1977 sports was a year where tradition-laden teams stepped up and won championships. It would hard to find three teams with more lore in their respective sports (or more bandwagon-jumping fans who’ve rooted for them over the years) then the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys and Notre Dame football. All three reached the top in 1977.
The Yankees provided 1977 with its signature sports moment. After first winning a tough AL East race with the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles, then being pushed to the brink by the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series, the Yankees won three of the first five World Series games and came home to the Bronx ready for a party.
And what a party Reggie Jackson threw for everyone. The slugger, in his first year in New York, hit three home runs on three consecutive swings and gave the franchise its first World Series trophy in fifteen years.
The Cowboys used a smothering defense to dominate at every key point of the 1977 NFL season—from a season-opening win over defending NFC champ Minnesota, to a playoff shutdown of Chicago’s MVP running back Walter Payton, to dominating the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game rematch.
It wasn’t that Dallas couldn’t score—they had the second-best attack in the league—but the defense was just exceptionally dominant, and they sealed the deal with a 27-10 rout of the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.
Notre Dame lost a game early, increasing the rumblings about third-year coach Dan Devine, but once Joe Montana got firmly established as the starter, the Irish were off and running. They reached #5 in the polls by New Year’s Day, and got a Cotton Bowl shot at #1 Texas.
The Longhorns had Heisman Trophy running back Earl Campbell, who was one of the great college backs of the modern era and playing a de facto home game in Dallas, looked set to cap it off with a national title (which would have set the table for a Dallas-area sweep of the college football and NFL titles).
But Notre Dame and Montana had other ideas, and the Cotton Bowl was never close. The Irish won 38-10 and with a series of unexpected outcomes in other bowls, made an improbable jump from fifth to first in the final polls.
The world of basketball had surprises in both college and the NBA and they were highlighted by a player and coach at opposite ends of the career spectrum. The Portland Trail Blazers were led by 24-year-old center Bill Walton and when they pulled consecutive upsets of the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers and won the NBA championship, it looked like a dynasty was in the works. That didn’t work out, but 1977 was still a magical year in the Pacific Northwest.
And in college, the old Marquette warrior, head coach Al McGuire, had announced his retirement. The 1977 Warrior team wasn’t one of his best, but they scraped their way into what was then a 32-team NCAA Tournament and then kept scratching their way to the Final Four in Atlanta.
McGuire was there with two other respected coaches who had their eyes on a first ring, in North Carolina’s Dean Smith and UNLV’s Jerry Tarkanian. Both had a long career still ahead of them though, and they weren’t going to get in the way of Al’s moment.
Marquette beat North Carolina in the championship game and if Reggie’s three home runs on three swings was 1977’s top moment, then the sight of the rugged McGuire in tears on the bench as the clock ticked down is surely its most enduring image.
And we save the Montreal Canadiens for last, not because they weren’t great, but because they were so great as to lack drama. The NHL was already very top-heavy at this time, with five teams drastically separating from the rest of the pack. And within that group of five, Montreal separated themselves even further, coasting to the Stanley Cup.