Will Tom Brady's triumph in 2004 make the list, or could his first Super Bowl loss help swing the pendulum for 2008?
Following the year of sports in 1998, Sports Illustrated put out an issue that ranked the top 10 years in sports history. The ranking was measured by how exciting, eventful and memorable each of the years were in terms of all sports. 1998, the year which was just about to end, took first prize, supplanting 1919.
The concept is an interesting one, but, even at the time this writer read it, some of the years seemed off or ranked incorrectly. For this reason, a new list will be made, including some of the 21st century in this edition.
Knowing what fans now know about 1998 (Michael Jordan would come back, ruining the impact of his final shot in the NBA Finals, and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were both on steroids when they crushed Roger Maris' hallowed home run record), SI's No. 1 entry doesn't even crack this list's top 10.
Any year that is largely identified by something that later turned out to be negative (like 1988, and Ben Johnson's 9.79 time in the 100-meter dash, which turned out to be steroid-aided) also won't crack the top 10.
Many years have been memorable for a variety of different reasons. But overall, with each sport considered, which has been the best of them all? We'll start with No. 10...
When President Jimmy Carter announced that the United States would be boycotting the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, it didn't appear to be a good sign for the nation's Olympic haul in that year. As it turned out, the Winter Games would provide enough memorable and thrilling moments for the country by itself.
There was, of course, the Miracle on Ice, as the American hockey team avenged a 10-3 loss to the Soviet Union earlier in the tournament by beating them 4-3 in the semifinal round. The team would eventually win the gold.
Speedskater Eric Heiden won five golds in his sport at the Moscow Games, a feat unprecedented before or since at one single Games in speedskating.
The Philadelphia Phillies ended a 99-year World Series drought, beating the Royals four games to two. The Pittsburgh Steelers also won their final Super Bowl of the Chuck Noll era, polishing off the Los Angeles Rams, 31-19.
1980 featured the best postseason comeback in the world of college football, as a BYU team led by Jim McMahon trailed 45-25 with just under four minutes to go, only to score two quick touchdowns, block a punt and complete a 41-yard Hail Mary touchdown as time expired to win 46-45 on the ensuing extra point.
Georgia football went undefeated thanks to the heroics of Herschel Walker, the man who should have been the first freshman to win the Heisman by virtue of his 1,616 rushing yards and 16 total touchdowns. The Bulldogs scored a 17-10 win over Notre Dame on New Year's Day in the Sugar Bowl to solidify their No. 1 ranking.
OF course, we can't fail to mention perhaps the greatest postseason performance ever by a rookie: Magic Johnson, playing out of position at center thanks to an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, scored 42 points, pulled down 15 rebounds and dished seven assists to clinch the NBA Finals for the Los Angeles Lakers over the Philadelphia 76ers.
The great Michael Jordan won his first title in 1991, as his Bulls beat the Lakers four games to one. Jordan's famous layup—when he seemed to be suspended in the air as he switched the ball to his other hand to lay it in—occurred in Game 2.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, led by the unstoppable mullet-ed duo of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, won their first of back-to-back Stanley Cups by beating the Minnesota North Stars in six games, culminating with an 8-0 evisceration in the Game 6 clincher.
Both the World Series and the Super Bowl were classics in '91.
The Super Bowl featured the Buffalo Bills in their first of four consecutive Super Bowls and the New York Giants looking for their second title under head coach Bill Parcells. After New York had trailed for much of the game, it took a 20-19 lead, only to see quarterback Jim Kelly lead Buffalo back down the field for one final field-goal attempt for the win. As we all know, kicker Scott Norwood's 48-yard try sailed wide right, and the Giants became world champions.
In the Fall Classic, the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins, two teams that had finished in last place in their divisions in the previous season, went to seven games.
The heroics of Kirby Puckett in Game 6 (a ridiculous, atop-the-wall catch followed by a walk-off homer in the 11th) kept the series going. After both teams were held scoreless for nine innings (Minnesota's Jack Morris and Atlanta's John Smoltz gave fans a pitching battle for the ages), pinch-hitter Gene Larkin won it for the Twins in the 10th with a walk-off single. Five of the seven games were won by one run or went to extra innings.
