We will always remember 2016 as the year the Chicago Cubs broke the longest title drought in American sports history, as they came back from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Cleveland Indians. In 2016, there were plenty of memorable Chicago sports moments from the five Chicago major-sports franchises, which makes 2017 a year to look forward to. Let’s recap some of them in no particular order, with exception of the world champion North Siders.
Dwyane Wade comes home
On July 7, Robbins, Illinois native Dwyane Wade announced his Chicago homecoming.
Following a 13-year run with the Miami Heat, which featured three championships and 12 All-Star appearances, Wade signed a two-year deal worth $47.5 million with his hometown team. The signing had a special significance, as it came two weeks after the Bulls parted ways with former MVP and current New York Knicks’ point guard Derrick Rose.
So far, the move is paying only limited dividends, as the Bulls have struggled recently. However, Wade is becoming a team leader on and off the court.
Patrick Kane named 2016 NHL MVP
Patrick Kane became the first American-born player to win the Hart Memorial Trophy, a trophy given to the NHL’s best player, in the 2015-16 season. Kane led the league with a career-high 106 points. Not to mention, midway through the season, Kane went on a 26-game points streak, which was the longest for any player since the 1992-93 season. Kane was the first Blackhawks player to win the award since Stan Mikita earned his fourth MVP award in the 1967-68 season.
Kane isn’t as explosive this season, however, he has helped lead a young group of teammates to an unexpected great start to the year.
The Western Conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks
After losing Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen, Andrew Ladd and others to salary-cap issues this past offseason, the Blackhawks became a younger squad. Questions surfaced around how fast Blackhawks’ prospects such as Ryan Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza and Tyler Motte would adjust to the NHL. Pundits wondered if the Blackhawks had a shot at the Stanley Cup, as there was a plentiful amount of questions surrounding the 2016-17 squad.
Well, those questions can be put to rest.
The 2016-17 Blackhawks have taken the NHL by storm, even while battling the injury bug all season. Coach Joel Quenneville’s squad is currently 22-9-5 with 49 points, which ranks first in the Western Conference and Central Division, and ties with for second in the league with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Blackhawks’ young players seem to be getting the hang of things. 22-year-old right winger Ryan Hartman has tallied 6 goals and 6 assists in 31 games this season, while Tyler Motte has recorded 4 goals and 3 assists in 29 games.
As for the Blackhawks’ core players, so far this season, 37-year-old Marian Hossa has impressed many, as he’s currently the Blackhawks’ leading goal-scorer with 16 goals in 33 games. Artemi Panarin leads the team in the points column with 36, which ranks fifth in the league, and Patrick Kane has tallied 24 assists, which ranks sixth in the league.
Following a solid start to the 2016-17 campaign, Coach Quenneville and the Blackhawks have a lot to look forward to in 2017.
The emergence of Bears rookie running back Jordan Howard
When Bears running back Jeremy Langford suffered an ankle injury against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 3, backup Ka’Deem Carey was dealing with a hamstring injury. As a result, the opportunity arose for 2016 fifth-round pick Jordan Howard to show what he’s made of. Safe to say the running back drafted out of Indiana University didn’t let anyone down.
As of Week 16, Howard has rushed for 1,178 rushing yards, which ranks sixth in the NFL ahead of talented running backs such as Todd Gurley and Devonta Freeman. Also, Howard has ran for 6 touchdowns in 14 games this season.
While the 3-12 Bears are having a disastrous season, Jordan Howard has given the Bears’ faithful a reason to cheer.
Blackhawks’ Artemi Panarin named 2016 Rookie of the Year
Chicago Blackhawks rookie Artemi Panarin won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie in the 2015-16 season, beating out Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid.
The Russian winger led NHL rookies with 77 points, 30 goals and 47 assists in 80 regular-season games. Also, Panarin shared ninth overall in the league in scoring and scored the second-most goals, 30, behind 2016 NHL MVP Patrick Kane.
Panarin’s rookie performance has been followed by another stellar season.
White Sox rebuild
After missing the postseason for the eighth straight season, a rebuild was crucial for the future of the franchise.
