COLUMNS

Not quite the best

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
Weekly Citizen Sports Editor Kyle Riviere.

Wisconsin did what many thought could not be done last Saturday night: they beat unbeaten Kentucky.

The Wildcats were seeking the first undefeated season in college basketball since Indiana went perfect back in 1976. They headed into Saturday night's matchup with the Badgers 38-0.

Some were already ordaining Kentucky as the greatest college basketball team of all time; some were even saying they could make the NBA's Eastern Conference playoffs.

I thought both statements were completely absurd but I have to admit, they did have me sweating. I wrote a column when the season began saying it was foolish to assume they would go undefeated. They were just two wins away from pulling it off.

But now that they're down for the count, they join a large list of greatest teams to never win a championship.

You'll be hard-pressed to find many professional basketball or baseball teams on this list because in playoff series, the better team wins 99 percent of the time. The only time the better team won't win is when injuries are a factor.

No, when you're discussing best teams to never win a title, you have to look at one-game championships--where anything can happen on any given night--where sometimes, the best team doesn't win.

If you're talking about the NFL, you have to start with the 1968 Baltimore Colts.

The Don Shula-led team went 13-1 during the season and blanked the Browns, 34-0, in the NFL title game.

On the strength of those numbers, they headed into Super Bowl III as 17-point favorites before falling victim to "Broadway" Joe Namath and the Jets in the biggest upset in NFL history

How about the 1998 Vikings? They went 15-1 and set a record for most points in a season behind a ridiculous rookie year by Randy Moss.

They looked like a shoe-in for the Super Bowl to take on the defending champion Broncos, but they were upset by the Falcons in overtime of the NFC Championship Game after Gary Anderson's first missed field goal of the season.

The 2001 Rams went 14-2 and had an offense that scored more than 500 points with two NFL MVPs in Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. They were the "Greatest Show on Turf."

Everyone expected them to utterly destroy a Patriots squad in the Super Bowl that was being led by this inexperienced quarterback named Tom Brady.

After a last-minute drive engineered by Brady and a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri, the Rams became one of the greatest teams to not win a title and the Patriot empire began.

Unfortunately for the Patriots, they became THE greatest NFL team to not win a championship six years later.

They went a perfect 18-0 and set the scoring record. The Brady-to-Moss connection was simply unstoppable and the only them separating them from the title of "greatest ever" was a 10-6 Giants squad.

A dropped Asante Samuel game-clinching interception, miraculous Eli Manning escape and impossible grab by David Tyree later, and the Patriots felt the Rams' pain from six years earlier.

In college football, the 1983 Nebraska team went undefeated and was outscoring their opponents by an average score of 52-16.

However, after a failed two-point conversion in the Orange Bowl, they fell to Miami, 31-30.

Speaking of Miami, their 2002 team was undefeated and bolstered a roster that included Andre Johnson, Frank Gore, Willis McGahee, Vince Wolfork and Jonathan Vilma. It looked like they would destroy Ohio State in the title game.

But after a phantom interference call gave the Buckeyes a reprieve, they pulled off the monumental upset in double-overtime.

The 2005 USC team was undefeated, winning by an average score of 50-21and had two Heisman winners in Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush.

But after Vince Young put up arguably the greatest individual performance in college football history, the potential greatest team of all time fell to Texas in the title game.

I hate to mention this one, but 2011 LSU is easily on the list.

The Tigers went 13-0 and beat eight ranked opponents along the way. They beat those ranked teams by an average of 22 points per contest.

Unfortunately, they failed to finish the deal as they laid a huge egg in an embarrassing 21-0 loss to Alabama in the title game.

In college basketball, the Patrick Ewing-led 1985 Georgetown team cruised into the title game at 35-2 before falling to 24-10 Villanova in arguably the biggest upset in college basketball history.

They shouldn't have been surprised. Two years earlier, Houston's Phi Slama Jama--a team led by Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon--was upset by Jimmy Valvano's overmatched NC State team after a 31-2 season.

Before 2015 Kentucky, there was 1991 UNLV.

The Running Rebels ran into the Final Four a perfect 34-0. They looked to be destined for greatness as they played a Duke team they had beaten by 30 in the title game a year earlier.

But this time around, the great Duke squad pulled off the huge upset, 79-77.

And then there was 1999 Duke. The Dukies headed into the title game against UConn 37-1 and with a seemly-unstoppable player down low in Elton Brand.

But being fueled by "Rip" Hamilton, the Huskies pulled off the big upset and forced the Blue Devils to take a taste of their own medicine.