Athletes and fans everywhere spend months preparing for and looking forward to opening day, week one or just the first game of any season for their respective teams. However, those simply mark the beginning of long and tough journeys to where every player and fan strives to be: the playoffs.
The postseason is a different animal, though. Often considered a completely new season, each shot, shift, pass and at-bat carry significantly more importance. Legacies are often defined from performances, as everyone fights for one thing: a championship.
Which professional or collegiate sport's postseason is so intense that it can carry the crown as the best in sports? Here is a ranking of the top six:
6. College Football Playoffs
Donald Miralle/Getty Images
The College Football Playoffs have to be ranked last for one reason and one reason only: We have not seen them yet. After torturing college football fans for years, the BCS is finally out and a true champion can be decided, with a playoff.
Although it’s still not a perfect system, as it doesn’t allow every championship-caliber team an opportunity to take home the title, it is much improved from the BCS. Getting to see perennial powerhouses, like Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Ohio State and many more, square off at the end of the year for College Football’s crystal ball will certainly be a treat.
Unfortunately for college football, one or two games is tough to compete with a whole season where every game means so much, but that does not mean people will not love this new playoff format.
5. MLB Playoffs
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Major League Baseball’s postseason can best described in three words: slow, meticulous and intense. Despite it being one of sports’ shorter playoffs, with only three rounds and not as many off-days, individual games feel like they can drag on for hours. However, that doesn’t offer a shortage of passion and intensity displayed.
Baseball has a long, arduous, 162-game regular season in which single games can often seem trivial. But, in the MLB playoffs, everything is magnified. Every pitch, swing, call and base runner is over-examined and carries a level of passion that is tough to duplicate.
It may not be consistently riveting, but a one-run ballgame that’s in the bottom of the eighth inning to get into the World Series offers the perfect amount of nervous tension to hook just about any sports fan.
4. NBA Playoffs
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
The National Basketball Association’s one downfall during the regular season is that players and teams are often criticized for not giving maximum effort. Thankfully for basketball fans, that all goes out the window once the playoffs roll around.
Four rounds of a seven-game series test a player’s determination, passion and will to take home the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy. The NBA playoffs also offer a plethora of iconic moments, whether it is MJ’s game winners, LeBron’s rise to the top after back-to-back championships or non-household names delivering on the biggest stage, these playoffs are certainly unique.
One negative is the end-of-game situations. With constant fouling, timeouts and video reviews, it makes for great, free-flowing games that often end in choppy, unattractive fashions.
3. NFL Playoffs
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
There is no denying that the NFL playoffs are outstanding. Three Sundays in a row of hard-fought, wild games played in historic places, like the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, all leading up to the world biggest sporting event (the Super Bowl) are what make these playoffs so highly ranked.
Fans love the hard-hitting, intense culture that football supports and matchups like the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers are must see. However, because of this, football does not produce nearly as much content in terms of games as the other sports do.
The playoffs contain just 10 total games. One can witness more playoffs in two series' of the NHL or NBA playoffs. This does not mean the NFL playoffs are short of drama, however. Whether it is Eli Manning’s miracle throw to David Tyree or something else, football will never fail to entertain.
2. Stanley Cup Playoffs
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Hockey may not be as popular in America as the NBA, MLB or NFL, but the Stanley Cup playoffs are at the pinnacle in terms of postseasons, when it comes to the nation’s four main professional sports. Identical to the NBA in the playoff format, the Stanley Cup playoffs offer everything a sports fan wants.
Whether it is watching remarkable saves, perfect offensive displays or two people dropping the gloves, these games offer excitement and passion. On top of that, hockey players are easily the most likeable professional athletes because of the blue-collar nature of the sport. Any player on any team playing for the Stanley Cup would do anything to aid the team.
This is evident when guys of any caliber throw their bodies in front of super fast shots. The hockey postseason is notorious for bringing in casual or even non-existent fans from the regular season and hooking them on the high-adrenaline quest for the Stanley Cup. Luckily for fans, this great event is in its prime with tight matchups all across the league and two rounds, including the Stanley Cup finals, still to go.
1. March Madness
Kevin Cox/Getty Images
There is really no debate for this one. It seems that every year, people proclaim the most recent NCAA tournament to have been the most exciting and best yet. Upsets and Cinderella stories are prevalent in the early rounds and hook the nation to certain teams and stories.
These things have a way of captivating fans and making the tournament mean so much more than just basketball. Three weekends of roller-coaster type games, with an abundance of passion and displayed emotion, make March Madness second to none. From the selection show, all the way to when the confetti showers the champions, it is impossible not to love every single second of this tournament.
Top Photo Credit: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images