Top Ten New York Sports Moments of the 20th Century
Let the debates begin.
From 1900 - 1999, depending on what sport is your favorite, chances are you could easily recall highlights of baskets scored, home runs smashed, or field goals made. Dwindling down the top accomplishments, either by individual athletes or as a team, this is no easy task. Here's a sampling of great moments in professional sports that took place in stadiums and arenas in the 'Empire State" or on the national scale that, even years after taking place, still remain memorable.
In the lead off spot, as among the top professional sports happening on New York soil, is the 'Amazin' New York Mets winning the World Series championship in 1969. Baseball fans who were around at the time, and followed the Mets since their infancy in 1962, these fans have a full understanding of the improbable win by the former 'Lovable Losers'.
Few went on the record to the select Gil Hodges' crew of having any chance to bypass the mighty Baltimore Orioles in the Fall Classic. With a line up including Brooks and Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Davey Johnson, and had future hall of fame pitching ace Jim Palmer at the top of their rotation, the Orioles seemed, on paper anyway, unbeatable.
It only took the Mets five games to send Baltimore packing for the winter, transforming the new National League club in New York City into the darlings of the Metropolitan area.
From the Mets capturing their first world championship, there is the 1980 U.S. Olympic Men's Hockey team competing in Lake Placid. Coach Herb Brook's squad of amateur skaters and goalies, like the 'Amazin' Mets, stunned the world by winning the gold medal round.
In one of the biggest upsets of all-time in Winter Olympics history, on February 22, the United States beat the Soviet Union 4-3. Prior to this match up, the Soviets had won all 12 match ups with the United States between 1960 and 1980. Known as 'Miracle on Ice', two days after defeating the Soviets, Team USA captured gold by defeating Finland.
Another most memorable sports game on my list happened on Sunday January 12, 1969 in Miami, Florida.
Led by the most exciting quarterback of an era when there were two competing professional football leagues - the National Football League and American Football League, the New York Jets' Joe Willie Namath followed through with a Jets 'guaranteed' victory.
Coming into Super Bowl III, the Jets were 19-point underdogs to the Baltimore Colts.
The Jets, with their 16-7 win, became the first AFL team to win a Super Bowl. Unfortunately, for the Jets and their fans, New York City Mayor John Lindsay didn't authorize a ticker-tape parade in lower Manhattan, a tradition winning sports teams had received in the past. The unofficial version as to why the Jets were snubbed for the parade is traced to then New York Giants Owner Wellington Mara. With the AFL team making the NFL's best team look inferior, it has been said that Mara informed Lindsay that if a parade were to go off, he would move his team to New Jersey.
The New York Knickerbockers, keeping up with the Mets and Jets' good fortunes, captured their first NBA championship in the spring of 1970.
The seven-game affair pitting the Willis Reed and Walt Frazier-led Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers with Wilt Chamberlain lived up to the hype surrounding the Finals. It was in Game 5 that New York's Reed, the Knick's captain, tore a muscle in his right leg in the second quarter. Although New York went on to win the game, without the services of Reed for Game 6, the Knicks lost. Reed came back for Game 7, and led the Knicks to a franchise first NBA title.
The New York Islanders won four consecutive Stanley Cups (1980-1983). They are the last team from the four major sports in North America to do so. Seven members from these championship Islanders' teams are in the hockey hall of fame.
Perhaps the NHL's greatest all-time scoring threat, Mike Bossy, remains the symbol of Islanders excellence. During his ten-year NHL career, all with the Islanders, Bossy tallied 573 goals. Averaging more than 50 goals a season, during the Islanders consecutive Cup-winning seasons, the Montreal native scored 17 times in playoff competition.
With the New York City sports media fixated on propping up the longtime residents of Madison Square Garden, the New York Rangers, like the Jets, the Islanders never received a ticker-tape parade.
The sixth biggest New York related sports story of the 20th century took place on March 8, 1971 in Madison Square Garden. Two names - Ali versus Frazier. Boxing's biggest night of the century for sure.
Professional boxing was never more important worldwide than on this day in the 'Big Apple.'Frazier won by unanimous decision in fifteen rounds. Celebrities filled the 'World's Most Famous Arena.' Ringside seats were $150 and each fighter was guaranteed $2.5 million. A rematch was held in the Garden on March 28, 1974. This outcome had Ali come away the winner by unanimous decision. A third and final meeting between these two hall of famers took place in 1975 in Manila.
The New York Yankees dominated the MLB scene in the mid-'90's through welcoming in 2000. Four World Series championships in five seasons solidified the 'Bronx Bombers' as the game's top draw.
In 1996 the Yankees hired much traveled manager and hometown product Joe Torre to get them back on path to their glory of decades past. The Brooklyn native did just that in his first season at the helm. A young Derek Jeter, accompanied by his other still finding there way around the game together teammates - Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte, brought home the World Series trophy to the Bronx.
From 1996 through 2001, with the exception of the 1997 season, the Yankees represented the American League in the Fall Classic in five of six seasons. The organization exceeded its winning ways of the late 1970's, and resembled that of its 1960's dominance.
The New York Football Giants won there first two Super Bowls (the Giants have claimed four Super Bowl titles in total) in 1986 and 1990 under the leadership of future hall of fame coach Bill Parcells.
Granted, the Giants, like the Jets today, play their home games in New Jersey at MetLife Stadium, since they continue to use the New York name as their identity, they qualify for this conversation.
It was during this era of Giants dominance, especially on defense by arguably one of the game's greatest players in its history - Lawrence Taylor, the organization produced a half dozen hall of famers.
To date, the Buffalo Bills haven't won a Super Bowl. But, the pride of Western New York's team did play in four consecutive Super Bowls.
From 1991 through the 1994 NFL season, Buffalo was THE team of the American Football Conference. For as much as the Bills are remembered as losing twice to the Dallas Cowboys, as well as to the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, in the same breath they remain respected as one of the league's all-time greatest units. Of the 13 Bills in the hall of fame in Canton, Ohio, eight are associated with the Super Bowl teams.
Finally, rounding out this list of top ten sports stories in New York during the 20th Century is Dr. J - Julius Erving.
Before Michael Jordan was dazzling fans and opponents alike on the basketball court, there was Long Island's Dr. J flying through the air making his signature dunks. Erving brought two American Basketball Association championships to New York, with the New York Nets playing their home games at the Nassau County Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
How important, and dominant of a player was Dr. J? The scoring machine that he was, at the start of the NBA's 1976 season, the league absorbed four ABA franchises (Denver, New York, Indiana, and San Antonio). The merger talks moved at a swift pace to secure the services of Erving, and introduce him to a grander stage of basketball fans. Dr. J was traded to the Philadelphia 76ERS just before the season began.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.