From the debut of the Yard Goats at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, to the return of Randy Edsall and the amazing comeback of the Patriots in the Super Bowl, it’s been another banner year for sports — and sports figures — in the Greater Hartford area.
Here’s a look at 10 stories that demanded the attention of sports fans:
Yard Goats A Huge Success
Baseball fans in the Greater Hartford area turned out in record style to support the Yard Goats despite the team finishing far out of first place.
In their first season in Dunkin’ Donuts Park, the Goats sold out 41 times, including the final 21 times and 26 of the last 30 home games. The season total (395,196) was the largest attendance of any professional baseball team in the history of Connecticut and the second highest total in the Eastern League in 2017.
Of course, what helped the most was their beautiful new ballpark, which finally opened in April. BallparkDigest.com named the Yard Goats its 2017 team of the year. And earlier in the summer, Dunkin’ Donuts Park also won the Ballpark Digest fan vote for the best Double A ballpark in the United States.
UConn Stopped Short Of 5th Straight Title
This was the season everyone suspected the UConn women would take a step back from national prominence. Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson had graduated after winning the Huskies’ fourth straight national championship. It was time to rebuild.
But the Huskies just kept on winning, extending their record winning streak to a jaw-dropping 111 as they entered another Final Four in Dallas with a semifinal game against heavy underdog Mississippi State.
And then it happened: Mississippi State guard Morgan William's shot dropped with no time remaining in overtime to help the Bulldogs pull off the 66-64 win that stopped the Huskies in their tracks.
The Shot Of The Year Wins Travelers
The 2017 Travelers Championship in Cromwell will always be remembered for the way it ended. There was Jordan Spieth, standing deep in the right bunker, with many of an estimated 100,000 fans jammed around the green, blasting one of the most incredible shots of the season into the hole to win the tournament in a playoff.
Spieth’s winning shot, ending his joust with Daniel Berger, turned the tournament into a national conversation for weeks. The victory for Spieth, 23, was the 10th of his career. The only other player to have done that by age 24 was Tiger Woods.
And the PGA noticed. The 2017 Travelers was honored as the PGA Tour’s tournament of the year. The Travelers also was awarded for being “most fan-friendly,” “best sales” and the “players choice.”
The Patriots Rally To Win Super Bowl
It was over, until it suddenly wasn’t over. Tom Brady and the Patriots pulled off an unbelievable rally, erasing a 25-point deficit in Super Bowl LI to beat the Falcons 34-28 in overtime. It was the first overtime Super Bowl and its exclamation point was the largest comeback in the game’s history.
James White’s 2-yard run almost four minutes into the overtime period gave Bill Belichick and Brady their fifth Super Bowl championship. It was an incredible ending to a season that began with Brady suspended for four games by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for the Deflategate scandal.
The Falcons led 28-3 halfway through the third quarter until Brady methodically began to bring the Patriots back. He completed 43-of-62 passes for 466 yards and two touchdowns to earn Super Bowl MVP.
Randy Edsall Returns
In an act of supreme faith and trust, the UConn football program turned the page from the disastrous three-year reign of Bob Diaco (11-26) by bringing back Randy Edsall as its coach.
Edsall coached UConn from 1999-2010, going 74-70 and winning Big East titles in 2007 and 2010. He left to become the coach at Maryland from 2011-2015 after he took UConn to the Fiesta Bowl in his final season with the Huskies.
Edsall originally joined UConn in 1999 and helped the program’s transition from a I-AA program into I-A (now Football Bowl Subdivision) and the Big East. If anyone suspected the turnaround would be swift, they were brought back to earth when the 2017 team lost its final five games to finish 3-9 for the second season in a row.
George Springer Wins World Series MVP
New Britain’s George Springer, once the pride of Jim Penders’ UConn baseball program, transformed himself into a national icon this season with one of the greatest performances ever in a World Series.
Springer helped the Houston Astros to a seven-game win over the Los Angeles Dodgers after heading to Game 2 in the midst of a 3-for-30 slump with four strikeouts in Game 1.
Springer finished with eight extra-base hits (three doubles and five home runs) and 29 total bases this World Series. The total base record was previously 25, held by Reggie Jackson (1977) and Willie Stargell (1979). Springer's five home runs tied the single World Series record set by Jackson and Chase Utley in 2009.
Yankees Unite Stanton With Judge
In one of the most remarkable trades in baseball history, the Yankees, who had made it to the seventh game of the ALCS, acquired National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins to supplement a lineup that already features AL Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge.
What did it cost the Yankees? Second baseman Starlin Castro, two minor leaguers and a lot of cash. Stanton is still owed $295 million of his $325 million, 13-year contract, but the Marlins will send $30 million to the Yankees if Stanton doesn’t exercise his right to opt out of the deal and become a free agent after the 2020 season.
Stanton led the majors with 59 home runs and 132 RBI last season. Judge was second in the majors with 52 homers. The Yankees already led MLB with 241 home runs last season.
Yale Wins Ivy League Outright For First Time In 37 Years
Yale’s football team ended a drought that dated to 1980 by winning its first outright Ivy League championship in 37 years by scoring 17 unanswered points in the second quarter to beat Harvard 24-3 before 51,246 at the Yale Bowl. It was Yale’s seventh outright Ivy League championship and its first win over Harvard in New Haven since 1999.
The Bulldogs (9-1, 6-1) came within one point of a perfect season by losing at Dartmouth Oct. 7. They were led all season by senior linebacker Matt Oplinger, who won the Bushnell Cup, emblematic of the Ivy League’s defensive player of the year, and freshman halfback Zane Dudek, who was the Ivy’s rookie of the year — and second-team All-American — after scoring 16 touchdowns.
Yale’s baseball team also won its first Ivy League championship since 1994.
Trinity Hockey Falls One Win Short Of Title
It wasn’t a perfect season. Trinity’s men’s hockey team had a lot of things to correct as it approached mid-January. But the Bantams’ season finished with an 11-game winning streak and they made it all the way to the Division III Final Four in Utica. N.Y.
It was in the national championship game that the Bantams were defeated by the nation’s top-ranked team, Norwich, which won its fourth national title. The Bantams gave up the first goal and seemed perpetually in comeback mode until there was no time remaining in Norwich's 4-1 win.
The win for the Cadets was their 25th straight. They had not lost a game since Nov. 18, 2016.
Huskies Win Another Field Hockey Title
UConn coach Nancy Stevens offered her team an inspirational quote before the season: “You are enough.” The implication was clear. And Stevens reminded her team of it before it played Maryland for the national championship.
Perhaps as a result, the Huskies defeated Maryland 2-1 at Trager Stadium at the University of Louisville to win their fifth national title and third in the last five years. Senior Charlotte Veitner scored both goals for the Huskies (23-0) and senior Nina Klein made five saves in goal.
After the game Stevens, who has coached the team to three of the program’s national titles, was asked if she could catch Geno Auriemma, who has 11 national championships. “If I live to be 100,” she said. “My grandmother lived to be 100, so it’s possible.”