Hockey broadcaster Mike “Doc” Emrick calls it “The Triple,” but it is a far rarer coin than the triple crowns of horse racing and baseball.
Should the Boston Bruins defeat the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Final that drops the puck Monday night, it will make Boston the first city/metro area in 83 years to simultaneously hold the championships of Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NHL, and the first to do so in the Super Bowl era.
Considering that the Celtics hardly embarrassed themselves by reaching the NBA Eastern Conference semifinals, a compelling argument could be made that Boston has enjoyed the most successful 12-month run of any city in North American major sports history. For Hub fans there’s been a grand reward to root, root, root for the home teams.
It’s certainly a profound change in fortune since the late 20th Century, when between the 1986 Celtics and the 2001 Patriots, Boston teams did not account for a single major championship in the four major professional sports. Since those ’01 Pats, however, Boston-area franchises have registered 12 titles and 18 appearances in the championship round.
Although a Red Sox-Patriots-Bruins Triple will not be the first, it will be the most difficult considering the added playoff rounds and stiffer competition from more teams.
In 1927–28, the legendary Yankees of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the NFL Giants and the NHL Rangers gave New York three major championships in six months. The Rangers needed three postseason rounds to claim the Stanley Cup but the Yankees needed only one (a World Series sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates) and the Giants didn’t need any. Before the NFL divided into conferences for the 1933 season, the team with the best regular-season record was declared champion. The backfield for the 11-1-1 Giants included Hinkey Haines, previously a backup outfielder on the 1923 World Series champion Yankees.
Detroit also achieved The Triple in 1935–36 after the Tigers’ six-game victory over the Chicago Cubs in the World Series, the Lions’ 26–7 rout of the Giants in the NFL Championship Game (the Lions threw only five passes) and the Red Wings’ two-round run over the Montreal Maroons and Toronto Maple Leafs for the Stanley Cup. It was the first championship for all three Motor City franchises.
New York and Detroit needed a combined eight postseason rounds for their respective Triples. Boston will need 10.
The arrival of the NBA after World War II has provided more chances for the elusive Triple, and a few cities have come close. Chronologically, here are the cities/metro areas that nearly enjoyed three victory celebrations during a 12-month span.
Baltimore 1970–71: Two champions, one runner-up
The Orioles, led by the acrobatic defense and .429 batting average of Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson, made quick work of the Cincinnati Reds in a five-game World Series. Three months later the Baltimore Colts overcame a ghastly seven turnovers to defeat the Dallas Cowboys 16–13 on Jim O’Brien’s 32-yard field goal in the final seconds of Super Bowl V. But the Baltimore Bullets were humbled in the NBA Finals, losing a four-game sweep to the Milwaukee Bucks led by a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (27 points, 18.5 rebounds per game) and veteran Hall of Fame guard Oscar Robertson.
Of these three franchises, only the Orioles remain in Charm City. The Bullets (now the Wizards) moved down Interstate 95 to Washington in 1973, and in March 1984, the Colts made off in the dark of night for Indianapolis.
Oakland 1974–75: Two champions, one conference finalist
After successive tense seven-game World Series victories over the Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets, the Oakland A’s enjoyed a relative breather with a five-game triumph over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Athletics of Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers are the only non-Yankees team to win three straight Series. The following spring the Rick Barry–led Golden State Warriors stunned the heavily favored Washington Bullets with a four-game sweep for their first NBA title since moving from Philadelphia in 1962. It would be their last championship for 40 years.
But between these two championships, John Madden’s Oakland Raiders fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers 24–13 in the AFC title game.
Philadelphia 1980: One champion, three runners-up
The City of Brotherly Love remains the only metro area to send teams to the championship rounds of all four major sports in a 12-month period. But only the Phillies, who won their first World Series behind Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt (.381 average, seven RBIs) and Steve Carlton (two wins, 2.40 ERA) could bring home the rings.
The 76ers of Julius Erving and Darryl Dawkins lost the NBA Finals in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers, a dynasty in the making, as rookie Magic Johnson scored 42 points in the clincher while subbing for an injured Abdul-Jabbar at center. The Flyers lost the Stanley Cup Final in six games to another dynasty on the rise, the New York Islanders who would win four straight NHL crowns. And the Eagles, who had defeated the Raiders during the regular season, came up flat in Super Bowl XV. They committed four turnovers and lost 27–10 to the Silver and Black in the Louisiana Superdome.
New York 1986: Two champions, one conference finalist
The Rangers started a memorable run for Gotham teams, upsetting the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals to reach the Eastern Conference final. The Blue Shirts played Montreal tough but lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champs in five games. Two of the defeats were by one goal.
The Mets gave their fans a postseason to remember. They defeated the Houston Astros in a tense NLCS with the deciding Game 6 going 16 innings. The World Series against the Red Sox was even more dramatic. Down to their final out in Game 6, the Mets rallied for three 10th inning runs to force a Game 7. The winning run scored on Mookie Wilson’s famous ground ball through the legs of Boston first baseman Bill Buckner. In Game 7 the New Yorkers trailed 3–0 after five innings but rebounded for an 8–5 victory.
The Giants needed no such dramatics. Coach Bill Parcells’ crew, with Bill Belichick masterminding an intimidating Lawrence Taylor–led defense, rolled through a dominant 14–2 regular season. The Giants were never challenged in the playoffs, winning 49–3, 17–0 and 39–20 to secure their first NFL championship in 30 years.
2007–08 Boston: Two champions, one runner-up
Boston has been close to The Triple before. Very close. And it was perhaps the best of the championship contenders that slipped in the final round.
Between the Red Sox winning the 2007 World Series and Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett pushing the Celtics to their first NBA title in 22 years, there were the Patriots. Owners of an 18–0 record, the Pats marched into Super Bowl XLII against the Giants a 12-point favorite. But the New York defense held New England to a season-low 14 points to keep matters in check. David Tyree’s spectacular “helmet catch” of Eli Manning’s 32-yard pass set up a Manning-to-Plaxico Burress TD toss in the final minute for a stunning 17–14 Giants victory.
2018–19 Boston: Two champions, one runner-up (at least)
It seems appropriate that to reach another sports milestone a Boston team must battle an opponent from St. Louis.
It was a dramatic seven-game victory over the then–St. Louis Hawks in the 1957 NBA Finals that triggered the Bill Russell–led Celtics dynasty that would win 11 championships in 13 years.
The Patriots’ regal reign kicked into gear with Adam Vinatieri’s 47-yard goal at the gun to defeat the two-touchdown favorite St. Louis Rams 20–17 in Super Bowl XXXVI at the end of the 2001 season. The Tom Brady–guided Pats would become the first team of the playoff era (staring in 1933) to win multiple NFL titles in successive decades, most recently their sixth Super Bowl title in February.
The Red Sox emphatically ended their gruesome 86-year World Series drought with a sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004. The Sox have added three more titles, including the 2018 Fall Classic.
And although it was not a dynasty-igniting championship, the Bruins’ four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues in 1970 ended 31 years of Stanley Cup deprivation, capped by Bobby Orr’s “flying goal” in overtime of Game 4.