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The best sporting events of 2022, ranked

Everyone loves “end-of-year” lists. And here at SB Nation, we are no different.

It’s only natural to put together a list of the best games, matches, races, and events from the past year? Our writers spent the past few weeks looking back at the year that was, coming together to nominate, and then rank, the best contests in the world of sports from 2022.

Perhaps the effort will rekindle some memories for you, dear reader, this holiday season.

Was this exercise just an excuse to rewatch some of the great moments in sports from the past year over the holidays?

That too.

Let’s dive in.

21. NASCAR Xfinity 500

NASCAR’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville from this past October is not notable for who won the race.

But for who finished fifth.

That would be Ross Chastain, who needed to somehow get from tenth place into fifth place on the final lap of the race to qualify for the championship the following weekend. With a number of cars in front of him, and the race winding down, Chastain pulled off a move familiar to many a video gamer.

But Chastain was not doing this from the comfort of his couch, he was doing this behind the wheel of a race car that can produce upward of 750 horsepower.

He put the car into the wall, hit the gas, and let the concrete guide him around the track, all the way into the championship the next week at Phoenix:

The move worked, and Chastain came across the line in fifth, good enough to qualify for the championship the following weekend.

According to the in-car telemetry, Chastain hit the wall at 130 miles per hour, well above the average speeds at Martinsville, which tend to range around 80-90 miles per hour due to Martinsville’s paperclip design. Chastain’s final lap was 18.845 seconds, better than the track record of 18.954 seconds.

While Chastain did not win the championship the following year, he gave us all a NASCAR moment to remember.

20. Kentucky Derby

Rich Strike was not even supposed to be in the field.

But on the Friday before the 2022 Kentucky Derby, Ethereal Road was scratched due to an injury. That opened up a spot for Rich Strike, who entered the Derby with a career 1-0-3 record in seven starts. Rich Strike earned their place in the Kentucky Derby thanks to a third-place finish at the Jeff Ruby Steaks.

As you might expect, Rich Strike was slow out of the gates, and was in 15th place after the first mile. But jockey Sonny Leon moved Rich Strike to the rail and the pair closed fast, passing both Zandon and Epicenter, the two favorites for the Derby.

At 80-1 odds, the victory was the second-biggest upset in Kentucky Derby history. Only Donerail back in 1913 faced longer odds, at 91-1. It might be hard to surpass that mark, given that Donerail had to walk three miles just to get to the race that day.

After the Derby win, Rich Strike passed on the Preakness, giving up a chance at the Triple Crown. Prior to their stunning victory at Churchill Downs, the team planned on skipping the Preakness to enter the Belmont Stakes, and despite the upset at the Kentucky Derby, they stuck with the plan. Rich Strike struggled at the Belmont, however, finishing sixth.

19. British Grand Prix

F1 Grand Prix of Great Britain

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

After Max Verstappen’s win in the Canadian Grand Prix, the circuit moved to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix with a Red Bull double atop the table, with Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez in second place.

The British GP got off to a scary start, with a terrifying crash on the first lap involving multiple vehicles. The crash knocked out three cars, including Mercedes’ George Russell, Williams’ Alex Albon, and Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu. Guanyu’s car flipped over, causing the red flag to come out as the track was cleared and the drivers were removed from their vehicles.

The race would ultimately resume, with Verstappen and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. locked in a battle off the restart. Verstappen would take the lead from Sainz, but run over debris and begin to fade.

An incident on lap 39, with Alpine’s Esteban Ocon suffering a fuel pump issue, brought out the safety car. That set the stage for a final ten-lap shootout between Sainz, Lewis Hamilton and Perez:

Sainz came across the line ahead of Perez and Hamilton, to score his first F1 victory. Perez finished second, with the local favorite Hamilton crossing the line third.

18. Gold Medal Game Women’s Ice Hockey Canada vs. United States

Since being introduced as an Olympic sport in 1998, women’s hockey has been dominated by the United States and Canada. Every gold medal game, but for the 2006 Turin Games, has featured these two nations, and 2022 in Beijing was no different.

