The state of Michigan brought home basketball championships at both the college and NBA level, and nothing in 1989 sports was more dramatic than the way the Michigan Wolverines won the 1989 NCAA Tournament.
Michigan saw its head coach, Bill Frieder, leave for the Arizona State job prior to March Madness. Frieder was then told he didn’t need to bother coaching the team in the tournament.
Steve Fischer took the team over on an interim basis and promptly won six games in a row, culminating with last-second wins against both Illinois and Seton Hall at the Final Four.
The Detroit Pistons ride to the NBA title seemed almost pre-ordained, as the Pistons had waited their turn, in suffering crushing losses to the Boston Celtics in 1987 and the Los Angeles Lakers in 1988. The Pistons produced the best record all season long, rolled through the playoffs and beat an injury-depleted Laker team to win the championship.
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The good people of Michigan weren’t the only regions to have a great sports year. How about the Bay Area? The Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants each made it to the World Series, and the A’s won in a four-game sweep, a Series marred by the tragedy of an earthquake right before Game 3, that did immense damage and put baseball on hold for ten days. Like so many cities, before and since, the Bay Area was able to find some escape in sports.
Baseball in general had a bit of a down year, at least in the excitement department. Three of the four division races lacked drama and neither League Championship Series made it past five games. The one exception to the no-excitement rule came in the American League East, when the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles
In the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers were already in the discussion for Team of the 1980s, along with the Washington Redskins, with each having three Super Bowl titles. San Francisco broke the tie, and not only that, did with the best team produced in the Joe Montana era—indeed, it was a team that was probably the greatest 49ers team ever and on the short list of best Super Bowl champions of all time. The 49ers went 14-2 and steamrolled three postseason opponents, including John Elway’s Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 55-10.
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One of the most ballyhooed trades in sports history took place in the NHL, when the Edmonton Oilers dealt the greatest hockey player of all time, Wayne Gretzky, to the Los Angeles Kings. The two teams ended up facing each other in the playoffs and Gretzky got the best of his former employer.
But the Calgary Flames got the best of everyone. Calgary and Montreal met in the Stanley Cup Finals and the Flames won their first and only championship.
Read more about the 1989 NHL Playoffs
The Notre Dame-Miami rivalry was at its zenith in college football, and the “Catholics vs. Convicts” war had a sequel to its dramatic 1988 game. Miami got the better of the Fighting Irish this time around and the Hurricanes won the national championship.
The constancy of these two powers at the top was a source of stability on a college football landscape that saw the end of the “lock” Nebraska and Oklahoma had held over the Big Eight since 1976.
Read more about the 1989 Notre Dame-Miami Rivalry