And in college basketball, Duke (led by Christian Laettner, Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley) shocked the previously undefeated UNLV Rebels in the Final Four before winning the title over Kansas, 72-65. In golf's U.S. Open, Payne Stewart defeated Scott Simpson in a playoff to win his second career major.
Everyone remembers this season for the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit, the most ever in a 154-game season. A lot more happened than that, though.
Gene Tunney defeated Jack Dempsey in the Battle of the Long Count. In the seventh round, Dempsey knocked Tunney down for what turned out to be 13 seconds. The count started late, however, because Dempsey didn't go back to his own corner immediately. Tunney went on to knock Dempsey down in the following round and win the fight by decision following the 10th round.
Golf legend Bobby Jones won the U.S. Amateur Open and the British Open in the same year, the only golfer ever to accomplish the feat. Frenchman Rene Lacoste also made a name for himself in the world of tennis, beating the sport's previous best player, Bill Tilden, in both the French Open and the American Men's Singles Championship.
Many believe that the 1927 Yankees were the greatest team ever assembled. An interesting piece of trivia: Despite Ruth's 60 long bombs, his teammate Lou Gehrig actually won the MVP award that season for the American League, leading the league with 175 RBI.
A classic Final Four game between Duke and UConn saw the Huskies come back from an eight-point deficit with less than three minutes to play to beat the Blue Devils. UConn went on to win the championship two days later with an 82-73 victory over the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
UConn's women's basketball team also won the NCAA tournament, beating the Tennessee Lady Vols 70-61, marking the first time that a men's and women's team from the same school had won the tournament in the same year.
The 2004 NFL playoffs saw no less than three classic overtime games.
The Green Bay Packers beat the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card Round thanks to an Al Harris interception return for a touchdown. In the following round, the Carolina Panthers beat the St. Louis Rams 29-23 on the first play of double overtime thanks to a 69-yard touchdown reception by Steve Smith.
On the following day, a 4th-and-26 conversion on a pass play from Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb to receiver Freddie Mitchell kept Philadelphia alive. The Eagles went on to tie the game with a field goal and then win it in overtime over the Packers, 20-17.
This all led to a classic Super Bowl that saw Carolina overcome a 21-10 deficit to tie the game at 29 with 1:08 to play. The great Tom Brady sprung into action, though, leading the Patriots down the field and allowing Adam Vinatieri to kick a 41-yard field goal with three second left to seal New England's second Super Bowl win. A total of 37 points were scored in the fourth quarter, the most points ever scored in a quarter in the Super Bowl.
The NBA's Detroit Pistons, meanwhile, were the underdogs heading into the NBA Finals against the mighty Los Angeles Lakers led by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.
Detroit only made it that far thanks to a seven-game win over the New Jersey Nets in the second round, which was made possible by a buzzer-beating 40-foot shot from point guard Chauncey Billups (who was eventually named Finals MVP). The Pistons took advantage of an injury to LA power forward Karl Malone, however, and used a stifling defense to silence the Lakers in five games.
Phil Mickelson finally won his first career major at The Masters, draining a dramatic birdie putt on the final hole to beat Ernie Els. In the Olympics, the U.S. enjoyed notable success despite their basketball team losing in the semifinal round to Puerto Rico, 92-73.
The U.S. women's 4x200 freestyle relay team (Natalie Coughlin, Carly Piper, Dana Vollmer and Kaitlin Sandeno) broke the previous world record set by East Germany in 1987 by over two seconds with a time of 7:53.42. Michael Phelps helped out the men's side by winning five gold medals (more on him later in this list), and the U.S.'s Carly Patterson won the individual gold in gymnastics. She was only the second American to ever accomplish the feat.
Finally, for the first time since 1924 (and only the second time in history), Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj won both the 5,000-meter and 15,000-meter events in track and field.
Oh, and the Boston Red Sox came back from three games to zero to beat the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series and eventually win their first World Series since 1918. The Sox's comeback was thanks in large part to two straight walk-off hits by David Ortiz in Games 4 and 5, as well as a memorable "bloody sock" performance by Curt Schilling in Game 6.
