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25th Anniversary of 1984: The Greatest Year In U.S. Sports History

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25th Anniversary of 1984: The Greatest Year In U.S. Sports History

In 1984 when I was 13-years old, my shoe size finally caught up with my age. To say I was clumsy was an understatement. I could barely drive to the basket for a layup without tripping over my own feet. Even walking on the sidewalk was a challenge as I struggled to adapt to my body that had sprouted up over the summer.

As unexciting as my story would be in basketball that season, what was happening in the real sports world that year was magical. I remember thinking at the time how “cool” it was that this or that was happening. Looking back now, “cool” doesn’t even start to describe what happened that year.

 

Basketball

No other rivalry in the NBA comes close to the one shared by the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. What better way to end and NBA season than with these two going toe-to-toe in a seven-game battle showcasing their incredibly contrasting styles of play.

The Celtics, down 2-1 after getting trounced by 33 points in Game Three of the series, caught the ire of a different No. 33 in the locker room following the game. NBA MVP Larry Bird told reporters his team played like “sissies” following Boston’s worst playoff defeat in franchise history.

His team responded and Boston won three of the next four games, including a Game Seven that was played in 90-degree temperatures at the old Boston Garden. Bird would win the NBA Finals MVP award as well.

In the NCAA Basketball Championship, we were treated to a showdown rarely seen now. Long gone are the days when we can truly sit back and watch two great post players battle it out in the paint like two gladiators in an arena. But that’s exactly what came to a head in Seattle on April 2, as the Georgetown Hoyas advanced to meet the Houston Cougars, highlighting a pair of centers that would become two of the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all time.

Patrick Ewing of Georgetown won the tournament MVP for his ability to contain former MVP Hakeem Olajuwan‘s offensive arsenal. With the Hoyas taking the game 84-75, Ewing would pave the way for future centers to come through the school including Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo.

Looking back at who was drafted into the NBA that year, you will find four pretty recognizable names: Hakeem Olajuwan, John Stockton, Charles Barkley, and a certain fellow named Michael Jordan.

 

Baseball

The World Series that year was won by the Detroit Tigers, and man were they good. Lead by manager Sparky Anderson, they blasted out of the gates winning 35 of their first 40 games and dominated the October Classic by beating the San Diego Padres in the best of seven series 4-1.

They were a colorful group of players with teammates nicknamed "Sweet Lou", "Ho-Jo", and "Senor Smoke". The ace of the staff was Jack Morris, who played brilliantly in the World Series, posting a 3-0 record and allowing only five runs in 26 innings. As good as Morris was, he wasn't the best pitcher on the staff that year. That distinction goes to the closer Willie Hernandez, whose 1.92 ERA in over 140 innings of work not only garnered team MVP but the AL MVP as well.

As colorful as the Tigers were that year, winning 104 games, the more notable stories may have come from two teams that fell just short of the ultimate goal. The Chicago Cubs ended a playoff drought and won an NL best 96 games behind the NL MVP Ryne Sandberg and Cy Young Winner Rick Sutcliffe. They even traded for Dennis Eckersly midway through the season.

But all the magic they captured during the regular season was lost when they fell to the San Diego Padres in the NL Championship Series. The Padres themselves enjoyed newfound success as they won a club record 92 games behind the NL batting champ and 24-year old Tony Gwynn.

In addition, the infamous Goose Gossage would save 25 games all the while winning 10 more and posting a 2.90 ERA. Oh yeah, and Steve Garvey would play 161 games at first base that season and not commit a single error.

Even if you didn't have a team in the playoffs, you still saw Dale Murphy and Mike Schmidt battle it out and tie for the NL home run total, and also witnessed the start of the tabloid career of Rookie of the Year winner Dwight Gooden.

Players drafted that year were All-World pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, as well as former "Bash Brother" Mark McGwire.

 

Football

In January of 1984, the Super Bowl would showcase two legendary running backs with two contrasting styles of running. John Riggins had powered and bull-rushed his way for over 1,300 yards and his Washington Redskins squad entered the game against the “smooth as silk” Marcus Allen and the Los Angeles Raiders as the heavy favorite.

