After one of the craziest years the sports world has ever seen, it seemed like a tall task for 2021 to top all of the madness that occurred in 2020.
Sports fans were hit with a wide range of emotions throughout the second year of a new decade, with a litany of joyous occasions being met with sadness, anxiety, and everything in between.
Fresh faces were able to experience the feelings that come with winning championships, while others had to swallow the unfortunate taste that comes with a devastating defeat.
The on-the-field, on-the-court, and on-the-ice action collided with major, “real-world” events, and it felt at times like three years had been jam-packed into one.
After so many monumental things happened throughout the year, it’s easy to get lost and forget things.
To memorialize it all, it’s time to count down to the new year with the six biggest sports moments of 2021.
6. MLB lockout starts on December 2
This “moment” is a tough egg to crack, because baseball fans don’t really know what the long-term effects of the MLB’s latest lockout will be.
Fans could be sitting at home in May of 2022 wondering if and when the lockout will end, or they could be laughing about how ridiculous the whole situation was as they enjoy a full lineup of regular-season games.
But, any league entering a lockout is a big deal, and MLB dealing with one after a fun season full of rising superstars and fresh faces at the top is a major situation.
Time will tell how this will all play out, but sticking the lockout at No. 6 on this list could turn out to be incredibly foolish if it leads to a cancelled 2022 MLB season.
5. Milwaukee Bucks beat the Phoenix Suns in the 2021 NBA Finals
Hot take: the Milwaukee Bucks winning the 2021 NBA Finals could easily go down as one of the most important championships in the league’s history.
No, it isn’t as crazy as the Chicago Bulls’ dominant stretch in the 1990s. No, it doesn’t have the same intrigue as the Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakers or the LeBron James-led Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers.
But, in a time where superteams are the norm across the NBA, Giannis Antetokounmpo sticking with the team and city that believed in him from the start and bringing them a championship in the process is one of the true feel-good stories of 2021.
Antetokounmpo’s loyalty to his city could impact the mindsets of big-name stars across the league, like Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic, Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker, and even Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard in the long run.
It could also set a great example for younger names like Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant and Charlotte Hornets star LaMelo Ball.
Beating the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals doesn’t have the same effect as taking down a generational star like James or Kevin Durant (even if the Bucks beat Durant’s Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals), which impacts the achievement’s placement on this list.
But, you can’t argue with the important of Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton’s efforts to lead the Bucks in 2021.
4. Atlanta Braves beat the Houston Astros in the 2021 World Series
How can you not be romantic about baseball?
In the same year Hank Aaron passed away at the age of 86, the team with which he spent 21 seasons and won a World Series earned its first title in 26 years, ending one of MLB’s longer championship droughts.
In honor of No. 44, the Braves won 44 games before the All-Star break, 44 games after the break, and won the World Series in the 44th week of 2021.
The Braves took out two of the league’s most disliked franchises, eliminating the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series before defeating the Houston Astros in the World Series.
A lineup full of young talent and trade deadline acquisitions turned into a squad of superstars, and outlasted rosters that included MVP winners, Cy Young winners, and everything in between.
The city of Atlanta rejoiced. Baseball fans breathed sighs of relief. All was right in the world.
The win might not have generated much excitement for mainstream outlets who had hoped for an Astros or Dodgers win, but it was a huge moment for fans in the midst of a major recovery for the sports world.
3. Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers win Super Bowl LV
I’m sure people are sick of seeing Tom Brady’s name when a team wins the Super Bowl, considering it has happened one out of every three Super Bowls since 2000. As a result, it probably doesn’t seem like a candidate for the No. 3 spot on this list.
But, Brady’s latest championship win is the culmination of a laundry list of elements that make it a prime candidate for such high billing on this countdown.
The NFL even making it through a 16-game regular season and a larger postseason en route to the Super Bowl in the midst of a global pandemic is a major achievement in its own right.
Add in Brady, who joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the middle of all of this chaos after two decades with the New England Patriots, leading a Wild Card team to the Super Bowl, and it gets even more impressive.
Then, you have the fact that the Buccaneers were able to become the first NFL team to play a Super Bowl in its own home stadium, and people were actually able to descend on Raymond James Stadium for the game after a year without fans in attendance.
Brady winning a title isn’t a sexy headline on its own in this day and age. But, a then-43-year-old Brady winning his seventh title in his team’s home stadium after one of the most difficult seasons in league history is surely something to celebrate.
2. The passing of John Madden
One of the year’s saddest sports moments took place with just a few days left in 2021, as John Madden died unexpectedly at the age of 85 on December 28.
It’s hard to overstate Madden’s impact on football, no matter which element of the sport you’re trying to discuss.
He was a Super Bowl-winning head coach for the Oakland Raiders.
He was a pioneer announcer who spent time at CBS, FOX, ABC, and NBC, making a major impact on the lives of players, coaches, and fans during Super Bowls, Thanksgiving Day slates, and so many high-profile Sunday night and Monday night football games.
His name is a part of any sports fan’s vocabulary if they’ve played a football video game over the last 33 years, and the Madden NFL franchise helped teach young fans the sport that its namesake invested so much time and energy into throughout his life.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006, a well-deserved honor for one of the sport’s most important figures.
And, a few days before his death, anyone who was unfamiliar with his legacy could hear the heaping praise from some of the sport’s all-time greats through FOX Sports’ All Madden documentary, which premiered on Christmas Day.
Madden’s death shook the football world, and the world of professional sports for that matter, to its core, but it allowed so many people to reflect on Madden’s endless contributions in the final days of 2021.
1. The reemergence of COVID-19 as late-2021 outbreaks run wild across NBA, NFL, and NHL
Unfortunately, COVID-19 reared its ugly head in the latter part of 2021 after the major sports leagues in North America thought they had everything under control.
COVID-19 outbreaks, spearheaded by the Omicron variant, ran rampant across the NBA, NFL, and NHL in December, leading to a litany of postponements, cancellations, and playoff ramifications in the process.
The NHL was forced to take a weeklong pause around Christmas in an attempt to stop a widespread outbreak across the league, and it led to players having to pull out of the upcoming Winter Olympics, as well.
The NBA saw big names test positive for COVID-19 around the league’s Christmas Day slate, including Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant, Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young, and Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic, but the league said it had no plans of pausing the regular season.
The NFL had to shift its COVID-19 protocols, postpone games, and watch teams in the playoff hunt play with backups (or third-string players) as a result of outbreaks across the league, and had to hold its breath as the league rolled through its first 18-game season in its long history.
Elsewhere, college football bowl games got cancelled, the Premier League was forced to use its emergency protocols, the Canada vs. USA women’s “Rivalry Series” games were cancelled, and a wide range of local sporting events at a variety of levels were postponed or cancelled, as well.
It’s clear that COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere from a professional sports standpoints, and the biggest story of 2020 still had ripple effects at the end of 2021.
Until the pandemic is completely under control, COVID-19 will continue to be the biggest story of the year from a sports perspective, with impacts on teams and events all around the world.