IF one image summed up the 2016 sporting year it was a wall on Waveland Ave, Chicago, Illinois.

On November 4, names started appearing on this wall, a section of the Wrigley Field ramparts. They were names of the dead.

When you've waited 108 years to win a World Series, as the luckless and cursed Chicago Cubs had, you leave behind a lot of unfulfilled fans in your wake. So the living came down to honour the dead in chalk, to give them some post-mortem connection to arguably the most dramatic World Series in history.

The Cubs, driven by genius general manager Theo Epstein, who built a 86-year curse-busting team in Boston before leaving for the Windy City, beat the similarly tortured Cleveland Indians - 68 years and counting - in seven games, the stunning finale extending to extra innings before the Cubs won 8-7.


(The city of Cleveland was just being greedy anyway. In June, prodigal son LeBron James had returned to ignite the Cleveland Cavaliers' first NBA championship in their 46-year history with a stunning upset over the seemingly untouchable Golden State Warriors in seven sensational games.

It is a measure of the Cubs' improbability that this is a distant second in the race for the biggest American sports story of the year.)

"It happened, baby," said superstar first baseman Anthony Rizzo during the Cubs' wild victory parade. "It happened."

The Cubs were the ultimate underdog in a year of axis-flipping results. Chicago, the city, would also loom large as another century-old drought was broken just three days later.

Ireland first played the All Blacks in 1905. They lost. This would be the recurring theme of this rugby relationship. As the teams prepared to face each other in a money-making venture at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears, Ireland would have known that a solitary draw in 1973 was the only time in 28 attempts that All Black hadn't emerged victorious.

Chicago Cubs celebrate the historic win. Photo / AP
Chicago Cubs celebrate the historic win. Photo / AP

When a big Ireland lead was whittled down to 33-29 with plenty of time remaining, it must have felt like a recurring nightmare.

But the All Blacks' famed strong finish never eventuated. Instead it was Ireland who scored to win 40-29 and the Guinness was flowing from Monaghan to Michigan Ave.

In the space of a week two seemingly unbreakable curses were broken.


Yeah, the All Blacks reasserted their primacy in Dublin a fortnight later but nobody's going to remember that in 111 years. They might not even remember that Italy beat the once-mighty Springboks for the first time too, adding their own small chapter in the 2016 book of upsets.

In truth, those that believe that destiny is predetermined might have seen the Chicago shockers coming.

In August, the Hurricanes became the fifth and final New Zealand franchise to win a Super Rugby championship with a 20-3 win over the Lions of Johannesburg. That 21-year wait was small beer compared to what was to happen over the Tasman.

A few weeks later, in Melbourne and Sydney, two more sporting droughts were broken in epic fashion.

The Western Bulldogs won their first AFL Premiership in 62 years with a heart-stopping 22-point victory over the favoured Sydney Swans. It had been a long wait for Bulldogs fans. When they last won a flag they were known as Footscray, the suburb just west of Melbourne's CBD where the team originated.

Just a week later the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks won their first NRL Premiership in a tight contest with the favoured Melbourne Storm.

Cronulla made their Premiership debut in 1967 and have only sporadically threatened since. The Sharks' futile search for a title became a running joke, with former coach and commentator Jack Gibson famously saying "waiting for Cronulla to win a premiership is like leaving the porch lamp on for Harold Holt", in reference to the Australian prime minister who went missing at Cheviot Beach in 1967.

"Turn your porch lights off because we are coming home with the trophy," an emotional Paul Gallen said moments after the final siren confirmed Cronulla's wait was over.

Gallen's quote might have been the most memorable line delivered in Sydney this year, but a city in the English Midlands will see your porch light and raise you Forrest Gump.

"Why can't we continue to run, run, run? We are like Forrest Gump. Leicester is Forrest Gump," said Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City, a 5000-1 chance to win a Premier League that included cash machines Manchester United and City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.

