This Year In Not Hot Takes.

Every Friday, my husband, Andrew Bucholtz, gets up early to write about that week’s hottest takes. I do not envy him for this task. I can’t imagine the intestinal fortitude needed to sift, every week, through the worst of the worst of sports hot takery. Having to (and I can’t emphasize this enough) weekly contemplate the existence of Skip Bayless and Colin Cowherd seems like a brutal, Sisyphean task.

I suppose there is joy in making fun of how dumb people paid millions of dollars to spout utter nonsense on television and radio are. But there has to be an element of existential dread to it as well: look at these idiots paid millions of dollars to be idiots! On purpose! To attract ad dollars!

Try explaining Jason Whitlock or Stephen A. Smith to a non-sports world, non-extremely online person, though. You will sound like an absolute lunatic. I know, because I’ve tried with my extremely not into sports boss. “Your husband does what now?” “Well…” and I look to the heavens praying to be lifted from my spot so I don’t have to try to justify the existence of some of these people.

In an effort to counteract the awfulness of the weekly hot takes, and give my husband a break, I am taking over hot takes this week. And instead bringing you “These are absolutely good things, Bront” with the stories from this year that brought us joy and made us go “awww.”

This list is not at all unbiased and will feature teams/people I actively root for. I’m sorry. (I am not sorry. That was a reflexive sorry. He’s the Canadian one, not me. I do everything with unabashed American not giving a f*ck.)

So let’s dive into the some of the best of the sports world in 2018:

