|The List: City best of times|
By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff
A little more than six months after Anaheim's Angels won the World Series, against incredible odds, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks are just four wins away from the Stanley Cup -- against incredible odds. Sometimes, the sports stars just seem to align over one city, resulting in one delicious year for local sports fans.
What makes a great year? One: titles. Two: making it to the finals. Three: elimination of the phrase "long-suffering" as an adjective for fans of the city's teams. Great playoff runs that fall short of a title matchup? They don't cut it.
1. New York in 1969
During the summer, men walked on the moon, but that's nothing compared to what the Mets did, which was: Win 100 games and the NL East. Defeat the Braves for the NL pennant. And beat the mighty Orioles in the World Series.
You put a George Washington down with your book in April on the Mets to win it all, and he still would have been laughing when he handed you back a Ben Franklin in October. Coupla things added to this city-year's greatness -- youth (think Joe Namath and Tom Seaver) and the throwback factor (think ex-Brooklyn Dodger Gil Hodges).
2. Los Angeles in 1972
Streak 2: the UCLA Bruins, led by fresh face Bill Walton, went 30-0 on the way to another NCAA hoops title. That the title win over Florida State came in L.A., with four new starters, at the L.A. Sports Arena, made it all the sweeter.
And then there was USC football. The Trojans, one of the greatest teams in college football history (Keith Jackson says the greatest of all time), went 12-0, finishing its season ranked first in the nation after clobbering Ohio State 42-17 in the Rose Bowl.
3. Pittsburgh in 1979
The Steelers combined the work-a-day backfield heroics of Terry Bradshaw, Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris with the slick pass-catching of Lynn Swann to beat the Cowboys, 35-31, to win their third Super Bowl (they would win again in 1980). And the Pirates, led by Willie Stargell, stressed "We Are Family" values as they came back from a 3 games to 1 deficit to beat the Orioles in the World Series.
(Bonus point: the Penguins made it past Round 1 of the NHL playoffs, a feat they wouldn't duplicate for another decade.)
4. Baltimore in 1970-71
And the Bullets. In 1970-71 they had Wes Unseld, the NBA's second-leading rebounder, and Earl The Pearl, and they also had the great good fortune to play in the weakest division in the NBA. With a regular season record of 42-40, Baltimore managed to win the Central Division by six games. In the first round of the playoffs, they squeaked by the Sixers in seven games, thenupset the heavily-favored Knicks in another down-to-the-wire 4 games to 3 series.
The Bullets were no match for Lew Alcindor, Oscar Robertson, and the Milwaukee Bucks, who swept them in the finals. But hey -- Baltimore -shouldn't have been there anyway. And during an eight month run, Baltimore fans had some sweet times.
5. Philadelphia in 1980-81
Looked like it was going to be a long summer -- and it was. The Phillies looked pretty good on paper -- Steve Carlton, Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, Tug McGraw, etc. -- but struggled to stay above .500 throughout the dog days, and didn't clinch the NL East flag until the next-to-last game of the season. The NLCS against the Astros was a nail-biter, as the last four games of the five-game series went into extra innings, but the Phils pulled out Game 5 to take their first NL pennant since 1950.
And on Oct. 21, it finally happened -- the Phillies won their first World Series ever, and the city of Philadelphia won its first championship of 1980.
Things were looking good. Thomas Boswell, in the Dec. 20, 1980 Washington Post, held Philly up as an exemplar: "One of the strangest phenomena, or perhaps coincidences, in sports is the way entire cities seem to go through cycles. As typically weird evidence, look at Philadelphia, long a home of wretched teams. The Phillies won the Series and right now the Eagles, 76ers and Flyers lead the NFL, NBA and NHL, respectively." Things didn't work out so well for the Sixers and Flyers in 1981, but in January the Eagles, led by QB Ron Jaworski, beat the Vikings and Cowboys in the playoffs to make it to the Super Bowl -- but Jim Plunkett's fairytale Raiders dominated 27-10 to take home Vince Lombardi.
6. Boston in 1986
But besides the Red Sox bittersweet World Series season, Boston was also blessed with the Pats playing in the Super Bowl. And then cursed as the Bears trounced New England's best, 46-10, in what SI called a "vision of hell."
So what was so good about 1986 in Boston? Beantown had Bird, and the Celtics. If you had season tickets at the Boston Garden, you only saw one regular-season loss -- the Celts went 40-1 in Boston (and 3-0 in their home games played in Hartford). And you didn't see a single post-season defeat. The Celts played 100 games that counted in 1986, and won 82 -- setting an NBA record for most victories in a season.
7. Detroit in 1952
The Lions, with Bobby Layne at QB and All-Pros Pat Harder and Bob Hoernschemeyer joining him the backfield, had a great season, beating the Rams to win the National Division crown and winning the NFL championship on Dec. 28 in Cleveland, 17-7, over the Browns.
Months earlier, the Red Wings, featuring The Production Line of Sid Abel, Ted Lindsey and Gordie Howe, swept Toronto in the semifinals and then the Canadiens in the finals, going 8-0 in the post-season and inspiring the first flying octopus.
8. Los Angeles in 1988
About a month earlier -- on May 25, to be precise -- the Dodgers had moved into first place in the NL West, and didn't let go, winning the division with a 94-67 record. They beat the hated Mets, 4-3, in the NLCS. Then …
Kirk Gibson. "I don't believe … what I just saw!" Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, Dodgers vs. A's, went to L.A. in the most stunning fashion. Destiny. Sans Fernando, but riding the arm of the unhittable Orel Hersheiser, the Dodgers, in the rare role of heavy underdog, put away Oakland and the Bash Boys in five games.
9. New York in 1986-87
And the Giants started reeling off W's just about the time the Mets were doing postseason battle. Led by Lawrence Taylor, Phil Simms, and Joe Morris, they took nine straight to close out the regular season 14-2. Then the Giants dominated in the playoffs, trouncing San Francisco 49-3, shutting out Washington 17-0, and winning the Super Bowl over the Broncos, 39-20.
10. Cleveland in 1954
But in the fall, the Browns went 9-3 and avenged a final-week loss to Detroit by thumping the Lions 56-10 in the NFL championship game. To cap off a spectacular football season in the state, the Ohio State Buckeyes (OK, so the campus isn't in Cleveland, but the city is full of alumni and fans) went 10-0, won the Rose Bowl and were named co-national champs.