Continuing our best of the decade series, this week we take a look at the best sports moments of the 1980s
As we continue to wait for sports to come back, hopefully soon, we are continuing our series of looking into the past and analyzing the best sports moments of every decade. After sharing the best moments across the MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL in the 1970s last week, here are the best moments of the 1980s.
MLB: Kirk Gibson’s home run
As a die hard San Francisco Giants fan, it’s hard for me to admit that the best moment in professional baseball of the 80s belongs to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it’s true. This pain is eased by the fact that the Dodgers haven’t won the World Series since 1988. It was during that very same fall classic that outfielder Kirk Gibson made history with an infamous walk-off home run.
Gibson had just signed with the Dodgers earlier that year after nearly a decade with the Detroit Tigers. He was always a good player and had even helped the Tigers win the World Series in 1984. However, it wasn’t until he came to LA that Gibson reached his peak. During 1988, Gibson had his best season ever, hitting .290 with 25 home runs and 76 RBIs, while stealing 31 bases and scoring 106 times. These numbers netted Gibson his first and only MVP award.
However, even with his tremendous year, the Dodgers were still heavy underdogs against the Oakland A’s. The A’s won 104 games that year and swept the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. Led by the Bash Brothers, José Canseco and Mark McGwire, the A’s had better than 2-1 odds to win the series. Canseco was the AL MVP that year, after slugging 42 home runs and 124 RBIs along with 40 stolen bases. McGwire wasn’t far behind with 32 homers and 99 RBIs. The A’s also had three top tier starting pitchers and the game’s best closer in Dennis Eckersley, who had notched 45 saves that year.
Fittingly, Eckersley was the man on the mound when Gibson came up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 1. Eckersley had gotten two outs, with one man on first when Gibson came up to bat. It was all down to him.
Oh yeah, there’s one more thing, Gibson was injured. He had suffered a severely pulled hamstring in Game 5 of the NLCS against the Mets. Gibson wasn’t even supposed to play at all that night. But with just one out remaining, Gibson went in and prayed for a miracle.
After a couple foul balls and a few taken pitches, Gibson was staring at a full count from the game’s best closer with all of Dodger Stadium on their feet. Eckersley made a mistake down the middle and Gibson used all the power he had in his arms to crush the ball over the left field wall. As the crowd roared and his dugout emptied, Gibson jogged, limping the whole way, around the bases. He was the hero of the game and the Dodgers would go on to win their first World Series since 1981.
NBA: Magic Johnson comes in clutch
The greatest franchise in the history of the NBA is, without a doubt, the Los Angeles Lakers. The greatest dynasty of the NBA is, arguably, the Lakers during the 80s (Bulls fans will fight you on this since they had six championships in the 90s, but the Lakers won five championships and had two more finals appearances). The greatest moment of the Lakers dynasty came in the opening year of the decade.
The Lakers had established a 3-2 lead in the 1980 NBA Finals over the Philadelphia 76ers. However, in Game 5, Lakers superstar and reigning MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who averaged 33.4 points and 13.6 rebounds per game in the finals, had sprained his ankle and was out for Game 6. This put all the pressure in the world on rookie sensation Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
Johnson came in clutch with the performance of a lifetime. During Game 6, Johnson scored a series high 42 points while snatching 15 rebounds, dishing out 7 assists, thieving 3 steals and even notching one block, while playing all five positions on the court. The Lakers beat the 76ers 123-107 and took the series 4-2. It established the Lakers dynasty and Magic Johnson as a legend.
NFL: The catch
I’m a bit biased here since I’m also a San Francisco 49ers fan, but any football fan would tell you that the 80s belonged to the Niners. San Francisco took home the Lombardi Trophy four times during the decade, once in the beginning, once in the middle and twice to close it out. Led by Joe Montanta, the best moment of the 80s for the Niners actually came in the NFC Championship, not the Super Bowl.
The 49ers were down 21-27 against the Dallas Cowboys with less than a minute left on the clock. The ball was snapped and Montana rolled right, scrambling for what seemed like forever as Cowboys defenders swarmed him. With legendary defensive end Ed “Too Tall” Jones in his face, Montana threw a ball to the back of the end zone that everyone thought he was just throwing away, except he wasn’t.
San Francisco’s 6’4’ wide receiver Dwight Clark snatched the ball out of the air for the game winning touchdown. The reception became known as “the catch” and was recently named as the second greatest football play of all time. Clark became a legend and the 49ers went on to win the Super Bowl against the Bengals, and three more before the decade ended.
NHL: The “Miracle on Ice”
First of all, I don’t watch hockey at all. I’ve seen a couple games in my life and was more confused than I was after the Seahawks passed on the goal line in Super Bowl XLIX. But even I have heard of “the miracle on ice.” Disney made a movie about it after all.
Second, technically this shouldn’t be on the list since it wasn’t an NHL game; it was in the Olympics. However, if anyone tells you there was a bigger moment in hockey in the 1980s than the miracle on ice, they are a liar. Okay, the Wayne Gretzky trade was a distant second place, but it still didn’t come close. So we’re making an exception.
Now that we’re through with all of that, let’s dive into what happened.
In the 1980 Winter Olympics, the Soviet hockey squad was heavily favored to win the gold medal. They had won the previous four gold medals, dating back to 1964 and hadn’t even dropped a single Olympic hockey game since 1968. Meanwhile the U.S. team was a joke, seeded seventh and comprised of college players. The average age on the team was just 22-years-old.
While they lacked experience, the team made up for it with determination and perseverance. They went undefeated with four victories and one tie in the opening round, advancing to the medal round. Then on Feb. 22, 1980, the Americans took on the Soviets in front of a sold-out crowd.
The U.S.S.R struck first with a goal by Valery Krotov. American Buzz Schneider answered with a goal for the U.S. midway through the first period. Sergei Makarov responded with another goal for the Soviets, but the Americans tied it again at 2-2 off a goal from Mark Johnson with just one second remaining in the period.
In the second period, Russia outshot the U.S. 12-2, but American goalie Jim Craig saved all but one goal, as Russia took a 3-2 lead. The Soviets held that lead until nine minutes into the final period as Johnson scored again after a Soviet penalty. Then just a minute and a half later, Mike Eruzione smacked a 25-foot shot into the back of the net and the U.S. took a 4-3 lead. They spent the final 10 minutes doing everything they could to keep the Soviets from scoring again.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the crowd chanted “five, four, three, two, one,” and Al Michaels gave what is probably his most renowned sports call ever as he yelled “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” resulting in the name, the “Miracle on Ice.” The U.S. won the game and went on to defeat Finland in the finals to win the gold medal.
The best of the decade series continues next week with the 1990s.