THIS IS THE time of year during which lazy sports columnists work off their bourbon-and-tryptophan stupors through extended retrospection, and truth be told, it's an easier job this year than most. In 2016 we had the epic comeback in the NBA Finals by the Cavaliers. We also had the Rio Olympics and, at last, the Cubs ending their epochal World Series drought with a conspicuous flourish. On the other side of the Atlantic, Leicester City won a Premier League title after kicking off the season at 5,000-to-1 odds. (British bookies by the score were seen wandering dazed along the banks of the Thames, wearing barrels.) The world lost Muhammad Ali, as sui generis an international figure as sports has produced.
See how easy? There are 121 words in that paragraph, and I'm still on my couch like a big fat tick. Dunk another drumstick in the Pappy Van Winkle, Mother!
And, of course, there were those individual moments that brought us joy and heartache and gales of impolite laughter. We had Cam Newton in the Super Bowl, dropping the ball, which, apparently, changed into a serpent, the way Moses's staff did before Pharaoh. Kris Jenkins won an NCAA title for Villanova because he and his teammates ran the most perfect end-of-the-game offensive play in history. Mets starter Bartolo Colon hit a home run in May and finished his trot shortly after Halloween. Tiger Woods came back to play golf again.
That's 120 more. I stir my Woodford with the wishbone, children.
But it seems to me that more than anything 2016 was the year that the other species of the animal kingdom reasserted themselves against the intrusion of human sports into their natural habitats. For years now we've been blithely ripping up forests and grasslands to build golf courses; running, biking and swimming our Ironman competitions through woody glades and the open ocean; and building our stadiums wherever we could find open spaces and a city council full of suckers. We claimed a kind of eminent domain on the wild places of the planet, and—I am not kidding here—the animals have had enough.
It wasn't as if we weren't warned. Animals have been infiltrating sporting events for centuries. What would the annual Florida leg of the PGA Tour be without the requisite shots of a gator in a water hazard? (This can lead to difficult lies and interesting debates among the rule-mongers. Yes, there is a rule: You get a club-length's drop from a "dangerous situation." The only way I'm obeying that rule is if someone builds me a 4-iron with a two-mile shaft.) But this year, it seems, the fauna were remarkably well organized. For example, Olympic golf was plagued by more than the ridiculous fact that it was golf in the Olympics. The course proved to be infested by a rodent called the capybara. Now, there are many old clubhouses around the world that are infested by various rodents, some of whom are called corporate partners. But the capybara is two feet tall and weighs 146 pounds. So it does little scurrying beneath tables and into baseboards. It galumphs along fairways, and golfers take its picture from a respectable distance. As it turns out, the capybaras mostly lolled around in the sun, and they did not unduly interrupt play. This made them different from many Olympic tourists only by the size of their incisors.
The mongoose herd was an entirely different story. It also was the greatest sports video of the year. In November, at a golf tournament in South Africa, an entire business of mongoose rampaged across a putting green. (By the way, a business of mongooses is one of the best collective nouns for animals, right up there with a murder of crows and an exaltation of larks.) Remarkably, none of the animals even touched one of the golf balls sitting in the middle of the stampede. I thought the guy who called the penalty on Woods from his living-room sofa back in 2013 knew the rules. Here we have an entire business of mongooses, all of whom knew better than to disturb a ball while it is on the putting surface. Wow, I said, the PGA Tour's market penetration is really something.
Give the animals one thing. They were the comic relief we needed in a year in which we lost iconic figures—Gordie Howe, Pat Summitt, Arnold Palmer, Craig Sager and on and on. We all needed a laugh, which turns out to be the business of a business of mongooses. Maybe, in February, there will be a real snake on the ground, and we can all get off Cam Newton's back at last.
Sports have long intruded on nature. In 2016, the animals showed they've had enough.
Career rushing yards by San Diego State senior running back Donnel Pumphrey, an FBS record since the NCAA began including postseason statistics in 2002. Pumphrey set the mark last Saturday with 115 yards in a 34--10 win over Houston in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Consecutive games that Cardinals running back David Johnson has had at least 100 yards from scrimmage—an NFL record. He had 53 rushing yards and 55 receiving yards Sunday in a 48--41 loss to the Saints.
FCS playoff wins in a row by North Dakota State before losing 27--17 to James Madison in the semifinals on Dec. 16. The Bison had won five consecutive national championships, the most for a college football team at any level.
Faces in The Crowd