Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Michael Burgess: Underdogs have their day in a year of miracles

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James. Photo / AP
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James. Photo / AP

Sports fans, raise a glass.

There is a compelling case that we are witnessing the greatest year in sport.

Already, 2016 has been an annus mirabilis for team sports - and there is still more to come.

It's been the year of the story, the year of the miracle. It's been a year that has reminded us why - for all its issues and problems - we love sport. For the way it can inspire, tug at the heartstrings and invoke impossible drama.

Look at the evidence so far in 2016.

Top of the list is Leicester's City still unbelievable exploits in the English Premier League. The 5000-1 title odds at the start of the season accurately reflected their chances, but the Foxes overcame all conventional logic and history for the most unlikely title win in British football history. And it's something that we, nor the grandchildren of our grandchildren, are unlikely to see again.

One month after Leicester, the unfashionable Cleveland Cavaliers banked their maiden NBA championship, in the process becoming the first team to come back from 3-1 down to win in the history of the NBA finals.

Cleveland's favourite son, LeBron James, was the catalyst for the victory over the favoured Golden State Warriors, which also lifted the so-called Cleveland sports curse, after all of the city's sporting franchises had gone without a trophy for more than 50 years.

Closer to home, in the space of eight days across the Australian spring, the Western Bulldogs and Cronulla Sharks ended title droughts that had lasted for generations. And it wasn't just the result, but how they won; the Bulldogs beating heavy favourites, the Sydney Swans, in an AFL classic, and the Sharks' long awaited NRL victory being in doubt up until the final seconds against the Melbourne Storm.

From a New Zealand perspective, let's not forget the stupendous feats at the Olympics by those wearing the silver fern (a record 18 medals), or the All Blacks taking excellence to a new level this year.

The Bulldogs also became the first team to win from seventh place at the end of the regular season, and ended a 62-year wait for their second title. The Sharks' first premiership was captured after half-a-century of hope and hurt, with four previous unsuccessful grand final attempts.

But their waits are nothing compared with the Chicago Cubs and their long-suffering fans. When the MLB side last won the World Series, Theodore Roosevelt was President of the United States, the Wright brothers were taking their first flights and the start of World War I was still six years away. The Cubs are now on the way to their first World Series appearance in 71 years, and are favourites to take the championship for the first time since 1908.

Another memorable sporting chapter saw Wales and Iceland provide some of the best drama seen at an European football championships, while Portugal managed an unlikely triumph in France for their first trophy on the world stage.

Then there was Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, who had the best possible curtain calls to their careers in Rio.

At a local level, the Hurricanes win over the Lions was well received, as Beauden Barrett's team finally got their hands on the Super Rugby trophy.

And, from a New Zealand perspective, let's not forget the stupendous feats at the Olympics by those wearing the silver fern (a record 18 medals), or the All Blacks taking excellence to a new level this year.

- NZ Herald

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Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday. He was named the 2013 New Zealand football writer of the year and was a finalist in the Sports Reporter of the year at the 2014 Canon Media Awards.

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