The gold medal game was a rematch of their meeting in group play, as both the US and Canada were slotted in Group A. Canada won that game 4-2, which saw the Canadians finish group play with an unblemished 4-0 record. That led to Canada being placed as the top seed as the elimination rounds began. The US entered elimination play as the second seed, with a 3-1 record.

Putting them on a collision course once more.

Canada rolled through their two elimination games en route to the final, beating Sweded 11-0 and Switzerland 10-3. The US won a pair of 4-1 games, first against the Czech Republic, and then against Finland.

The gold medal game was all Canada from the start. Sarah Nurse scored at the 7:50 mark of the first period to give Canada the early lead, and then Marie-Philip Poulin did this:

Canada added to their lead at the start of the second period, when Poulin added her second goal of the game. But the US had been down 3-0 before in a game to Canada, during the 1998 Olympics, and they stormed back to win that game.

Could the same happen here?

Hilary Knight scored a shorthanded goal at the end of the second period, giving the Americans life. They cut Canada’s lead to just 3-2 on a power play goal near the end of the third period setting the stage for a frenetic finish. But the Canadians held on, winning their fifth Olympic gold medal.

17. NFL Divisional Round Cincinnati Bengals vs. Tennessee Titans

Every football season, analysts call the Divisional Round Weekend the best weekend of the football year.

Last January lived up to the hype.

Eight teams. Four games. Four walk-off finishes.

The chaos began on Saturday afternoon, with the upstart Cincinnati Bengals going on the road for the second-straight week to tangle with the Tennessee Titans, the top seed in the AFC. This was a rather sluggish affair, with the Titans sacking Joe Burrow nine times, tying the postseason record for sacks taken by a quarterback. Ryan Tannehill and the Titans had the football with under a minute remaining near midfield, but a Tannehill throw was intercepted. Burrow connected with Ja’Marr Chase to start Cincinnati’s ensuing possession, setting the stage for Evan McPherson’s 52-yard field goal as time expired.

16. UEFA Women’s Euro Final England vs. Germany

The UEFA Women’s Euro Final saw the two best teams in the field clash in front of a record-setting crowd at Wembley Stadium in London. As the host nation, England automatically qualified, but won their three matches of group play by a combined score of 14-0. After conceding their first goal to Spain in the quarter-finals to trail 1-0, they stormed back, winning in extra time. A 4-0 victory over Norway in the semi-finals put the Lionesses into the final for the first time since 2009.

They faced Germany, who also finished group play with three wins, and without conceding a goal. After a victory over Austria in the quarter-finals, Germany edged out France in the semi-finals by a 2-1 final score, setting up this epic clash.

In front of the biggest crowd to witness a UEFA final match in history, the two teams took the pitch. The first half ended scoreless, but England took the lead in the 62nd minute when Ella Toone pulled in a long ball from Keira Walsh and chipped it over Merle Frohms for the first goal of the match.

Germany almost equalized seconds later, when Lina Magull had a chance from close range turned aside by England keeper Mary Earps. But they did equalize in the 79th minute, when Magull took advantage of a cross right in front of Earps, pushing it past the keeper to pull the match level.

Extra time would be needed, and it was England’s Chloe Kelly who would deliver the decisive moment. In the second half of extra time, Kelly converted off of a corner kick, sending the Wembley Stadium crowd into a frenzy:

England salted away the win over the final minutes, securing the first major title for a senior English team since the 1966 Men’s World Cup.

15. NCAA Men’s Sweet Sixteen St. Peter’s vs. Purdue

St. Peter’s would have gone down in the record books even if they never won a second game in the 2022 men’s NCAA Tournament. Their opening round victory over Kentucky — who some dope on this website picked to go to the Final Four — counted as one of the biggest upsets in tournament history, and made a star out of head coach Shaheen Holloway. The Peacocks found themselves with a favorable matchup in the round of 32 against Murray State next, and they won that one, too. Their Sweet 16 opponent was a Purdue team loaded with talent, and led by future top-5 NBA draft pick Jaden Ivey.

