The list-making business is a low-tech enterprise, with no
practical barrier to start-ups. Anybody, it turns out, can make
a list. A sizable staff and a major investment in office
supplies does not guarantee the last word, and expertise is
almost entirely irrelevant. Which is to say that, for any topic
we choose, your list might be defensibly different from ours.
This is discouraging, especially for those of us who splurged on
office supplies. What if your list makes more sense? Appeals to
more people? Where then is the advantage of our office supplies,
The only explanation is that appreciation of sports is, above
all, idiosyncratic. As we prepare for the millennium with our
various lists of favorites from the 20th century--which will run
throughout the year, accompanied by a story on one of those
favorites--we're reminded that these players, these teams matter
to us in ways that achievement alone cannot account for. Take
dynasties: What ought to be our most authoritative list (who won
the most for the longest--how hard is that?) doubtless seems
riddled with capriciousness. We've got Lombardi's Packers but
not Walsh's 49ers? Harry Hopman's tennis teams but not Stanford's?
Our position is simple: This list is personal and, therefore,
irrefutable. We're prepared to admit that you might reasonably
pick Soviet hockey over Gretzky's Oilers, or the Cuban Olympic
boxing teams over the Iowa wrestling teams. All we can say is
that there are no reliable criteria for our list of favorite
dynasties, or any other similar list, beyond our own welter of
experience and affection. We might also point out that we've
been in the opinion industry a long time and know our way around
a top 20. Which is another way of saying what we've been saying
all along: It may be personal, but we're right.
May 9, 1999
Your grandpop will tell you how fundamentally sound these guys
were, but they were also a runnin', gunnin' bunch led by Mr.
Defense (Bill Russell), Mr. Offense (Bob Cousy) and Mr.
Offensive (Red Auerbach), whose victory cigars lent a
distinctive air to the Shamrocks' 11 championships in 13 years.
Notre Dame Football
Only one team could match up with Notre Dame in the years after
World War II: the Irish second string. In four seasons under
coach Frank Leahy, Notre Dame went 36-0-2, won three national
titles and had two Heisman Trophy winners (Johnny Lujack, in
1947, and Leon Hart, in '49).
The Bruins won so effortlessly--their average margin in 10
championship games over 12 seasons was 13.4 points--that many
forget coach John Wooden started at UCLA in 1948 and made only
one Final Four appearance before his remarkable run began in '64.
New York Yankees
The Yankees won 10 championships in the sweetest 16-season run
the game has ever known--and lost Game 7 in '55, '57 and '60. In
this era Joe DiMaggio passed the crown to Mickey Mantle, his
teammate in '51, and Yogi Berra became as much a World Series
fixture as the decorative bunting.
In six trips to the NBA Finals, these Monsters of the Midway
faced five different opponents--the Lakers, Trail Blazers, Suns,
SuperSonics and the Jazz (twice)--and each time series MVP
Michael Jordan led them to the championship. Rarely can the
essence of dominance be stated so simply: If Michael Jordan
played a full season, Chicago won it all.
U.S. Men's Olympic 4 x 100M Team
In the 1912 Olympic Games, the U.S. Men's 4 x 100 team was
disqualified for passing the baton outside the exchange zone.
The U.S. won 14 of the next 17 gold medals awarded in the event.
Only two DQ's (in '60 and '88) and the U.S. boycott in '80
spoiled an 80-year gold medal run during which U.S. squads set
or equaled the world record 14 times.
Led by Wayne Gretzky, the Oilers during the 1980s produced the
five highest goal totals in NHL history. But they didn't start
winning Cups until they learned to play defense. Fierce
leadership by Mark Messier forged the swift and talented Oilers
into a team that won five Stanley Cups in seven seasons.
Australian Davis Cup Team
Every good thing you associate with Australian tennis--modesty,
discipline, camaraderie, beer--came from Harry Hopman. O.K.,
maybe not the beer. His players called him Captain Bligh (though
never to his face). But every macho mate from Frank Sedgman to
Lew Hoad to Rod Laver did what he was told. "Relax and hit for
the lines," Hopman commanded. So they did--from '50 through '67,
Hopman's teams won 15 Cups.
North Carolina Women's Soccer
Since starting the Tar Heels' program in 1979, coach Anson
Dorrance has reeled off a 442-17-11 record and won 15 national
championships. And you thought North Carolina was basketball
heaven? "This is a women's soccer school," Dean Smith once said.
"We're just trying to keep up with them."