Leicester are champions of England. Even writing that now seems vaguely ridiculous.
"I told my players: It's this year or never. In an era when money counts for everything, we give hope to everybody," said the ever-quotable Ranieri.

Who knows, they may have given hope to Portugal, a perennial provider of outrageous football talent - read Jose Aguas, Eusebio, Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo - who have never won a major trophy. That ended in France in July when they beat the hosts 1-0 in the final. In truth it was an average team, Ronaldo aside, and an average tournament, but it fits the theme.

Ireland No 8 Jamie Heaslip celebrates their win against the All Blacks. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Ireland No 8 Jamie Heaslip celebrates their win against the All Blacks. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Far easier to like were the Fijian sevens team, who broke the island nation's Olympic drought in fine style. After the IOC butchered the Russian doping issue, and Rio de Janeiro's near-calamitous build-up, the Olympics needed someone or some team to light the fire and Fiji responded.

Their 43-7 dismantling of England in the final and subsequent tear-stained celebrations warmed the cockles of all but the most hardened of hearts.

You can't ignore the global context all of these applecart upsetting results were taking place in. These good news stories added levity to a politically charged year that liberal society will regard as one of the worst in history.

A referendum in the UK and a general election in the USA, and more particularly the messages delivered during those respective campaigns, threatened to tear apart the already fragile ties that bind. Syria remains a seething tinderbox that few understand and even fewer know how to solve.

Nothing that happened on fields around the globe will fix the manifest problems of the world, but we all need good news stories and sport provided an astonishing array of them.

So thank you Fiji, thanks Leicester and Portugal, thanks Cleveland Cavaliers, thanks Cronulla, the Hurricanes and the Bulldogs.

Thanks Ireland, I guess.

And thank you Chicago Cubs - it might have even been worth the wait.

Sporting droughts broken in 2016

• Leicester City (132 years): Two years prior, Leicester were playing in English soccer's second tier and narrowly avoided Premier League relegation the following season. Despite heading into the 2015-16 title race as 5000-1 outsiders, they wrapped up the competition with two games remaining. The first title in the club's history was one of the greatest underdog triumphs in sport.

• Chicago Cubs (108 years): Long-known as the MLB's "loveable losers", Chicago looked set for more disappointment when they trailed Cleveland 3-1 in the best-of-seven finals series. But when third baseman Kris Bryant fielded a grounder and fired to first for game seven's final out, the Curse of the Billy Goat was lifted.

• Western Bulldogs (62 years): When coach Luke Beveridge arrived at a struggling club in 2014, even the most faithful Bulldogs supporter would have thought a premiership in two years was fanciful. But from seventh after the regular season, the young team stunned Sydney in a classic grand final for a famous 22-point win for their first flag since 1954.

• Cronulla Sharks (49 years): "Waiting for Cronulla to win the premiership is like leaving the porch light on for Harold Holt," former Sharks coach Jack Gibson famously said. Melbourne led 12-8 late in the NRL decider, but controversial Sharks forward Andrew Fifita wrestled four defenders to score in the 69th minute. Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen summed up the moment: "Turn your porch lights off because we are coming home with the trophy."

• Cleveland Cavaliers (46 years): Like the Cubs, the Cavs were also staring down the barrel of a 3-1 final series deficit against Golden State. No team in NBA history had won a championship from that far behind in the finals. But superstar forward LeBron James would not be denied his third title, racking up a game seven triple-double to clinch the title for Cleveland.

• Portugal: They had never won a major tournament and that didn't look like changing at Euro 2016 after finishing third in their group. Things took a turn for the worse in the final when star Cristiano Ronaldo limped off in the first half against hosts France. But a superb long-range Eder strike was enough for Portugal to claim the title.

• Hurricanes (21 years): The Wellington-based side had constantly threatened in past Super Rugby competitions, losing two finals and making the semis five times. That all was forgotten on a miserable night in the New Zealand capital when they were too good for South Africa's Lions in the 2016 final, with All Blacks playmaker Beauden Barrett starring in the 20-3 victory.