Following a difficult year for sports in 2020 that included the majority of leagues and events being canceled or postponed, sports in 2021 surely did not disappoint. We saw an NFL legend Tom Brady win his seventh championship, and an NBA super-star Giannis Antetokounmpo win his first. The world was able to witness Suni Lee’s incredible Olympics performance, and the Atlanta Braves improbable World Series run. Many memorable sports moments occurred in 2021; let’s take a deeper look at what exactly went down.
In January of 2020, Tom Brady, who most consider to be the greatest quarterback of all time, was about to face what may have been his most difficult challenge yet. Following twenty successful years alongside Patriots head coach Bill Belichick in Foxboro, Brady had something to prove. Was the Patriots’ success due to Belichick’s incredible coaching? Or was Brady the real X factor? In his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Brady led the team to their first playoff appearance in over thirteen years. He now had to win three straight road playoff games and a Super Bowl in order to capture the seventh championship of his career, the most by any player in NFL history. He would go on to do just that, and in incredible fashion, defeating three of the league’s top quarterbacks, including defending Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes. With Brady now having seven Super Bowl rings in his possession and one without Bill Belichick, he has, in the view of many peoples eyes, become the greatest football player of all time, and he’s not done yet.
During the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, the US Women’s gymnastics team was dealt a large amount of problems to overcome. US gymnastics star Simone Biles, who has recorded more than two dozen Olympic and World Championship medals to her name, had just withdrawn from the Tokyo Olympics due to mental health concerns. With the team’s most decorated gymnast unable to compete, it was clear that somebody else would take the spotlight. Eighteen year old Suni Lee would go on to win the Olympic all around title on July 29, 2021, picking up right where her teammates left off, becoming the fifth consecutive American woman to win gymnastics’ biggest award. The most impressive part? Suni Lee’s career is only getting started.
During the NBA’s infamous “bubble” in 2020, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs after losing four consecutive games against the Miami Heat. Less than one year later, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks were back in the playoffs, seeking their first NBA championship in exactly fifty years. Antetokounmpo would lead his team on a historic playoff run getting revenge on Miami in round one, defeating a super team led by Kevin Durant in Brooklyn by inches in round two, and overcoming an injury in the Eastern Conference Finals to defeat the Atlanta Hawks. For the first time in his short but incredible career, Antetokounmpo would play in the NBA Finals. After failing to win the first two games in the series against Phoenix, all hope seemed lost for the Bucks, but Antetokounmpo was resilient. He would go on to average 35 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists per game in the series to secure a long awaited championship in Milwaukee. At just 26 years old, Antetokounmpo had added the league’s biggest accomplishment to his already stacked resume and he did it for the small market franchise who gave him his first chance.
Following a devastating year that included college basketball’s season getting cut short, the madness was back! 68 teams competed on the D1 level’s biggest stage for the rights to earn their school a championship. During the couple of weeks that this tournament occurred, two teams stood out the most: Gonzaga and Baylor. Led by current NBA star Davion Mitchell, the Baylor Bears dominated their way into the championship game. Their opponent? The undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs. No men’s college basketball team had gone undefeated in a season since Indiana University in 1976. However, it was looking like that was about to change. Just like Baylor, Gonzaga had dominated everyone who stood in the path of the school’s first ever championship. There was no doubt that basketball fans all over the world were in for a treat between the two best teams in college basketball. Mitchell, along with the other two starting guards for Baylor, would lead the Bears to their school’s first ever championship, winning the game 86-70. A school who very few people saw as a contender heading into the season, the Bears had just etched their names into the history books forever and in an incredible style.
Professional Ice Hockey:
Coming off of an impressive Stanley Cup winning season in 2020, the Tampa Bay Lightning were driven to prove that their previous championship win was not a COVID season fluke, and begin their dynasty. Led by team captain Steven Stamkos, the team was back in the playoffs and hungry for more success. After years of devastating playoff losses, could this be the start of a historic couple of years in Tampa Bay? With many talented franchises including the Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, and New York Islanders standing in their way, this was no easy task for Stamkos and the Lightning. After defeating all three of those teams in a row, Tampa Bay was back in the Stanley Cup Final and would face a team from Canada, the Montreal Canadiens. No Canadian team had won a Stanley Cup since 1993, but with all of the momentum in the world, the Canadiens were on pace to end that drought. The Lightning would shut down that momentum real quickly as they swept Montreal and secured the franchise’s second consecutive title.
The 2021 MLS playoffs were nothing short of exciting, unpredictable, and heart breaking for thirteen fanbases. With seven teams making the playoffs in each conference, nobody predicted that the MLS Cup would be the two different four seeds battling it out here in Portland. But in a year filled with surprises, it’s hard to believe that anyone was truly shocked. New York City FC would travel to cold and rainy Portland, Oregon to face the Timbers in the final game of the season. With everything on the line, New York leading 1-0 was less than ten seconds away from winning the MLS Cup in what had been an improbable playoff run. As that clock ticked down and NYCFC fans held their breath, boom… the Timbers struck back. 1-1 as regular time expired, sending the finals into overtime. In the next thirty minutes of extra time, many chances were there and none were capitalized on. The game went to penalty kicks where New York City would ultimately win their first championship in franchise history.
Last but certainly not least, the Atlanta Braves. Atlanta sports fans are not unfamiliar with heartbreak. We all remember the Falcons leading 28-3 in the Super Bowl and losing. In 2020, Atlanta fans were hit hard once again. Their Braves had a 3-1 series lead on the Dodgers and were just one win away from playing in the World Series. They would go on to lose three consecutive games, eliminating themselves from the playoffs. One year later, the Braves had to fight their way into the playoffs without their star player, Ronald Acuna Jr. Braves superfan Dylan Clearfield speaks on the injury of Acuna: “For me, and countless other Braves fans, [Acuna’s injury] is when the season felt completely lost.” Making the playoffs alone was more than what most expected from this injury prone baseball team, but they weren’t done there. With very few expecting this team to make it past the first round of the 2021 MLB playoffs, they would make it all the way to the World Series while getting revenge on the Dodgers along the way. The Braves now had to face the Houston Astros who following a cheating scandal within the organization, were the sports most hated franchise. With 48 states rooting for them according to an MLB twitter poll with millions of votes, the Braves had all the support they needed. Led by superstar Freddie Freeman, Atlanta would defeat Houston four games to one to secure an unexpected World Series win. “The Braves winning the World Series means far more than anything I can put into words. The culmination of a 26 year quest to bring Atlanta a second world championship couldn’t have been written any better,” Clearfield emotionally added. The year of 2021 was nothing short of spectacular when it comes to sports and we all look forward to seeing what 2022 has in store.