The List: Underrated teams
By David Schoenfield
Page 2 staff

The 1985 Chicago Bears danced to the "Super Bowl Shuffle." The 1927 Yankees had Ruth and Gehrig, the heart of "Murderer's Row." The 1980s Lakers and Celtics battled with legendary players like Magic and Bird.

Yes, we remember these teams because they won, but also because they had personalities, superstars and big-city hype. And while their greatness can't be denied, there have been other teams as good or nearly as good, but never mentioned with the same awed reverence. But they should be. We present our all-time underrated teams, those great teams which don't receive their proper respect in the historical archive.

Dave McNally
Dave McNally went 20-7, 24-9 and 21-5 from '60 to '71.

1. 1969-1971 Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles didn't have a flashy nickname like the Big Red Machine or the combative personality of the Swingin' A's ... and, of course, they won only one World Series. They were shocked in '69 by the Miracle Mets and they lost in seven games to the Pirates in '71. But these O's had one of the best three-year stretches ever, winning 109, 108 and 101 games (compare that to the A's team which won three straight World Series from '72-74, but won just 93, 94 and 90 in the regular season).

The O's featured three 20-game winners in Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally, an offense led by all-time underrated superstar Frank Robinson and '70 MVP Boog Powell and a terrific defense with Brooks Robinson, Paul Blair and Mark Belanger. OK, so they lost two World Series. Get over it. The baseball postseason is a crapshoot; don't hold it against one of the greatest teams of all time because they were unlucky in October.

2. 1984 San Francisco 49ers
When Page 2 listed the greatest NFL teams of all time, this Joe Montana-led squad which went 15-1 didn't even make the top 10. Eddie Epstein's book "Dominance," on the greatest NFL teams ever, included two 49ers teams, but not this one.

Why? They lost one game (by three points), led the NFL in fewest points allowed, were second in points scored, featured 10 Pro Bowlers (including the entire defensive backfield of Ronnie Lott, Dwight Hicks, Carlton Williamson and Eric Wright) and had a balanced offense (fourth in passing yards, third in rushing yards). And they cruised in the playoffs: 21-10 over the Giants, 23-0 over the Bears and impressive 38-16 Super Bowl win over the 14-2 Dolphins, who possessed one of the greatest offenses of all time.

The Bears get all the kudos, but keep two things in mind: 1) Chicago played a weak New England team in its Super Bowl win while the Niners played a very good Dolphins team; 2) You don't think Joe Montana would find a way to score a few points against the vaunted "46" defense?

Julius Erving
The Doctor finally got his NBA championship once Moses Malone joined the team.

3. 1983 Philadelphia 76ers
The legacy of this Sixers squad has been overshadowed by the '80s Celtics and Lakers, but for one season this may have been the greatest NBA team ever. The Sixers went 65-17, with Moses Malone (24.5 points and 15.3 rebounds per game), Julius Erving (21.4 ppg) and Andrew Toney (19.7 ppg) leading the way. Five regulars shot 50 percent from the field. Malone was league MVP, Erving joined him on the first-team All-NBA and Malone, Maurice Cheeks and Bobby Jones were all-defensive first team. To top it off, the 76ers went 12-1 in the playoffs, including a sweep of the Lakers in the Finals.

4. 1994 Penn State football
The Nittany Lions rolled to a 12-0 record, a 38-20 win over Oregon in the Rose Bowl, scored at least 30 points in every game (and averaged 47 points per game), had three first-round picks in the NFL Draft (first overall choice Ki-Jana Carter, quarterback Kerry Collins and tight end Kyle Brady), played in a tough conference ... and finished No. 2 in the polls behind Nebraska (which had a great team and would be even better the following season, but voters were eager to give Tom Osborne his first national title). Perhaps Joe Paterno's greatest team, but forgotten among college football's best ever because it didn't win the national title.

