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Readers' List: Greatest clutch teams
From the Page 2 mailbag
On Monday, Page 2 offered its list of the greatest clutch sports teams of all-time. We asked for your take, and you filled our mailbag with plenty of choices.
1. 1980 U.S. Hockey Miracle on Ice (18 letters)
How do you not include the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team? The country's economy was in shambles, we had hostages in Iran, and the Russians invaded Afghanistan. The Summer Olympics were going to be boycotted, so we couldn't count on our swimmers, runners, and basketball players to give us some sense of pride. The '80 Olympic Hockey Team defines clutch. They had three come-from-behind wins, they beat the Russians and the Finns to secure the gold, and they truly gave the country something to be proud of, something to cherish. Never before has a team delivered a victory that boosted the whole country out of the doldrums. That is the definition of clutch.
2. (tie) 1983 N.C. State basketball (16 letters)
How are they not even on your list? This is a team that had to win the ACC Tournament just to get into the Big Dance -- as a No. 9 seed, I think. And we're talking about a league with MJ and Big Smooth playing in Chapel Hill for the defending national champs, and Ralph Sampson in Virginia. They end up winning nine straight games to finish out the season, coming from behind in almost every one, fight the invincible Phi Slamma Jamma Cougs of Houston (with The Dream and Clyde the Glide, both Hall of Famers) with Ki Slowa Balla, win on the most dramatic play possible -- tip dunk at the buzzer, and Jimmy V celebrates by running deliriously across the court like a man possessed, only to have the equipment manager nearly take him out in a bear hug! Jimmy V, Derek Wittenburg, Sidney Lowe, Thurl Bailey and, of course, Lorenzo Charles (who's expression after the dunk was the most classic holy @#%& look ever) were as clutch as it gets in March '83.
2. (tie) 1994-95 Houston Rockets (16 letters)
After the two comeback victories by the Phoenix Suns in the West semis, everyone thought the Rockets were done for. But they came back to take the series following Mario Elie's "kiss-of-death" 3-pointer. Then Hakeem's unreal performance against so-called MVP David Robinson and the Spurs showed what the Rockets were made of. Against the Magic, Hakeem showed Shaq what it took to dominate because Shaq couldn't hold him. Heck, no one could. The Rockets caused the demise of the Magic tandem of Shaq and Penny. I'm convinced that MJ and the Bulls would have been dethroned those two years the Rockets won, 'cause no one played better basketball when it counted. Period.
2. (tie) 1984-85 Villanova basketball (16 letters)
5. 1986 New York Mets (14 letters)
The 1986 Mets, without a doubt, are the most "clutch" team I've ever seen. Like James Bond (or this year's Yankees), they'd paint themselves into seemingly inescapable corners, and then pull off miraculous, never-seen-before-or-since comebacks. In Game 3 of the NLCS, they used Lenny Dykstra's two-out, two-run homer. In Game 5, Darryl Strawberry broke up Nolan Ryan's no-no with a monster blast, and they won in 12. In Game 6, they won in 16 innings after trailing by three in the ninth. And, of course, there's the Buckner game, the fact that they came back from three runs down to win Game 7 of the World Series, and the fact that they came back to win the Series itself after losing the first two games at home. I've never seen anything like it since.
6. 1993-94 New York Rangers (nine letters)
Once they hit the conference finals against the Devils, the team that seemed destined for the Cup turned back into that instant heart attack we knew and loved. Then, Mark Messier promised -- and delivered -- a victory in Game 6, and Stephane Matteau scored in Game 7 to send them to the finals. It wasn't over then. The word "choke" was hanging over everyone's head, along with "1940," when the Canucks pushed them to Game 7 in the Cup finals, and finally ... finally, they hoisted the Stanley Cup. Forgive me for being sentimental, but there's an old joke that spring finally comes when the Rangers choke in the playoffs. Spring didn't come that year.
7. 1991 Minnesota Twins (eight letters)
Down three games to two, the Twins knew they had to have two clutch games, and what followed were the two greatest games in World Series history. Talk about clutch, Kirby Puckett's Game 6 performance was mind-boggling. An RBI triple, one of the best catches in baseball history, and of course his game-winning homer in the 11th. Then, in Game 7, the most clutch pitching performance ever. Jack Morris matches John Smoltz, inning for inning until he gets the 10-inning shutout victory. If this isn't clutch, I don't know what is!
8. 1992-93 Montreal Canadiens (six letters)
Ten straight OT wins -- twice in the first round against Quebec, three against the Buffalo Sabres, two more in the conference finals vs. the Islanders, and another three in the finals against Los Angeles. An overtime loss is devastating in the playoffs, and most people forget the Habs played 11 overtime games in those playoffs. They lost their first OT game against the Nordiques. In fact, they went home trailing 2-0. Recovering from that first loss, to rattle off 10 in a row is just amazing. They really are "Les Glorieux."
New Westminster, British Columbia
9. (tie) 1966 Green Bay Packers (five letters)
How could you leave out the Ice Bowl Packers? They drove 68 yards in 12 plays over the final four minutes in minus-46 degree wind chill, then spurned a tying field goal for the Bart Starr sneak that won the game as time ran out.
9. (tie) 1969 Boston Celtics (five letters)
The Celtics defeated Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain, all in their primes, on the road in the seventh game. The list of the vanquished teams in your selections did not have the talent of the 1969 Lakers. Those teams barely contained two active all stars per team, while the '69 Lakers had three of the all-time greatest at their best. The performance must be measured by the quality of the opposition.
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