The year in 1997 sports was one of long-sought redemption, be it an individual, a college program or a professional organization. Teams and players that had gone through frustrating searches for championships began breaking through.
*Arizona basketball coach Lute Olson had built the Wildcat program from the ground up, just as he’d done with Iowa before that. In spite of three previous trips to the Final Four, Lute had never cut down the nets. In 1997, he did, as his Arizona team made history in ousting three #1 seed en route to the crown.
*The Michigan Wolverines have a proud football tradition that goes back to the beginning of the 20th century, but it had been 1948 since they won an national championship. An undefeated season and Rose Bowl win made them co-national champs, along with Nebraska.
*The Detroit Red Wings had a cast of players that had made a recent habit of coming up short in the NHL playoffs, most notably in 1996, when they had a record-setting regular season, and then lost to the Colorado Avalanche. The Red Wings took their revenge in 1997, knocking out Colorado and then beating the Philadelphia Flyers to win the Stanley Cup.
*And perhaps no redemption was sweeter, more long-sought or more celebrated on the national stage, than that of Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway. At the age of 37, he’d never won a Super Bowl and his teams suffered blowouts in their three previous tries. In a year where everyone expected them to be blown out by the Green Bay Packers, the Broncos delivered.
*Jim Leyland had become a respected baseball manager with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but suffered some agonizing losses in the National League Championship Series in the early 1990s. In later years, Leyland would go on to the Detroit Tigers, win two American League pennants, but never the World Series. In between Detroit and Pittsburgh, Leyland managed the Florida Marlins, and in 1997, he got his ring, as they won a seven-game World Series with the Cleveland Indians.
There was more to the world of 1997 sports. Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to another NBA championship. Two legends retired, as Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne and North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith said goodbye–Osborne with a co-national title and Smith with a Final Four trip. In baseball, Larry Walker and Tony Gwynn each made late summer runs at hitting .400 before coming up short.
The ultimate story of 1997 sports though was redemption. The links below provide more detail on the stories above.
This One’s For John: The 1997 Denver Broncos Finally Climb The Mountaintop
The 1997 Arizona Wildcats Slay Three Giants
Magic In Motown: The 1997 Detroit Red Wings & 1997 Michigan Football
The 1997 World Series: Seven Games & Then Some
The 1997 NBA Finals: How Jordan Willed The Bulls Past The Utah Jazz