Anything-is-possible might be just fortune cookie inspiration or it might be the most base instinct of the human spirit, but sports fans can testify to the truth of it better than most as competition constantly refreshes its capacity to surprise.
It can be a harsh business, fandom. One team gets a Super Bowl parade while the other 31 teams get to parse degrees of disappointment. Yet we fans wear our faith like a badge even as we complain. We seldom find optimism difficult because, well, because you never know!
Just in the past year we saw 5,000-to-1 longshot Leicester City win the English Premier League soccer championship, watched the Cavaliers overcome a 3-1 Finals hole to deliver Cleveland’s first NBA title in 46 years, then saw the ultimate curse lifted as the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series since 1908.
Whose impossible dream waits around the next corner? With the sole exception of the Cleveland Browns ever being good again, can anything be ruled out?
We are in the midst of a couple of our own mini-miracles in South Florida, a pair of cadavers come to life in the Miami Heat and Florida Panthers. It is the wonder of athletics. You find that spark, catch that wave you can ride, and suddenly sinking seasons are saved.
We saw it with the Dolphins, who started 1-4, then won six games in a row and nine of 10 to crash the NFL playoff party for the first time in eight years.
Now we see it with the Heat, which once was a frigid 11-30, fans consoled by thoughts of the draft lottery. Then with no hint came 13 wins in a row — the most in NBA history by any team with a losing record. On Friday, Miami resumes play following the All-Star break only two games off the playoff pace.
The hockey Panthers also were flat on the morgue table, but wiggled a finger, then sat bolt upright. Florida by Jan. 23 had sunk nine games below .500, playoff hopes receding like a hitchhiker in the rear-view. Then? Then sports happened. The fire-on-ice Cats had won five in a row and eight of the past nine entering Wednesday’s home date with Edmonton, skating to playoff contention.
It’s a good time for almost all of Miami’s big teams, which hardly is the norm.
In football, I can’t recall the last time the Dolphins and Hurricanes both ended their seasons with fans feeling so good, imbued by the end of the Fins’ long playoff drought and by UM’s first bowl victory in 10 years. Adam Gase and Mark Richt have set two listing programs right, finally.
Now the Heat reminds us that Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley usually manage to be competitive even during down or transitional years, while the Panthers at last are looking like the young, rising team boasting of such high hopes entering this season.
Don’t forget Canes basketball. As the regular season winds down Katie Meier’s UM women are ranked 17th and headed for a likely top-five seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Jim Larrañaga’s men, who host Duke on Saturday, are 19-8 in what was supposed to be an off year and were pegged a nine seed in ESPN’s latest projections.
UM basketball history could be made. The Canes men and women have never both won an NCAA Tournament game in the same season but have a big chance this spring.
How’s this for hot: Our four biggest teams currently in-season — Heat, Panthers and the two UM basketball teams — combined had won 34 of their past 41 games entering Wednesday night.
(Now let’s see if baseball can keep up. The Marlins are longshots again, but, even in lieu of winning, villain owner Jeffrey Loria’s active efforts to sell the team alone might be parade-worthy to heartened Fish fans.)
I leave you an arcane historical trivia question:
How many times, in the same season, have the Panthers and Heat both made the playoffs and the Hurricanes men and women both won in the NCAA Tournament after the Dolphins made the playoffs and UM football won a bowl?
There have been 24 seasons that all six things could have happened.
It has happened zero times.
It has a chance to happen now.
This is sports, remember, where, to our constant delight, anything might happen.