This is part of a series of sports history articles celebrating the best in 1981 sports. This piece asks the question of which geographic fan base had the best year in ’81
The SportsNotebook’s year-by-year study of the modern era (1976-Present) has focused on the best place to live as a sports fan in any calendar year. 1981 challenges that that paradigm.
While California teams won the World Series (Dodgers) and Super Bowl (49ers), SoCal and NoCal are worlds apart. Indiana won the NCAA Tournament while Clemson’s Orange Bowl win gave them the national championship in football. The New York Islanders and Boston Celtics won titles in their sports.
With titles all splintered out, was there any common theme? Yes, there was. The championships by both San Francisco and Clemson marked landmark wins in the football landscape, for two different reasons.
Both were the first step in significant shifts in the power structure of the NFL and college football. The 49ers won an NFC Championship Game with the Dallas Cowboys that represented two ships crossing in the night, as the Dallas dynasty of Tom Landry began to fade and the San Francisco rise under BIl Walsh began.
Clemson’s national title was much farther reaching. 1981 was a year of change in college football, as traditional powers, from Notre Dame to Alabama, slipped back and new teams—including Iowa—began to step and take their place in the new order. No team took their place with greater authority than Danny Ford’s Clemson Tigers, who rolled to an unbeaten season and a national title.
TheSportsNotebook looks back on the 49ers and Clemson and their respective rides to glory.
Read more about the 1981 San Francisco 49ers
Read more about the 1981 Clemson Tigers
SportsNotebook Featured Products
View Our Complete Catalog
The Sports Notebook Newsletter
TheSportsNotebook.com is home to an extensive archive of sports history articles along with blog posts on contemporary sports.
Shop Our Digital Catalog
- College Basketball History Articles
- College Football History Articles
- MLB History
- NBA History Articles
- NFL History Articles
- Sports History Articles
- Stanley Cup History
The 1977 Pittsburgh Pirates were looking to get back into the postseason. After winning the old NL East five times in the six seasons from 1970-75, the Pirates slipped to second place behind the Philadelphia Phillies in 1976. Pittsburgh also had a new manager. After the retirement and subsequent passing of franchise legend Danny Murtaugh, […]
Danny Murtaugh was an institution in Pittsburgh. He managed the Pirates from 1959-64, a stretch that included a historic World Series title in 1960. He managed the Buccos again in 1970-71, winning another epic World Series in ’71. After again trying his hand at retirement, he was summoned out and won NL East titles in […]
The city of Detroit hasn’t seen too many sustained stretches of good pro football. But the 1990s were an exception. The Lions had the great Barry Sanders in the backfield and were a consistent contender for the playoffs throughout the decade. The 1994 Detroit Lion team that got into the postseason was one part of […]
The Chicago Bears were only two years removed from the end of the Mike Ditka era, and just three years removed from that era’s last playoff appearance. In the mid-1990s, this was still a fan base that was accustomed to success. Dave Wannstedt had been hired to replace Ditka. And in Wannstedt’s second year, he […]
Dennis Green had come to Minnesota in 1992 and immediately returned the Vikings to the playoffs after a two-year absence. In 1993, Green did it again. Both of those teams lost in the first round, but Minnesota was back on everyone’s radar. The 1994 Minnesota Vikings continued the pattern—they got their third straight playoff appearance […]
The Big Red Machine was at the peak of their power. Starting in 1970, they were on a run of six division titles, four National League pennants and were fresh off winning the World Series in both 1975 and 1976. The 1977 Cincinnati Reds were still a good team, but they were well off the […]
Dean Smith was on a high. The Tar Heel coach, ultimately headed for the Hall of Fame, was already one of college basketball’s best. He had reached four Final Fours in his first 15 years at Chapel Hill. In the summer of 1976, he won an Olympic gold medal. The 1977 North Carolina basketball team […]
Dean Smith came to North Carolina in 1962, and over his first decade, he took the Tar Heels to the Final Four on four different occasions. From 1973 through 1975, UNC took a back seat to N.C. State and Maryland in the ACC but winning the conference tournament in ’75 got them back into an […]