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5 Sports Firsts in 2017-18

by Rob Joyce

June 12, 2018 - 1:28 pm

With baseball being the lone exception, the “sports season” is over with the Capitals and Warriors winning the Stanley Cup and NBA titles, respectively. Late August (the start of college football) through early June (the end of the NHL and NBA seasons) is when the bulk of the major sports in the United States take place. And in that time we’ve seen plenty of historic firsts.

As we prepare for the grind of the summer months and wait for fall camp to open again on the gridiron, here are the five moments from the 2017-18 sports season that we may not see again for a long, long time.

1) We saw three first-time champions.

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Sure, Alabama won the college football title with a backup quarterback playing the second half and overtime. The Warriors won their third NBA championship in four years. Villanova shot its way to a second men’s college basketball in three years. Ho-hum.

But we did see three long-suffering franchises finally achieve the ultimate prize. The Houston Astros proved their tank job worked, as they were the best team in baseball in the regular season, then won a pair of Game 7s in the ALCS and World Series, ending a 56-year wait to win its first championship.

The Eagles won its first-ever Super Bowl, beating the mighty Patriots 41-33. And they did so with a backup quarterback, as Nick Foles replaced an injured Carson Wentz late in the regular season and wound up winning Super Bowl MVP.

Meanwhile, the Capitals ended decades of postseason heartbreak in exorcising fashion. Alex Ovechkin and company finally beat the Penguins in six games, moving on to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in the Ovechkin era. They beat the Lightning in seven games to advance to the Cup Final. Then, after losing Game 1, won the next four games to win the first Stanley Cup in the franchise’s 44-year history.

2) A 16-seed beat a 1-seed.

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It took 136 attempts, but finally, a 16-seed beat a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament on the men’s side. And UMBC didn’t just narrowly beat Virginia – the Retrievers pounded the No. 1 overall seed in the tourney for 40 minutes. The 74-54 final made the final eight minutes feel like an extended celebration in the Baltimore area. Not to mention, the result gave us an extra few days for the UMBC Twitter account to respond to trolls, which was arguably the highlight of the opening weekend.

3) An expansion team made the Stanley Cup Final.

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Expansion teams stink. The system is set up where a series of castoffs and aging veterans come together and get steamrolled by the league for a few years until the franchise becomes competitive. The Golden Knights didn’t get the memo, as they were phenomenal from the opening puck drop.

Vegas won the Pacific Division by eight points and ran through the Western Conference in the playoffs. A sweep of the Kings, a six-game victory over the Sharks and a five-game trouncing of the Jets placed the Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final, an achievement considered unthinkable back in October. And their five-game loss to the Capitals was the only time all year Vegas lost four games in a row.

4) Back-to-back buzzer beaters – by the same person – won a national championship.

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Notre Dame lost four players to torn ACLs between the end of last year and the start of conference play this past season, essentially leaving Muffet McGraw seven players to use. Still, the Fighting Irish made it to the Final Four as a one-seed, where Arike Ogunbowale became a legend in the course of 48 hours. Against undefeated UConn in the national semis, Ogunbowale’s right wing jumper with a second left stunned the Huskies in overtime, 91-89.

She topped that in the championship game. Tied at 58 against Mississippi State in the final seconds, Ogunbowale hit a fadeaway three with 0.1 seconds left to lift Notre Dame to its second-ever championship.

5) The United States won its first medals in three events at the Olympics.

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The Americans typically don’t dominate the Winter Olympics, usually finishing somewhere in the top-three in the overall medal count. Though the U.S. finished fourth overall in Pyeongchang, there were still plenty of “firsts”.

Chris Mazdzer’s magical final run won him silver, the Americans’ first medal in men’s luge. Jesse Diggins and Kikkan Randall won the women’s sprint freestyle, with Diggins beating Team Sweden by 0.19 seconds with one final gasp, for the first cross-country skiing gold ever, and the first medal of any kind in 42 years. Lastly, John Shuster and the Team USA curling team needed three straight wins to even qualify for the medal round. They beat Canada, Switzerland and Great Britain – three of the top-four teams in the world – to do just that. Then they beat the Canadians again in the semis, and won the first-ever gold medal in curling with a 10-7 win over Sweden, capped by Shuster’s double takeout to give the U.S. a five-point turn.