Sports' best feel-good moments of 2017

Did you have a good 2017? Yeah? Then consider yourself lucky, because for most of us, 2017 was a rough go of a year. Tragedies abounded, everybody hated everybody else, and rage floated in the air like a toxic haze. Yahoo Sports’ most-read stories were tales of crime, anger, frustration and protest …and sports are supposed to be an escape from the real world.

But it wasn’t all a grim slog through the 12 months of the year. No, there were moments throughout 2017 that reminded us of exactly why we watch sports: the unbridled joy at an unexpected victory, the tearful pride of triumph over the longest of odds, the fist-pumping ecstasy of seeing a perfect play at a perfect moment. This year had all of these, and in the interest of ending 2017 on a high note, we bring you the best good-news moments of 2017.

J.J. Watt raises $37 million for Hurricane Harvey relief. It started as the simplest of ideas — Watt wanted to donate $100,000 of his own money to help hurricane-ravaged Houston. Weeks and tens of millions of dollars later, Watt’s quest was a reminder of just how strong Americans can be when they work together to help those in need.

Catfish on the ice. Nashville Predators fans have thrown catfish on the ice in celebration for more than a decade, but 2017 was the year the tradition broke big, thanks to the Predators’ run to the Stanley Cup Final. Nothing sums up the ridiculous joy of sports fandom better than a guy vacuum-packing and duct-taping a dead fish to his back to hurl in exhilaration.

Touchdown celebrations. The NFL became even more of a joyless plod than usual this year, with player protests in support of racial equality becoming a political flashpoint that reached all the way to the White House. But on the plus side, the NFL began allowing celebrations once again, and if you didn’t enjoy the choreographed bowling, potato-sack race or duck-duck-goose celebrations, your heart might be a couple sizes too small.

Juju Smith-Schuster’s bike. The most joyous player in the NFL, by a long shot, is 21-year-old Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Juju Smith-Schuster, who played in the pros like he was running loose on an elementary school field with friends. His celebrations included tributes to “Dragonball Z” and “Elf,” and when someone stole his bike—the way he got to work every day—it set off a hysterical search with a happy ending.

Sergio Garcia’s Masters win. There are “best never to win the big one” figures in every sport, but Garcia’s run has been particularly painful, since golf careers run so much longer than in any other sport. Garcia burst onto the scene in 1999 — Smith-Schuster wasn’t even 3 years old then — but hadn’t ever won a major. He shed his rep for failure with one transcendent round on the second Sunday of April, winning the Masters and striking a blow for resilience.

Aaron Rodgers on the corner. Superstar athlete encounters are rare these days; wary of getting caught on social media, most athletes keep to themselves, far from the selfie-hunting crowd. But every once in awhile you spot a celebrity in the wild, and you hope it’ll go like this: a family Christmas shopping in Chicago ran into Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on a street corner, and he not only said hello, he talked with them as they walked for 20 minutes. Sure, maybe Rodgers was just lonely, but even so, he gave a family a great memory. Well done, A-a-ron.

Roger Federer returns. We all want to believe we’re living in the era of all-time greatness, but in tennis, that’s an indisputable fact. We figured we’d seen the last of Roger Federer as a Grand Slam-winning force, but in 2017 he proved us wrong with two major wins, the Australian Open and Wimbledon. It was a welcome reminder that greatness doesn’t surrender easily.

Players taking care of their parents. You’d like to think that anyone who gets a contract with a lot of zeroes at the end would take care of the people that helped them get to the mountaintop. And maybe that’s so, but 2017 saw some perfect examples of that. Oakland Raiders receiver Amari Cooper bought a house and a car for his mother, who never had a car while she was raising him and walked three miles back and forth to the grocery store. And on Christmas, Pavin Smith, a player in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, paid off his parents’ mortgage in gratitude for all they’d done for him. Great moments, both of them.

Serena Williams’ productive 2017. It’s not often that a tennis player can compete while pregnant — you almost never see it in the men’s division — but winning a Grand Slam event? That’s something special. Serena Williams won the Australian Open in the early days of her pregnancy, and both got married and gave birth in 2017 as well. Not a bad year for the G.O.A.T.

Emotional touchdown. Sepp Shirey of Atlee (Virginia) High has cerebral palsy, but that hasn’t stopped him from being an emotional leader of his football team. And in October, at Atlee’s senior night, Shirey got the chance to score a touchdown thanks to a class effort by both Atlee and its opponent. Watch the video and remember just how great sports can be for bringing communities together:

Deshaun Watson’s generosity. Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson established himself as one of the most exciting rookies in the NFL in just a few games this year, but his actions early in the season spoke even louder. He gave his first professional check, more than $27,000, to three NRG Stadium cafeteria workers affected by Hurricane Harvey. That’s the way to start a career right.

Great games. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that sports is fundamentally about, you know, competition, and not protests, personalities, or off-field drama. And by that standard, 2017 delivered once again. Clemson beat Alabama by scoring a go-ahead touchdown with one second left on the clock. The New England Patriots rallied from — perhaps you’ve heard — 28-3 to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl. The HoustonAstros and Los Angeles Dodgers played an instant-classic seven-game World Series that featured some of the best individual games in the sport’s history. These were the kinds of games that can make you believe in sports again.

Marathon triumph. Chandler Self was just half a mile from winning the Dallas Marathon when she began cramping and collapsing. Ariana Luterman, a high school runner competing in a relay, helped Self to her feet, urging her along and supporting her as Self finished the final steps to close out an emotional victory.

Cole Hamels’ donation. Athletes buying monstrous mansions isn’t a new story. An athlete literally giving away his mansion? Now that’s news, and Texas Rangers pitcher Cole Hamels did exactly that when he donated his $9.4 million Missouri mansion to a local children’s charity.

Blind snapper’s big moment.
Jake Olson has been blind since childhood, but that didn’t stop him from joining the USC football team as a long snapper. In September, he finally got his chance to play in a game, making a flawless snap for an extra point in USC’s victory over Western Michigan. It was a perfect moment that touched off a wild celebration for a guy who’s faced down a lifetime’s worth of adversity.

Atlanta Hawks fan’s swagger. Sometimes, everything just goes right in your life, and you’ve gotta revel in it. Take this Hawks fan, who hit a half-court shot just days before Christmas, and won $10,000 and some cheerleader hugs for his effort:

Our man showed all the swagger of a cold-blooded shooter winning Game 7, and why not? May we all have such a moment in 2018.

J.J. Watt’s hurricane relief efforts were one of the year’s best stories. (Getty)

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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