1986: Unforgettable Year in Sports
Bears Shuffle to title
SI.com looks back in chronological order at the seminal moments of 1986, a year filled with some of the most memorable performances, games and events in sports history as well as notorious scandals and unspeakable tragedies. In one of the most dominant performances in championship game history, the Bears demolished New England 46-10 in Super Bowl XX on Jan. 26. The lopsided victory punctuated a 18-1 season that was defined by Buddy Ryan's suffocating "46" defense, brash quarterback Jim McMahon, cult-hero lineman William "The Refrigerator" Perry, smooth running back Walter Payton and, of course, the team's Super Bowl Shuffle.
Delighting his hometown crowd in Dallas, the 5-foot-7 guard scored perfect 50s on both of his dunks in the finals to edge Hawks teammate and defending champion Dominique Wilkins in the NBA's slam dunk contest.
Cinderella crashes the Dance
Upsets defined the 1986 NCAA tournament. Cleveland State, a 14th seed, stunned Indiana in the first round and St. Joseph's in the second round to make the Sweet 16, where it lost to David Robinson and seventh-seeded Navy. Another No. 14 seed, Arkansas Little-Rock, also won its first-round game (against Notre Dame), while 12th-seeded DePaul won twice and 11th-seeded LSU reached the Final Four. In all, only seven of the top 16 seeds made the Sweet 16. (Louisville, a No. 2 seed led by freshman Pervis Ellison, beat No. 1 seed Duke in the final.)
Thomas is golden
No African-American figure skater had ever won a U.S. title or world championship until 18-year-old Stanford freshman Debi Thomas accomplished both in 1986.
Gretzky sets points record
Wayne Gretzky established an NHL record with 215 points in 1985-86. He finished with 52 goals and 163 assists during his third consecutive year with at least 200 points.
Nicklaus wins Masters
So much for the whispers that the 46-year-old Jack Nicklaus should consider retiring. The Golden Bear produced his record 18th and final major title with a stunning final-round performance at Augusta, where he fired a 30 on the back nine to blow past his younger rivals and end a six-year drought in Grand Slam tournaments. Nicklaus became the oldest player to win the green jacket.
Jordan's coming-out party
"God disguised as Michael Jordan" is how Larry Bird described MJ's performance in the second game of a first-round playoff series between the Celtics and Bulls. Jordan, in his second year in the league, scored a playoff-record 63 points, on the heels of a 49-point outing in Game 1 at Boston Garden. The Celtics would sweep Chicago, but they came away awe-struck by His Airness. "He is undoubtedly the best guard I ever saw play this bleeping game," Dennis Johnson told the Los Angeles Times .
Clemens fans 20
Boston's Roger Clemens set a major league record when he struck out 20 in a 3-1 victory against the Mariners on April 29, jump-starting his MVP and Cy Young season of 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA.
Own goal dooms Oilers
The Oilers' bid for a third straight Stanley Cup was derailed in Game 7 of the Smythe Division finals against Calgary when rookie defenseman Steve Smith (5) attempted a cross-ice pass from next to his own net early in the third period with the score tied 2-2. The puck hit Oilers goalie Grant Fuhr's leg and wound up in the net, giving Calgary the lead. Smith fell to the ice and buried his face in his gloves. The Flames held on to win 3-2. Edmonton would win the 1987 and '88 Cups, Smith's own goal having cost the Oilers a shot at five straight, an achievement that would have matched the 1956-60 Canadiens juggernaut.
Shoemaker wins Derby
"If Jack Nicklaus can win the Masters at 46, I can win the Kentucky Derby at 54," Willie Shoemaker said he was thinking before the 1986 Kentucky Derby. That he did, riding 17-1 long shot Ferdinand to a 21/2-length victory and becoming the oldest jockey in history to win the Run for the Roses.
Rockets stun Lakers
The Rockets and Lakers were tied 112-112 with one second left and Houston inbounding from midcourt in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. In one of the most improbable and dramatic moments in playoff history, Ralph Sampson made a turnaround circus shot as the Rockets eliminated the defending champion and top-seeded Lakers and advanced to the Finals.
Roy lifts Canadiens
Rookie goaltender Patrick Roy led the Canadiens to a five-game victory against Calgary in the Stanley Cup finals. The 20-year-old Roy became the youngest winner of the Conn Smythe trophy as the most valuable player of the postseason, thanks to a 15-5 record and stunning 1.92 GAA.
Celtics make their case
Larry Bird went for a triple-double (29 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists) in the Celtics' title-clinching victory against Houston in Game 6. The Celtics won a then-record 82 games (including the playoffs) and finished 47-1 at home, leading to speculation in the media at the time that they were the best team ever.
Bias dies tragically
Forty hours after the Boston Celtics drafted him No. 2 overall and fulfilled his "greatest dream," 22-year-old former Maryland All-America Len Bias died from cardiac arrest caused by a cocaine overdose.
Bo knows baseball
Bo Jackson was the top pick in the NFL draft (by Tampa Bay) and a fourth-round pick in the baseball draft (by Kansas City) in 1986. But the Heisman Trophy-winning running back from Auburn, who had an up-and-down career with the Tigers' baseball team, rejected the Bucs' reported five-year, $7 million offer and signed with the Royals in June. He made his big league debut that September. Back in the NFL draft in '87, Jackson was selected by the Los Angeles Raiders in the seventh round, and soon after he launched his two-sport pro career.