But despite having an offense that put up a then NFL record 541 points, it would be the Raiders behind Allen’s 20 carries for 191 yards that would crush the Redskins 38-9.

Despite this being ABC’s first shot at airing a Super Bowl, not to mention it was being played between two traditional teams, the regular season of 1984 provided even more history than the big game that preceded it.

Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams set a record for rushing yards in a season with 2,105. He thrived in John Robinson’s “run first” offense and glided his team to the NFC Championship game following his record-breaking year. To this date, his record still stands.

But the ground game wasn’t the only offense reaching new heights that year. All the way across the country was a gunslinger leading the Miami Dolphins who went by the name of Dan Marino. He would break five NFL records and 11 team records in 1984, only his second year in the league. The young Pittsburgh native would cap this record-breaking season with a Super Bowl appearance.

His record of most touchdowns in a season of 48 shattered the previous record of 36, and his mark for most passing yards in a season of 5,084 still stands to this day.

As if on queue, Steve Largent, former wide receiver of the Seattle Seahawks, rounded out the theoretical triangle of quarterback, running back and wide receiver by breaking the record for most receptions in season with 106.

The most recognized record to be broken that year fell at the hands of possibly the greatest running back of all time, Walter Payton. “Sweetness” as he was known by, broke the record for most career rushing yards by ending the season with 13,309.

On the college front, the undefeated B.Y.U. Cougars claimed the National Title despite being lined up to play a 6-5 Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl.

Because of bowl tie-ins and the Washington Huskies (No. 4 at the end of the regular season) declining to play in the Holiday Bowl, BYU managed to be voted National Champions without ever beating a team in the final AP top 25.

This situation may very well be the seed that grew into the desire to find a better way of crowning a champion and ultimately be the start of the road that has led to the Bowl Championship Series.

 

Racing

Today Darrell Waltrip sits up in the air-conditioned TV booth and advises the drivers, as the green flag waves, to “"reach up there and pull those belts tight one more time!" But in 1984, he was a lot less worried about the well being of his fellow drivers as he was about beating them to the finish line. Waltrip won seven races that year, four more than any other driver in the Winston Cup Series (known now as the Nascar Sprint Cup Series).

Despite his dominating penchant for reaching victory lane Waltrip would finish only fifth in points, while Terry Labonte would take the title. It was Labonte’s consistency throughout the year that allowed him to edge out second place Harry Gant for the title, but looking back now that story takes a back seat to an even more significant event.

1984 saw the 200th and final victory for “The King” Richard Petty. The King, known for winning the Nascar Championship seven times, won his last race on Independence Day as he beat out Cale Yarborough by a fender to take the checkered flag.

To call that season of Nascar competitive would be an understatement. On May 6th in Talledega, the field set a record for most lead changes in a race at 75, another record that still stands today.

 

Olympics

The Summer Olympics had come back to the States (Los Angeles to be exact) and there was certainly a home-crowd feeling. After the U.S., along with 60 other countries, boycotted the Russian hosted Olympics in 1980, Russia would decide to repay the favor four years later.

It would be a smart decision for the Soviets as the U.S simply engulfed the Games of the XXIII Olympiad and injected the country with a sense of pride and patriotism it truly needed at the time.

Carl Lewis took four gold medals in track and field, Mary Lou Rhetton became the first American to win gold in the all around competition of gymnastics, and a record 140 nations showed up to witness the first privately financed Olympics that would profit over $215 million, a ridiculous amount for the time.

In addition, we saw a taste of the Future Dream team as the U.S. basketball squad comprised solely of college players took the court with a young Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, and Chris Mullen. They would be the last college lead team to win the gold medal.

The U.S. did so well in medals, it was dubbed as the American Gold Rush. Their 83 gold medals were more than the next five countries combined, and their total medal count of 174 dwarfed the second place West Germany’s totally of 59.

At age 13, I thought 1984 was the coolest year in sports, and 25 years later it still is.

Though many years will mean many different things to many different people, it’s hard to argue that ‘84 wasn’t the greatest year in U.S. sports history. But I certainly welcome your thoughts….

 

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