The Five Best New York Sports Teams from 1969-2019

Jason Keidel
June 27, 2020 - 9:00 am

As real team sports sneak up the calendar, we wonder if one, two, three, or even four New York teams will make the playoffs this year and go on a run. So, with that thought in mind, we go back to the list; this time, looking at the Big Apple’s five best teams between 1969 and 2019.

It’s a 50-year span but only one rule: each franchise may only appear once on this list. 

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5. 1969 Jets
The '69 Jets may not be the best team ever, but the last team they beat was in the running. 

Indeed, before Super Bowl III, the media and masses were musing over the 1969 Colts as the best team in NFL history. It was strong talk considering Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers vaporized the Chiefs and Raiders in the first two Super Bowls, but the Colts went 13-1, and avenged their lone loss by whipping the Cleveland Browns, 34-0, in the NFL Title game. They scored 402 total points during the regular season while surrendering just 144 – fewest in the league – and head coach Don Shula was flanked by some serious talent, including assistant coaches Bill Arnsparger and Chuck Noll. Oh, and his head scout was a man the Giants learned to love: George Young. 

Against that haunting backdrop - the Jets, who were 11-3 in their own right, were also 18-point underdogs - Joe Namath guaranteed a win against the titanic Colts, led by NFL MVP Earl Morrall. And despite being a big ‘dog, the Jets were the alpha canines in Super Bowl III, dashing out to a 16-0 lead. They allowed a fourth-quarter touchdown drive engineered by Baltimore backup QB John Unitas (Namath's personal hero), but by then, it was all over but the shouting.

The Jets so manhandled the Colts on the line of scrimmage that Mat Snell ran the ball 30 times for 121 yards and scored the Jets' only TD, and eventual MVP Namath, acutely aware of this, didn't toss a single pass in the fourth quarter en route to a 16-7 win.

With proper nods to the 2007 Giants, the '69 Jets still own the biggest upset in the history of the big game at the end. As the affable former linebacker Tom Jackson once said, Namath may not be the most important player in pro football history, but he won its most important game, which sealed the 1970 merger between the AFL and NFL.  

4. 1969-70 Knicks
With four future Hall of Famers in Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Willis Reed, and Bill Bradley, the Knicks finished with a league-best 60-22 mark that included a then-record 18-game winning streak. Then, in the postseason, they vanquished the Bucks and highly-touted rookie Lew Alcindor, and then defeated a Los Angeles Lakers squad featuring Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, and Jerry West – not just the NBA logo, but the only player to win Finals MVP while losing the series, as he did the year prior to playing the Knicks. 

These Knicks were also renowned for big comebacks and big moments, perhaps none more celebrated in NBA history than Willis Reed limping out of the tunnel and onto the MSG hardwood for Game 7, when everyone expected him to be scratched because of a leg injury.

Instead, the Knicks’ captain and league MVP swished his first two shots, and the Lakers were shook for the following three quarters. The Knicks whipped the Lakers by 14 points, further buoyed by Frazier's insane Game 7: 36 points, 19 assists, and 7 rebounds. Considering how dreadful the Knicks have been the last two decades, it feels like fiction to talk about their halcyon years – but between a Knicks group that went to three NBA Finals in four years and the Fight of the Century between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in 1971, MSG really was once the Mecca of sports. 

3. 1986 Mets
With all due deference to the Miracle Mets of 1969, the '86 squad was a powerhouse. While no one expected the '69 club to win their division, much less the World Series, the '86 team steamrolled the National League, won 108 games, and had a most memorable postseason.

The magic started with the Mets up three games to two in the NLCS, as they squeaked by the Houston Astros in 18 innings in Game 6 to avoid the sizzling right arm of Mike Scott in Game 7. Then, they fell behind Boston 2-0 in the World Series, and came within one out of losing the whole thing in Game 6 before the biblical comeback happened. 

This team was a monster, complete and ready to compete every day. They had great starting pitching, a fine bullpen, and super-pesky lineup that featured Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, and Gary Carter. Even the less heralded players, from Ray Knight to Mookie Wilson to Lenny Dykstra, played crucial roles on this juggernaut. These Mets were moody, as likely to punch their opponent as pitch to him, and they balled and brawled all the way to a magical season that should have triggered a dynasty. It didn’t for many reasons, but at least they have 1986. 

2. 1986 Giants
Sure, the Giants have won four Super Bowls, but the team that won the first one was the most dominant – and it was the only one with Lawrence Taylor in his prime. The greatest linebacker and likely defensive player) in league history won NFL MVP in '86, still the only defensive player to do so, and he had an epic supporting cast including Harry Carson, Carl Banks, and Leonard on a savage defense that allowed 236 points, second-fewest in the league behind the Bears.

Big Blue finished the regular season 14-2, and after knocking out Joe Montana (literally) and the Niners in the divisional round and shutting out Joe Gibbs’ Redskins in the NFC Championship Game, the G-Men put a big period on the end of the season by whipping the Denver Broncos, 39-20, in Super Bowl XXI. 

That 20 was something special, as New York’s defense had allowed three and zero in the first two postseason tilts thanks to the stout squad behind the wrecking ball disguised as a middle linebacker wearing No. 56; the other linebackers were Pro Bowl-caliber themselves, and they could rush the passer with a three-man front of Marshall, Jim Burt, and George Martin.

All of that actually overshadows one of the most magical Super Bowls ever played by a quarterback: eventual Super Bowl MVP Phil Simms completing 22 of 25 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns, a line good for a 150.9 passer rating. It also burned Bill Parcells into the books as a serious football man, as the ornery coach would become the best builder of teams in his, or perhaps any, epoch. He also had a defensive coordinator leading that charge named Bill Belichick, who would do a few good things once he pulled himself from Parcells' shadow. 

1. 1998 Yankees
Few choices are this easy. Whether you love or loathe the Yankees, or think their dynasties of the '30s or '50s were better overall, there's never been a better baseball team overall than the 1998 New York Yankees. 

Consider that on September 4, 1998, the Red Sox had a fine record of 91-58. Yet, they were 19.5 games behind the Yankees, who were 62 games over .500 (100-38) and moonwalking to the best record in baseball. They would win 114 games in the regular season, and after only two losses in a rather breezy postseason, finished with 125 wins after a four-game World Series sweep of the San Diego Padres. Even John Madden, known solely for his football wisdom, said that if winning is the goal in team sports, then the Yankees have to be in the debate as the best ever in any sport. 

These Yanks had a deep rotation, the best closer in history, and a gaggle of great middle relievers - Jeff Nelson, Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Stanton, and Graeme Lloyd - before the baseball world took such a shine to that role. Their lineup had four .300 hitters, had six players steal at least 10 bases, and had a bottomless bench, with Tim Raines, Chili Davis, Joe Girardi, Luis Sojo, and Shane Spencer…as reserves.

Yes, the 114 regular-season wins mark was eventually broken by the 2001 Mariners, and yes, considering the recent "30 for 30" documentary that reminisced about how the 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa saved baseball, but these Yankees are still the story.

Amidst the cadre of stone-hewn hitters whose bulging biceps may have been PED-enhanced, the 1998 Bronx Bombers didn’t have a single hitter swat 30 home runs. Yes, indeed, when the long ball became the rage, the Yanks went small ball and whipped them all, their 125-50 overall mark still the benchmark for best baseball champion ever.

Follow Jason Keidel on Twitter: @JasonKeidel

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