After the Houston Rockets shocked the Lakers with a five-game triumph in the Western Conference Finals, Larry Bird sealed his third straight MVP season with a six-game victory over the Rockets in the NBA Finals. The Slam Dunk contest from that year will also go down in lore, as the 5'7" Spud Webb from the Atlanta Hawks beat teammate Dominique Wilkins in the final round to take home the hardware.
In golf, 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus won his 18th and final major (and sixth Masters), beating Tom Kite and Greg Norman by one stroke and becoming the second-oldest majors winner in golf history.
The Chicago Bears and their vaunted 46 defense won the Super Bowl by an appropriate score of 46-10, giving us a William "Refrigerator" Perry touchdown and the timeless "Super Bowl Shuffle" in the process. If not for a Monday night loss in Miami, the Bears would have ended the season undefeated.
Finally, there was the 1986 World Series. Most baseball fans know the story by now. The Boston Red Sox, who hadn't won a World Series in 68 years, were leading the New York Mets, 5-3, in the bottom of the 10th inning, with nobody on and two outs.
Then Gary Carter got a single, followed by another base hit by Kevin Mitchell. After a Ray Knight single (all off reliever Calvin Schiraldi) scored Carter, Red Sox reliever Bob Stanley came into the game and promptly uncorked a wild pitch, scoring Mitchell from third and tying the game.
Mookie Wilson then hit a wobbly grounder that somehow dribbled through the legs of Sox first baseman Bill Buckner, scoring Knight from second and forcing a Game 7, which the Mets also won. The Curse would continue for another 18 years.
An underdog Penn State team upset the bad-boy Miami Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl, 14-10, to win the college football championship. Greg LeMond also became the first American cyclist to ever win the Tour de France.
One of the most important NBA drafts in history occurred in this year. The last non-lottery draft featured Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley all being taken within the first five picks. John Stockton, the all-time assists and steals leader in NBA history, was taken with the 16th overall pick.
In football, records were broken both on the ground and through the air.
Los Angeles Rams running back Eric Dickerson rushed for 2,105 yards, breaking the previous record of 2,003 set by O.J. Simpson (although Simpson accomplished his total in just 14 games). Second-year Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino led Miami to a 14-2 record and eventual Super Bowl berth with a record 5,084 passing yards. In addition, San Diego Chargers wide receiver Charlie Joiner set the all-time career receptions record. Both Joiner and Marino's marks have since been broken.
The NBA Finals that year was a classic and the first of three Finals matchups between Magic Johnson's Lakers and Larry Bird's Celtics. Boston won this round thanks in part to two classic wins. In Game 2, Gerald Henderson stole a James Worthy inbounds pass, taking it in for a layup to send the game into overtime where the Celts eventually won, 124-121. Boston also won Game 4 (which featured the Kevin McHale clothesline of Kurt Rambis that almost led to a brawl) in overtime, 129-125.
The NCAA men's final was a dream matchup: the Clash of the Titans between Georgetown's Patrick Ewing and Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon. The Hoyas won 84-75, handing the Cougars their second straight loss in the championship game.
The 1984 Orange Bowl, which also served as the de facto championship game, will also go down as an all-time classic. Miami, which led Nebraska 31-17 heading into the fourth quarter, won its first national championship. After a 13-point Nebraska comeback, the Hurricanes won the game after the Huskers went for a two-point conversion and Miami defensive back deflected Turner Gill's pass to seal the one-point win.
In the Olympics, held in America for the first time since 1932 (Los Angeles), Mary Lou Retton became the first American female gymnast in history to win the individual gold medal. In addition, Carl Lewis became the first man since Jesse Owens in 1936 to win the 100 meters, 200 meters, 4x100 meter relay and long jump.
In football, the Miami Dolphins won 14 straight regular-season games, eventually becoming the only NFL team to date to go undefeated throughout an entire season.
The Oakland Athletics won their first ever World Series in the city of Oakland, after the franchise's move from Philadelphia. Eventual Series MVP Gene Tenace hit homers in his first two at-bats of the series, and Joe Rudi's heroics in Game 2 (a home run and a leaping catch later in the game) helped the A's to a seven-game triumph over the Cincinnati Reds.
