The year is only half over, but we have already experienced a number of fantastic championship performances. The Golden State Warriors just completed one of the most impressive playoff runs in NBA history by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in 5 games and finishing 16-1 in the playoffs. Kevin Durant got the championship he wanted and won NBA Finals MVP in the process.
We have now hit the “dog days of summer.” It is a good time to review what has happened so far in 2017. One common thread runs through almost every major sports moment so far this year, and that is redemption. Here are some of the highlights where athletes or teams redeemed themselves from adversity or previous defeats.
Clemson defeats Alabama in the College Football Playoff Championship Game: Deshaun Watson put together a great performance in the 2016 CFP championship game, but it ended in a loss to Alabama. Both teams returned to the title game in 2017, and this time Clemson wanted revenge. After falling behind 14-0 early in the game, Coach Dabo Swinney and the Tigers put together a fantastic 4th quarter to keep the game close. Trailing 31-28 with time running out, Deshaun Watson led Clemson on a 68 yard drive and threw the winning touchdown pass with 2 seconds remaining in the game. Clemson won 35-31, and even though Watson was unable to secure the Heisman Trophy during his college career, he did secure redemption in winning a national championship.
Roger Federer wins the Australian Open: The greatest tennis player of all time entered the 2017 season with serious questions as to whether he would ever return to championship form. He had not won a Grand Slam title since 2012 at Wimbledon. Many considered him to be too old to compete with a young crop of players that could potentially take his crown. Federer entered the Australian Open as the #17 seed. It would be tough for the 4-time Australian Open champion to negotiate his way through the bracket. With the skill and steadiness that seemed to have left him years ago, Federer battled his way into a semifinal matchup against fellow countryman Stan Wawrinka. Wawrinka, the #4 seed, pushed Federer to 5 sets, but fell 6-3 in the deciding set. Federer went on to defeat longtime rival Rafael Nadal in 5 sets in the final. Federer found redemption and also a potential rebirth of a career that seemed destined to continue into decline.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots win Super Bowl LI: The New England Patriots began the season with Tom Brady on the sidelines. He was suspended for the first 4 games of the season due to the penalties accrued from the “deflate-gate” incident during the playoffs in 2015. The Patriots were able to go 3-1 during those 4 games, and once Tom Brady’s suspension ended, the team never looked back. They finished the regular season 11-1 under Brady with a 14-2 overall record. They advanced to Super Bowl LI where they met the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons jumped out early and took a 21-3 lead into halftime. After a quick touchdown in the 3rd quarter, the Patriots found themselves trailing 28-3 with hopes of a championship dwindling. The momentum changed late in the 3rd quarter, and the Patriots scored 25 unanswered points to close out regulation with a 28-28 tie. The Patriots received possession in overtime and steadily drove down the field for a touchdown. After the 34-28 overtime victory, it was pure redemption to see Tom Brady take the Lombardi Trophy out of the hands of Commissioner Roger Goodell, the man who suspended him earlier in the season.
North Carolina wins the NCAA Tournament Championship: The 2016 NCAA Tournament ended with North Carolina leaving the floor after Kris Jenkins hit a buzzer beater for Villanova to win the national championship. A lot of talent returned for the Tar Heels entering the 2016-17 season, and they had redemption on their minds. Led by guard Joel Berry II and forward Justin Jackson, the Tar Heels cruised to the ACC regular season title and entered the NCAA Tournament as a #1 seed. Their tournament experience paid off in close wins over Arkansas, Butler, and Kentucky on the path to the Final Four. They then edged past a tough Oregon team before defeating Gonzaga with a late run to win the national championship. After coming so close in 2016, it was sweet redemption to raise the trophy in 2017.
Takuma Sato wins the Indianapolis 500: Takuma Sato came very close to winning the 2012 Indianapolis 500. With one lap remaining and sitting in 2nd place, he attempted a pass in turn 1 on the low side of race leader Dario Franchitti. They touched wheels, and Sato’s car spun into the wall while Franchitti cruised to the victory. Sato entered the last 5 laps of the 2017 Indianapolis 500 with a small lead over Helio Castroneves. Castroneves attempted a pass in turn 1 with 2 laps to go, but he failed to gain the momentum to take the lead. That was the last attempt Sato had to defend against, and he drove to victory. It was a total flip from how the course of events transpired 5 years earlier, but it turned out to be redemption for Takuma Sato.
Kevin Durant and Golden State defeat Cleveland to win the NBA Championship: It was a long offseason of “what ifs” for the Golden State Warriors after blowing a 3-1 lead in the 2016 NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Warriors had completed the greatest regular season in NBA history with a record of 73-9, but they failed to close out the Cavaliers and fell in 7 games. As for Kevin Durant, he had a major decision on where to play leading up to the 2016-17 season. He could stay in Oklahoma City, where he came very close to beating Golden State in the Western Conference Finals. On the other hand, he could go to another title contender and try to win a championship somewhere else. He chose to join Golden State, and he was immediately destroyed by the press for joining the team that beat him the previous year. Durant brushed off the distractions and focused on a championship. The Warriors finished the regular season with a record of 67-15. They then swept through the Western Conference with a perfect 12-0 record. For the 3rd straight season, they met LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals. The Warriors earned redemption with dominating performances in games 1, 2, and 5. They won game 3 with late-game heroics from Kevin Durant. Other than a poor game 4 performance, the Warriors cemented themselves as one of the greatest teams of all time and a possible dynasty-in-the-making. Kevin Durant and the Warriors silenced their critics and earned redemption.
By Ben Billman
Ben Billman is currently a doctoral teaching assistant at the United States Sports Academy. He lives in Mobile, Ala. with his wife Jennifer and son Derrick. He is originally from Indiana, and therefore has a deep love for the game of basketball. Reach him at email@example.com.