The year 2018 in sports began with a bang, as the University of Central Florida Golden Knights defeated the Auburn Tigers 34-27 on Jan. 1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium; and capped off the program’s first-ever undefeated season.
As quarterback McKenzie Milton and linebacker Shaquem Griffin became household names, the Golden Knights raised the ire of the college football establishment as they dubbed themselves the National Champions, because they would be the only undefeated team in the Football Bowl subdivision—the former Division I-A.
Speaking of the College Football Playoff National Championship, the Georgia Bulldogs led by running backs Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and freshman quarterback Jake Fromm defeated the Oklahoma Sooners 54-48 in the Rose Bowl.
It was the highest scoring Rose Bowl in history and the most memorable game since Herschel led the ‘Dawgs to the national title in 1980.
One week later, Mercedes-Benz Stadium was the scene as the Alabama Crimson Tide took on the Georgia Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff National Championship game.
The atmosphere inside The Benz was similar to combat scenes inside the Roman Colosseum in “Spartacus.” Georgia desperately wanted to taste glory for the first time in 37 years. Meanwhile, the Tide were familiar with playing high-stakes football.
At halftime, Georgia led Alabama 13-0. Alabama Crimson Tide Head Coach Nick Saban replaced starting quarterback Jalen Hurts with freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. As legendary broadcaster Paul Harvey would say, “You know the rest of the story.” Second and 26 from the Georgia 41 yard line…
As we moved into February, the Morehouse Maroon Tigers and Clark Atlanta Panthers men’s basketball programs each had stellar seasons.
The Battle of the AUC Feb. 8th saw Morehouse defeat Clark 97-96 at Epps Gym. The return bout also went the way of the Maroon Tigers 72-67 on Feb. 22.
Morehouse finished the 2017-18 campaign with a 25-3 record and Head Coach Grady Brewer was The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.
Meanwhile, Clark Head Coach Darrell Walker parlayed his success and accepted the Head Coach’s job at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. Former North Carolina Tar Heel and NBA veteran George Lynch took over at Clark Atlanta.
2018 also saw “The Atlanta Voice” cover NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program. The initiative is the sport’s premier method to align drivers with a team of executives, athletic directors, crew chiefs and mentors tasked with helping them achieve career successes, and thus improving their goal of reaching one of the three NASCAR national series.
Drive for Diversity houses the NASCAR Diversity Internship Program, NASCAR Opinion Leadership Initiative, and also provides scholarships to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-serving institutions to nurture diverse talent and raise the visibility of the sport.
In February, Derrell Edwards became the first over-the-wall pit crew member to win the Daytona 500. He served as driver Austin Dillon’s jack man and tire carrier. Bubba Wallace placed second at the Great American Race.
In April, the Atlanta Falcons drafted Calvin Ridley from the University of Alabama. He has gone on to lead the Falcons receiving corps in touchdown receptions as this edition goes to print.
During the summer, the Atlanta United and the Atlanta Braves set the sports scene on fire. Atlanta United played an entertaining brand of soccer and the Braves climbed up the National League east ladder.
Nights and weekends inside Atlanta were enthralling as Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez dominated Major League Soccer for United. Not to be outdone, the future rookie of the year Ronald Acuna, Jr. and Ozzie Albies ushered in a new era of Braves baseball at Suntrust Park.
Also, we profiled Andre Gudger, the owner of the Atlanta Blaze. On April 18, Major League Lacrosse agreed to sell ownership of the Blaze franchise to the former White House appointee. Gudger served under President Barack Obama from 2011 to 2017 and founded the technology investment company Eccalon.
“My motivation is simply based on the love that my daughter, Jenasis, showed for the game. I wanted to get more involved so that I can help bring this sport to the world,” Gudger said.
Her love for the game and his willingness to disrupt this sports league is what’s needed to help change the makeup of lacrosse in the state of Georgia, he later explained.
The Atlanta Hawks were undergoing renovations to their roster and their home. Out was former head coach Mike Budenholzer and came in new Head Coach Lloyd Pierce. The Hawks later traded for Trae Young, drafted Andre Spellman and Kevin Huerter.
“I’m just a piece of the puzzle, I’m not the whole thing, I’m just a piece and I’m ready to get going,” Young said on June 29.
As the football season approached, the Atlanta Falcons had high expectations. The organization had a dream of playing in Super Bowl LIII, in their home stadium. However, their hopes and dreams were dashed by injuries to safeties Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal.
The injury bug also derailed the seasons of running back Devonta Freeman and linebacker Deion Jones. The Falcons would miss the playoffs.
On Oct. 7, “The Atlanta Voice” traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina to chronicle Eric Reid’s return to the NFL.
While Reid was ecstatic about signing with the Carolina Panthers, he told the assembled media at Bank of America Stadium, after the game, that Colin Kaepernick should be playing as well. Instead, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback babysat Reid’s children on that Sunday afternoon.
The messages of equal rights and racial justice, the lawsuits against the NFL, kneeling during the national anthem, and the random drug tests (seven in nine weeks) have not deterred Reid from his mission.
“This morning, I found out that the officer who killed Tamir Rice was rehired. I feel that’s unacceptable,” Reid said on Oct. 7. “Kavanaugh was voted into the Supreme Court. That’s unacceptable. I feel our country is moving backward. The only way to change that is to keep talking about it, keep raising awareness [and] keep doing what we’re doing.”
“Everybody in this [locker room], everybody who watches this game [and] everybody in this country knows what we’re talking about. It’s the truth. You can’t deny it. We’ve just got to do more to make this better,” Reid continued.
This year, sports has bled into the civic and lifestyle conversations in the city of Atlanta. President Donald Trump attended the National Championship game.
The Braves clinched the National League Eastern Division title, Atlanta United won MLS Cup, Morehouse College men’s basketball continues to dominate the SIAC, and Ron Hunter is continuing to build a powerhouse at Georgia State University as they break ground on a new arena.
Above all else, the City of Atlanta prepares to host Super Bowl LIII. 2019 will undoubtedly make headlines, create new memories and establish new stars in Atlanta’s sports landscape.