5. 1991 Washington Huskies football
The Huskies shared the national title with Miami, clouding their legacy as one of the best teams in college football history. Nothing against the '91 'Canes, who were a great team, but this Washington team -- led by future No. 1 overall pick Steve Emtman, WR Mario Bailey (17 TD catches and future NFL QBs Billy Joe Hobert and Mark Brunell -- outscored its opponents 495-115 (Miami outscored a much easier slate of opponents 386-100, and beat Florida State only due to FSU's infamous "Wide Right"). The Huskies also won their toughest games on the road (at No. 9 Nebraska, at No. 7 California) and then dominated No. 4 Michigan, 34-14, in the Rose Bowl.

A few weeks ago, we had some fun with overrated athletes and celebs. This week we celebrate the underrated and unappreciated.

  • Underrated current athletes
  • All-underrated list
  • Underrated teams
  • All-time underrated athletes

  • 6. 1919 Cincinnati Reds
    Yes, the Chicago "Black Sox" threw the World Series, but everybody believes that if Shoeless Joe and Co. had tried, they would have stomped the National Leaguers in an easy sweep. However, everyone seems to forget this Reds team had one of the best records in NL history and a far better record than the White Sox: 96-44 (.686 winning percentage) vs. 88-52 (.629). The Reds may have been the better team, but the scandal denied them their place in history.

    7. 1985 Georgetown Hoyas
    The Patrick Ewing-led Hoyas had won the '84 national title, easily beating the Akeem Olajuwon Houston Cougars in the title game. The Hoyas were even better in '85, going 35-2 heading into the championship game against surprising Villanova. The Wildcats pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sports history, denying Georgetown back-to-back titles and its rightful place as one of college hoops all-time dominant teams.

    8. 1969 Kansas City Chiefs
    Everyone remembers the '68 Jets, who pulled off the monumental upset of the Colts in the 1969 Super Bowl. But the Jets were a fluke, a mediocre team that had a good year (they were over .500 only three times while Joe Namath was QB). But the Chiefs were a very good team, going 11-2-1, 9-5, 12-2 and 11-3 under Hank Stram from 1966-1969. These Chiefs, led by Hall of Famers Len Dawson and Buck Buchanan, don't receive any credit for being the second AFL team to win the Super Bowl -- they demolished the Vikings 23-7 in Super Bowl IV.

    9. 1980s Milwaukee Bucks
    Oops! We forgot a few!
    We tried to give out all the credit, but we still missed a few things worthy of your praise. You spoke up and set the record straight.
    Check out your additions!
    If you don't win, they don't remember you. Just ask the Bucks, who were truly a great team, but had the misfortune of bad timing: trying to beat the Bird Celtics and Erving/Malone 76ers every year in the playoffs. From 1981 to 1987, the Bucks won at least 50 games each season, including 60 in '81 and 59 in '85. They had All-Stars like Bob Lanier, Sidney Moncrief and Marques Johnson, but their playoff record was a run of not-quites: they reached at least the conference semifinals all those years, but lost to the Sixers or Celtics each time (including three conference finals).

    10. 1929-31 Philadelphia A's
    This team was so good it won three straight pennants, beating out the Ruth-Gehrig Yankees to do so. The A's won back-to-back World Series in '29 and '30 and featured arguably the greatest pitcher ever in Lefty Grove (31-4 in 1931), one of the game's all-time dominant hitters in Jimmie Foxx, plus Hall of Famers Mickey Cochrane and Al Simmons. In this three-year stretch they went 104-46 (.693), 102-52 (.662) and 107-45 (.704). No Yankees team has ever had a three-year stretch like that.

    Also receiving votes:
    1920s New York Rens (basketball)
    1993 San Francisco Giants
    1976 Pittsburgh Steelers
    1995 Cleveland Indians
    1953 Brooklyn Dodgers
    1977 Portland Trail Blazers
    1986 New York Giants


    David Schoenfield Archive

    SportsNation: Underrated!

    The List: Underrated current athletes

    Caple: Hidden treasures

    The List: Most overrated athletes

    Most overrated athletes of all time

    The List: Greatest individual streaks

    Baseball's one-hit wonders

    Biggest falls from grace

    The List: Steinbrenner's 10 worst knee jerk reactions

    The List: Best city year ever

    The List: City sports, the worst of times

    The List: Greatest underdogs

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