The 1986 World Cup ushered in a new king of soccer, as the 5-foot-5 Diego Maradona led Argentina to the title with two goals in the quarterfinals and two in the semifinals, along with the game-winning assist in the final against West Germany. It was his two strikes in the quarterfinals against England that still resonate -- the infamous Hand of God goal and his Goal of the Century, the latter coming after he eluded four defenders on a 60-yard dash.
Rogers dies of overdose
Eight days after the Len Bias tragedy, Browns starting safety Don Rogers, 23, died of a cocaine overdose. Rogers, the 1984 AFC Rookie of the Year, died about 24 hours before he was due to marry his college sweetheart.
Joyner raises the bar
Jackie Joyner set the world record in the heptathlon at the Goodwill Games in July and then broke that mark a month later at the U.S. Olympic Festival while becoming the first woman to exceed 7,000 points in the seven-event endurance test.
LeMond makes history
Greg LeMond claimed the first of his three Tour de Frances in 1986, when he became the first American to win the race.
Bradley's Grand year
Bradley won three of the four LPGA majors in 1986 -- the Nabisco Dinah Shore, the LPGA Championship and the du Maurier Classic -- and, for good measure, finished tied for fifth at the fourth one, the U.S. Open, three strokes out of a playoff. Overall, Keegan Bradley's aunt won five events and became the first LPGA player to pass $2 million in career earnings.
So long, USFL
A jury ruled for the USFL in its antitrust suit against the NFL ... and awarded the 3-year-old league $1 in damages (tripled to $3 under antitrust laws) after it had been seeking potentially $1.7 billion. The cash-poor USFL quickly suspended operations for 1986 and never returned. USFL stars such as Herschel Walker and Jim Kelly moved to the NFL for the '86 season.
Martina vs. Steffi
In one of the greatest women's matches of all time and an early chapter of a budding rivalry, 29-year-old Martina Navratilova fought off three match points and outlasted 17-year-old Steffi Graf 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 7-6 (10-8) in the U.S. Open semifinals. Navratilova went on to beat Helena Sukova in the finals, part of a year in which she finished 89-3 (including 53 consecutive victories to close the season), won her fifth straight Wimbledon title and collected 13 titles overall.
No. 2 tops No. 1
A September showdown between No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 2 Miami pitted Hurricanes QB Vinny Testaverde against Sooners linebacker Brian Bosworth. The Boz finished with 14 tackles, but it wasn't enough. Testaverde, in his Heisman Trophy-winning season, completed 21-of-28 passes (including 14 in a row) for 261 yards and four touchdowns in Miami's 28-16 victory. Miami went on to an undefeated regular season but then lost another No. 1 vs. No. 2 clash when it was upset by Penn State in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl.
Red Sox stun Angels
With the Red Sox down to their final strike in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the ALCS against the Angels, Dave Henderson hit a go-ahead two-run homer off Donnie Moore. The Angels tied the score in the bottom of the ninth, but the Red Sox won in extra innings and completed their comeback by winning Games 6 and 7 handily in Fenway Park.
Mets-Astros: Classic NLCS
In a series packed with drama, the Astros took the opener 1-0 as Mike Scott outdueled Dwight Gooden with a 14-strikeout gem; the Mets won Game 3 on a walk-off home run by Lenny Dysktra and Game 5 on a 12th-inning single by Gary Carter. Game 6 topped them all for drama. The Mets trailed 3-0 entering the top of the ninth, but rallied for three runs to force extra innings. Both teams scored in the 14th and the Mets scored three in the 16th. But the Astros chipped away with two of their own to make the score 7-6 before Jesse Orosco struck out Kevin Bass, the left-hander's 54th pitch in relief. The strikeout ended the four-hour, 42-minute marathon and clinched the pennant for New York.
Mets win epic World Series
The Mets capped a miracle Game 6 rally when Bill Buckner's infamous error allowed the winning run to score in the 10th inning, then overcame a three-run deficit to win Game 7 two nights later.
SMU's death spiral
In November, a Dallas TV station's report about boosters' $25,000 payment to linebacker David Stanley hastened the demise of SMU's powerhouse football program, which was already on probation. Coach Bobby Collins (inset) and athletic director Bob Hitch resigned less than a month later, and the Mustangs received the death penalty the following February.
Tyson reaches top
Mike Tyson, 20, became the youngest heavyweight champion when he knocked out WBC titlist Trevor Berbick in the second round. "Look at me, Tyson told reporters after his 26th knockout in 28 fights, all victories. "I'm just a boy and I got the belt on my waist."
<i>SI</i> honors Joe Pa
Sports Illustrated closed out 1986 by honoring Joe Paterno as its Sportsman of the Year. Paterno led Penn State to an undefeated regular season for the sixth time and set up the Nittany Lions to play for the national championship for the fourth time in nine years (they would beat Miami in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl). Rick Reilly wrote of Paterno: "Over the last three decades, nobody has stayed truer to the game and at the same time truer to himself than Joseph Vincent Paterno."