St. Peter’s and Purdue traded shots throughout the second half, with every bucket feeling monumental for both sides. The Boilermakers were so, so much bigger on the inside and were dominating the glass all night, but St. Peter’s found a way to get the stops they needed. Holloway’s team pulled ahead late, and then watched Ivey miss a three-pointer at the buzzer to force OT. St. Peter’s won again, taking home a 67-64 thriller that put them on the doorstep of the Final Four. Their run would end against North Carolina in the next game, but the entire country was already diagnosed with Peacocks Fever by that point.

You can watch the final frenetic minutes here:

14. NFL Divisional Round San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers

NFC Divisional Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Green Bay Packers

Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The second game of Divisional Round weekend was Saturday night in the snow at Lambeau Field. Fresh off their upset of the Dallas Cowboys, the San Francisco 49ers went on the road again to take on the top seeded Green Bay Packers. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers got on the board first, with a touchdown run from A.J. Dillon to cap off the first drive of the game. But from there, the 49ers defense put the clamps on Green Bay. The Packers managed just a field goal the rest of the way, but they still held a 10-3 lead with under five minutes remaining.

Then, disaster struck. A Packers punt was blocked, and Talanoa Hufanga scooped up the loose football and returned it for a touchdown to tie the game at ten. Green Bay could not move the ball on their next drive, and they were forced to punt the ball away. San Francisco took over at their own 29-yard line, and finally put together a decent drive. The 49ers got into field goal range for Robbie Gould, who converted from 45 yards out on the game’s final play for the 13-10 win.

13. Rose Bowl Utah vs. Ohio State

It was not the game the Ohio State Buckeyes wanted to win to close out their 2021-2022 season, but it will go down as one of the best offensive performances in the history of the storied program.

They also had to rally from behind to pull out the victory.

For over three quarters, it was Utah who controlled the game. When Taivon Thomas sliced into the end zone from six yards out midway through the second quarter, it gave the Utes a 21-7 lead. That’s when Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba started to catch fire. The two connected for a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter, but Ohio State still trailed by 14 at the break.

The Buckeyes trailed by ten midway through the third quarter, but they were finally able to overcome the deficit. A field goal from Noah Ruggles cut the Utah lead to seven, and then a pair of touchdown passes from Stroud in the fourth quarter — first to Marvin Harrison Jr. and then another to Smith-Njigba — gave the Buckeyes their first lead of the game, at 45-38.

Utah did not go quietly into the night, not at all. The Utes, behind backup quarterback Bryson Barnes — in the game after Cam Rising suffered an injury earlier in the fourth quarter — tied the game at 45 in the final minutes. Barnes led a six-play drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Dalton Kincaid with under two minutes left:

That was enough time for Stroud and the Buckeyes, who drove into field goal range for Ruggles, who converted from just 19 yards out. Utah had just enough time to try and spark a miracle on the ensuing kickoff, but Britain Covey, who already returned a kickoff for a 97-yard touchdown earlier in the game, was denied a second return TD.

In the win, Stroud threw for 576 yards and six touchdowns, setting both Ohio State and Rose Bowl records. Smith-Njigba’s 347 receiving yards were a bowl record, and his 15 receptions set a new Ohio State record.

12. Women’s Regional Final UConn vs. NC State

UConn women’s basketball put the most incredible streak in sports today on the line when they faced NC State in the Elite Eight of the 2022 NCAA tournament. The Huskies had made 13 straight Final Four appearances, but in this game UConn was the No. 2 seed and the Wolfpack were the No. 1 seed. The result was a double overtime classic that saw UConn prevail, 91-87, pushing the Huskies’ Final Four streak to 14.

NC State gave UConn nothing easy on the night. The Huskies looked like they were ready to win the game in the first overtime, but NC State guard Jakia Brown-Turner hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to force a second extra session. Huskies stud Paige Bueckers scored the first five points of double OT, and teammate Christyn Williams iced the game with a bucket on UConn’s last possession. The Huskies would lose their next game to South Carolina in blow out fashion, but their ridiculous Final Four streak lived to see another year.

