our last and most important person and occurrence from 2016.
Please let us know what you think after reading:
1. Big Papi Retired – Undoubtedly, one of the top three offensive threats in Boston Red Sox history, David Ortiz delivered in the clutch for the Sox and, in doing so, led the team to three World Series titles (2004,2007, 2013). He was the MVP of the 2013 Series and the ALCS MVP back in ’04 when the Red Sox “broke the Curse of the Bambino.” Off the field, Ortiz’ role might’ve been even more impactful. His impromptu speech after the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing incident will forever define and intertwine Big Papi and the City of Boston.
2. Tom Brady Suspended Four Games to End DeflateGate – Everyone, and I do mean everyone, has had quite enough of “Deflate-Gate,” so we’ll leave it at that. But, Tom Brady being suspended four games by the NFL and the year-long saga that led to his suspension was the major story dominating the airwaves in New England throughout 2016. In fact, the tumultuous year of 2016 might best be illustrated by this story, as the clusterf*ck of dysfunction at the judiciary and both the team and league levels. Like the Year 2016, we’re all glad to see it in the rearview window.
3. Aly Raisman’s Olympic Performance – If there was an inspiring storyline for 2016, it was the all-around performance of the United States women’s gymnastics team, captained by Boston’s very own Aly Raisman. The “Final Five” will go down in history as gold medalists and competitors who made the USA proud to see the Stars and Stripes raised in Brazil at the 2016 Olympic Games. we’re just glad Ryan Lochte doesn’t hail from Boston.
4. Red Sox Acquired David Price (Dec 2015) and Chris Sale – The very last month of 2015 provided for a major Red Sox acquisition and the MLB winter meetings of 2016 provided for another. Suffice to say, the Boston Red Sox are true contenders to compete in the 2017 World Series and many a New Englander can’t wait for pitchers and catchers to report to Spring Training.
5. Celtics Also-Ran in Durant Free Agent Sweepstakes; Sign Horford – While the Red Sox were able to land a prized free agent, the Boston Celtics were “also-rans” when it came to the courting of NBA free agent extraordinaire Kevin Durant, who indicated strong interest in playing for Boston but ultimately signed with the Golden State Warriors, creating a super-team to be reckoned with over the final three years of the decade. Front-court all-star Al Horford was the door prize for the Cs and a good one at that.
6. Celtics Finished Third in NBA Lottery; Draft Jaylen Brown – In what most experts forecasted as a “two-player” NBA draft, the Celtics finished third in the NBA Draft Lottery and selected swingman Jaylen Brown in the June draft, a talent to complement the existing roster but hardly a player to place the Celtics amongst the NBA’s elite title contenders, like the Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs or Golden State Warriors.
7. Patriots Lost to Broncos in AFC Championship – The New England Patriots botched their final regular season game of 2015, losing to the Miami Dolphins and finished with the second-seed in the NFL playoffs. The booby-prize resulted in a trip to Denver for the AFC Championship game where the Patriots fell victim to Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Looking ahead, New England learned from the miscue, just defeated Miami in the final regular season game of the current season and will enter the 2017 NFL Playoffs with home field advantage.
8. Cleveland Indians Swept Red Sox in ALDS – The vaunted radio talk show hosts of 98.5 and WEEI were all discussing a Red Sox run in the MLB playoffs and whether they would defeat the Cleveland Indians in three or four games. In reality, the Indians were much better equipped to win and swept the Red Sox in the American League Divisional series, ending a “so-so” season for the Sox and sending the aforementioned Big Papi into retirement without a storybook ending to his terrific career.
9. Passing of Bud Collins – The Year of 2016 took so many of our sports heroes, rock star favorites, never mind friends and family members. Whether it were Ali, Pat Summit, Arnold Palmer or entertainers like Prince or David Bowie lost forever, one icon of New England sports stood out and that was Bud Collins, the grand-daddy of tennis and a friend to all whoever played or watched a single set of tennis. May he rest in peace and never be forgotten to the Boston sports world.
