The year in sports featured big wins, big controversies and big changes. But this isn’t your typical awards-style, top-10 recap. We’ll stay away from the obvious highlights. Mostly.
Of course, we’ll still touch upon big win No. 1 — the Red Sox World Series title — and big loss No. 1 — the Patriots coming up short in Super Bowl LII. Then, we’ll get to some of the champions and some of the moments that you may have forgotten. Or, maybe they didn’t rate as the biggest headlines when they happened.
Best Performance In A Losing Effort: No contest here. It’s Nathan Eovaldi’s relief appearance in Game 3 of the World Series. Pitching on two days rest, he went six innings, allowed one earned run and struck out five. Yes, he allowed the game-ending homer that gave the Dodgers the win in the 18th inning. Before that, though, Eovaldi took the mound late inning after late inning for a gutsy, grind-it-out, leave-it-all-on-the-field performance. It was so impressive that it drove fellow Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello to tears. It also provided motivation on the way to the franchise’s ninth Worlds Series title. “Remember What Eovaldi Did” wasn’t the official Red Sox rallying cry for Games 4 and 5, but it could have been.
Best Evidence Marathon Runners Are A Special Breed: You want gutsy? Look no further than Desiree Linden winning the 2018 Boston Marathon. Linden became the first American to win the women’s open division in 33 years. And she won on a day when most people didn’t want to leave their houses. Linden thought about dropping out early on, then pushed through freezing rain, relentless headwinds and temperatures in the 30s.
Equally impressive: 25,830 other runners risked hypothermia and finished the race, too.
Biggest Sports Mystery: What happened to Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl LII? Or, maybe the better question is: What did Malcolm Butler do to get on coach Bill Belichick’s bad side? No one really knows why Butler was benched for all but one special teams snap in the big game. It’s a mystery that will endure well beyond 2018. For many in New England, it’s better to dive down that rabbit hole than to break down how the Philadelphia Eagles managed to upset the Patriots.
Best Glimpse Of The Future: TD Garden. Celtics vs. Cavaliers. Eastern Conference Finals. Game 7, fourth quarter, with 6 minutes 43 seconds left. Jayson Tatum dunks over LeBron James. Emphatically. In many ways, that play perfectly captured Tatum’s precocious talent and symbolized the confidence of the Celtics young players. After Gordon Hayward then Kyrie Irving went down with injuries, those young players grew up fast. Never was that more apparent than during the Celtics run to the conference finals. Now the fun part: Seeing what Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart do next. Hopefully, we get to watch them (or most of them) for years to come in Boston.
Biggest Win By Local Pros On Biggest Sports Stage: That nod goes to the U.S. women’s Olympic hockey team. At the PyeongChang Games, the U.S. defeated longtime rival Canada in a shootout to earn gold. It was the first time the U.S. women had won the Olympic tournament since 1998.
And the U.S. roster was stocked with players who competed professionally for the NWHL’s Boston Pride. Even if they’re no longer on the Pride roster, we’ll still claim them as local pros. The list includes Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, Haley Skarupa, Brianna Decker, Gigi Marvin, Kacey Bellamy and Amanda Pelkey.
National Championship Team Deserving Of More Recognition: For better or worse, it’s likely the Boston Renegades will own this category for the foreseeable future. That’s because they’re a women’s football powerhouse and because women’s football doesn’t get much media attention. In case you’re not familiar with the team, the Renegades are part of the full-contact Women’s Football Alliance (WFA). In late July, the Renegades crushed the LA Warriors, 42-18, to win the WFA national championship.
Best Use Of Powerful Position Amid Larry Nassar Scandal: Judge Rosemarie Aquilina was a champion in her own way. In January, when she sentenced Nassar, who had admitted to abusing girls and women, to 40 to 175 years in prison, she gave voice to the public’s outrage. Not without controversy, she said, "Our Constitution does not allow for cruel and unusual punishment. If it did, I have to say, I might allow what he did to all of these beautiful souls — these young women in their childhood — I would allow some or many people to do to him what he did to others." When so many others in positions of power exercised unbelievably poor judgment and kept quiet, Aquilina should get recognition for using her voice, even though her words now mean that a Michigan court will review her sentencing.
Biggest Game Changer: The Supreme Court’s legalization of sports gambling will forever change sports in ways big and small. Just how much of a game changer was the ruling? The Sports Business Journal recently named “the American sports gambler” the most influential person in sports business in 2018. With mobile wagering, the options for where and when bets get placed are endless. Or, it seems they soon will be, as apps, casinos, pro leagues and daily fantasy sports companies like Boston-based DraftKings aim to entice the American gambler.
In November, Rhode Island became the first New England state to offer sports betting when Twin River Casino launched its sportsbook. In Massachusetts, it appears a question of “when” not “if” sports gambling will be offered. Gov. Charlie Baker wants a “framework.” And there’s now an ever-growing group of people, from sports gamblers to those involved with casinos and daily fantasy sports, who have a vested interest in what that framework looks like.
Dirtiest Play Of The Year (Or, At Least, The Dirtiest One Caught On Camera): After Fitchburg State guard Kewan Platt threw a flagrant elbow to an opponent’s face, video of the incident went viral. It looks as bad as it sounds. Platt was indefinitely suspended, barred from campus, and stripped of the "Player of the Week" award he won days before the vicious elbow. Platt apologized on his Instagram account. He wrote, “What I did is totally unacceptable and not justified in any way. I got frustrated and lost control over my behavior.” But moving on won’t be that easy. It takes time, lots of time, for viral video moments to fade into the past.
Boston Sports Legend Who’s An Unexpectedly Fascinating Twitter Follow: That would be @RealBillRussell. He joined the social media platform in September 2017 and made the most of 2018. Russell’s Twitter profile describes him as a “Civil rights activist” and “11x NBA Champ.” In that order. He recently tweeted about his visit to South Dakota to watch his “honorary tribe,” the Oglala Lakota, play in the Lakota Nation Invitational basketball tournament. That was one of many glimpses into his busy year. He also tweeted about the NBA, WNBA, MSNBC shows, the Red Sox, his workouts and his work as a mentor. In August, as the NFL preseason was getting underway, Russell tweeted a photo of himself kneeling “to show my continued support for the players & their decision to stand against #socialinjustice.”
Favorite Musical Moment In Sports (Public) Radio: This is a bonus category. Admittedly, we’re a little biased about this one at WBUR. Plus, there weren’t a lot of entries. But even if there were, Pedro Martinez would have walked away the winner for his rendition of “El Cantante.” And it’s too good not to revisit.
This segment aired on December 26, 2018.