Excitement was in the air in the Valley this spring, and once again this fall.
After making some exciting offseason moves, the Arizona Diamondbacks were a lock to end a five-year playoff slump. And after coming two wins away from their first-ever Super Bowl title, this was going to be the year the Arizona Cardinals finally brought the Lombardi Trophy home.
Well... here we are in the middle of December, and Valley sports fans are left wondering how everything went horribly wrong. Even the most cynical sports fan would have been hard-pressed to predict the disappointment that has been the year 2016.
Let's start with the D-backs. After a mediocre 2015 season, they made some major moves by acquiring Cy Young-winning pitcher Zack Greinke and trading for solid starter Shelby Miller. And even though we're not supposed to get too excited about Spring Training records, the D-backs' MLB-best 24 Cactus League wins had fans dreaming about a second World Series championship.
Then, the season started, and the D-backs sucked the enthusiasm out of the Valley as quickly as it was injected.
Greinke battled through injuries and never really came close to being the elite pitcher he was one year earlier with the Dodgers. Miller was worse. Much worse, especially considering the D-backs gave up the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft to acquire him.
After the Cavaliers won the NBA championship in June, I made the case that the title of Saddest Sports Town had been passed from Cleveland to Phoenix. At the time, the D-backs were in the middle of their disappointing 69-93 campaign that led to the firing of their manager and general manager, but we still had hope that the Cardinals would help Valley fans end 2016 on a high note. After all, they were coming off the best regular season in franchise history and an appearance in the NFC Championship Game.
On paper, there was no reason for the Cardinals not to be Super Bowl contenders. They have one of the nation's best all-around players in David Johnson, a quarterback coming off an MVP-caliber season, a talented wide receiver core, an improved defensive front seven that includes newly-acquired linebacker Chandler Jones, and one of the best head coaches in the country.
Fast-forward to December. Not only are the Cardinals' playoff hopes effectively dead after Sunday's loss to the Dolphins, but their season has been full of frustrating, what-if types of defeats.
It's difficult to say which was more unfathomable: The D-backs being out of playoff contention by the All-Star break, or the Cardinals being out of playoff contention with three games to play. Teams with as much talent as these should never fail to make the playoffs, let alone finish (or enter December) below .500.
Arizona sports fans are no strangers to disappointment. It's what our teams specialize in. Of the 13 cities with at least one MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL team, Phoenix is often the only city in which all four of its teams fail to advance to the postseason in a given year.
But this year has been different. It's rare for one of our teams to fall so woefully short of expectations, let alone two in the same year.
No, the Suns and Coyotes aren't very good either, but that was to be expected, as both teams are in full rebuilding mode. But the D-backs and Cardinals were teams supposedly built to win now. And therein lies the disappointment.
Look, there's no moral to this story. No silver lining. No wait-until-next-year talk. Just a recognition that, if you feel like 2016 was a larger letdown than usual, you're not wrong.
As my wife often reminds me: Our frustrations are a product of our expectations. That's why it's tough to argue Arizona sports fans have ever experienced a more frustrating year than 2016.