This article offers a snapshot of 1992 sports, a year defined by an epic shot in the NCAA Tournament, and a parade of teams either closing repeat titles, getting close to doing such, or starting repeat runs.
The Shot Heard ‘Round The World: To a previous generation this phrase means Bobby Thomson’s walkoff home run to win the 1951 National League pennant for the New York Giants. To another generation it’s the dramatic end to the Duke-Kentucky regional final in the NCAA Tournament.
Duke was the #1 seed in the East and the favorite to win repeat national titles, a feat not done since the UCLA dynasty. Kentucky was back in the limelight, after a brief stretch in the NCAA doghouse, and rebuilt by Rick Pitino. The Wildcats were the #2 seed, and the two teams squared off in Philadelphia.
For forty minutes of regulation and then 4:58 of overtime, the game already earned a special place in college basketball lore. Bobby Hurley scored 22 and dished 10 assists for Duke. Jamal Mashburn scored 28 and grabbed 10 rebounds for Kentucky. It was the Wildcats that took a 103-102 lead with two seconds left. Then came the play that’s now shown on highlight reels every March.
Duke’s Grant Hill, already with six assists to go with ten rebounds, took the ball under his own basketball and rifled a three-quarters court bullet pass that national Player of the Year Christian Laettner caught, as the Kentucky defenders did not contest the pass. Laettner was 9-for-9 from the floor when he caught the pass and had scored 29 points. By the time he finished coming down, spinning and putting up a turnaround jumper from the foul line, you could make that 10-for-10 with 31 points and one of college basketball’s great finishes.
The Final Four was still ahead and it was a good one, as Duke turned back a stiff challenge from Indiana, and had to pull away from Michigan in the second half to win their second straight national title. But the play, and the game everyone remembers took place in Philadelphia. Click here to read a complete account of the 1992 Final Four.
The Fab Five: Michigan reached the NCAA final, and doing it as a 6-seed made it surprising, but not necessarily historic on its face. Kansas, after all, had won a national title in 1988 out of the 6-hole and N.C. State did the same in 1983. But those teams had senior leadership. Michigan was different—they started five freshman, the first team ever to do so and reach the national championship game.
Chris Webber and Jalen Rose would go on to have solid NBA careers, and Juwan Howard a pretty good one. Jimmy King and Ray Jackson didn’t have an impact at the pro level, but were solid college players. Together, they made history in Ann Arbor.
Michigan had to beat the top two seeds in the Southeast Regional at Lexington, ironically the same site the Wolverines had to go through en route to the 1989 NCAA title. Rose scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, while holdover Eric Riley put up a 15/10 in the win over 2-seed Oklahoma State.
Then it was overtime against top seed Ohio State, the biggest non-football game these two archrivals have ever played. Rose was again strong, with 20 points and he was the regional’s Most Outstanding Player. Webber posted a 23/11 and Michigan survived, 75-71.
At the Final Four, the Wolverines survived Cincinnati, and led Duke by a point at the half before the dream finally ended. But what a historic ride it was.
Jordan Goes Back-To-Back: Repeat championships were the order of the day in basketball, not just in college, but at the NBA. Michael Jordan’s Bulls had joined Duke in making 1991 their breakthrough year, and now the Bulls joined the Blue Devils in ratifying their place in history in 1992.
Chicago dominated the regular season with 67 wins, thanks to Jordan’s 30 ppg and he won his third MVP award. The Bulls got one stiff challenge in the playoffs, when Pat Riley’s New York Knicks took them to seven games in the second round, but otherwise, Chicago was mostly in control and sealed their second straight title by beating Portland four games to two. Click here to read a complete account of the 1992 NBA Finals.
Seven-Game Battles In The East: We mentioned Chicago and New York going at it for the full seven games in the NBA’s Eastern Conference semi-finals. They weren’t the only ones. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics also went the distance, as the Eastern semis provided the 1992 NBA postseason its strongest element of drama.
The Knicks had been taken over Pat Riley, the head coach of the Showtime-era Los Angeles Lakers. They were built around Patrick Ewing in the middle, who’d averaged 24 points/11 rebounds a game, and a good point in now-Golden State head coach Mark Jackson, who distributed eight assists a night. Xavier McDaniel, Gerald Wilkins and John Starks filled in the gaps, and the Knicks relied heavily on a physical brand of defense.
Jordan did not have a deep supporting cast around him. Scottie Pippen averaged 21 ppg and was an excellent defender, but beyond Horace Grant’s rebounding, the Bulls were dependent on their star. New York got 34 points/11 rebounds from Ewing in the opener, as the Knicks swiped Game 1 and took homecourt advantage.