11. Alabama vs. Tennessee

University of Tennessee vs University of Alabama

Set Number: X164200 TK1

This season, the Tennessee Volunteers started the season with five-straight wins. But in the SEC, nothing matters until you beat Alabama.

The two teams met for their annual clash on October 15th, the “Third Saturday in October” in Knoxville this season with the Volunteers at 5-0, and ranked 6th in the nation, and Alabama off to a 6-0 start, and ranked 3rd. The first quarter was almost all Tennessee, as the Volunteers built a 21-7 lead over the first 15 minutes.

But Alabama slowly chipped back, and a 26-yard touchdown run from Jahmyr Gibbs early in the third quarter knotted the game at 28. The team traded touchdowns until midway through the fourth quarter, when Alabama scored two-straight touchdowns — one a defensive score — to take a 49-42 lead.

Tennessee would respond, with quarterback Hendon Hooker connecting with wide receiver Jalin Hyatt for a 13-yard touchdown to tie the game yet again. It was Hyatt’s fifth touchdown reception of the evening, and the fifth touchdown pass from Hooker.

That touchdown came with under four minutes remaining, and Bryce Young and the Alabama offense had time to respond. But their ensuing drive stalled out at the Tennessee 32-yard line, and Will Reichard missed a field goal attempt from 50 yards out with just 15 seconds left. Overtime seemed inevitable, but Hooker had other ideas. A pair of completions got Tennessee down to the Alabama 23-yard line, and that was enough for kicker Chase McGrath, whose 40-yard field goal as time expired sent Neyland Stadium into a frenzy.

And down onto the field, where the goalposts were in sight.

Next stop for the goalposts? The campus bars.

10. WNBA Finals Game 4 Las Vegas Aces vs. Connecticut Sun

The Las Vegas Aces were hyped as a WNBA superteam for the last few seasons, but a championship continued to eluded them. That changed this season as the Aces split ways with star center Liz Cambage, surrounded MVP big A’ja Wilson with dynamic shooters and ball handlers, and overwhelmed teams with waves of talent on their way to the first professional sports title in city history for Las Vegas. The Aces clinched the trophy with a dramatic Game 4 victory over the Connecticut Sun, 78-71, that showed just how much firepower this roster had.

Chelsea Gray capped her Finals MVP run with 20 points and six assists on a barrage of stepback jumpers and crafty passes to her teammates. Shooter Riquna Williams hit a three-pointer to give the Aces the lead with two minutes left, then hit another one on the next possession after the Sun had taken the lead back. Kelsey Plum, a regular season MVP candidate in her own right, iced the win with a mid-range pull-up. Wilson’s defense was tremendous all game even on an inefficient scoring night, and Jackie Young’s eight assists helped the offense buzz even as she went cold as a shooter. No team in the WNBA had more talent than Las Vegas, and this time the best team actually won.

9. Australian Open Men’s Final Rafael Nadal vs. Daniil Medvedev

History was on the line in the Men’s Final of the 2022 Australian Open.

For Rafael Nadal, it was a chance to win a record 21st Grand Slam, surpassing both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. It was also a chance for Nadal to become just the fourth man to secure a carer double Grand Slam, along with Roy Emerson, Roy Laver, and Djokovic.

For Daniil Medvedev, it was a chance to become just the first man in tennis history to win his first two Grand Slam events in successive tournaments. Medvedev was coming off his win at the 2021 U.S. Open, and a win in Melbourne would move him into tennis history.

After the first two sets, it looked like it was going to be Medvedev making history. The Russian took the first set 6-2, and won the second set on a tiebreak. That second set lasted 84 minutes, and was the longest of the entire tournament.

But then, Nadal stormed back. He took the next two sets 6-4, 6-4, setting up a decisive fifth set. In that fifth set, Nadal was up 5-4 and serving for the championship at 30-0, but a pair of mistakes, along with a double fault from Nadal, saw Medvedev break Nadal’s serve. Nadal, however, broke Medvedev in the next game, and saw out the match for his 21st title.

