2016: A Year of Meat and Pudding

It’s perhaps the most iconic spoken-word lyric on one of the most widely-known rock and roll albums ever made. Near the end of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” an authoritarian voice bellows out “If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding! How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?” If there’s a more incisive commentary on 2016, I don’t know what it might be. Simply put, we had to endure a whole lot of meat, but we also–at long last–finally had a taste of some sweet, creamy pudding.

The life of a Cubs fan has been nothing but a steady diet of meat, for as long as any of us could remember. “Meat” for a Cubs fan meant routinely losing 90 or more games a season, and telling ourselves–and anyone who cared to listen–that “next year” we would be better, even if we knew it wasn’t going to happen that way. Next year was all we had, and we held onto it with all we had.

By the time 2016 arrived, the Cubs were in the fifth year of a rebuilding process that had tested their fans’ patience like never before. Some strongly believed in what was simply known as “The Plan” but others–myself included–doubted whether anything would ever come of it. The losing we always knew so well had intensified under managers Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria, and the team’s first big free agent signing–starting pitcher Edwin Jackson–had turned out to be an expensive bust. It felt like being in a long, dark tunnel without any light to be seen.

These were the conditions when 2016 rolled around. And whether you were a Cubs fan or not, this year started with a body blow with the death of David Bowie on January 10. Just a few days into the new year, we lost someone whose presence in music, movies and pop culture felt like it would be around forever. His loss was pure meat, from the Pink Floyd perspective.

But many other great musicians and artists also met their maker in 2016: Glenn Frey, Alan Rickman, Maurice White, Harper Lee, Prince, George Michael, Merle Haggard, Elie Weisel, Gene Wilder, Hugh O’Brien, Florence Henderson, and so many others. And Carrie Fisher–Princess Leia, for crying out loud–just put a very sad exclamation point on the list. Clearly, the “In Memorium” clips at next year’s award shows are going to hit very hard.

But it wasn’t just artists who died this year. Antonin Scalia’s death in February was a shock that still hasn’t been addressed at the Supreme Court level. Nancy Reagan died in March, and she was another one of those figures who seemed like she would always be around. Life without Arnold Palmer became a reality in September, and all athletes came face to face with their own mortality when Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez died in the waning days of the baseball season.

And then there’s Muhammad Ali, the Greatest. For decades, he sat at the intersection of sports and society, after his protests against the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. The Ali Center in Louisville is a must-visit, to put his life and accomplishments–inside the ring and out–into their proper perspective. He died in June after a long battle against Parkinsons Disease, and we won’t ever see the likes of him again.

But all of these losses paled in comparison to the 2016 presidential election. Where to begin with that year-long ordeal? The campaign to replace Barack Obama should have affirmed what we love about this country, but instead it turned into something much more unsavory. Two wildly unpopular candidates ensured a general election outcome that millions of people would reject, regardless of the final outcome. And subsequent questions about conflicts of interest and Russian interference in the process have only made the aftermath worse. Our national electoral hangover will only intensify once 2017 arrives, in a few days’ time. The election and its aftermath felt like an all-out barrage of rotten meat.

But for this Cubs fan, 2016 will still go down as being a great year, as crazy as that sounds. “Wait ’til next year” was our annual declaration that yes, the Cubs extended their title drought by another year but, dammit, we’d come back better next year. In some years we actually believed this, too. But for most years it was all that we could hold onto.

The Cubs’ run through the 2016 regular season felt like something of a formality. The 2015 version of the team whetted our appetite for success, but it wound up being another disappointing season just like 2008, 2003, 1984, and 1969 were. Success was sweet but ultimately fleeting for these teams, and they wound up being just another brick in a 100-plus year old wall. But the 2016 Cubs actually built on the previous year’s success, for a change. Anything less than getting to the World Series would have been meat, and the team did not disappoint in this regard.

When the Cubs fell behind three games to one against the Cleveland Indians, it looked as though a big nothingburger of a season was about to be served. But just as the Cleveland Cavaliers had done in the NBA Finals a few months earlier, the Cubs fought back by staving off elimination and winning the final two games away from home to claim their title. Once the epic Game 7 battle had ended–with the Cubs on top, for a change–it was a release like we had never felt before. Pudding time had finally arrived.

Everyone who lived their lives hearing about the Chicago Cubs and the billy goat curse will look back at 2016 as the sweet culmination of a lifelong wait. The Ricketts family, Theo Epstein and his people in the front office, and Joe Maddon and the players on the field managed to deliver a sweet treat that neither the Grim Reaper nor the PEOTUS could ever take away. The wall that had defined every Cubs fan’s life finally came crashing down in 2016. How could we ever view this as being a bad year?