The image of the Coyote futilely chasing the Roadrunner is probably the best image for the year that was 1978 sports. We had Cinderella teams, long-suffering franchises, and great coaches all smelling breakthrough championships and getting right to the brink…only to have it pulled away by a dynasty.
There were three perfect examples…
*Duke basketball, in the days before Mike Krzyzewski, was still a Cinderella, and they made the Final Four, then reached the national championship game. In their way was Kentucky, who was exactly the kind of blueblood program they are today. The Wildcats won.
*The Boston Red Sox, in the days prior to 2004, were still chasing that elusive first World Series title since 1918. They had a 14-game lead on the New York Yankees, let it slip away, ended up in a one-game playoff for the AL East title and lost a heartbreaker.
*And Joe Paterno, already a legend by 1978, but still seeking his first national title, took a #1 ranked team to the Sugar Bowl to play Bear Bryant and Alabama. A dramatic goal-line stand keyed a victory for the Tide and a crushing loss for Paterno.
Read more about the 1978 Final Four
Read more about the 1978 baseball season
Read more about the 1978 college football season
A similar theme was at play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Boston Bruins made a strong run to reach the Finals for the second straight year, but once again ran into the buzzsaw that was the Montreal Canadiens. It was a more competitive Finals than Montreal had seen in winning each of the previous two Cups, but it still ended with the NHL’s proudest franchise hoisting the Cup one more time.
Read more about the 1978 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The four championships above were about a dynasty quashing a challenger. But what about a clash of dynasties? That’s what the Super Bowl offered. The Dallas Cowboys were the defending champions. The Pittsburgh Steelers were only a couple years removed from consecutive titles. The two best teams in the NFL met to see which organization would be the first to win three championships in the Super Bowl era. Pittsburgh won an excellent game worthy of the stakes.
Read more about the 1978 Super Bowl
Even though Notre Dame didn’t win a championship, it was arguably the best combo football-basketball year the school has ever had. Actually, that limits the options pretty dramatically, since the 1978 Notre Dame basketball team is the only team of the modern era to make it to the Final Four. The Irish lost an exciting game to Duke’s Cinderella story.
And though the football team didn’t defend its national title, they still produced another major bowl victory, as Joe Montana led a comeback for the ages in a Cotton Bowl triumph over Houston.
Read more about the 1978 Notre Dame basketball team
Read more about the 1978 Notre Dame football team
That brings us to the NBA, the one outlier in this whole dynasty conversation. It looked like the Portland Trail Blazers might have a dynasty in the making. They had won the title in 1977 and were flying along at 50-10, before Bill Walton broke his foot. The dream died for that season, and Walton’s recurring feet problems derailed the Blazers for years to come.
It left the door open for a strange year, where star players lost in the playoffs, we had a un-marquee Finals matchup of the Washington Bullets and Seattle Sonics, and the road team—Washington—actually won a Game 7 in the championship round.
Read more about the 1978 NBA season