10 Most Intense Sports Moments of 2015

Zac Wassink@https://twitter.com/ZacWassinkFeatured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2016

10 Most Intense Sports Moments of 2015

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    The Jose Bautista bat flip was arguably the top sports moment of 2015
    The Jose Bautista bat flip was arguably the top sports moment of 2015Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Sports make for the ultimate reality-television experience. 

    The drama plays out live before our eyes. Heroes and legends are made. Villains and goats earn notorious reputations. Athletes' monumental feats live on through highlights and the spoken word, to the point that they become equal to mythical tales similar to what one might find in a comic book. 

    2015 provided a plethora of intense sports moments that occurred throughout the year. One of the most controversial National Football League plays in history took place early in 2015. Not to be outdone by that single moment was a NFL contest that played out in December—one that was arguably the most entertaining game of the sports year.

    An Ultimate Fighting Championship legend built on her legacy before she was downed. Major League Baseball silenced critics by producing one of the best postseasons any sport has had in recent memory. An unbeatable team turned mortal when placed underneath the Kryptonite that was the bright lights of a Final Four. 

    Perhaps best of all about the most intense sports moments of 2015 is that each of them made for storylines that will bleed into next year. That is one of the many wonderful things about sports. Every ending breeds a new beginning.

    It won't be long until we are watching to see if a horse can win the Triple Crown. The Ultimate Fighting Championship will again be responsible for must-see TV. A World Series, Super Bowl and Final Four will take place. 

    2016 should be another awesome year for sports.

Panthers Survive Against the Giants

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    One could effortlessly write a novel about the game that took place at MetLife Stadium in December involving the Carolina Panthers and New York Giants. New York wide receiver Odell Beckham and Carolina cornerback Josh Norman engaged in a battle for the ages, one that resulted in Beckham earning a one-game suspension from the NFL. Cam Newton solidified himself as the NFL's Most Valuable Player. 

    The Giants nearly completed a historic comeback. 

    The Panthers jumped out to a 28-point lead against a Giants side that seemed lethargic and outmatched. Big Blue chipped away at that deficit, though, and New York quarterback Eli Manning connected with, of all people, Beckham for a game-tying touchdown pass with under two minutes left to play. 

    Newton was not to be outdone on that afternoon. The uncrowned NFL MVP guided the Panthers down the field, setting up Graham Gano's game-winning field goal in the closing seconds of the contest. Gano's kick put the Panthers at 14-0 for the season, and it capped off the best NFL game of 2015.

Noah Syndergaard Warns Alcides Escobar

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    The New York Mets needed a spark at the start of Game 3 of the World Series. New York not only dropped the first two games of the series to the Kansas City Royals on the road. The Mets blew leads in both contests. 

    Noah Syndergaard, the New York flame-throwing young gun nicknamed "Thor" because of his flowing blonde locks, was the man to ignite that spark. Syndergaard took the hill knowing Kansas City leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar could be looking to swing at the first pitch. Escobar did not get a chance to do so, though, as Syndergaard launched a 98 mph fastball over the batter's head. 

    Sports don't get much more intense than this moment. After Escobar had to flee for his life, members of the Kansas City roster voiced their displeasure with Syndergaard's opening pitch. The 23-year-old New York starter, per USA Today, offered the following invitation to the Royals while speaking with reporters after the game: 

    "If they have a problem with me throwing inside," Syndergaard said, "then they can meet me 60-feet, six-inches away. I've got no problem with that."

    The Mets won the game, but the Royals had the last laugh. Kansas City took the World Series in five.

American Pharoah Wins Triple Crown

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    One could not have been blamed for assuming American Pharoah was not going to win the Belmont and the Triple Crown. It was only a year prior when California Chrome had an opportunity to complete the third and final leg of racing's greatest prize. Chrome literally stumbled out of the gates, and the Triple Crown drought continued. 

    As overpowering as Pharoah looked in winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, history was against him. Historic figures make their own history, though, and that is exactly what Pharoah did at the 2015 edition of the Belmont. Pharoah not only won. He ended the 36-year Triple Crown drought in style, leaving no doubt that he deserved to be mentioned alongside the greatest racing horses to ever compete. 

