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
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