There are plenty of reasons to look forward to 2021. None bigger than the hope of returning to a somewhat normal life. On a smaller scale, sports are hoping to show some semblance of normalcy in 2021. However, we won't know when that will come -- if at all in 2021. With that in mind, here are some of the more notable stories and events to watch in 2021.
It's a straight-forward question with an answer that can drive one crazy trying to figure out. The realistic, honest answer: Nobody knows. Those who think they do are either guessing or trying to start a conversation for the sake of argument. There are reasons to be optimistic that things, involving the world of sports, will go back to pre-coronavirus pandemic days at some point in 2021. Then again, there are perhaps more reasons to think that won't be the case, and perhaps 2022 is a better goal to shoot toward. Let's just wait to see.
To be fair, fans have returned, in limited fashion, to watch college football, the NFL, MLS, and international soccer live and in person. What will the Super Bowl look like? Next, the NBA, NHL, and Major League Baseball will have to make decisions about fan attendance. Much like our first question, nobody knows for sure. One would think sold-out crowds and standing-room-only attendance are a ways away, but still, something to look forward to seeing again.
What priority professional athletes have in regard to receiving any of the COVID-19 vaccines could be somewhat of a hot-button issue in 2021. Now, everyone should agree that front-line workers, first responders, and those in long-term care facilities must remain at the top of the list. However, there will be those who believe pro athletes should be in the conversation when it comes to early availability. The NFL and college sports have struggled with containing COVID, even with testing seemingly unlimited to their cause. This will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
Is it possible that Alabama will claim the top three spots in the Heisman Trophy award results? Mac Jones (3,739 passing yards, 32 touchdowns, four interceptions), DeVonta Smith (98 receptions, 1,511 yards, 17 TDs), and Najee Harris (1,262 rushing yards, 24 TDs) are among the likely finalists. Meanwhile, Florida's Kyle Trask (4,125 yards, 43 TDs, five INTs) is also n the mix, plus perhaps preseason frontrunner Trevor Lawrence (2,753 yards, 22 TDs, four INTs) for the prestigious award -- which will be presented virtually on Jan. 5.
There was not too much surprise when the College Football Playoff committee announced the four semifinalists to match up on New Year's Day. No. 1 Alabama (11-0) remains the top team in the country and gets a date with No. 4 Notre Dame (10-1) in the Rose Bowl that will now be played in Texas. Meanwhile, No. 3 Clemson (10-1), which is heating up at the right time, will face No. 3 Ohio State (6-0) in the Sugar Bowl, for a rematch of last season's semifinal matchup. The national championship game will be held on Jan. 11, in south Florida.
The NHL is headed toward a 56-game season starting on Jan. 13 . As well, temporary realignment is in store. All the Canadian-based teams will be in one division. The rest is based on geography, for the most part. Based on this structure, the regular season will end in early May and the Stanley Cup presented the first week of July (perhaps to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a second consecutive season).
No NFL team has repeated as Super Bowl champion since the New England Patriots during the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Is 2021 the year we get another back-to-back champion? Quite possibly, considering the Kansas City Chiefs arguably remain the best team in the NFL. Now, wouldn't it be something to see Patrick Mahomes and Co. and Aaron Rodgers and his Green Bay Packers square off at Tampa in Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7?
For the first time in more than 100 years, the Australian Open will be held outside the month of January. Instead, the event will be hosted February 8-21 at Melbourne Park. The event is taking countless precautions to make sure its run in a safe, yet professional, manner. As for the field, it appears all the world's best tennis players will be there. Even Roger Federer, who seems on pace to play amid his recovery from knee surgery.
After both the 2020 men's and women's NCAA Tournament were canceled due to the pandemic, the plan is to make sure both are held this season. What that will look like is one of the most intriguing questions within the collective sports landscape for 2021. In November, the NCAA announced preliminary talks to relocate the entire 2021 men's tournament to the state of Indiana, the Indianapolis area to be specific. So, stay tuned.
After a rough start, the 2020 MLB season made it through a condensed campaign with little struggle. The Los Angeles Dodgers won their first World Series since 1988 and will again be among the favorites in 2021. As of now, things are on schedule for action to start on time on April 1. Whether fans will be in the seats at every major-league park remains to be seen. Let's hope.
Do we think A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora each learned a lesson from receiving a season-long suspension for having a role in the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal? But they're both back managing. Cora re-takes his spot in charge of the Boston Red Sox, while Hinch has resurfaced in Detroit, where the Tigers are rebuilding. Not only will it be interesting to see how each fare in 2021, but what the opposing perception of their return will be?
Speaking of MLB manager. How, about the return of 76-year-old Tony La Russa? Not just to the dugout, but with the Chicago White Sox, the franchise in which his managerial career began in 1979. La Russa, who won three World Series titles spanning stints with Oakland and St. Louis, was an interesting hire, to say the least, by a club that's young and hungry to win a title. Plenty of eyes will be on the White Sox in 2021.
After COVID-19 forced the Masters to be played in November without any spectators, the goal is to return golf's best to Augusta National on its original time schedule in April. In 2021's case, April 8-11. Now, while sticking to those dates seems good to go, getting galleries back is another story. And, entering 2021, an uncertain one at the moment . Still, if Dustin Johnson gets his shot at a second straight green jacket in April, let's be grateful.
It was 2009 and '10, the last time the Los Angeles Lakers repeated as NBA champions. That will be the quest again this season for LeBron James and Co. While we don't know where and what the 2021 NBA postseason will look like, there's a good chance the Lakers will be favored to claim a second consecutive title. That should be enough to keep our interest.
International soccer fans were certainly looking forward to Euro 2020 (UEFA European Football Championship) over the summer. Unfortunately, it was one of many significant international sporting events that were postponed because of the global pandemic. The good news: the popular event featuring Europe's top national teams is slated to be held June 11-July-11, 2021, throughout the continent. The semifinals and final match will be held in London. Portugal is the reigning champions.
Like the Euro 2020 and the Open Championship, Wimbledon went silent in 2020 due to the coronavirus. For sports fans of any variety and level, that might have been the most severe shot to bow that this was the reality of sports within the era of COVID-19. It was the first time since 1945 -- during World War II -- that the tournament was canceled. While details are still in the making , the 2021 event is slated to return June 28-July 11. Novak Djokovic and Simon Halep are the respective champions.
Perhaps no sporting event slated to be held in 2021 is more highly anticipated than the Olympics. The bigger question, however, is if the Summer Games in Tokyo will be held as planned from July 23-August 8, after being postponed from its originally scheduled 2020 time frame. Nothing is certain about the fate of these rescheduled Games. The intricacies that go into planning an event like this are massive during normal times, but doing so while still likely in the midst of some form of the pandemic only increases the challenge.
The Masters scheduled return to April and the possibility of the Open Championship back contested as scheduled next summer are a couple of reasons to excite golf fans in 2021. However, the golf showcase of 2021 is the Ryder Cup. Pushed back one year, Whistling Straits in Wisconsin is again slated to host the event, Sept. 21-26 . The United States squad, under the direction of Wisconsin native Steve Stricker, will be looking to take back the Cup after losing it to the Europeans in France in 2018.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.