Monday, December 30, 2013

What Was New York Sports' Best Year?

Following yesterday's retrospective of the worst years in New York Tri-State Area sports, I decided to look at the best ones.

Using a not completely scientific method, and not counting college sports, the WNBA, or MLS, here's the top 10:

10. 2006. This is the only year in their 52-season joint existence that both the Yankees and the Mets won their respective Divisions. The Mets fell just 1 run short of a Pennant -- and haven't made the Playoffs since. Both Meadowlands Arena teams, the Devils and the Nets, won their Divisions, and the Devils beat the Rangers in the Playoffs for the 1st time in 4 tries.

In fact, 7 out of the 9 local teams made the Playoffs, the only time this has ever happened. The only ones that missed were the Knicks and the Islanders.

9. 2003. The Devils won the Stanley Cup. The Yankees won the Pennant, beating the hated Red Sox on the late comeback against Pedro Martinez and the Aaron Boone home run, but then lost the World Series to the team then known as the Florida Marlins. And the Nets made it back-to-back Eastern Conference Championships, and won the only NBA Finals games in their history, before losing in 6 to the San Antonio Spurs.

8. 2001. During the calendar year, 3 local teams reached the Finals of their sports, but all lost. First, the Giants walloped the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game at the Meadowlands, then got crushed by the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV. Then the Devils lost Games 6 (at home) and 7 to lose the Stanley Cup Finals to the Colorado Avalanche. And the Yankees were stunned by the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 7 of the World Series, after those unbelievable comebacks in Games 4 and 5, meaning the 9/11 recovery fairytale would remain incomplete.

The Jets and the Knicks also made the Playoffs. And the Mets had that emotional first game back, highlighted by the Mike Piazza home run.

7. 1999. For the 1st time, both the Yankees and the Mets made the postseason in the same year. The Mets made a late run to win the National League Wild Card, then tried to come from 3 games to 0 against the Atlanta Braves, and had the extra-inning win in Game 5 before losing a thriller in Game 6, ruining the dream of a Subway Series. Then the Yankees closed the 20th Century by beating the Braves. The Knicks also made the Finals, but lost to the Spurs.

6. 1951. Only 6 teams were playing in New York at the time, but 4 of them were among the last 3 teams standing. The football Giants and the Rangers didn't make the postseason, but the Knicks got all the way to overtime of Game 7 of the NBA Finals before they lost to the Rochester Royals (the team now known as the Sacramento Kings).

The baseball New York Giants had that incredible (literally, as it turned out) stretch run where they caught the Brooklyn Dodgers, and then beat them in the Playoffs on the Bobby Thomson home run. Then the Giants led the Yankees 2 games to 1 in the World Series, before the Yankees won the last 3, allowing Joe DiMaggio to close his career as a World Champion.

5. 2012. Hard to believe it was that recent, isn't it? The Giants began the year by once again upsetting the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Then in May, the Devils and Rangers both went on thrilling Playoff runs, finally clashing with each other in an epic Conference Finals -- well, as epic as a postseason series can get without going the full 7. It sure felt like 7, especially went Game 6 went to overtime, and then Adam Henrique scored his 2nd overtime winner of the Playoffs -- on May 27, no less, the anniversary of the Stephane Matteau Game, finally exorcising that ghost.

The Devils lost the Stanley Cup Finals, though, to the Los Angeles Kings. The Knicks also won a Playoff game for the 1st time in 12 years, and the Yankees struggled through injuries to reach the American League Championship Series.

4. 1981. The Devils were still in Denver in those days, but the Islanders won their 2nd straight Stanley Cup, beating the Minnesota North Stars in the Finals, and the Rangers also made the Playoffs. The Yankees won the Pennant, but lost the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Giants, Jets and Knicks also made the Playoffs.

3. 1998. The Yankees had the greatest season any baseball team has ever had, complete with a perfect game, a runaway Division Title, a League record for wins (since broken), a tough ALCS, and a World Series sweep of the San Diego Padres. The Mets bounced back from nearly a decade of mediocrity, although they needed to win just 1 of their last 5 games to make the Playoffs, and lost all 5. The Devils won their Division, and the Giants, Jets and Knicks all made the Playoffs.

2. 1994. It was nearly a double title at Madison Square Garden, as the Rangers won their 1st Stanley Cup in 54 years, and the Knicks reached Game 7 of the NBA Finals, finally having beaten the Michael Jordan-less Chicago Bulls, before losing to the Houston Rockets. To get to the Finals, the Rangers had to beat the Devils, needing to win Game 6 on the road and Game 7 at home, including double-overtime wins in Games 3 and 7, both won by goals by the aforementioned Matteau. The Islanders also made the Playoffs.

The Yankees were in 1st place on August 12, but that's when the strike began, ending the season as it turned out. When I made my chart, 1994 actually came out at Number 1. But since we got hit with the devastation of the strike, I cannot put this year at the top. Whether the Yankees would have won the World Series, we'll never know. If the season had reached such a conclusion, this would be a clear Number 1, with 2, nearly 3, teams going all the way, and 4 teams reaching their sports' Semifinals.

1. 2000. This one isn't just the last year in which 2 Tri-State Area teams went all the way. It is the year with the only Subway Series in the last 57 years. (Remember: It's only a "Subway Series" if it's the World Series -- regular-season series count in the standings, but not as a "Subway Series." They didn't call it that when the Giants and Dodgers played each other until 1957.) The Yankees beat the Mets, ending for once and for all the conceit that "New York is a National League town" and "Real New Yorkers are Met fans." (Are you listening, Curtis Granderson?)

In addition, the Devils won the Stanley Cup, beating the Philadelphia Flyers in a shocking 3-games-to-1 comeback in the Conference Finals, then facing the defending champion Dallas Stars in the Finals. The Devils lost Game 5 of the Finals at home in triple overtime, but won Game 6 on the road in double overtime on a goal by Jason Arnott. The Giants also began the run that would end in a Super Bowl the following January, and the Knicks also had a good Playoff run -- their last decent one to date.

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