• Century of failure wiped away in US sporting year

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    LOS ANGELES: Two of the most notorious curses in American sport were wiped away in 2016 as the Chicago Cubs ended 108 years of futility with victory in the World Series and Cleveland finally celebrated a championship.

    A year which began with a fairytale farewell victory for NFL great Peyton Manning, leading the Denver Broncos to an upset Super Bowl triumph in his final game, drew to a close with the Cubs enthralling the nation with their first World Series win since 1908.

    After more than a century — 39,466 days to be precise — the Cubs finally celebrated reaching the pinnacle of baseball with a nailbiting 8-7 victory over the Cleveland Indians to seal the best-of-seven final 4-3.

    “It’s unbelievable,” said Cubs star Ben Zobrist, who was named the Most Valuable Player. “I can’t believe after 108 years we’re able to hoist the trophy.”

    Even more remarkable than the Cubs’ finally freeing themselves of the shackles of history was the manner of their win.

    They had become the first team since 1985 to rally from a 3-1 series deficit to win the title, and the first club since 1979 to do it by taking the last two games on the road.

    “Lot of people had written us off,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said.

    “For us to come back from 3-1 and finish this off was amazing. We are world champions for the rest of our lives.”

    The Cubs, the eternal punchline of Major League Baseball, ended up having the last laugh.

    But as the Cubs celebrated, it was impossible not to feel twinges of sympathy for the vanquished Indians, who themselves have been waiting since 1948 for a World Series title. Their wait has now become baseball’s longest title drought.

    King James
    Fortunately, however, it was not all doom and gloom for Cleveland, the Ohio city which had been locked in the longest cycle of futility of any major US metropolis before 2016.

    Until this year, Cleveland sports teams had not won any title since the 1964 NFL Browns.

    That long wait came to an end however in June when a Cleveland Cavaliers side inspired by LeBron James pulled off a gutsy triumph over the Golden State Warriors to lift the NBA Finals.

    James cemented his place in the pantheon of the very best to ever have graced the NBA with an astounding effort in the final three games of the series as the Cavaliers rallied from 3-1 down to win 4-3.

    No team had ever bounced back from 3-1 down to take the title until the Cavaliers against-the-odds win in 2016.

    But James, who had returned to Cleveland from Miami vowing to lead his hometown team to the NBA crown, produced a monumental performance to inspire an epic comeback.

    Back-to-back 41-point performances at the Warriors forced a game seven in which he delivered arguably the greatest clutch effort in NBA Finals history, becoming only the third man to notch a triple-double in a decider.

    James’ heroics was reflected in the raw statistics. He led in every major finals statistical area, averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals and 2.3 blocked shots a game.

    Those blocks included an incredible stop from Angre Iguodala in the closing stages which thwarted the Warriors just as they seemed to be building momentum.

    “You put everything into the game. The game always gives back to people that are true to the game,” James said.

    “I know the history of the game and I was just confident and calm.”

    Signing off
    The Cavs’ victory was the final act of a vintage NBA season which had seen the Warriors compile the most dominant season in history, with a 73-9 record to surpass the legendary Chicago Bulls team of 1995-1996, who held the previous mark of 72-10.

    The NBA meanwhile bade farewell to Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who signed off with a 60-point binge in his final game at the Staples Center before memorably telling fans: “What can I say? Mamba out.”

    In the NFL, Broncos quarterback Manning also enjoyed a Hollywood ending with victory in the Super Bowl over the Carolina Panthers in February.

    Manning had become the oldest quarterback to win the Super Bowl at the age of 39. A month later, he announced his retirement from the sport.

    “I fought a good fight,” Manning said.

    “I finished my football race, and after 18 years, it’s time. God bless all of you, and God bless football.”

    AFP

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