Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) runs as Washington Redskins inside linebacker Su'a Cravens (36) defends during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
It’s probably a safe bet to assume Arizona sports fans are excited to move on from 2016.
None of the Grand Canyon State’s professional teams reached their respective postseasons — they didn’t really come close, for that matter — and the college squads failed to live up to even the most modest of expectations.
Still, as much as we might want to forget, the year did happen, and in an effort to push forward it does not hurt to take a look back.
With that in mind, here are photos that represent 2016 in Arizona sports.
Welcome to stardom, David Johnson. The Cardinals’ second-year running back built off his impressive rookie season and established himself as one of the best players in the entire NFL. He set an NFL record for most games with 100 yards from scrimmage to start a season, and cemented his place in the Cardinals’ record books for touchdowns. He also approached the exclusive 1,000/1,000 club.
Why did the Cardinals miss the playoffs? There are plenty of reasons, but the most obvious is special teams woes. From the very first game, when Chandler Catanzaro hooked a potential game-winning field goal, to miscues in losses to Buffalo and Miami as well as a tie vs. Seattle, Arizona’s special teams have mostly been anything but.
Zack Greinke arrived in Arizona with much fanfare and great expectations, but mostly failed to deliver in his first season in the desert. The ace right-hander who had signed a monster six-year, $206.5 million contract in the previous offseason got off to a rocky start against Colorado, and though he had some very good stretches, finished an injury-shortened season with just 13 wins and an ERA of 4.37.
All teams deal with injuries, of that there is no doubt. However, it’s fair to say the D-backs suffered more than their share, and given that they entered the season with precious little margin for error, losing All-Star outfielder A.J. Pollock in the final days of spring training was a significant blow they were never able to recover from. One of the team’s best players, he returned late in the season to bat .244 with two home runs and four RBI in 41 at-bats.
The Suns did not take long to settle on their permanent head coach, with GM Ryan McDonough tabbing Earl Watson — who had guided the team to a 9-24 record after taking over for Jeff Hornacek on an interim basis — for the gig. The early returns have been mixed, at best, with the Suns still struggling to win games and constant questioning of the young coach’s rotations.
No one really expected the Suns to be good in 2016, but there is a good amount of hope for the future after their draft class produced a couple of talented bigs in Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss as well as point guard Tyler Ulis.
The Coyotes thought outside of the box in replacing GM Don Maloney, going with the young John Chayka. Just 27 years old, he is tasked with helping to rebuild a roster that has struggled to find any kind of consistency.
He’s not a Coyote (insert disappointed face here), but Auston Matthews being selected first overall in the draft was a big deal for the state, since he is from Arizona. On Dec. 23 he played his first game against his home-town team, tallying an assist and three shots on goal in a 4-1 Maple Leafs victory.
Arizona State Sun Devils
ASU kicker Zane Gonzalez had a season for the ages, converting 23-of-25 field goal attempts and 39-of-40 PATs on his way to winning the Lou Groza Award, which is given annually to the best kicker in college football. Also during the season, Gonzalez kicked a school-record 59-yard field goal against Colorado, and became the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer for a kicker.
Expectations for the Sun Devils were modest in 2016, though a 4-0 start led to renewed optimism that something special might be happening in Tempe. However, as the schedule got tougher the Devils got worse, as Arizona State earned just one victory over its final eight contests. Head coach Todd Graham was left searching for answers, of which he found few in a season that ended with a 56-35 loss in the Territorial Cup that prevented the Devils from earning bowl eligibility.
University of Arizona Wildcats
For the first time as the head coach of the Arizona Wildcats, Sean Miller had a team get bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. UA struggled to gain much traction throughout a season that saw them win 25 games before struggling against 11th-seeded Wichita State in the Dance. While the loss was upsetting, Miller’s soak-drenched shirt from the game became a topic for all sorts of jokes and memes.
There’s no such thing as a good 3-win season, but when one of those wins comes against your rival in the final game of the year, it’s easier to ignore the disaster that was everything else. The Arizona Wildcats had two wins entering their rivalry game with ASU, but racked up 511 rushing yards and only needed to complete three passes all game to earn a 56-35 victory.
Grand Canyon University Antelopes
Reputations are earned — not given — and GCU hoops has quickly earned a reputation for being a quality basketball program with an incredible homecourt advantage. GCU Arena is regularly packed, and after Louisville escaped with a close win over the Antelopes, Cardinals coach Rick Pitino praised the home crowd as being tougher than those he has faced at Duke and Kentucky.