The rebuild got off to a thunderous start at the 2016 winter meetings, as general manager Rick Hahn parted ways with five-time All Star Chris Sale, who was dealt to the Boston Red Sox, and outfielder Adam Eaton, who was dealt to the Washington Nationals. Pundits and spectators alike believe Hahn dominated the winter meetings, as the White Sox picked up seven prospects, five pitchers included, in less than 30 hours.
Hahn’s gutsy moves handed the White Sox four top-100 prospects in infielder Yoan Moncada and right-handed pitchers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Michael Kopech. In addition, the club acquired prospects in outfielder Luis Basabe, right-handed pitchers Victor Diaz and Dane Dunning, who certainly have some upside.
The rebuild is far from over, as southpaw Jose Quintana is attracting interest from the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees.
Dexter Fowler’s surprise return to the Cubs
Center fielder Dexter Fowler rejoined the Cubs in surprising fashion on February 25, signing a one-year, $8 million deal. Earlier that week, sources said the 30-year-old was heading to Baltimore on a three-year deal. Turns out, Fowler backed out of the deal, as he said there was never a verbal agreement made. When the news broke, Fowler arrived at a Cubs spring training meeting to announce his return and the team erupted in applause.
Fowler’s surprise return ignited the Cubs’ offense.
In 2016, Fowler had a .393 on-base percentage, hit 13 home runs and earned his first All-Star Game selection. He proved to be a big factor in the postseason. In the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Fowler hit .333 and knocked in 6 runs. As well, Fowler hit two key home runs in the World Series, one which came off of Cleveland Indians right-hander Corey Kluber in the first inning of Game 7.
“You go, we go,” is what Cubs manager Joe Maddon would utter to the leadoff hitter all year, which meant that when Fowler was hitting and getting on base, the offense couldn’t be stopped.
Fowler signed with the rival St. Louis Cardinals after a successful 2016 campaign with the Cubs. Even if the leadoff man moved to the ‘dark side’, his surprise return in February meant a lot to the World Series Champion Cubs, and they’ll be forever grateful for the contributions he made.
Cubs’ Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks finish 2nd and 3rd in Cy Young Award voting
Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks finished second and third respectively in 2016 Cy Young voting behind Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer.
Lester led the Cubs with 19 wins, which included a 10-game winning streak, and posted a 2.44 ERA. Hendricks led the majors with a 2.13 ERA, went 16-8 and made 23 consecutive starts in which he allowed three earned runs or fewer.
Going into next year, the Cubs’ rotation now consists of 2015 Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, 2016 Cy Young runner-up Jon Lester and third-place Cy Young finisher Kyle Hendricks. How about that?
Cubs’ Kris Bryant wins NL MVP Award
On November 17, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant won the National League Most Valuable Player Award. Bryant was the first player in history to be named national college player of the year, minor-league player of the year, Rookie of the Year and MVP in four consecutive years.
In 2016, Bryant hit .292 with 39 home runs and 102 RBIs. Bryant led the NL in runs scored, ranked third in the NL in home runs, fourth with a .939 OPS and sixth in RBIs. Bryant’s efforts helped propel the Cubs to their first World Series championship since 1908.
108-Year reign delay ends
The Cubs were the favorites to win it all, especially after they won 103 games to claim the NL Central Division.
In the postseason, the Cubs eliminated the San Francisco Giants in the NL Division Series and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Championship Series to reach the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. The Indians opened a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series before the Cubs came fighting back and forced a Game 7.
The Cubs looked well on their way to their first World Series title in 108 years, as they held a 5-1 lead heading into the eighth inning with closer Aroldis Chapman coming to the mound. Indians’ outfielder Rajai Davis said ‘not so fast’, though, tying the game with a home run. All of the sudden, the Cubs found themselves heading into extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series. A 17-minute rain delay before the 10th inning helped the Cubs out tremendously. Outfielder Jason Heyward called the Cubs’ hitters into the weight room to get refocused, and it worked.
Following the rain delay, the Cubs came out on fire. World Series MVP Ben Zobrist knocked in a tiebreaking RBI double in the 10th inning and veteran Miguel Montero singled in another run to make it 8-6.
The Indians cut the lead to one in the bottom half of the inning, but their comeback efforts came up short. Reliever Mike Montgomery got Michael Martinez to ground out to third base to end the game. And, after 108 long years, the Cubs were finally world champions.