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Venkataraman: What I’m thankful for this year

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As Thanksgiving approaches faster than a flying turkey (and yes, biology majors, I know that turkeys can’t really fly), and as my deadline to submit this column approaches at roughly the same pace as the wrath of my desk editor, I find myself at a total loss for words, which is shocking to anyone who has listened to me prattle on and on about esoteric things in the past. I’ve pretty much exhausted every sports-related topic that I could ever speak about over the last two plus years of penning these weekly columns, and my Stanford Daily Dropbox folder proves it — I’ve got columns with titles ranging from “April Fools” to “World Cup” and nearly every letter in between.

So, to pull a faux Bill Simmons, its time to recycle an old gimmick: the “most thankful for” edition of my column, sports style. So without further ado, here come the BLAH things that I am most thankful for this holiday season.

1) Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos losing the Super Bowl

I know, I know, it is a spiteful thing to be thankful for. But trust me, as a Tom Brady fan since before he ever started a game for the New England Patriots, the absolute last thing I wanted was an NFL offseason of gushing praise for Manning and how a Super Bowl win would mean that he had conclusively taken the “greatest QB of this generation” belt from Brady.

I, for one, am of the opinion that there is nothing to separate the two; in fact, if I needed to win a single game with one of these quarterbacks, I truthfully have no idea who I’d pick. But no one else seems to get that there is no separating the two, and they keep insisting, “Brady only wins because he has a better defense” or “Manning chokes in the playoffs.” I wish we could just agree that both are once-in-a-generation talents that we will likely never see again, but in the absence of that agreement, a brutal Super Bowl loss will keep me happy just fine.

2) Redemption in the NBA Finals

Last year, as the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy was being wheeled onto the court, Ray Allen pounced on a loose ball and hoisted up one of the most clutch three-pointers in NBA history, sending what seemed to be a surefire Spurs championship down the toilet and giving LeBron James his second NBA championship ring. At the time, you looked at the aging San Antonio Spurs and felt a pain in the pit of your stomach, as Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard — who each played magnificently in defeat — came up just short in agonizing fashion. You got the feeling that their window of opportunity to claim another NBA title had just been slammed shut in their faces.

Boy, were we wrong. Fast forward one year, and the Spurs blew the defending champs out of the water, with Leonard maturing into an unstoppable two-way threat and claiming Finals MVP honors at the ripe old age of 22, while the master of consistency Tim Duncan claimed yet another ring to add to his burgeoning collection of accolades and awards.

Sports history is rarely kind enough to feature a rematch and rarely cordial enough to present that rematch in almost identical settings to the previous encounter. In this case, the Spurs had almost everything work out perfectly for them, as they not only filleted the Heat but also ended up being one of the catalysts that broke up the Big 3 era in Miami.

The Spurs? They merely reloaded and look to be a threat to repeat as champions coming out of the wild, wild Western Conference. And their beautiful, flowing, rhythmic offensive play and their suffocating defense are enough to bring tears to any basketball fan’s eyes.

3) The rise of soccer (sorry, “football”) in the USA

I’m a proud member of the FIFA generation, the group of soccer fans who began as button mashers playing the FIFA video game before getting sucked into the fantastic world that is “fútbol.” And trust me, there are a lot of us folks hanging out in colleges across the States. But this summer birthed a new era of soccer fans, as the World Cup in Brazil, coupled with immense coverage on ESPN and the gritty, powerful, and inspiring performances of the U.S. Men’s National Team, seemed to resonate with far more folks than I remember from even four summers prior in South Africa.

At my internship, productivity slammed to a halt even in the startup subculture of Palo Alto, as hordes of folks ran out to sports bars in the middle of the day to catch Team USA’s games. And even when the clock ran out on the U.S., which bowed out to powerhouse Belgium in the round of 16, I got the feeling that more and more folks were seduced by the artfulness of the game, even if the feigned injuries and the showmanship that are very much a part of soccer seemed to get on their nerves. Think of all the little kids who are now playing soccer in their backyards, inspired by Tim Howard’s gutsy performance in goal or Clint Dempsey’s tenacity on the pitch. This generation might just be the one that catapults the U.S. into the elite of world soccer.

4) Madison Bumgarner and his “MadBum” underwear gift to Jimmy Fallon

As a Red Sox fan, this season was over before the All-Star Break even rolled around, as the AL East suddenly turned into a murderer’s row of competitive squads — and that is excluding the Sox and the Yankees, teams that had two of the top four payrolls in the majors. But across the nation, my adopted team, the San Francisco Giants, and their plucky neighbors the Oakland A’s marched through the regular season with eyes on the big prize. And while the A’s bowed out of the playoff race in a dramatic game against the eventual runners-up from Kansas City, the Giants continued their storied run of success in even-numbered years, winning a third World Series title in five years (gasp!) behind a superhuman pitching performance from ace Madison Bumgarner.

Bear in mind: The last time the Giants played in a World Series, their pitching staff featured a healthy Matt Cain, a suddenly-good Barry Zito, a young Bumgarner, and super-reliever Tim Lincecum. This year? Bumgarner was the rock all by himself; he ended up pitching nearly a third of the Giants’ total innings in the World Series and set all kinds of ludicrous postseason and World Series records that I suspect will never be broken. Thanks, MadBum, for allowing me to shriek like a schoolgirl in my room while watching you mow down batters this postseason. May your cup runneth over forever.

5) Family

I know, I promised that my thankfulness would be limited to sports, but there are a few select things that are bigger than sports (shocking, I know) and family is one of them. The last year has been a whirlwind, not always in the best of ways, but myself, my brother, my mother, my father, my grandmother and all my relatives have come out of it better than we ever could have hoped. To everyone in my life who I call family, thank you for being there and for making life an unforgettable experience each and every day.

Happy holidays everyone, stay safe, and eat your respective weights in turkey next Thursday.

Vignesh Venkataraman would also be thankful to see the Cardinal take the 117th Big Game in enemy territory tomorrow afternoon. Let him know what you’re thankful for at viggy ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Vignesh Venkataraman (or Viggy, if you prefer) writes weekly columns for the Daily, unless he forgets. He is a computer science and mechanical engineering double major, with an unofficial minor in watching sports. Born in Boston but raised in Cupertino, CA, Vignesh is a diehard New England Patriots fan and has adopted the Golden State Warriors as his favorite basketball team. He was the backup quarterback for his high school football team and called Stanford football games on KZSU in 2014.