Even the condensed match is over 70 minutes long:

In all, the match lasted over five hours, clocking in at 5 hours and 24 minutes. That made it the second-longest final in men’s Grand Slam history, behind only the 2012 Australian Open.

Which Nadal lost to Djokovic.

8. Duke vs. North Carolina in the Final Four for Coach K’s last game

North Carolina v Duke

Photo by Handout/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Yes, going out on top and cutting down the nets would have been the most poetic conclusion to Coach K’s career — but there was also some beautiful about having him battle North Carolina down to the wire and go out against his old foe.

K’s last game needed to mean something and have an impact beyond getting a little further in the tournament. Losing to Bill Self and Kansas wouldn’t have been the ending his career deserved. Duke and Carolina is always the way a legendary coach should go out — heck, Dean Smith’s final game at UNC was a Final Four loss to Arizona in 1997 which meant nothing.

This was the perfect back-and-forth where nobody dominated for more than a couple of minutes at best. Paolo Banchero battled in the middle with Armando Bacot, Caleb Love won the contest on the perimeter — which really settled this game. It was awesome from whistle to whistle, and will be remembered forever.

7. NLCS Game 5 Phillies vs. Padres

Some moments don’t just life a team.

They lift a city.

After a brutal start which saw the Philadelphia Phillies fire manager Joe Girardi fired just after Memorial Day, the team clawed their way back into the playoff chase. Philadelphia clinched the final playoff berth on October 3rd, setting up a Wild-Card series with the St. Louis Cardinals.

That’s when their run began. The Phillies swept St. Louis, and then beat the Atlanta Braves in four games to setup a showdown with the San Diego Padres in the NLCS. The teams split the first two games on the West Coast, and after the Phillies took Games 3 and 4, they were on the verge of a date in the World Series.

San Diego led that pivotal Game 5 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth. But J.T. Realmuto led off the inning with a single, bringing Bryce Harper to the plate:

“The swing of his life.”

You can see the belief set into the minds of the fans in the bleachers after the two-run homer. The Phillies, after breaking an 11-year playoff drought, were not just back in the playoffs.

They were going to the World Series.

6. NFL Divisional Round Los Angeles Rams vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Sunday of Divisional Round weekend kicked off in the NFC, with Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams. When Stafford scored on a QB sneak midway through the third quarter, it extended the Rams’ lead to 27-3. Surely Brady would not have another comeback up his sleeve?

Of course he did. Brady and the Buccaneers clawed their way back into the game, and tied it at 27 with just 42 seconds remaining on a touchdown run from Leonard Fournette. But just when it looked like Brady had pulled out another miracle, the Rams delivered one of their own. Stafford connected with Cooper Kupp on a deep shot play against an all-out blitz, putting the Rams in field goal range:

Matt Gay split the uprights from 30 yards out as the clock ran out, putting the Rams in the NFC Championship Game.

5. NBA Finals Game 4 Warriors vs. Celtics

The Boston Celtics were up 2-1 on the Golden State Warriors in the 2022 NBA Finals with a pivotal Game 4 on their home floor. A win would give Boston a seemingly insurmountable series lead and cap their Cinderella turnaround at midseason that took them from the middle of the East to the best team in basketball. There was only one man standing in their way, and unfortunately for the Celtics, it was an all-time great player authoring one of his greatest ever performances to swing the momentum of the series the other way.

Stephen Curry popped off for 43 points on the night, and hit 5-of-6 from three-point range in the second half to drag the Warriors to a Game 4 victory that tied the NBA Finals. In the process, Curry reminded everyone he was not only the best player in the series, but also one of the best the NBA has ever seen still playing like he was in his prime at 34 years old:

The Warriors ran off wins in the next two games, and Curry had his fourth championship and first Finals MVP award. His Game 4 performance broke the Celtics’ spirit and put the rest of the NBA on notice: this is still Steph’s league until someone takes it away from him.

