On all but one of the 365 days in a normal calendar year, something is happening in one of America’s four major sports. Throw in all of the other sports happening around the world, and we find ourselves inundated with sports story after sports story.
But which ones were the biggest? Which days stand out as the most important of 2017?
The list below counts down the 12 most important days of the sports year that was 2017. While the NFL dominated headlines, this list includes events from all four major American sports as well as European soccer, tennis and MMA.
12. November 28
It had been nearly 13 years since a quarterback other than Eli Manning started at quarterback for the New York Giants. Kurt Warner started nine games for the Giants in 2004 before handing over the reigns to the rookie out of Ole Miss.
Ben McAdoo, then the head coach of the Giants, willingly benched Manning in favor of Geno Smith, ending the ninth-longest streak of consecutive starts in NFL history. Just a day after tallying his 10th loss of the season, and ending Manning’s 210-game streak, McAdoo was fired.
11. March 10
At nearly midnight eastern time on this Friday night, Northwestern’s men’s basketball team defeated 25th-ranked Maryland, 72–64, in the last quarterfinal match-up of the Big Ten tournament.
The upset itself was not notable on its own. The win, however, effectively sent the Wildcats — the only Power Five conference team not to appear in the NCAA tournament — to the Big Dance for the first time ever.
Northwestern would keep the magic rolling six days later, as the Wildcats defeated Vanderbilt, 68–66, for their first-ever NCAA tournament victory.
10. January 9
After a pair of dominant performances in their respective national semifinal games, Clemson and Alabama took the field for the second year in a row to decide college football’s national champion.
For the second year in a row, Deshaun Watson threw a touchdown pass near the end of regulation. This time, Watson hit Hunter Renfrow with just one second remaining, giving Clemson a 35–31 victory over Alabama for the Tigers’ first national championship since 1981.
The Clemson/Alabama trilogy comes to a close in Monday’s rubber match, with the winner heading to the national title game once again.
9. August 26
It was billed as “The Biggest Fight in Combat Sports History,” and it, somehow, lived up to the hype. Conor McGregor, the only man in UFC history to hold championships in two weight classes, took on undefeated boxing champion Floyd Mayweather in a light-middleweight boxing match at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena.
The fight lasted 10 rounds before Mayweather, predictably, won via 10th-round TKO.
Showtime announced in December there were 4.3 million pay-per-view buys, making the event the second-most watched boxing match in pay-per-view history. Only Mayweather’s superfight against Manny Pacquiao exceeded that number.
Both fighters made lifetimes of money from the fight. Mayweather was reported to have banked nearly $300 million for his efforts, while McGregor earned himself approximately $100 million.
8. June 11
Few tennis stars have dominated one venue to the extent which Rafael Nadal has owned Roland Garros. The Spaniard has made the French Open his personal showing ground, and this summer, Nadal made history.
A straight-sets victory over Stan Wawrinka gave Nadal his 10th French Open title, extending his own record at the event. The victory made Nadal the first-ever tennis player with 10 or more victories at a single Grand Slam tournament.
More than 4,000 miles west, Pittsburgh defeated Nashville, 2–0, in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals. The victory gave the Penguins their second consecutive Stanley Cup, making the team the first repeat NHL champions since the late-1990s.
7. April 9
For 55 years, Oscar Robertson held the NBA record for triple-doubles in a season, and was the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double over the course of an entire season.
On April 9, Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook broke Robertson’s record with his 42nd triple-double of the season. Westbrook would finish the season by joining Big O as the only two players to average a triple-double for a full campaign.
Earlier in the day, veteran golfer Sergio Garcia earned his first career major championship, defeating Justin Rose on the first playoff hole to win The Masters.
6. March 31
Since their first Final Four appearance in 1991, the UConn Huskies have been the gold standard for women’s college basketball. Geno Auriemma has led the Huskies to six undefeated seasons and 11 national championships since 1995, tallying more than 1,000 wins since taking over the program in 1985.
Even UConn’s historic program found new heights in 2017. The Huskies would run their win streak to 111 games entering the 2017 Final Four, UConn’s 10th consecutive appearance in the national semifinals.
