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The Best Years of Our Lives

Take a drive through history’s 12 best sports years

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Posted: Monday July 05, 1999 05:54 PM

By Frank Deford, Sports Illustrated
No.12 1969
Perfection again: Rod Laver also won the Grand Slam in 1962. Allsport UK/Allsport
Broadway Joe's Jets upset Colts, NFL and experts; Laver wins second Grand Slam; Russell retires after another Celtics title, his 11th in 13 seasons; those Miracle Mets.
No. 11 1924
Four Horsemen roll over Army under a blue-gray sky; Nurmi goes long for five Olympic golds; Hornsby hits. 424; Tilden takes fifth straight U.S. tennis title, leads U.S. to fifth straight Davis Cup; first Winter Olympics
No. 10 1958
Colts beat Giants in overtime in Greatest Football Game Ever Played, thereby inventing NFL; Palmer wins Masters, thereby inventing golf; Yankees take seventh Series for Stengel since '49; original Sugar Ray wins sixth world title (back when there was only one champion per division); 17-year-old Pele leads Brazil to its first World Cup, thereby inventing Pele.
Wild Card 1982
Montana to Clark for The Catch to beat Dallas; Niners' first Super Bowl win, over Cincinnati; freshman named Jordan drains jumper to give NCAAs to Dean (finally); Henderson steals record 130 bases; Watson chips in at Pebble Beach to beat Nicklaus in U.S. Open, then wins British to become last double Open winner.
No. 9 1966
Celtics' eighth in a row; Notre Dame plays for the tie against Michigan State in the second Game of the Century; Frank Robinson, baseball's last pure Triple Crown winner; Nicklaus, first Masters repeat; Palmer collapses in Open, thereafter masters endorsements.
No. 8 1930
Bobby Jones achieves golf's only Grand Slam; Gallant Fox wins Triple Crown; Hack Wilson knocks in 19 runs; Rockne's last undefeated Irish national champions; Philadelphia A's -- best baseball team ever? -- repeat.
Designated Year 1927
Ruth swats 60; Yankees -- best baseball team ever? -- sweep Pirates in Series; the Harlem Globetrotters make their debut; Tunney long-counts Dempsey; Helen Wills wins first of eight Wimbledons; Jones sets British Open record at St. Andrew's.
No. 7 1908
U.S. wins more than half the gold in track at the London Olympics; Cubs win their last World Series...ever; Fred Merkle makes the world's most famous sports boner...ever; defacing of baseball is outlawed, thereby institutionalizing cheating; Christy Mathewson wins career-high 37 for Giants...and Ed Walsh wins 40 for White Sox; Jack Johnson becomes first black heavyweight champ.
No. 6 1941
DiMaggio's 56 straight; that last .400 by Ted Williams; Louis knocks out Conn in 13th; Whirlaway wins Triple Crown as Arcaro win his first of two; Craig Wood is first to win Masters and U.S. Open in same year.
No. 5 1953
Hillary and Norgay conquer Everest; Yankees win fifth straight World Series (mercifully it was not called a "fivepeat" then); Hogan takes all three majors he plays in; Little Mo, Maureen Connolly, wins first women's Grand Slam; Dark Star upsets unbeatable Native Dancer in Derby; Braves move to Milwaukee, starting the franchise fandango that will revolutionize professional sports.
No. 4 1975
The Thrilla in Manila; Ashe surprises Connors at Wimbledon; Ruffian, greatest filly ever, dies after injury sustained in match race; UCLA wins 10th (and last) championship for Wooden in 12-year stretch; Billie Jean wins sixth Wimbledon; Carlton Fisk body-Englishes homer to win Game 6 of Series; Bobby Fischer stripped of his world chess title.
No. 3 1973
Dolphins go 17-0; Walton goes 21 for 22 as UCLA wins seventh consecutive NCAA hoops title; Secretariat by 31 lengths in the Belmont; George Foreman, in a previous life, TKO's Smokin' Joe in second round for title; O.J. Simpson, in previous life, runs for 2,003 yards, averaging 6.0 per carry; on behalf of womankind, Billie Jean beats the pig, Bobby Riggs.
No. 2 1919
Dempsey wins heavyweight crown; Black Sox throw Series ("Say it ain't so, Joe"); Suzanne Lenglen, world's first post-Amazonian woman sports superstar, wins her first Wimbledon; Ruth's trade to the Yankees is arranged; the Gipper leads Notre Dame to 9-0 season; Cobb wins 12th and final batting title; 2-year-old Man o' War upset by Upset, his only defeat, thereby creating one of sports' most common terms; Sir Barton is the first horse to take the Triple Crown; dog track mechanical rabbit first used; modern sports begins.
No. 1 1998
McGwire slugs 70, Sosa sesenta y seis; Jordan clinches series -- greatest basketball game ever? -- to give Bulls sixth title in '90s; Yankees -- greatest baseball team ever? -- win 125 games, sweep Series; Earnhardt finally bags his Moby Dick, winning Daytona; and talk about finally: AFC, Denver, Elway trifecta; third consecutive, sixth title overall for Summitt and Tennessee, as women's basketball moves up to business class; Sampras -- record sixth straight year as No. 1; o'couple for O'Meara -- Masters-British double; Witt poses for Playboy (upon further review...); eighth Stanley Cup for Bowman; soccer arriviste France whips stylish Brazil for World Cup...in Paree; and on the 2,633rd day, Ripken rested.
The competition provided by Sammy Sosa pushed Mark McGwire (above) far beyond Roger Maris' home run record of 62. Jonathan Daniel /Allsport

Issue date: December 28, 1998

Frank Deford is the senior contributing writer for Sports Illustrated. His weekly commentaries for National Public Radio are posted each Wednesday on CNNSI.com.

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