Is The Spirit Of 1966 Sports Back For More?

Go back to the conclusion of the first weekend of the baseball season. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox had each been swept and the ESPN ticker at the bottom of the TV screen was telling us this was the first time since 1966 that each team had started 0-3. About a day later, a friend of mine who’s an Orioles fan sent me a text pointing this out and then concluding with this little tidbit, phrased as a question—“And who was it that won the World Series in 1966?” The answer, as you may have guessed is the Baltimore Orioles.

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I didn’t think anything of the early season bravado from long-suffering O’s Nation until I was doing the mid-May baseball overviews that we ran here at TheSportsNotebook last week, and realized that not only was Baltimore still holding the best record in the American League, but the Los Angeles Dodgers were riding high as the best team in the National League (Don’t get me wrong, I was quite aware of how well both teams were playing, but saw them in the context of their divisions rather than the league as a whole). The Orioles’ opponent in the 1966 World Series? The Los Angeles Dodgers.
So do we have a Back To The Future Year that’s going to reprise 1966 sports? Let’s have a little fun and run through the rest of that year. You might be surprised how much is actually within the framework of realistic discussion…
*Notre Dame won the national championship in college football for ’66. This was a title fraught with controversy. The signature game of the season was their battle of the unbeatens with Michigan State. With the score tied 10-10, Irish coach Ara Parseghian—knowing he was ranked #1, while Michigan State was #2, opted to run out the clock late in the fourth quarter rather than risk opening up the offense trying to win.
The gambit paid off and Notre Dame was voted #1 in Ara’s third year as head coach. It started a trend in South Bend—the three successful coaches the school had in the intervening years, including Dan Devine and Lou Holtz each won national championships in their third year. Is Brian Kelly going to have a good tenure under the Golden Dome? If you think so…this is Year 3.
It might be pushing one’s the luck of the Irish too far to think that Kelly’s about win it all, but one of the forgotten stories of 1966 is that there was a third team behind ND & Michigan State that went undefeated. And this team, unlike the Irish and Spartans went and validated itself in a major bowl game.
Notre Dame had a policy against accepting bowl bids at the time and the Big Ten had a rule that the same team could not go to the Rose Bowl in successive years. Michigan State had gone in 1965, and the league further prohibited going to any other bowl.
We have no idea how the top two teams would have fared in a big bowl game. We do know the #3 team made its statement and by the standards of today they would have won the national championship. The team that was robbed? Alabama. Yeah, I think the ’66 Reprise Theory could be in play here. I’d further add that the way ‘Bama got robbed in 1966 can be used as justification for their undeserved title shot a year ago.
*The NFL and AFL got together to create the first Super Bowl in 1966. The AFL champ was Kansas City. You might think it’s a huge stretch to think the Chiefs could make the Super Bowl this time around, but I think KC is a valid darkhorse. Their 7-9 record last year had its worst moments at the beginning of the year, and they get Pro Bowlers Eric Berry, Jamaal Charles and Tony Moeaki back from injuries that kept them out the entire season. As to the team that won the Super Bowl in 1966, I probably don’t have to sell you too hard on their chances of winning this year. That would be the Green Bay Packers, the early Vegas favorite to win it all.
*In the NBA, the Celtics won the championship in 1966 and have a very good chance to at least reach the Finals this time around.  Although this article is going online as they trail Philadelphia in the first half of Game 5 at home, so we’ll see how long that chance stays alive.
*The Stanley Cup isn’t into the whole spirit of ’66 at all. Detroit won the Cup that year and went out in the first round this season. Montreal was the runner-up and had a disastrous non-playoff season in 2011-12.
*The 1966 Final Four was one of the seminal moments in the history of college basketball. Texas Western (now called UTEP) became the first team to start five African-American players and win a national championship. The team they beat was Kentucky, led by Adolph Rupp and a bastion of pearly-white bigotry. This year Kentucky cut down the nets with a roster amply stocked with African-Americans.
Does this mean anything when it comes to forecasting how the year’s going to turn out? Of course not. But if we get an Orioles-Dodgers World Series, a Packer Super Bowl win, a BCS National Championship Game of Notre Dame-Alabama and a Celtics title run, then I’m going to break out my copy of the movie A Man For All Seasons. It’s the story of Thomas More, the man who was made a martyr by King Henry VIII because he gave his first loyalty to the Catholic Church rather than the State of England. It won Best Picture of 1966.