Chicago won Game 2 and then reclaimed homecourt edge with a 94-86 win in Game 3, as Jordan and Pippen were too much for Ewing, who didn’t get any help. The Knicks turned around and dominated the fourth quarter of Game 4 though, tying up the series.
The Bulls’ defense contained Ewing in Game 5 and Jordan lit up Chicago Stadium for 37 points in a eight-point win, but New York again owned the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden, pulling away to win Game 6.
Game 7 was tight for the first half and Chicago only led by five. But it was Jordan’s day, and he racked up 42 points, with the Bulls pulling away to a 110-81 win.
Cleveland had the misfortune of being in Jordan’s conference at the time of his rise, but this was a good 57-win basketball team that had Brad Daugherty in the post, Larry Nance at forward and sharpshooter Mark Price on the perimeter.
Boston was at an in-between point in their history. They still got contributions from Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, and when Larry Bird’s back allowed him on the floor, the Legend averaged 20 ppg. The Celtics were led though, by up-and-comer Reggie Lewis and his 21 ppg, and other new faces like Kevin Gamble, Dee Brown and current Denver Nuggets coach Brian Shaw.
Bird’s back was ailing badly by this point in the season and he was coming off the bench for limited minutes. Daugherty slapped up a 26/17 game in the opener, keyed a big Cleveland rebounding edge and a 101-76 rout. But behind the mix of the old and new—27 from Parish and 26 from Lewis—the Celts took Game 2, 104-98.
Boston nearly took complete control of the series back at the Garden. Parish and Ed Pinckney led a decisive rebounding effort that resulted in a 110-107 win. Game 4 went to overtime, but the Cavs got a combined 78 points from Nance, Price and Daugherty and escaped, 114-112.
Daugherty’s 28/9 performance led Cleveland to an easy rout in Game 5. Then Bird came into the starting lineup and gave his team 37 minutes in Game 6, as the Celts came back with a rout of their own.
It was time for another Game 7 and Bird did start and give 30-plus minutes. But Daugherty again had a 28/9 game on his home floor and Cleveland’s fast start held, en route to a 122-104 win.
Cleveland gave Chicago a fight, but the Bulls were able to close out in six games, with the security of a home Game 7 still in their back pocket. It was the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs where the drama was in 1992.
How Bout ‘Dem Cowboys: The Dallas Cowboys considered themselves the NFL’s proudest franchise, but they hadn’t won the Super Bowl since 1977, nor been there since 1978. They hadn’t even played for the NFC Championship since 1982, when they lost a great battle in San Francisco. Perhaps it was appropriate then, that the signature moment on the way back to glory came in Frisco.
Dallas had reached the second round of the playoffs in 1991 and they opened ’92 by sending a loud and clear message to the rest of the league, with a 23-10 thumping of defending Super Bowl champion Washington on Monday night football, a game not nearly as competitive as the score makes it sound.
The Cowboys were 6-1 and playing a key regular season game against Philadelphia the only team to beat them in the early going. An Eagle win would pull them into a tie for first and give them the tiebreaker. Dallas trailed 7-3 in the third quarter and it was tied 10-10 in the final period, but behind 163 rushing yards from Emmitt Smith, Dallas churned out a 23-10 win and they never looked back in the division. They finished the season 13-3 and got the #2 seed in the NFC.
Philadelphia awaited again in the second round of the playoffs, after Dallas rested up with a first-round bye. Troy Aikman threw two first-half touchdown passes , the Cowboys built up a 17-3 lead and coasted 34-10.
That set up the battle with top-seeded San Francisco in a battle between the two teams considered the best in football. The two offenses alone combined for 13 Pro Bowlers and each was in the top five of the NFL defensively. In the first half, the battle looked even as the teams went to the locker room tied 10-10.
It was the Cowboys who delivered the blows coming out in the second half, driving for a touchdown immediately after kickoff and taking a 24-13 lead into the early part of the fourth quarter. But San Francisco came back with a short touchdown pass from Young to Jerry Rice, and when the Cowboys were pinned back inside their own 20, the Bay Area crowd still had hope.
Aikman threw a simple slant over the middle to Alvin Harper. The receiver broke through and turned it into a huge play, taking it all the way down inside the 49er 10-yard line. A short touchdown pass by Aikman sealed the 30-20 victory. Ultimately, turnovers were the difference, with Dallas playing mistake-free while San Francisco gave it away four times.
The Cowboys were favored to win the Super Bowl over the Buffalo Bills and they did just that. After a somewhat rocky start, the turnover edge from the NFC Championship Game turned into the turnover landslide of the Super Bowl. Dallas forced a Super Bowl record nine, and rolled to a 52-17 win. They were back atop the NFL world, and it wouldn’t be for the last time with this cast of characters. Click here to read a complete account of the 1992 Super Bowl.
