Continuing our Best of the Decade series, let us move on to the 90s
The 1990s produced many classic and incredible sports moments that have graced our memories and highlight reels for the past few decades.
Every major sports league saw some of their greatest athletes ever either reach the plateau of their careers or introduce themselves to the game in the 90s. We also saw dynasties born in this decade that would leave their mark on their respective league forever.
Although there are going to be some definite snubs, here is the best sports moment from each of the four major North American sports leagues.
MLB: Cal Ripken Jr. passes Lou Gehrig for most consecutive games played (1995)
Lou Gehrig played an incredible 2,130 consecutive baseball games and received the nickname “Iron Horse” for it. While baseball might not be the most athletically taxing sport, to play over 2,000 consecutive games of anything is an incredible feat. Oftentimes, we look at records like Gehrig’s and assume no one will ever surpass it because they have stood strong for so many decades.
However, one man began the 1990s with an already impressive record in place. It would only take five more years of dedication for Cal Ripken Jr. to find himself in a position to become the all-time leader in consecutive games played. Ripken Jr. began his streak on May 30, 1982. In his career, he would end up holding the record for most home runs by a shortstop with 345, attended 19 All-Star games and win All-Star MVP in 1991 and 2001.
Not only was Ripken known for being a terrific baseball player, he is best known for the day he finally passed Lou Gehrig and became the all-time leader in consecutive games played. On September 6, 1995 at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland, the Baltimore Orioles took on the California Angels. As Ripken Jr. took the batter’s box in the fourth inning, the crowd erupted.
Making it official with his 2,131st consecutive game played that night, what made this moment even more special is that he smacked a home run deep to left field. Even in the heat of a historic American sports moment, all Ripken Jr. ever cared about was the game. “‘I never really thought about the streak,’ Ripken said. ‘I never really allowed myself to think about the streak. It was very simple, I wanted to come to the ballpark, I wanted to play, I wanted to help the team win.”’
He would go on to play another 501 consecutive games before voluntarily pulling himself from the lineup on September 19, 1998, in a game against the New York Yankees. Ripken’s record stands at 2,632 consecutive games played, an incredible feat that will likely never be matched.
NBA: Michael Jordan retires to play baseball (1993)
Basketball in the 1990s was dominated by one man: Michael Jordan. “His Airness” played most of his career with the Chicago Bulls as he played for the franchise from 1984 to 1998 with a couple of breaks in there.
Winning three straight championships in dominating fashion in 1991, 1992, and 1993, the Chicago Bulls looked to be the team of the ‘90s. Led by Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr and others, Chicago dominated the NBA during the decade. However, one surprising decision that made the sports world stand still came from the Bulls legend himself. Jordan announced his retirement from the NBA after just nine seasons and three consecutive championships on October 3, 1993.
Many did not understand why on earth an athlete at the top of his game and the top of his league would abruptly call it quits to go play a completely different sport at the highest level. It will forever be one of the most astonishing decisions in sports and we will probably never see something like this ever again. Imagine if Kevin Durant decided to retire from basketball after his 2018 championship with the Golden State Warriors to go join the San Francisco 49ers as a wide receiver. It’s just bizarre to think about.
Jordan would return to the NBA towards the end of the season in 1995 as a member of the Bulls to win another three straight championships in 1996, 1997, and 1998 before retiring, for the second time, in 1998. It’s quite possible that if Jordan never retired, he and the Bulls could have won eight straight. He would return to the league in 2001 to join the Washington Wizards before retiring for the third and final time of his legendary career.
NFL: Buffalo Bills lose four straight Super Bowls (1991-1994)
This might not be the most positive of incredible moments. It might not be a “moment” at all, but losing four consecutive Super Bowls has to be remembered. The amount of optimism found in Buffalo during the early years of the decade must have been through the roof, yet the feeling of disappointment was even stronger.
The first loss in 1991 was at the hands of the New York Giants and was lost by just one point. Beginning with a beautiful rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner as the United States was in the heat of the Gulf War, many were excited for a great Super Bowl that saw two New York rivals battle it out for supremacy. With a 20-19 final score, the Bills and their faithful were heartbroken. This would just be the beginning.
The next loss came at the hands of the Washington Redskins in a 37-24 defeat. The Redskins had an incredibly successful season going 14-2 and only allowing 17 total points in two playoff games heading into the Super Bowl. Sometimes the better team just wins and you have to move on and try harder next time. Well, the Bills did just that and things didn’t get better.
In 1993 and 1994 the Bills would meet the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl and similar to the prior two years, the Bills would repeat as Super Bowl runners-up. The Cowboys had stars like Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin led by one of the most successful coaches in history in Jimmy Johnson. In back to back years, the Cowboys defeated the Bills by a total score of 82-30.
In the end, these four consecutive Super Bowl losses would be the peak of the Buffalo Bills franchise as they have failed to return to the big game since.
NHL: Wayne Gretzky breaks all-time goals record (1994)
Gordie Howe, also known as “Mr. Hockey”, was considered the greatest hockey player ever before the greatest hockey player ever: Wayne Gretzky. Howe scored 801 goals in his illustrious career that spanned a whopping 34 years from 1946 to 1980; just as Gretzky was coming into the league. Howe also won four Stanley Cups and appeared in a record 23 NHL All-Star games.
“The Great One” was no stranger to offensive play in his career as prior to 1994 he scored a record 50 goals in just 39 games and even scored 92 goals in just one season in 1982. However, the all-time goal-scoring record still belonged to Gordie Howe until March 23, 1994. Gretzky needed just one goal in order to pass Howe and the energy in the building was palpable.
As Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings suited up against the Vancouver Canucks, it didn’t take long for Gretzky to receive a perfect pass from teammate Marty McSorley and put it in the back of the net for his 802nd career goal. The crowd at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles erupted and a team-wide on-ice celebration ensued. It will forever be one of the greatest moments in NHL history.
What’s even more exciting is today there is a great goal scorer by the name of Alexander Ovechkin who currently sits at 706 goals and still has a few more years left in him. It’s quite possible that we could see the torch passed yet again in the future.
Gretzky went on to score 894 goals in his career and retired in 1999 with a total of 2,857 career points making him the all-time leader in goals, assists (1,963), and points.