In a forgettable year that was ravaged by health, economic, political, and social justice crises, we needed sports more than ever.
For nearly four months, though, the COVID-19 pandemic took that away, too. In that period, all we had to break the monotony of our lives was the NFL offseason.
That’s why, as I look back at this hellish 2020 for this ninth annual Thanksgiving column, I am most thankful that sports returned and defied the odds (well, at least my wrong prediction) by completing condensed MLB, NBA, NHL, and MLS seasons. It took big sacrifices by all our favorite games’ stakeholders, especially those consigned to bubbles, to get it done. Fans across the country are grateful.
Closer to home, the New York area teams went title-less for a ninth straight year (coincidence?), but that seemed beside the point given the living conditions. Though pretty much every team outside of the Islanders underachieved, there was plenty to appreciate and hope springs eternal, even for Jets and Giants fans.
So, with that brief note of positivity, I give you my ninth annual list of players and moments for which New York sports fans give thanks:
20. The NFC East, whose deplorability from top-to-bottom allows the Giants to stay within a half-game of first place at 3-7.
19. The raw emotions of Brooklyn-born Obi Toppin after learning he’d be coming home when the Knicks selected him with the 8th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
18. Jacob deGrom’s Cy Young streak may have been stopped in the short season, but he was still money every time out for the Mets, allowing no more than three earned runs over 12 starts.
17. Greg Schiano back at Rutgers. Fans may have gone overboard by the opening day victory over Michigan State, but this guy knows how to build a college football program.
16. Young core pieces, such as Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, giving Devils fans hope that purgatory won’t last forever.
15. D.J. LeMahieu’s swing, the sweetest in baseball. Pay the man, Yankees.
14. Caris LeVert in flames, scoring 37 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to lead the Nets to a miraculous comeback victory over Boston. He also scorched a desperate Portland team for 37 points in the regular season finale in the Orlando bubble, though Brooklyn fell a point short. Will he still be a Net after this week?
13. The simple thought of a new coach/quarterback combination on the Jets.
12. Artemi Panarin’s near MVP-season for the Rangers. He might one day overtake Scott Stevens to the Devils as the best free agent signing in NHL history.
11. Giants growth. The record doesn’t reflect it, but Big Blue is playing hard for rookie head coach Joe Judge and quarterback Daniel Jones has even gone two full games without a turnover.
10. Islanders culture paying off, as general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz built a team made for playoff hockey.
9. Trying to follow the Islanders’ lead, the Knicks gave the reins to President Leon Rose, who then hired coach Tom Thibodeau. Hopefully, management’s not-so-hidden agendas (CAA/Kentucky ties) won’t disrupt Thibs’ previously successful vision as to how to instill a winning culture.
8. The first Mets home game following the death of the Franchise, Tom Seaver. Pete Alonso homers in the bottom of the tenth inning to beat the Yankees, 9-7.
7. James Dolan won a lottery! He actually needed lucky draws in two separate phases to see his Rangers secure the rights to Alexis Lafrenière with No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. They did it, but don’t ask when Dolan’s tumultuous, constantly-rebuilding Knicks will get the No. 1 pick for the first time since the Patrick Ewing selection in 1985.
6. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving together on the court next month. It should be a championship-or-bust season for a Nets squad that was the NBA’s laughingstock just a couple of years ago.
5. Bye-bye Wilpons. Steve Cohen’s purchase of the Mets portends the end of an era where a New York team somehow considered itself a small-market operation.
4. The Yankees’ two-run ninth inning rally, highlighted by LeMahieu’s two-out single, in a wild Game 2 of their Wild Card series to hold off Cleveland, 10-9. Unfortunately, since the close to the ALDS against Tampa Bay ended in such a heart-breaking manner, the New York Sports Moment of 2020 goes to…
3. The Islanders’ stifling 4-0 defeat of the hated Flyers in Game 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1993. Turning to backup goalie Thomas Greiss after Philadelphia stormed back from a 3-1 series deficit, the Isles’ defensemen stepped up by blocking more Flyers shots (22) than they allowed on net (16) while also scoring two goals of their own.
2. The legions of New York sports fans, like you, who are so devoted to their teams that they can’t get enough content on outlets like wfan.com and radio.com.
And, as always,
1. My wonderful family – with extra thanks to my put-upon wife – who indulge me in my illogical passions for my favorite teams. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. May 2021 literally be a banner year and, more importantly, a safe one, in New York.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and Devils, follow Steve Lichtenstein on Twitter: @SteveLichtenst1