The key game, however (other than the clinching Game 7, which was won on an eighth-inning double by Sal Bando), was Game 4, which the A's won thanks to two RBI pinch-hit singles in the bottom of the ninth by Don Mincher and Angel Mangual.
UCLA and head coach John Wooden won their eighth title by beating Florida State 81-76, and it was a good year for football in Los Angeles as well. USC won the title, and UCLA beat preseason No.1 Nebraska in the first month of the season, 20-17.
At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Mark Spitz won seven gold medals, a world record for gold medals at one single Games. The USA men's basketball teams refused to accept silver medals after consecutive terrible officiating calls allowed the Soviets to win 51-50.
The Los Angeles Lakers took the NBA championship after winning a record 33 straight games, a mark which still stands to this day.
Golf legend Jack Nicklaus took the U.S. Open and the Masters, and Paul Henderson scored the most famous goal in Canadian hockey history with 34 seconds left in the Canada vs. Soviet Union competition known as the "Summit Series" to earn a 6-5 win over the Russians. Henderson's goal is now known as the "Goal of the Century".
Finally, a rookie running back named Franco Harris caught a deflected Terry Bradshaw pass and took it to the end zone in the AFC divisional playoff game against the Oakland Raiders to win the game 13-7. The play went down as the "Immaculate Reception."
1993 featured more classic games in each of the major sports. Football didn't have a particularly memorable Super Bowl in '93 but did feature the greatest playoff comeback of all time. Buffalo (led by backup Frank Reich) come back from a 35-3 deficit to beat the Tennessee Oilers 41-38 in overtime.
In basketball, the Chicago Bulls and Phoenix Suns engaged in what many experts consider to be the greatest NBA Finals ever. The series occurred largely because of the heroics of the Suns' Charles Barkley throughout the season. The "Round Mound of Rebound" won the MVP award in the regular season and had one of the best individual Game 7 performance of all time in the Western Conference Finals against Seattle with 44 points and 24 rebounds.
In the Finals, the Bulls won the first two games in Phoenix, but Phoenix countered by pulling out a triple-overtime thriller on Chicago's court in Game 3, 129-121. Michael Jordan responded by scoring 55 points in the Bulls' Game 4 win, but Phoenix was able to win a second game in Chicago to send it Game 6.
In Phoenix, with the Suns up by two, Bulls point guard John Paxson nailed a three-pointer with just under four seconds remaining. Horace Grant blocked a shot in the final seconds to seal the win and give Jordan an unprecedented three straight Finals MVP awards.
The 1993 college basketball final will also go down in history for a different reason entirely. With time winding down in the second half and Michigan needing a basket to tie the game against North Carolina, All-American Chris Webber called a timeout, even though the Wolverines had none left. The result was a turnover and two technical free throws for the Tar Heels, which led to a 77-71 victory.
And in baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Philadelphia Phillies, four games to two, on a walk-off home run by Joe Carter in Game 6. It was only the second time in baseball history (and most recent Series to date) in which the Fall Classic has ended on a home run.
This is the one big holdover from the Sports Illustrated issue. 1969 cannot be ignored.
In tennis, Rod Laver won every Grand Slam event (U.S. Open, Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon) to become the first person to accomplish the feat. In women's tennis, Margaret Court (later known as Margaret Smith Court) won three out of the four (Australian, French and U.S. Opens).
The NBA Finals gave the world one last matchup between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, and it was the only time the two would ever meet in the Finals. The series stretched to seven games, with the momentum shifting in Game 4 from LA to Boston after a buzzer-beating jumper by Celtics great Sam Jones.
With Game 7 in LA, the Celtics beat the heavily favored Lakers in Russell's final game, with Chamberlain on the bench after asking out with an injury. Jerry West (37.9 points and 7.4 assists per game in the series) was the only player in NBA history to win the Finals MVP award as a member of the losing team.
1969 was also the year of the Miracle Mets. The New York Mets, led by a pitching staff of Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Jerry Koosman, won the National League pennant and then beat the favored Orioles in the World Series, four games to one.