  1. The Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup…and rage like no one has raged before. (At least not in the modern era of social media.) Alexander Ovechkin’s pure joy at getting what had been an elusive Stanley Cup was great for simply putting to rest old hot takery about how he couldn’t close, was past his prime, and wasn’t as good as Sid. “WE NOT GOING TO BE SUCK THIS YEAR!” he proudly exclaimed. From a postgame party in Vegas (with the expansion Knights being their own unlikely feel good story), to jumping in fountains, to showing up still drunk and ready to party more all over D.C., the Washington Capitals brought unbridled happiness everywhere they went. I imagine (Keeper of the Cup) Phil Pritchard was excited for the season to start so he could get some rest.
  2. Devin White rides a pony. If you’ve ever had to do a class demonstration, you know it’s usually something boring like “how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich” or “how to fold a paper airplane.” LSU linebacker Devin White, however, did not come to play. He brought one of his seven horses (as a secret horse girl with no horses, I am very jealous, Devin) to campus and taught everyone how to saddle her. And then he rode the horse around campus, through the tunnel at Tiger Stadium and onto the field. (Runner up in the LSU is awesome division is the Breiden Fehoko haka.)
  3. Gritty becomes a thing. I will never not be completely fascinated that in the span of 12 hours we went from “What in the Sam Hill is this terrifying creature?!” to “We love Gritty and he is all things to all people!” (This tweet sums up it up.) The New Yorker even picked him as a good man of the year. (Which, men, if the best you’re doing is an anthropomorphic muppet, you need to step it up in 2019.) Gritty brought much light-hearted joy to a year that has…not been great. All hail Gritty!
  4. USC long snapper Jake Olson takes the field for the final time. Jake Olson’s story is a tear-jerker from start to finish. Before losing his sight to cancer, then-head coach Pete Carroll invited Olson to be part of a USC football game, wanting Jake to take it all in before the surgery that would strip him of his sight. Jake was hooked, and found a way, as a visually impaired person, to become a part of football, eventually as a part of the USC football team. He and his adorable guide dog left the Trojans program with a message of hope that goals that may seem elusive can be reached.
  5. Ester Ledecká wins a suprise gold medal. First off, yes, the Olympics were this year. I can hardly believe it either. You were just endless, 2018. Now: the concept of a surprise gold medal is ABSURD. How do you surprise yourself in a sport that took a lifetime to get good at?  But that’s exactly what Czech Republic snowboarder and skier Ledecká did. She grabbed a pair of borrowed skis from American Mikaela Shiffrin and raced in the Super-G (can we talk about how terrifying the Super-G is?) out of the 26th spot and won gold…after NBC had already declared Anna Veith the winner. Ester was as shocked as anyone else watching the events when it finally dawned on her why people were cheering; she was expecting to have much more success in her main sport of snowboarding. She deserves a lifelong spot in the “thrill of victory” montage.
  6. Baseball becomes more than a business for the Piscotty family. As you grow older, the realization that players and athletes you love and adore are involved not simply in a game, but a business, becomes more pervasive. Business decisions are made by GMs and presidents to trade unwanted players to teams you don’t want them to be on. But sometimes, sports does become more than a business, as it was when the Cardinals traded Stephen Piscotty to the A’s so he could be with his mom, who had been diagnosed with ALS. Piscotty received support from players like Yu Darvish, hit a home run in his first at bat back following his mother’s death, and won the Tony Conigliaro Award (MLB award given to a player who has “overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination and courage that were trademarks of Tony C.”) The story is bittersweet, with Stephen’s mother Gretchen passing away in May, but it offered a salve to the family that Stephen could be as present as possible for his mother before that happened. Two clubs making a decision not based solely on dollars or player value, but responding to family needs is a rarity (though it shouldn’t be), and offering the Piscotty family that opportunity is definitely one of the best things to happen in 2018.
  7. Shaquem Griffin gets drafted. Griffin had his hand amputated when he was four years old, but he was not going to give up on his dream of playing football, just like his twin brother Shaquill. After an impressive career at the University of Central Florida, he was drafted this year by the Seattle Seahawks to join Shaquill in their organization. It’s a feel-good inspiring story about there being no limits if you don’t believe there are any limits. But it’s also just his story. Just him living his life. And it’s that “just” part that we hope to see more of in sports: the normalization of what was once thought amazing or incredible being “just” doing it, participating like everyone else.
  8. Blair Braverman takes over Twitter. This may be a bit niche, but Blair’s stories on Twitter of her life mushing with her twenty plus dogs are a constant source of joy for me. Check out the story of Clem, the well-adjusted sled dog, for your 2019 inspiration. Try not to get dusty about how Hari, the blind sled dog, found that the ground was sharp but overcame his fears with some help from his friends. Follow along with Blair in Alaska where she’s currently preparing to run the Iditarod, allowing you to feel a sense of adventure without having to get cold or make meatorade.
  9. Deland McCullough finds his dad, much closer than he expects. Sarah Spain’s amazing longform piece tells the tale of Deland McCullough, the current Kansas City Chiefs running backs coach, searching for his father. The story follows a young boy adopted to a family in Pittsburgh and raised in Youngstown, who grows into a fine young man recruited to play football at Miami of Ohio. He meets a mentor, lives his life, and when he has his own family, begins to wonder about his origins. What he finds is amazing (in a good way…or else it wouldn’t be on this list) and beautiful. I won’t spoil it for you (go read Sarah’s piece), but it’s a wonderful discussion of what family is, how you come to find yours, and who you are with and without them.
  10. Love conquers all, or at least a heated hockey rivalry. In September, former US women’s hockey captain Meghan Duggan married Gillian Apps of the Canadian women’s hockey team. They had, by the looks of Instagram, a beautiful barn wedding in Maine. Mazel to the beautiful brides! The amazing thing is this isn’t even the first time two former team US/team Canada hockey players have married each other. Previously, Caroline Ouellette (Canada) and Julie Chu (US) married each other, welcoming a baby girl in 2017. Welcome to the wild world of US/Canada marriages, my hockey ladies! I hope you, unlike me, don’t have to beg your spouse to stop saying sorry so much and never have to get used to tripping over the pile of shoes by the door.

I know that whatever 2019 brings, it is guaranteed to bring us many more amazing sports moments, both good and bad. The hot take artists will be back in this space next week, but I’ve enjoyed this foray into what makes sports wonderful instead of intentionally terrible. It’s helpful to remember how amazing and beautiful sports are, how much fun and silly they can be, how much they both do not matter at all, and yet also matter so completely. These stories happen in and around sports and make it worth tuning in, unlike the hot takes.