4. Eastern Conference semifinals Game 5 Bucks vs. Celtics

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The best series of the 2022 NBA Playoffs didn’t happen in the NBA Finals, or even the conference finals. Instead, the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics gave a classic 7-game series in the second round that felt like it was between the two best teams in the league when it was happening in real time. The height of the drama happened in Game 5 in Boston with the series tied. The Celtics had a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter despite a brilliant effort from Giannis Antetokounmpo, but Milwaukee wouldn’t be denied even while playing without arguably its second best player in Khris Middleton, who was out with injury.

Bucks rallied back in the fourth quarter to win, 110-107. There were so many incredible moments in that final frame: a three from Giannis, a putback by Bobby Portis, and an amazing block by Jrue Holiday, who swatted Marcus Smart’s shot on the final Boston possession and threw it off of him to give Milwaukee the ball. The Celtics would win the series in seven games, but the Bucks made their statement in Game 5 as the defending champs. Even without Middleton, Milwaukee wasn’t going to go without a fight.

3. AL Wild Card Game 2 Mariners vs. Blue Jays

When the Seattle Mariners began July, they were five games below .500.

Then, the wins came.

Seattle won 14-straight games at the start of the month, becoming the first team in MLB history to enter the All-Star Break with 14-straight victories. While they were unable to catch the Houston Astros in the AL West, they clinched a playoff spot at the end of September in dramatic fashion, on pinch hitter Cal Raleigh’s walk-off home run against the Oakland A’s. That put the Mariners in the playoffs for the first time since 2001, breaking the longest playoff drought among the major North American sports.

That set up a Wild Card series on the road with the Toronto Blue Jays, which they won in, as you might expect, dramatic fashion. After taking Game 1 of the series 4-0, the Mariners trailed 8-1 in Game 2 after five innings. But Seattle clawed back, putting four runs on the board in the top of the sixth, with the big blow a Carlos Santana three-run shot to pull Seattle within three.

Toronto scratched back a run in the bottom of the seventh inning, on a single from Danny Jansen, to take a 9-5 lead into the eighth inning. That’s when the Mariners put another crooked number on the board. A single from Raleigh knocked in one run, and with two outs J.P. Crawford came to the plate with the bases loaded. He blooped a fly ball into shallow left that somehow got down, clearing the bases and tying the game.

Then in the ninth, the Mariners took the lead. Raleigh doubled to the gap in right center, and was driven home this double down the line from Adam Frazier:

George Kirby came on to close it out in the bottom of the ninth, sending the Mariners to the ALCS.

2. NFL Divisional Round Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs

The first three games of the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs featured walk-off field goals.

The final game of the weekend did not end on a walk-off field goal.

It ended on a walk-off touchdown, in a game that forced the NFL to change the overtime rules during the offseason.

The final game of the weekend was the epic clash between the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Buffalo Bills. The teams combined for three touchdowns and a field goal in the final two minutes of regulation, with the Chiefs getting into range for the game-tying FG with just 13 seconds left in the contest. The big play on that drive? A completion from Patrick Mahomes to tight end Travis Kelce, that the tight end suggested on the fly:

Kicker Harrison Butker was good from 49 yards out on the final play of regulation, tying the game at 36 and forcing overtime.

Kansas City won the toss, and drove right down the field against an exhausted Bills defense. Mahomes connected with Kelce from eight yards out to deliver the win, in a game that will not soon be forgotten.

1. World Cup Final France vs Argentina

Argentina v France: Final - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022

Photo by Zhizhao Wu/Getty Images

This year’s World Cup final between France and Argentina was good enough to make us forget for a 120+ minutes the messy, ugly, problematic Qatar cup as a whole. This entire event was a debacle from the start, but the finish gave us some much-needed beauty.

It looked as though Argentina had sealed this game in the first half with two quick goals to start the match — but what ensued from minute 80 onwards was one of the greatest individual performances we’ve ever seen in a World Cup game. Kylian Mbappe put France on his back, scoring twice in two minutes, before netting home the tying penalty to send the game to penalties.

That entire PK process was one of the most tense, stressful sporting moments of the year. France had the momentum, but most of the world wanted to see Lionel Messi finally hoist the World Cup as his career winded down. In the end we got the storybook ending, and one of the best matches you’ll ever see.

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