By Chris Le
(Original post on 1/15/08)
If you don’t already know, Tom Brady is having a monster season – arguably the best in football history. And when you have a football player with crazy statistics, you will undoubtedly have football nuts debating and comparing that season with the likes of Peyton Manning’s 2004, LaDainian Tomlinson’s 2006, Eric Dickerson’s 1984, and Dan Marino’s 1984. In the wake of such discussion, ESPN.com compiled their list of the top 25 individual seasons, not in just football, mind you, but all sports (Brady’s 2007 season ranks fifth). A monumental task, no doubt. So unsurprisingly, as I read the rankings, I felt that some extremely historic years were unjustly overlooked.
So, I present to you seasons in sports lore that I feel deserve to be in the top 25…or at least honorable mentions.
Secretariat, 1973 – The greatest horse in racing history was peerless in capturing the 1973 Triple Crown, setting track records at the Kentucky Derby (1:59) and the Belmont Stakes (2:24), both of which still stand today, the latter being a world record for that distance on a dirt track. Secretariat punctuated his Triple Crown with a legendary run at the Belmont Stakes in possibly the single most dominant performance in sports history, winning by an ungodly 31 lengths. Relive this moment here.
Roger Federer, 2006 – This was Tiger Woods circa 2000 (which was fourth on ESPN’s list) on a tennis court. Federer reached the finals in all four of the Grand Slams, the first to do so since Rod Laver in 1969, and won three. The only Slam he did not win was the French Open, losing to Raphael Nadal, arguably the best clay player in history. For the year he went 92-5 with 12 titles in 17 tournaments. Of the 17 tournaments, he failed to reach the finals only once. In 2006, it was a surprise if he even dropped a set.
Jesse Owens, 1936 – It’s probably more like the greatest week in sports history rather than the greatest season, but Owens accomplished in seven days what most don’t even fathom of doing in a lifetime. The setting: Berlin, the 1936 Olympics with Adolf Hitler and his postures of Aryan supremacy as the host. Owens, an African-American of all people, sure made him look silly and proved him wrong, winning gold medals in the 100- and 200 meter dashes, the long jump and the 4×100 relay team. Owens became a national hero in the process.
Cael Sanderson 2001-2002 – Some may say Sanderson’s senior season was merely a part of a greater whole, thinking it more appropriate to congratulate him on his career than any single one of his campaigns. But I maintain the pressure to finish his collegiate career undefeated was immense; even the greatest amateur wrestler of all-time Dan Gable fell under the pressure in his last match. That’s what happens with expectations and everyone gunning after you. Not so with Sanderson. He went 40-0 (37 by pin, technical fall or major decision), rarely relinquishing unforced points on his way to capturing his fourth NCAA championship, third Dan Hodge Trophy for college’s best wrestler, and the cover on Wheaties.
Jim Brown, 1958 – I can understand how people overlook Jim Brown and his most gaudy of seasons; compared to today’s players his stats aren’t too mind-blowing: 1,527 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. Ostensibly, that’s an average season for LT. What people fail to realize is that Brown accomplished what he did in only 12 games. The NFL did not move to its current 16-game schedule until 1978. Extrapolate his numbers (127.3 yards a game on 5.9 yards a carry!) for 16 games and you get this: 2,036 yards and 22 touchdowns. And this was in an era where defenses were geared towards stopping the run. Just sick numbers by probably the greatest running back of all-time.