In January, Alabama won the national football championship. In June, South Alabama walloped Florida in baseball. In December, Vigor won a state football championship. In between, there were many more sports memories to savor in 2021.
My rule for reminiscing about and ranking the best sports moments from a previous year is that if I need a reminder something happened, then it doesn’t count.
The best moments should be apparent right away.
With that in mind, here are the sporting events and stories I remember most vividly from 2021:
Alabama football ends 2021 exactly where it began, on top of the college game. In between, there was a loss to Texas A&M plus an upset win for the first time in six years. The Tide is solidly favored to win over undefeated Cincinnati in the semifinals, and then would be a slight favorite against either Michigan or Georgia to repeat as champions.
But nothing that happens in the next two weeks will match the season the Tide completed a year ago. Nick Saban won’t say it until long after he’s retired, but last year’s team was his favorite and best team ever. The Tide started 2021 with a 31-14 win over Notre Dame in the semifinals, then blasted Ohio State 52-24 in the national championship game.
The Alabama loss this season to Texas A&M has an interesting postscript. Just last week, Aggies star defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal tweeted, “So many kids dream of playing for Alabama. I dreamed of beating Alabama.”
Alabama safety DeMarcco Hellams replied, “I dreamed of playing and winning natty’s [national championships].”
It’s worth noting that in three games against Alabama, Leal’s Aggies gave up an average of more than 44 points per game and were outscored 137-93 by the Tide.
The best half hour of the sports year for me happened on June 5. That’s how long it took the South Alabama Jaguars to bat in the bottom of the sixth inning of their first elimination game in the Gainesville Regional. The Jags already led 4-1 over the home-standing Florida Gators when they came to bat and scored 10 runs. They then hit three more homers in the seventh inning to win 19-1 against one of the country’s best baseball programs.
South Alabama won again the next day, but couldn’t quite get the final win necessary to advance to a Super Regional for the first time ever. Mark Calvi is expected to have a team that can contend for titles again this season.
Two other baseball stories that will live forever happened in 2021.
The Atlanta Braves won the World Series after being a .500 team for most of the season. The title was especially sweet for Braves fans, who were denied the opportunity to host the All-Star Game because of a political dispute.
Faith Academy won the Class 6A state baseball championship after Hartselle prematurely celebrated winning the title. The Tigers scored what they believed was the winning run on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh inning. But as the Tigers were celebrating wildly on the field, Faith Academy challenged the call. The umpires ruled the runner had left third base too early, sending the game to extra innings, where the Rams won 14-7. Photos and video of the play only added to the controversy.
In December, Vigor High School completed an awesome season by winning the Class 5A state championship. The Wolves actually trailed 14-12 in the first half before scoring 40 unanswered points for a 52-14 win over Oneonta.
The win was impressive but not without controversy. Vigor’s final touchdown came on a 36-yard flea-flicker pass with 32 seconds left from the starting quarterback to the star receiver. A minute earlier, the same play didn’t work, so the Wolves ran it again.
Late in the year, Auburn took Alabama to four overtimes, marking the first overtime game in Iron Bowl history. Then Alabama had the best day of any program in history when the basketball team beat Gonzaga in Seattle hours after the football team beat Georgia in Atlanta. No school has ever had two wins over top-5 teams on the same day.
There are more memories to be made in 2022, including another possible national championship for Alabama and the best year for college basketball in state history.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 19 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on Sports Talk 99.5 and the free iHeart radio app.
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