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
SportsNotebook Featured Products
View Our Complete Catalog
The Sports Notebook Newsletter
TheSportsNotebook.com is home to an extensive archive of sports history articles along with blog posts on contemporary sports.
Shop Our Digital Catalog
- College Basketball History Articles
- College Football History Articles
- MLB History
- NBA History Articles
- NFL History Articles
- Sports History Articles
- Stanley Cup History
The University of Miami had become known as simply “The U” thanks to their dominance in the 1980s and the early 1990s. They won four national titles, and narrowly missed several others. They played with a swagger that made them a national brand. But the mid-1990s saw the ‘Canes slip, even to the point of […]
In 1999, Virginia Tech had produced its greatest football season ever. A program that had been gaining steam for several years–a major bowl victory in 1995 and another appearance in a marquee bowl a year later—had gone to the next level when dynamic freshman quarterback Michael Vick arrived on campus. Vick got the Hokies to […]
It was 1995 when Northwestern shocked the college football world by winning an outright Big Ten title and going to the Rose Bowl for the first since 1948. Almost as improbably was the Wildcats following that up in 1996 with a share of the conference championship. But after two losing seasons, and the departure of […]
The Michigan football program was in a good place in 2000. They were just four years removed from having won the national championship in 1997. They were coming off a 1999 season that was capped by an Orange Bowl victory over Alabama and led by a quarterback named Tom Brady. With Brady now gone, the […]
San Francisco had started a nice run of success in 1997 when they won the NL West, then followed that up with two more winning seasons. The 2000 San Francisco Giants kicked it up a notch and won another division title. Barry Bonds had been the juice in the San Francisco lineup since coming to […]
The Braves were the National League’s Team of the 1990s. They won the NL East in every completed season from 1991-99, and would have at least made the playoffs in the strike-shortened year of 1994. They won five National League pennants and captured the World Series title in 1995. The 2000 Atlanta Braves continued in […]
Following a respectable 1974 season, there were some hopes that major league baseball was finally coming into its own in Milwaukee after just five years. But terrible seasons in 1975 and 1976 ruined any optimism. The 1977 Milwaukee Brewers weren’t any better in the won-loss column. But they did start to put some pieces in […]
The 1976 Milwaukee Brewers came into the season looking to pick up the pieces, after a drastic collapse over the final two months of 1975 ruined what had been an upward trajectory for a still-young franchise. The Brewers made a managerial change, handing the reins to Alex Grammas. But the problems proved to be on […]