From CSJ Reports –
The Chicago Cubs broke its 108-year World Series drought, the Golden State Warriors made NBA history and so did NASCAR superstar Jimmie Johnson. Which of those stories landed the top spot in our top 25 Christian sports stories of 2016? Check out our final installment of this special CSJ series as we count down from #5 all the way down to #1:
5. Dak Prescott Enjoys Historic Rookie Season, Leads Dallas Cowboys Back To Prominence
When starting quarterback Tony Romo suffered another back injury in a preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys fans shook their heads in disbelief and wondered if the storied franchise would ever get back to the NFL’s promised land.
Enter unheralded rookie Dak Prescott who flew under the radar as a fourth round draft pick out of Mississippi State. After a fourth quarter comeback drive fell short in the season opener against the New York Giants, Prescott and the Cowboys went on a club record 11-game winning streak. By season’s end, Dallas had won the NFC East and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Prescott, along with rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, was given much of the credit for his team’s success. He broke Tom Brady’s 15-yeard old rookie record with 176 pass completions before throwing his first career interception and was selected to play in the Pro Bowl.
A finalist for the FCA Bobby Bowden Award in 2015, Prescott spent much of his college career without the support of his mother Peggy whom he tragically lost to colon cancer in 2013. He has relied on her memory as a constant source of inspiration ever since.
“I tape my wrists before games and before practice,” Prescott once told the Shreveport Times. “I simply write ‘Faith’ on there for the faith that my mom showed me; the relationship we built from the faith we had and my faith in God.”
4. Dabo Swinney Leads Clemson To College Football Playoffs
It was a pretty great year for Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney. At the beginning of 2016, he led the Tigers all the way to the BCS Championship Game after an undefeated 2015 season.
Although Clemson came up just short in a big time matchup against Alabama, Swinney and his team followed up that effort with a 12-1 record, another ACC Championship, and the #2 seed in the BCS College Football Playoffs where the Tigers defeated Ohio State 31-0 on New Year’s Eve to earn a rematch against the Crimson Tide in the National Championship Game.
But for Swinney, his job as the head coach isn’t just about winning games. It’s also about making a lasting impact on his players’ lives well beyond the football field.
“As a Christian I hope a light shines through me,” he told the Associated Press. “I try to be who I am. I try to be transparent. I try to live my life in a way that I hope is pleasing to my Maker. As a program, we try to challenge these guys to be the best that they can be every day.”
3. Jimmie Johnson, Rick Hendrick Win Historic Seventh Cup Championship
In a year of historic sports moments, NASCAR provided one of the biggest with Jimmie Johnson’s seventh Cup title. Driving in the #48 Chevrolet for Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, Johnson became the third driver to win seven championships along with NASCAR Hall of Fame legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
He claimed the title after winning the final race at Miami-Homestead and enduring multiple late restarts in the process. Johnson, a longtime supporter of Motor Racing Outreach, dedicated his final two restarts to Hendrick’s son Ricky Hendrick who was one of 10 friends and family members killed in a 2004 plane crash near Darlington Speedway.
“My heart was full because I was thinking of some loved ones like Ricky Hendrick and his influence,” Johnson told reporters after the race. “Something happened from above.”
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors Complete Record-Breaking NBA Season
Coming off an NBA title and MVP season, there didn’t seem to be much left for Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry to accomplish. Turns out, there was a lot more on the table and plenty of fuel left in Curry’s tank.
Already considered one of the game’s greatest outside shooters, Curry furthered his reputation with a new NBA record for consecutive games with a three-pointer (157) and by becoming the first NBA player to hit 300 and then 400 three-pointers in a season. His historic season culminated with the first unanimous MVP award in NBA history.
The Warriors finished the season with a league record 73 wins and entered the NBA playoffs as an odd-on favorite to repeat. In the Western Conference Finals, Golden State came back from a surprising 3-1 deficit to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder. Shockingly, however, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit of its own to topple the Warriors in the NBA Finals.
Win or lose, Curry has always maintained that his faith and his family are the two most important things in his life.
“I love that basketball gives me the opportunities to do good things for people and to point them towards the Man who died for our sins on the cross,” Curry wrote in an article for FCA Magazine. “I know I have a place in heaven waiting for me because of Him, and that’s something no earthly prize or trophy could ever top. There’s more to me than just this jersey I wear, and that’s Christ living inside of me.”
1. Ben Zobrist, Dexter Fowler Fuel Historic Chicago Cubs World Series Title
Something had to give. One way or another, history was going to be made. Either the Cleveland Indians were going to break a lengthy 68-year drought or the Chicago Cubs were going to end an unfathomable 108-year streak without a World Series title.
In an exciting seven-game affair, it was ultimately the Cubs who broke the so-called curse and sent its championship starved fan base into frenzy. Ben Zobrist, Dexter Fowler, and David Ross formed a trio of Christian stalwarts on the Cubs roster this year amid a season full of hype and expectation.
Zobrist was named World Series MVP while Fowler provided some key moments including a solo home run to open Game Seven. Ross, the retiring catcher, also got into the act with a solo shot in the sixth inning that gave Chicago a 6-3 lead.
For Zobrist, it marked his second World Series title in two years having won the previous year with Kansas City. But as he once told The Christian Examiner, his purpose in playing the game is much bigger than winning championship rings and MVP trophies.
“We know that as a Christian athlete, people are watching, and so we want to be the best example we can be and show that we are different – that Christ has changed our lives,” Zobrist said. “But at the same time, I want people to know that grace is for everyone. We all need grace. We all need Christ.”
(Photos: Arturo Pardavila III; Keith Ellison; Clemson Athletic Department; Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images; Noah Salzman)