10. Boston College went winless in both football and basketball in the ACC, but advanced to NCAA Frozen Four (lost to Quinnipiac) – Boston is known as a “pro” sports town even though it is, probably, the best college town in the world. Somehow, the professional sports dominate the news coverage and overall interest. One college sports story stood out in 2016 and it was not a pretty picture. Boston College went the entire season (a year ago) without winning a single conference game in both football and basketball. Again, history provided a lesson as the BC Eagles just won a bowl game (for the first time since 2007) and the basketball team is fresh off a nice win over Syracuse as the 2017 ACC hoops schedule begins.
Now that the “usual” top ten list is complete, we want to toss the list right into the trash can to begin 2017 on a proper note.
It seems the year 2016 was a difficult one for many. The tone set by our politicians in the election process created most, if not all, of the negative vibe for the year. What wasn’t ruined by the politicians and the worst congressional disfunction and charade in United States history, was further tainted by a year when many of our sports and entertainment heroes were taken from us, many at a relatively young age.
All that said, one story of 2016 stands out as the single most important New England-based story of 2016 and — within it — is a message etched in the human spirit. It is a story about a life that we all should treasure. It is the story of 2016 to hold dear and, possibly remember and utilize, to inspire us in 2017.
Our true hero this year is Denna Laing.
Ms. Laing is a professional ice hockey player who was “called up” to the head squad to play a “big” and memorable game for the NWHL’s Boston Pride as a preliminary contest to the NHL Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. You’ll surely remember the shellacking’ the Boston Bruins took at the hands of the Montreal Canadians in the main attraction last January 1st? A day before, as a lead-up to the NHL game, Laing took a fall against the hockey boards and suffered a severe spinal cord injury which left her partially paralyzed with no feeling in her legs and only limited movement in her arms. Ms. Laing suffered everyones worst nightmare.
You think you had a rough 2016?
Don’t go there.
The Bruins, the NHL, the local collegiate hockey family, and entire New England (maybe world) hockey community rallied around Ms. Laing throughout the year to provide support to her and her family. The road is a tough one, some might think damn near impossible, but thrugh countless hours of hard work and perseverance, on December 31, 2016, the Boston Bruins were able to show the world a short glimpse of what Denna Laing did during her year of 2016 – as a video message showed her with her talented and dedicated physical rehabilitation team. After the video was played, Laing, in a motorized wheelchair, dropped a hockey puck in a pregame ceremony to mark the gut-wrenching anniversary date of her injury.
Looking ahead, Ms. Laing has a long, long way to go in her rehabilitation efforts.
You can help her. You can start 2017 off in a concrete way to make someone else’s life a little better.
You can put aside all the bullshit and the (non-hockey playing) power plays going on in this world and – with a few clicks from your computer screen – you can donate a few dollars to help a fellow citizen of the world face the year ahead.
I’ll leave it to Ms. Laing to take it from here, as this is what she posted on her Facebook page a couple days ago as she looked ahead to 2017.
She wrote: “365 days ago I laced up my skates and played the most important hockey game of my life at one of the most beloved Boston stadiums. Each of those 365 days since have been difficult, but not one of those days have I felt alone, unloved or that it wasn’t all worth it. This never would have been my New Year’s wish but I couldn’t be more grateful for the friends I have made, the strength I have found and the experiences I have had over the past year. The support I have received has been unparalleled and unwavering especially from my family and I will be forever thankful for that. Today I went on the ice again at another beloved Boston arena and 365 days later the support could not be stronger.
Ms. Laing continued and will close-out this column for Digital Sports Desk with: “Thank you for fighting with me and continuing to believe in me every one of these 365 days. I can’t tell you what will come in 2017 but I am committed to keep smiling and getting better everyday. Thank you for everything and happy new year!”