Mostly, though, the year was a notable one for football. The calendar year began with Joe Namath's Jets of the American Football League beating the heavily favored Baltimore Colts from the NFL, 16-7, in Super Bowl III.
In college football, Michigan upset top-ranked Ohio State 24-12 in the final week of the regular season. Then new No. 1 Texas held on 15-14 against second-ranked Arkansas in the "Game of the Century" (or at least for another two years until Nebraska vs. Oklahoma became the new "Game of the Century").
The greatest year in sports history, 2008 had something for everyone.
The Detroit Red Wings earned their rightful place as "Hockeytown," beating the Penguins in six games. Henrik Zetterberg, who had also won a gold medal at the Olympics and the World Championships, earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoffs MVP.
Tiger Woods won his most recent major to date, overcoming a bad knee to force a playoff with Rocco Mediate at the U.S. Open that came down to the 18th hole. There, he birdied to take the title.
Fresno State shocked the baseball world by winning the College World Series over the Georgia Bulldogs, becoming the lowest-ranked team (fourth in its region) to win the prize in Omaha.
The Tampa Bay Rays enjoyed their first winning season in franchise history and then won a thrilling seven-game ALCS by beating the defending champion Boston Red Sox 3-1 in the final game. The Chicago White Sox earned their playoff ticket with a 1-0 win against the Minnesota Twins in a regular-season tiebreaker.
Even the All-Star Game was a classic, going to 15 innings before the American League won, 4-3. However, it was the Philadelphia Phillies who won baseball's crown, as pitcher Cole Hamels won both NLCS and World Series MVP honors.
For the first time in 21 years, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers met in the NBA Finals. After an epic 24-point comeback in the second half won Game 4 for the Celtics, Boston clinched the series in Game 6 to give the franchise its first Finals win in 22 years. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce finally earned their own long-awaited rings.
The Davidson Wildcats, led by sharpshooter (and future Golden State Warrior Stephen Curry) thrilled the nation by advancing to the Elite Eight, where they lost by one point to the Kansas Jayhawks.
The Jayhawks eventually made it to the title game, where they trailed Memphis 75-68 in the final minute. After a furious comeback and some missed free throws by the Tigers, future NBA champion Mario Chalmers hit a three-pointer to tie the game in regulation. Kansas eventually won in overtime for its first title in 20 years.
You want college or pro? We got both.
Texas Tech shocked Texas 39-33 on a last-play Michael Crabtree touchdown. This came after Oregon State upset No. 1 USC 27-21 in Corvallis and Ole Miss beat No. 4 Florida 31-30, in a loss that the Gators overcame to eventually win the title.
In the NFL, the New York Giants ended the Patriots' attempt at the first-ever 19-0 season by beating them 17-14 in the Super Bowl on a last-minute drive keyed by a 32-yard pass play from Eli Manning to David Tyree, which Tyree caught by pinning the ball against his helmet as he fell to the ground.
Plaxico Burress caught the winning pass with 35 seconds left to give the Giants the lead and eventually the win. This went down as one of the biggest sports upsets of all time.
In the pool, Michael Phelps won a borderline-unreal eight gold medals. Two of them were earned in a couple of the greatest, most heart-stopping swim races in history. Trailing in the 100m butterfly to Serbia's Milorad Cavic, Phelps took one last big stroke to win the race by literally a fingernail (50.58 to Cavic's 50.59).
Days later, in the men's 4x100 freestyle relay, U.S. anchor leg Jason Lezak came from behind against France's Alain Bernard (who was brash and outspoken prior to the Games regarding his team's chances against the Americans) to win by 0.08 seconds, keeping Phelps' record chase alive. Lezak's split time of 46.06 in the race was the fastest split ever recorded in the event.
On the track, Jamaica's Usain Bolt took the world by storm, winning both the 100-meter (9.69 seconds) and 200-meter (19.30) races, setting world records in both events. Bolt and his teammates (Nesta Carter, Michael Frater and Asafa Powell) also broke the world record in the 4x100 meter relay, finishing in 37.1 seconds.
Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(8), 9-7 in the Wimbledon final, a match that has since gone down as one of the greatest in the sport's history.
For all of these various reasons, 2008 is the greatest single year in sports history.