As readers often remind me, I have a great job.
So as the New Year begins, I’m taking one last look back at 15 of the most notable workdays for me in 2015 as a sports columnist. I only considered an event if I covered it in person.
Some of these 15 days were joyous. Some were sad. All were memorable.
In chronological order:
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Jan. 10: Carolina lost to the Seahawks, 31-17, in the NFC divisional playoffs as Russell Wilson thoroughly outplayed Cam Newton. This would be the last game the Panthers would lose for nearly a year.
Feb. 8: On the night of Feb. 7, beloved former UNC basketball coach Dean Smith passed away. We found out, along with the rest of the world, the next morning. The next day passed in a blur of trying to put aside personal feelings for Smith – like many North Carolina residents and UNC graduates, I have very fond memories of him – and produce along with my teammates at the Observer a newspaper (and, a few weeks later, a book) that would be worthy of the man’s legacy.
Feb. 21: On the day before the 2015 Daytona 500, Kyle Busch broke his right leg and left foot when he hit a wall unprotected by SAFER barriers at Daytona International Speedway. It was an ugly crash, and Busch missed the first 11 points races of the season. Remarkably, he still won his first Sprint Cup championship in November.
March 13: In Brooklyn, N.Y., I watched Davidson win its first-ever Atlantic 10 conference tournament game by overcoming an 18-point deficit. Tyler Kalinoski’s left-handed layup buzzer beater was the difference in a 67-66 win. Davidson was the best local story in college hoops in 2015 – the Wildcats under Bob McKillop won the Atlantic 10’s regular season after being picked to finish 12th in their first year in the league.
May 17: Rory McIlroy was mesmerizing all weekend as he won the Wells Fargo Championship with a 21-under-par score that included a 61 on Saturday. Asked how it felt to play the final round, which finished off his seven-shot victory, McIlroy smiled and said: “Sort of boring.”
July 26: Did I ever tell you about Conner Stroud, who lives about 60 miles west of Charlotte? He has no legs and is one of the best junior wheelchair tennis players in the world. To watch Conner rip a forehand is to be amazed.
August 10: The Josh Norman/Cam Newton fight at training camp in Spartanburg remains one of the craziest things I have ever seen, as the Panthers’ two most charismatic players squared off after Norman intercepted Newton’s pass and showboated on the return. Is it coincidental they have both gone on to career years?
Oct. 4: Former drag racer Doug Herbert turned the personal tragedy of losing two sons in a terrible car accident into a non-profit godsend for thousands of other teenage drivers (and their worried parents, like me). If you have never heard of BRAKES, Google it first. Then sign your teenage driver up for it.
Nov. 17: The most popular story I wrote this year (based on website clicks) was about Chancellor Lee Adams, the boy whose father so badly didn’t want him to be born that the father hired a hitman to kill his unborn son. The father’s name was Rae Carruth, a former No. 1 draft pick for the Panthers, and he remains in prison for his crimes committed in 1999.
Chancellor turned 16 in November. He and Saundra Adams, the grandmother who has raised him, are both heroes of mine.
Nov. 26: It was symbolically important for the Panthers to perform well in their first Thanksgiving Day game in franchise history, and did they ever. Dallas quarterback Tony Romo threw two early TD passes – to Panthers Luke Kuechly and Kurt Coleman.
Nov. 29: My phone rang. Stephen Curry was the other end. Curry is always a great interview, but it’s still hard to imagine how far he has come since I would drive over to Davidson and be the only person asking to talk to him during his freshman season.
The reigning NBA MVP and NBA champion was undefeated when he called in late November – as were the Panthers. He correctly predicted Golden State would lose before Carolina did.
Dec. 5: The Clemson-UNC ACC title game was, to me, the most significant college football game ever played in Charlotte. Organizers sold more than 74,000 tickets and could have sold 74,000 more had they had them. The game was also wildly entertaining and ended up in a 45-37 victory for No. 1 Clemson, marred only by an incorrect flag on what would have been a successful UNC onside kick.
Dec. 9: Nicolas Batum had his first triple-double as a Charlotte Hornet in an easy win over Miami. More than anyone else, Batum has made this Hornets team much more fun to watch this season.
Dec. 20: I watched from the pressbox in New Jersey as Carolina and the New York Giants played a thriller, won by Carolina 38-35 in what would be the last victory of the Panthers’ 14-0 start.
And as I saw Odell Beckham lose his mind, I wondered yet again: How does Josh Norman so effectively get under so many people’s skin?
Dec. 27: The Panthers finally lost, in Atlanta, to drop to 14-1. I won’t soon forget Julio Jones plucking the ball off of Kuechly’s head for the TD that was the game’s biggest play.
Happy New Year to everyone! Let’s all have a wonderful 2016.