The year in 1985 sports was, top-to-bottom, a year that can make a case for the best sports year ever. You had compelling and memorable championships in four sports, a fifth championship that was keyed by an injury that would stand up as one of history’s most important. And even the one title run that was fairly predictable was part of an emerging dynastic run.
But in this great year, two sports separate themselves and that’s college basketball and major league baseball. The Big East turned in the greatest college basketball performance we’ve seen to date, taking three spots in the Final Four.
Then, after securing both places in Monday night’s championship game, the league gave the nation an NCAA final for the ages. Villanova shocked Georgetown 66-64, denying the Hoyas the chance to be the first repeat titlist of the post-Wooden era and making Rollie Massimino forever a legend in Philadelphia.
The 1985 baseball season produced exciting, winner-take-all races, in three of its four divisions. Pete Rose closed in on Ty Cobb and eventually passed him in September as baseball’s all-time hits leader. The League Championship Series battles were defined by comebacks.
Finally, the Kansas City Royals completed a year of comebacks when the rallied from a 3-1 deficit in games and being three outs from elimination, to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
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The NFL and the NBA might not have produced the same sort of gripping conclusions we saw in the Final Four and World Series. But both pro football and pro hoops, for different reasons, had champions that stand out in the annals of history.
It’s tough to imagine a team winning a title with more flair than the Chicago Bears. With a dominating defense, a colorful defensive coordinator in Buddy Ryan, a hip quarterback in Jim McMahon and a future TV personality in Mike Ditka himself on the sidelines, the Bears steamrolled to a 15-1 season and an even more overwhelming playoff run. So confident was this team, they even filmed a video “The Super Bowl Shuffle” in the middle of the regular season.
The Los Angeles Lakers had won championships in 1980 and 1982, but still felt there was something to prove. The franchise had never beaten the Boston Celtics in NBA Finals competition, and had suffered through a long offseason over a belief—including one held by the players and coaches themselves—that they gave away the 1984 NBA Finals to these same Celtics. So it was all the sweeter when the Lakers broke the Garden curse and won the 1985 NBA championship on the parquet floor.
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In the world of college football, the Oklahoma Sooners had ambitious plans for 1985. They were going to change from the wishbone to the pro-style offense and give the keys to sophomore quarterback Troy Aikman. When Aikman’s ankle was broken in an October loss to Miami, it looked like both team and quarterback were done.
But it turned out the injury was just what was necessary. In the short term, the Sooners went back to the wishbone, which they and the coaching staff was more familiar, never lost again and won the national championship. In the long term, Aikman transferred to UCLA, learned the pro-style attack from a coaching staff familiar with it and became a Hall of Fame quarterback in the NFL. He also won three Super Bowls—one of them for his old OU coach, Barry Switzer, when they were both with the Dallas Cowboys.
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The NHL didn’t give us a thrilling finish, or any other intriguing plot twists. What hockey did do was continue to put greatness right in front of everyone. As in “The Great One”, Wayne Gretzky himself. The Edmonton Oilers had broken through in 1984 and won Gretzky’s first championship, and now they went to work on building a dynasty, blasting through the postseason and winning a second straight Stanley Cup.
Read more about the 1985 Edmonton Oilers