    While the race itself turned out to be a formality, Pharoah wrapping up the Triple Crown was as exciting a two-and-a-half minutes as any that happened in the sports world in 2015.

Roberta Vinci Defeats Serena Williams

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    Serena Williams completed the second "Serena Slam" of her career in 2015, and the U.S. Open was all that was left for Williams to win the Grand Slam for the year. All that stood in the way of Williams and her rightful spot in the final was a relative unknown in deep Grand Slam singles runs named Roberta Vinci, supposedly the next victim whom the greatest woman to ever play the sport would defeat. 

    Everything was going according to plan following the first set. Williams downed Vinci without much of a struggle. Those in attendance were probably checking Long Island Railroad schedules after Williams won 6-2. 

    Vinci was not, however, content with being just a footnote in history. She fought back to win the second set, and she closed Williams out 6-4 in set three to complete what Chris Chase of USA Today called "the biggest upset in tennis history." 

    Even Vinci understood that she had spoiled the fun for some in shocking Williams and the tennis world. The New York Times' Christopher Clarey explained:  

    "Vinci, who had never won a set against Williams in four previous matches, also apologized. 

    'For the American people, for Serena, for the Grand Slam and everything," she said. "But today is my day. Sorry, guys.'"

Jordan Spieth Misses British Open Playoff

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    It is not overstating the matter to say that Jordan Spieth was the hero the golf world and the PGA needed in 2015. The Tiger Woods of old is lost to history and likely never to return. In Spieth, golf had a 21-year-old new superstar who cruised to a historic victory at the Masters. Spieth then followed that up by winning the U.S. Open.

    The "Spieth Slam" was within his reach at The Open Championship. While not nearly as dominant as he was as Augusta, Spieth was in it to win it up through the 17th hole of the closing round of the British Open. It was not meant to be, however, as a pair of missed putts kept Spieth from joining the playoff. 

    Spieth's best days as a pro are, theoretically, ahead of him. He has proven he can master Augusta, and he can handle the pressure that comes with being the next (potential) face of the PGA. Golf fans should be counting down the days until Spieth tees off at the 2016 Masters. 

Game 2 of NBA Finals

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    The 2015 National Basketball Association Finals will largely be remembered as the time when Steph Curry took that next step toward NBA immortality. As special as Curry and the Golden State Warriors were in winning the title, the heart and fight the Cleveland Cavaliers showed in Game 2 should not be forgotten. 

    Kyrie Irving joined Kevin Love on the bench after Irving suffered a season-ending knee injury in Game 1, and Love had been injured earlier in the postseason. With the basketball deities seemingly against them, the Cavs refused to roll over and play dead. Even Cleveland squandering a lead and LeBron James missing a potential game-winning layup at the end of regulation could not stop the Cavs on that night. 

    James finished the game with a triple-double (h/t NBA.com), but it was Matthew Dellavedova's stellar play that earned headlines. Dellavedova was a defensive nuisance while covering Curry all night, and the budding Cleveland icon starting in place of the injured Irving buried two clutch free throws in overtime that put the Cavs up for good.

End of Super Bowl XLIX

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    Unless you clicked on the wrong link and somehow made it to this portion of the piece, you probably know the story here. The Seattle Seahawks were within a yard of taking the lead over the New England Patriots in the final 26 seconds of Super Bowl XLIX. It was second down. Seattle still had a timeout in hand. 

    The unthinkable then occurred. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson dropped back to pass. 

    You know the rest. Wilson was picked off, the Patriots ran the clock out and New England won yet another Super Bowl championship. 

    There are some questions that may never be adequately answered. Why are we here? Are there other intelligent life forms out there? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? Why didn't the Seahawks either hand off to running back Marshawn Lynch or have Wilson try to sneak the ball into the end zone from the 1-yard line? 

    The world may never know.

Wisconsin Stuns Kentucky at Final Four

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    It is better for an undefeated team to lose a meaningless regular-season game than for that team to enter the postseason with an unbeaten record. That hot take is voiced whenever such a situation arises. It happened with the 2007 New England Patriots, the 2015 Carolina Panthers and the 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats. 