Toronto Breaks Through: The World Series trophy had yet to live the confines of the United States. The Montreal Expos spent the first half of the 1980s knocking on the door, but never breaking through. The Toronto Blue Jays took up the mantle of Canada starting in 1985, but hadn’t made it over the top.
The Blue Jays got unexpectedly tough battles in the AL East, with both the Milwaukee Brewers and Baltimore Orioles overachieving and hanging in the race to the final week. Toronto went out and acquired starting pitcher David Cone at the trade deadline to shore up the weakest area of their team, and they hung on.
Toronto faced Oakland in the American League Championship Series, but the A’s weren’t quite as awe-inspiring as the team that beat the Blue Jays in the 1989 ALCS. The big moment came in Game 4. The Blue Jays lead the series 2-1, but were trailing this game by a 6-1 count after six innings and the A’s had MVP closer Dennis Eckersley awaiting.
Instead, it was second baseman Roberto Alomar who took over. He doubled to start a three-run rally in the eighth. Then he beat Eckersley with a two-run homer in the ninth to tie it. Toronto won 7-6 in eleven innings and eventually closed it out in six games. Alomar hit .423 for the series and was named ALCS MVP.
The World Series was now in Canada for the first time, and this close to the prize, the Blue Jays didn’t let it slip from their grasp. They beat the Atlanta Braves in six games to bring home the championship. Click here to read a game-by-game account of the 1992 World Series.
NLCS Epic: It was the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7, and the Atlanta Braves trailed the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-0. How it gotten to this point, the Braves must have surely wondered.
It was a rematch of the previous year’s NLCS, where Atlanta had upset Pittsburgh with consecutive road wins in Games 6 & 7. Now the Pirates were trying to return the favor.
Atlanta had gotten off to a great start in this NLCS, winning the opener 5-1 behind John Smoltz and then routing Pittsburgh 13-5 in Game 2. It was a then-unknown knuckleballer named Tim Wakefield who settled things down for the Pirates, winning Game 3 by a 3-2 count. Atlanta took Game 4 thanks to four hits from Otis Nixon, but Pittsburgh stayed alive with a 7-1 in Game 5. Ironically, that was the same score by which the Pirates won Game 5 of the 1979 World Series, another elimination setting that still sent them on the road needing two more.
The Pirates looked ready to wake up the echoes of ’79, when they blasted Tom Glavine for eight second-inning runs in Game 6, making Wakefield’s second series win an easy one. Then Pittsburgh ace Doug Drabek took that 2-0 lead into the ninth inning the next night and the comeback was just about complete.
But Terry Pendleton opened with a double down the line. An error and a walk loaded the bases and got Drabek out of the game. A sac fly and another walk had the bases reloaded and the score now 2-1. Pittsburgh closer Stan Belinda got Brian Hunter to pop out, and now all that was left was unknown pinch-hitter Francisco Cabrera.
Cabrera lashed a single to left, and Barry Bonds, playing his final year in the Steel City came up throwing. But his arm wasn’t good enough to throw out slow-footed Sid Bream who came around from second base with the game’s winning run. Atlanta was going back to the World Series. Pittsburgh hasn’t back to the postseason—nor even had a winning season—since.
Alabama Returns To The Top: The Alabama football program hadn’t won a national title in the post-Bear Bryant era and only occasionally had they even challenged for one. That finally changed under Gene Stallings. Though the Tide didn’t have a demanding schedule, they kept winning, and when that included a victory over a good Florida team in the first-ever SEC Championship Game—the first conference championship game in college football history, Alabama got a crack at top-ranked Miami in the Sugar Bowl.
‘Bama shocked the nation by not simply beating Miami, but routing the ‘Canes, 34-13. Under the leadership of Gene Stallings, and a stalwart defense, they were back atop the college football world. Click here to read a complete account of the 1992 Sugar Bowl.
The Penguins Join The Repeat Barrage: We’ve seen that Duke and the Chicago Bulls both repeated. The Toronto Blue Jays and Dallas Cowboys set the stage for doing the same in 1993. Miami football came within one game of doing so. With this seemingly as the theme for 1992, should we be surprised that it extended to the NHL?
Pittsburgh was led by the goal-scoring trio of Mario Lemieux, Kevin Stevens and Joe Mullen, and though they started the playoffs slow, the Pens eventually got postseason fire. They won their final 11 games, including a sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks to hoist the Cup. Click here to read a more complete account of the 1992 Stanley Cup Finals and the playoff ride of the ’92 Penguins.