Major league baseball produced some of the best moments in the year of 1982 sports, but it wasn’t from a team en route to a title. The St. Louis Cardinals were the team that won the 1982 World Series, but with due apologies to the great baseball fans of St. Louis (and perhaps giving away that I grew up in Milwaukee in the early 1980s), it was the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers that produced the most lasting memories of a baseball season that is underappreciated by history.
Milwaukee staged a winner-take-all battle with the Baltimore Orioles for the old AL East title on the final day of the season, only the second time in history that such a game has ever been played within the natural schedule (not counting one-game playoffs). The Brewers then became the first team to lose the first two games of what was then a best-of-five League Championship Series round, and rally to win three in a row. It was always done with a flair for the dramatic.
Alas, the Brewers’ dream season came to an end in an excellent seven-game World Series against the Cardinals, two teams that have since become strong division rivals with Milwaukee’s move to the National League sixteen years later. St. Louis won their first World Series title in fifteen years. Milwaukee made the first (and to this date only) Fall Classic in their history and authored a season to remember.
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Redemption was a key theme in the NBA, the Final Four and New Year’s Day in college football. The Philadelphia 76ers had blown a 3-1 series lead to the Boston Celtics one year earlier, and were on the verge of doing it again before they won a Game 7 in the Garden. The Sixers wouldn’t get a championship though—Magic Johnson, after being injured much of 1981 and blamed for getting head coach Paul Westhead fired early in this season, turned around and won the Finals with Pat Riley.
North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith had made six trips to the Final Four, but never won the ultimate prize. He was within one possession of coming up empty a seventh time, but the Tar Heels survived a thriller against Georgetown and won Smith’s first title.
UNC’s win took place in the New Orleans Superdome and ten months later, Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was at this same locale for the Sugar Bowl. Paterno was after his own first national title, having been denied by the voters with unbeaten teams in 1968, 1969 and 1973, and denied at the goal line in an epic Sugar Bowl clash with Alabama in 1978. This time, against Georgia, Paterno got it done and finally got that elusive #1 ranking.
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The best teams prevailed in both the NFL and the NHL, though each had quite different pedigrees when the postseason began. The Washington Redskins had never won a Super Bowl and hadn’t made the playoffs since 1976. With head coach Joe Gibbs in his second year, the Redskins put it all together.
In a season marred by a strike that wiped out seven games, Washington went 8-1 and earned the top seed in an expanded 16-team playoff format. They won the first two playoff games decisively, won a good NFC Championship Game with the Dallas Cowboys and then pulled away from the Miami Dolphins in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, as the power running of John Riggins made the difference.
The New York Islanders were a dynasty, having already won two straight Stanley Cups and then posting the best record in the NHL for the 1982 season. But the Isles were pushed to the brink in the first round and needed a miracle rally to survive a monumental upset. From that point forward, New York took over and made it three Cups in a row.
1982 Washington Redskins
1982 New York Islanders