John Fay: These were the nine biggest Cincinnati sports stories of 2016

A year of departures and disappointments
Fay: Some pluses, but not our best sports year
Fay: Some pluses, but not our best sports year
Fay: Some pluses, but not our best sports year
Fay: Some pluses, but not our best sports year
Fay: Some pluses, but not our best sports year
Posted at 6:00 AM, Dec 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-29 06:00:11-05

CINCINNATI -- The year 2016 will not go down as one of the great years in Cincinnati sports history.

When you look back at the year's big stories, there are a lot of departures and disappointments. Abrupt endings were the theme of the year.

With that in mind, here are my nine biggest sports stories of the year.

Vontaze Burfict reacts in the third quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium on January 9 in Cincinnati. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)


The Bengals were 96 seconds from the biggest win of the Marvin Lewis Era, 96 seconds from the first playoff win in 25 years. The monkey on the back of the franchise was hanging on by a whisker when it all went wrong.

Jeremy Hill fumbled. Vontaze Burfict took a shot at Antonio Brown. Pacman Jones went nuts. It all led to a Pittsburgh chip-shot field goal and an 18-16 loss -- and the franchise was again the butt of jokes in the national media.

Burfict ended up getting suspended for the first three games of this season, which doubtlessly contributed to the disappointing current season.

Record-setting crowds for FC Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium have gotten the attention of Major League Soccer officials.


FC Cincinnati took the town by storm. This is a story that might have the most impact long term. The team's overwhelming success has made Cincinnati a contender to get a team when Major League Soccer expands.

FC Cincinnati plays in the third-tier United Soccer League, but that didn't matter. Fans loved the club from the get-go. 

FC Cincinnati led the USL in attendance overall and set the single-game regular-season record (24,376) and playoff record (30,187).

The electric atmosphere at Nippert Stadium fueled the buzz, but the on-field success helped. The team finished third in the Eastern Division to make the playoffs.

The first-round playoff loss, however, fit in with the '16 Cincinnati theme.

Cincinnati Reds players react in the dugout during the game against the Chicago Cubs at Great American Ball Park on June 29 in Cincinnati. The Cubs defeated the Reds 9-2. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)


The Reds season was over -- as far as contention hopes -- pretty much as soon as it started. The team went 9-15 in April and followed it with an 8-20 May. The bullpen was literally the worst in big league history through those months.

That assured that the ugly business of rebuilding would continue. Jay Bruce, one of the cornerstones of the strong run from 2010 to 2013, was traded at the trade deadline.

The only glimmer of hope was that the team played reasonably well -- a shade under .500 -- after the All-Star Break.

The Reds will try to sell its young corps to the fans for 2017. Some wins would help with that.

University of Cincinnati football head coach Tommy Tuberville exits Nippert Stadium after the Bearcats' 20-3 loss to BYU.


No one saw things ending so badly at the University of Cincinnati for Tommy Tuberville. He came in with a great coaching resume and a commitment to not use the job as a steppingstone. His first three years were reasonably good -- 9-4, 9-4, 7-6 -- with bowl appearances each year.

The expectation was that this year would be better. And it started well. The Bearcats went 2-0 and hung in with No. 6 Houston for three quarters.

But when it went bad, it went really bad.

The Bearcats lost their last five games. Tuberville told a fan to "Go to Hell" and then talked about how UC really didn't have a program when he arrived.

His "resignation" was no surprise.

His replacement, Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, could not have come off much better in his introductory press conference. Fickell seems to be passionate, sincere and aware of UC's needs.

Ken Griffey Jr. during his Hall of Fame induction.


Cincinnati's own Ken Griffey Jr. was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame with a record 99.32 percent of the vote. Griffey's total was testimony to his great achievements on the field and the belief of the electorate that he was pure in the steroid-tainted era.

Griffey was surprisingly emotional in his induction speech. He broke down repeatedly when talking about his family. He ended the speech with a decidedly Griffey touch: Putting his hat on and turning it backward.

Octavius Ellis #2 of the Cincinnati Bearcats covers his face with a towel as he leaves the court after their 76-78 loss to the Saint Joseph's Hawks during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 18 in Spokane, Washington. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)


Both Xavier and UC got off to great starts in basketball. Both were rated in the Top 25 all year. Both won NCAA bids. Both expected to make it through the tourney's first weekend.

But in a little over 24 hours, both went home disappointed.

First, UC lost to St. Joseph's, 78-76, when Octavius Ellis' last-second dunk was ruled too late.

Then Xavier lost to Wisconsin, 66-63, on a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

St. Xavier players dump water on coach Steve Specht after winning the Ohio Division I football championship.


St. Xavier started the season 0-2, barely made the playoffs as a 5-5 team, and then won the school's third Division I state championship.

It that weren't remarkable enough, the Bombers took the toughest possible route to the title.

They came back from 16 points down to beat No. 1 Colerain in overtime one week and came back from 14 points down to beat Sycamore in overtime the next. Quarterback Sean Clifford came off the bench to lead both of those victories.

Clifford was equally brilliant in the final win over St. Ignatius -- which came, of course, in overtime.

La Salle players raise their Ohio Division II football trophy.


La Salle, which like St. X has a North Bend Road address, did not need nearly as much drama to win its third consecutive Division II state title.

The Lancers, who had not played in the postseason before 2014, have won 15 straight in the playoffs.

Even after an $86 million renovation and expansion of Nippert Stadium to 40,000 capacity, UC wouldn't be able to generate the kind of revenue the top-tier Big 12 schools do. Texas has a 100,000-seat stadium and its own cable network. Oklahoma an 82,000-seat stadium. Iowa State, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are all over 60,000. UC averaged 37,096 in attendance this past season. Only Kansas, winless in 2015, at 24,606 was under that.


UC put tremendous effort into getting into the Big 12 Conference, so it was a huge blow to the Bearcats when the conference announced it would not be expanding.

That means UC is on the outside looking in as far as joining a Power 5 conference in the foreseeable future. That makes it difficult to get into a big bowl game -- and to fill 40,000-seat Nippert Stadium in the regular season.