    Kentucky was a perfect 38-0 heading into a Final Four showdown with Wisconsin. The Badgers never showed signs of being intimidated, and Wisconsin survived multiple Kentucky runs that would have finished off lesser teams. It was, in fact, Wisconsin that found fire and Kentucky that went cold when it mattered most, and the Wildcats became nothing more than a future trivia answer. 

    The biggest shame of all, as explained by Chris Chase of USA Today, was that the play on the court was not the only discussion point following the game: 

    You can always complain about the officiating after any game, whether it be in the Final Four, Super Bowl or your second-grader’s T-ball league. But the refereeing has been especially bad during the 2015 NCAA tournament and reached a crescendo on Saturday night.

    Luckily, none of the calls can be viewed in retrospect as winning or losing the game for either team. For as bad as the officiating was in the game, at least these bad calls were of the equal opportunity type.

    We could go through them all, from the unbelievable charge call on Josh Gasser who was five feet away from the ball, to the numerous out of bounds calls that should have gone the other way (none of which TBS aired, for some reason), to Kentucky shooting two back-to-back layups with most of Madison on their backs and not getting a call to a clear Wisconsin flop. Everyone was getting whistles.

Ronda Rousey vs. Bethe Correia

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    Holly Holm knocking Ronda Rousey out in November 2015 could go down as the biggest upset in Ultimate Fighting Championship history. As monumental as that bout was, the lead-up for the encounter was relatively tame. Holm, the "Preacher's Daughter," was an unknown to casual fans and a woman who clearly respected Rousey. Even Rousey was not her boisterous self until the weigh-in. 

    That was not at all the case during the months and weeks leading up to UFC 190. Rousey and Bethe Correia cut promos on each other that would have made World Wrestling Entertainment Chairman Vince McMahon smile with glee. Correia, per Damon Martin of FoxSports.com, probably went a bit too far with her words: 

    "I want to knock her out, show to everyone that she is a lie," Correia said (translation by MMAMania). "She wants to stand up with me, let's see. I want to humiliate her and show the world she has no MMA. She is focused on movies, books. I am much stronger, I come from a developing country, where people are struggling to survive, not to starve. It is very different from her life of reality. 

    "Under pressure, she is proving weak. When her mom put pressure on her, she ran away from home. When she lost, it was because of drugs. That's not a superhero. She is not mentally healthy, she needs to take care of herself. She is winning, so everybody is around her cheering her up, but when she realizes she is not everything that she believes she is, I don't know what might happen. I hope she does not kill herself later on."

    Correia making offhanded comments about suicide is bad enough, but when put in the context of this fight, it's even worse. Rousey lost her father to suicide when she was just 8 — he suffered from severe pain after breaking his back in a sledding accident, Rousey has said, and she's spoken about losing her father in several interviews as well as in her recent autobiography, "My Fight, Your Fight."

    Rousey shut Correia up when the two entered the cage. The "Rowdy" one needed just 34 seconds to earn the knockout win, and Rousey then, per Michael Stets of MMA Mania, had two words for her defeated opponent: 

    "Don't cry."

Rangers at Blue Jays 7th Inning

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    No one slide could ever come close to thoroughly describing all that occurred in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the American League Divisional Series featuring the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays. Heck, you should probably stop what you're doing and just watch footage of at least the bottom of the seventh from that game to relive the wild events that took place. 

    The Rangers took the lead in the top of the inning in controversial fashion. Toronto catcher Russell Martin unintentionally hit batter Shin-Soo Choo when attempting to return the ball to the mound following a pitch. This error allowed Rougned Odor to score from third—a run that was allowed to count. This decision infuriated the home Toronto crowd—some of whom threw objects onto the field in anger and disgust. 

    The bottom of the seventh was even crazier. Texas infielder Elvis Andrus fell apart, having a hand in three separate errors that allowed the Blue Jays to load the bases. Toronto tied the game, and then Jose Bautista launched a three-run home run that put Toronto up for good. Bautista added to the moment with the bat flip to end all bat flips (h/t Vine). 

    Oh, yeah. The benches cleared multiple times. 

    It was hands down Major League Baseball's most intense inning played in 2015, and it was quite possibly the best hour of sports of the entire year.