Wednesday, September 17

Top Ten List: Championships That Vindicated

Every title means something different to everyone who experiences it, be they a fan, coach, or player. There are certain titles that have meant a statement of proof that the player was the right choice to lead them, the coach had what it took to get the team there, or the organization or school belonged. If I omit certain statement titles forgive, for these are the ones that come to mind immediately and I have ranked my top ten.

10. Pete Sampras over Andre Agassi, 1995 U.S. Open

In the mid to late 90s, Andre Agassi became more than just the guy with the hair on the commercials; he became one of the best tennis players of his generation. But in the 1995 meeting at center court, Sampras added to his legacy the title of best ever. Anytime these two met there were fireworks, but this was in both of their primes. Andre was confident after beating Boris Becker in the semifinal, looking into the camera and saying “Pete, I’m coming for you.” Sampras outlasted Jim Courier in his semifinal and then dropped Agassi in four sets. Andre always got the fan love and was adored by the media, but specifically on this day, Sampras held the hardware.

9. New York Rangers, 1994 Stanley Cup

If anyone mentions this title two images immediately spring to my mind: Stephan Matteau’s (Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!) double overtime goal against the Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals and the fan in MSG holding up that sign that said “Now I Can Die in Peace”, that pretty much says it all. They climbed the hill against the Canucks to end the 54 year "curse", but here’s the game 7 goal just because I enjoy watching it.

8. John Elway and the Broncos, 1998

Elway was always known as a clutch quarterback, yet his previous attempts at a Super Bowl were blowouts against the Redskins, 49ers, and Giants. Elway was in danger of becoming akin to Dan Marino, Fran Tarkenton, and others in the stable of great quarterbacks who never won the big one. But with Shanahan and Kubiak running the offense, Terrell Davis in the backfield, the dirty…err gritty O-line, and finally a stout defense personified by nose tackle Neil Smith, the Broncos had their best shot. They were underdogs going into the Super Bowl against the defending champion Packers, but in what would go down as one of the most entertaining Super Bowls ever, Elway led a late drive including the memorable running play where he got helicopter flipped. The Broncos scored and the defense held, and Elway had his ring. Though they would go on to repeat, it was this title that truly took Elway to the next level.

7. Boston Red Sox, 2004

Before Red Sox nation was intolerable to the entire population (not saying they weren’t somewhat before) they were lovable losers. Their history after the trade of Babe Ruth had become a epilogue of futility from Bucky Dent to Bill Buckner. In recent years the Sox had become perennial contenders but always they fell short, and usually to the hated Yankees, including the previous year on Aaron Boone’s extra inning blast after it appeared Pedro had the game won earlier. New GM Theo Epstein decided he was going to do whatever he felt necessary to win the title that year and beat the hated Yankees. This included, much to Red Sox Nation’s chagrin, trading Nomar Garciaparra. After Boston fell behind the Yankees 3-0 in the ALCS, it seemed all the work to get back had been in vain, but lo! David Robert’s legs and Big Papi’s bat ignited them to the most epic of comebacks. They vanquished the Yankees and steamrolled the Cardinals in 4 to capture a title that was 89 years and much heartache in the making.

6. Joe Namath and the Jets, 1969

Not much chance was given to Broadway Joe and the Jets in the Orange Bowl in ’69, but Joe must have known something everyone else did not. The Jets D stifled the Colts and Joe did what he need to do to pull off the huge upset. The win not only backed up the famous guarantee Joe made it also proved the AFL could compete with the supposed dominant NFL. Vindication for Joe and an entire football league; anyone who can’t recreate the scene in their mind of Joe running off the field with the finger in the air?

5. Dr. J and the 76ers, 1983

Everyone already knew that Julius (the docta) ERRRRRRRRRRving was the most supreme of the high fliers, but no one knew that he could play team ball and lead the 76ers to a title in the highly competitive NBA of the 80s. The addition of Mr. fo-fo-fo Moses Malone provided the missing link at center and propelled Dr. J and the Sixers to a sweep of Magic and the Lakers.

4. Tie: Roy Williams 2005 and Jim Boeheim 2003

I know it’s a bit of a gimmick to put a tie in just to make extra room on the countdown but these two great coaches are truly linked and there were some I definitely wanted to get on the list. Roy had been one of the greatest coaches of his time, been to multiple Final Fours and even lost a few title games, the first in 1991 to Duke. He took Kansas as far as you can possibly take a program without winning a championship, and then left for his alma mater even though he had protested not to care deeply for the job after losing to Boeheim in the 2003 Championship Game. Jim did his best to console Williams, who is a good friend of his, after he captured the title with the dominant play of Carmello Anthony, the sharp shooting of Gerry McNamara, and the incredibly long arm of Hakeem Warrick. Boeheim had sat stunned in 1987 when Keith Smart sank a baseline jumper to propel Indiana over Syracuse, and again in 1996 his surprise #4 seeded Orange fell to the Kentucky all-star team even with the aid of a legendary performance by John Wallace and the even more legendary hair of Jason Cipolla. In 2003 Jim got his title and the years of frustration were gone and two years later, Roy got his. Williams took the talented blob of a mess of players left by former assistant Matt Doherty and molded them into the first championship team Carolina had in 12 years. Not all the deserving coaches can win a title, especially in college basketball, but these two persevered.

3. Georgetown Hoyas 1984

In 1982 the Georgetown Hoyas had a chance to tie the North Carolina Tar Heels after Jordan hit the shot from the wing. Freddie Brown got confused and threw the ball to James Worthy and the game was over. John Thompson gave Brown a hug and tried to console the inconsolable young man. Two years later the Hoyas were back and this time, they triumphed over the Houston Cougars to claim their national championship and the first person into Thompson’s arms was Freddie Brown. Having Patrick Ewing helped too. Thompson also became the first African-American coach to win the Final Four.

2. Don Haskins and Texas Western, 1966

Having recently lost Don Haskins, I again remind anyone out there to read or watch Glory Road. The story truly transformed the sport. Haskins and his players stood in the face of racism and ignorance and triumphed on the biggest stage. On that spring night in Cole Field House, Haskins played all his black players against the all-white line-up of Adolph Rupp and Kentucky. Even the great Pat Riley was no match for the Miners as they took the championship and erased the insane notions that black athletes could not perform under the big time pressure.

1. Steve Young and the 49ers, 1994

I have to admit, it was watching Steve Young talk about some ridiculous story on twwl, most likely a T.O. story that led me to the idea for this list in the first place. I was not interested in what he was saying so I began thinking about what I knew about Steve Young and one sound bite came to mind. In 1994 Young finally detached the primate from his posterior and got the 49ers a ring, sans Joe Montana. Vindication was his, and so were a few Super Bowl passing records. It’s 1:45 on the video for the moment that got me thinking about this list in the first place.

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