Mississippi State’s Morgan William entered the record books on this night. William’s runner as time expired gave the Bulldogs a 66–64 victory over UConn, ending the Huskies’ 111-game win streak.
The streak was the longest in college basketball history, as well as the longest for any sport played at the collegiate level.
5. February 5
Few NFL games can be immediately identified by a score, especially a score from the middle of the third quarter.
Super Bowl LI is one of those games.
Down by 25 points with 8:31 remaining in the third, New England would score 25 unanswered points in regulation before scoring the game-winning touchdown on the opening drive of overtime, defeating the Atlanta Falcons, 34–28, to win the team’s fifth Super Bowl title.
New England’s 25–point comeback was the largest in Super Bowl history, and marked the first time in NFL postseason history that a team leading by 17 or more points entering the fourth quarter lost. It was also the first-ever Super Bowl to go to overtime.
4. October 10
A perfect storm took down the United States men’s national teams World Cup dreams. And it was completely avoidable.
The United States traveled to Couva, Trinidad, to take on 99th-ranked Trinidad & Tobago, a side fielding its B-squad after earning only three points in nine qualifying matches. The Stars and Stripes needed only a point to book passage to their eighth consecutive World Cup.
Twenty minutes after an ugly Omar Gonzalez own goal, Trinidad right back Alvin Jones’ wonder strike from 30 yards out gave the home side a 2–0 advantage.
Christian Pulisic’s goal shortly after halftime split the deficit, and Clint Dempsey missed his attempt to equalize by mere inches late in the second half. The remainder of the Americans on the pitch looked flat and uninspired, and the game finished 2–1 in favor of the Soca Warriors.
Coupled with the aforementioned perfect storm of results elsewhere in CONCACAF, the United States failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, sending shockwaves throughout the American footballing world.
3. September 29
College basketball changed forever this fall.
The first of multiple dominoes fell Sept. 29, as the FBI’s sprawling investigation of improprieties in college basketball recruiting produced charges against assistant coaches from four Power Five schools.
Assistants were not the only guilty parties in this investigation, however. Louisville fired legendary head coach Rick Pitino after the university’s board unanimously voted in favor of the termination following Pitino’s involvement in the scandal.
Jim Larranaga, the head coach at Miami, publicly stated his belief that he was named in the FBI’s findings as well. Larranaga remains at Miami, as the Hurricanes’ coach has not been formally charged with any wrongdoing.
Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State, South Carolina and USC have also been affected by the ongoing investigation.
2. June 3
Days like June 3, 2017 would top this list in most years.
Real Madrid started the day’s events by winning their 12th UEFA Champions League title, beating Juventus, 4–1. The victory extended Los Blancos’ record for UCL championships, and marked the third time in four years the Spanish giants won Europe’s top club competition.
Later in the day, baseball would take center stage. Miami Marlins pitcher Edinson Volquez needed only 98 pitches to blank the Diamondbacks and pitch Major League Baseball’s only no-hitter of 2017. After the game, Volquez would dedicate his performance to former Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and former Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura. Both players, who each passed away in their mid-20s, were former teammates of Volquez.
On the other side of the country, Angels slugger Albert Pujols would make history of his own. Pujols hit a grand slam in the bottom of the fourth inning of Los Angeles’ 7–2 win over Minnesota, becoming only the ninth player in MLB history with 600 home runs.
- September 22
In a year that saw the term “stick to sports” enter American discourse, doing so became increasingly difficult when the President of the United States regularly interjected himself into the sporting world.
During a political rally for junior United States Senator Luther Strange, Donald Trump took aim at the National Football League.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired.’” Trump said.
Trump went on to claim NFL ratings were dipping due to the league’s effort to make the game safer — “They’re ruining the game. That’s what they want to do. They want to hit. They want to hit. It’s ruining the game,” Trump said — and suggested fans leave NFL stadiums if they see an NFL player kneeling during the national anthem.
Prior to Trump’s remarks, only a handful of players were actively kneeling during the national anthem. The protests expanded exponentially the following Sunday, less than 48 hours after Trump’s comments in Alabama, and continued throughout October.
Trump’s attacks on the NFL and its players are unprecedented. Never before has a sitting United States president actively railed against professional athletes as Trump did this fall. This never-before-seen behavior made September 22 the most important sports day of 2017.