Sooners coach Bud Wilkinson liked to quote to his players bits
of philosophy such as this nugget: "Perfection is finally
attained not when there is no longer anything to add but when
there is no longer anything to take away." Must have made sense
to them--over five seasons Oklahoma won a record 47 straight
games and back-to-back national titles. Since 1918 there have
been three winning streaks longer than 30 games. Wilkinson had
two between '48 and '57.
It started with Naftali Temu, who won the 1968 Olympic 10,000
meters. Since then Kenyan men have won nine Olympic gold medals
and 13 world titles and set 24 world records at distances from
3,000 meters to 10,000 meters. They've won 14 straight world
cross-country team titles, the past nine Boston Marathons and
every Olympic steeplechase they've entered since '68.
Men of luck: Joe Paterno turned down the Steelers' coaching job
in 1969, forcing Pittsburgh to turn to Chuck Noll. Men of more
luck: Chicago called heads in the coin flip for the top draft
choice in '70; tails it was, and Pittsburgh took Terry Bradshaw.
Men of steel: Pittsburgh shut out five teams in a two-month
stretch of '76 and won four Super Bowls in six seasons. "We had
an All-Star team," linebacker Andy Russell said. And something
else: "We despised losing!" said Bradshaw.
Paul Brown's Browns were considered bush leaguers when they
joined the NFL in 1950. To open the season, commissioner Bert
Bell matched them against the defending champs, the Eagles, and
71,237 fans showed up in Philadelphia for the eagerly
anticipated bloodbath. It was a 35-10 rout, but for Brown's
Browns. "Cleveland," Bell said, "is the best football team I've
ever seen." Led by Otto Graham, the Browns won seven titles in
the AAFC and NFL in 10 years.
New York Yankees
These were the DiMaggio Years, crammed with 799 wins, seven
pennants and six world titles. Starting in '36, the Yankee
Clipper's rookie season--a year in which Lou Gehrig hit .354
with 49 homers and 152 RBIs--the Yankees scored the most runs
and allowed the fewest in the American League four years in a
row and won the World Series each year.
Green Bay Packers
Taking over a team that had gone 1-10-1 in 1958, Vince Lombardi
began winning titles two years later. A master
disciplinarian--"When Coach Lombardi tells me to sit down, I
don't even look for a chair," defensive tackle Henry Jordan once
said--Lombardi led his Packers to five NFL titles in seven years.
As terrifying as Dan Gable was to opposing wrestlers when he won
the Olympic gold medal in 1972, he was just as discomfiting
matside as he seemed to will his Hawkeyes to total dominance.
Gable's Gang won nine straight NCAA team championships ('78 to
'86) and twice won three in a row ('91 to '93 and '95 to '97).
The Yankees of the Negro leagues were the Pittsburgh-based
Homestead Grays, led by Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard. Those two,
known as the black Ruth and Gehrig, respectively, led the Grays
to nine pennants and two World Series titles from 1937 to '45.
Gibson may have been the best player in all of baseball: A .354
lifetime hitter, he slammed 75 home runs as a 19-year-old rookie
for the Grays in 1931 and finished, by one count, with 823
Russian Pairs Skaters
In the past 35 years Russian pairs have won 29 world
championships and 10 straight Olympic gold medals. No pair
better defined the elegance and discipline of the Russian
skaters than the beautiful Ekaterina Gordeeva and her late
husband Sergei Grinkov. Harmonious, balletic and effortlessly
athletic, this Moscow couple won four world titles and two
Olympic golds, capturing the hearts of audiences the world over
before Grinkov died of a heart attack at the age of 28.
With 24 Stanley Cups since 1916, the Montreal Canadiens have
been the dominant team of the century, but the best of the best
were the Flying Frenchmen who won five straight Cups starting in
1956. Led by 10 future Hall of Famers--including Maurice and
Henri Richard, Jean Beliveau, Bernie Geoffrion and Jacques
Plante--these Habs boasted two All-Star lines and the NHL's
stingiest defense for five years running.
From 1941 to 1958, Calumet Farm in Lexington, Ky., bred and
raced two Triple Crown winners--Whirlaway (1941) and Citation
(1948)--and five other Kentucky Derby winners: Pensive (1944),
Ponder (1949), Hill Gail (1952), Iron Liege (1957) and Tim Tam
(1958). Seven of the farm's horses from this period were
eventually voted into racing's hall of fame--most of them
offspring of the farm's magnificent stallion, Bull Lea.