By Eddie Pells, AP National Writer
It began as The Year of the Comeback.
In college football, where Clemson got the last laugh in a wild fourth quarter in which the lead changed hands three times.
And in pro football, where the New England Patriots rallied from 25 points down to send the Super Bowl to overtime for the first time in its history, then cruised to a quick touchdown for the franchise’s fifth title.
The rest of 2017 might have been called The Year of the Unexpected. From Sergio Garcia’s long-overdue green jacket to Roger Federer’s late-in-the-game return to the top to Usain Bolt losing not one, but two races in his finale, the year’s best games, races and rounds certainly kept us all guessing.
A look at some of the best games of 2017:
BACK AND FORTH: Clemson and Alabama met for the second straight year with the national title on the line and one question to answer: How would they top the 45-40 thriller from the year before? Alabama won that game and appeared to be on track for a repeat, leading 24-14 after three quarters that were more or less a snoozefest. The fourth quarter was a much different story. It included four touchdowns, three lead changes over the final 4:38, and ultimately, the game-winner — a 2-yard throw from Deshaun Watson to Hunter Renfrow with 1 second left that gave Clemson the 35-31 win and its first title since 1981. “That has to be one of the greatest games of all time,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
SUPER COMEBACK: The debate lingers: Did the Falcons choke this game away or did the Patriots wrest it away? Either way, it was a comeback for the history books. Atlanta took a 28-3 lead with 8:31 left in the third quarter. From there, Atlanta’s prevent defense and questionable calls on offense combined with New England’s refusal to give up turned it into an all-timer. The Patriots’ tying drive was highlighted by a remarkable catch by Julian Edelman. New England tied the game at 28, won the overtime coin toss and Atlanta’s shocked defense offered no resistance. The Patriots won 34-28. “No panic,” Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater said in explaining the comeback. “Our bodies and minds were ready, and we just kept believing in one another.”
ONLY A NUMBER: He was 35, coming off a knee injury and much closer to the end of his career than his prime. Nobody could be blamed for overlooking Roger Federer. Yet the father of four, playing his first big tournament after sitting out for six months, came back in classic fashion, turning back the clock to top his longtime rival, Rafael Nadal, in a memorable Australian Open final. Federer overcame a break in the fifth set to capture his 18th Grand Slam title with a 4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory. It was Federer’s first major since Wimbledon in 2012. (And he would go on to take No. 19 later this year at Wimbledon). “For me it’s all about the comeback, about an epic match with Rafa again,” Federer said.
SEEING GREEN: Two shots behind with six holes to play, the Masters looked like another in an unbearably long string of major disappointments for Sergio Garcia. But Garcia did not fade. He saved par after hitting his drive into an azalea bush on No. 13, then made eagle on No. 15 to set up a playoff with Justin Rose that Garcia won. Garcia could’ve won it with a 5-foot birdie putt on No. 18, but it rolled out. Garcia persisted. Rose hit his drive into the trees on the playoff hole and couldn’t scramble to save par. The result: Garcia wearing the green jacket and capturing his first major. No one had ever played more majors as a pro (70) before winning one for the first time.
SOME FAREWELL: World championships were supposed to be a stroll down the straightaway followed by an oversized going-away party for track’s biggest star, Usain Bolt. Not even close. Bolt finished third in the final 100-meter race of his career, unable to find the overdrive that had sparked him to all those Olympic medals. Then, in his curtain call, the 6-foot-5 sensation pulled up lame in the anchor leg of the 4×100 relay. The crowd gasped. Bolt was placed in a wheelchair and later limped off the track. It was proof, yet again, that nobody commands the spotlight quite like Bolt — even on those rare occasions when he doesn’t run away with the win.
LONG BALL: Ten innings. Seven home runs. 5 hours, 17 minutes. 25 runs. The Astros topped the Dodgers 13-12 in Game 5 of the World Series, a game in which no lead, or pitcher, was safe. The teams combined for 28 hits and used 14 pitchers. In a game in which the long ball reigned, it was a simple single off the bat of Alex Bregman that brought home Carlos Correa for the winning run. “The best game ever, for sure,” Correa said.
BEST OF THE REST: Who says a 6-1 soccer game can’t be a thriller? Paris Saint-Germain had beaten Barcelona 4-0 in the first part of a two-leg Champions League matchup. An impossible hill to climb? Not quite. Barcelona won the second leg by scoring three times over the final eight minutes to advance. … Even if the fight wasn’t the greatest, the spectacle certainly was. Floyd Mayweather Jr. slowly wore down Conor McGregor in the showdown between boxer and UFC champion. Ringside seats went for $10,000 and 4 million people bought the fight on pay-per-view. … On the 13th hole in the closing round of the British Open, Jordan Spieth made arguably the best bogey in major-championship history on the way to the capturing the third leg of the career Grand Slam.
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