Iconic sports moments that defined the '80s
The 1980s arrived with instability around the world. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan exacerbated tensions during the Cold War between the U.S. and USSR. One of the moments many Americans remember most from this period was the heroics of a ragtag hockey team of college kids who created a Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Winter Olympics.
The U.S. hockey team’s upset of the heavily favored Soviets did not just signify a monumental point in sports history. The win uplifted a nation affected by the reports of war (and worries it could be headed to American soil) and became one of the symbols of the upcoming decade. These game-winners and unexpected victories impacted the world on and off the field and were emblematic of a decade that saw a seismic shift in American culture. Olympic boycotts paralleled geopolitical motives, superstars grew the imprint of their respective sports, and a tragic death brought forward legislative change.
To explore the iconic sports moments that defined a decade, Stacker took a look at 30 historic sports moments of the 1980s. With most Americans owning color televisions at the time, sports were broadcast across the country more than ever. Entire networks were dedicated to sports 24/7, while championship games created some of the highest-rated shows of the year. This nonstop coverage led to more eyes witnessing amazing athletic feats. Many definable childhood moments for Gen Xers and millennials occurred in the 1980s, including Villanova basketball’s upset championship, North Carolina State’s buzzer-beater heroics, and Doug Flutie’s prayer answered against the Miami Hurricanes.
Click through to relive one of the most important decades in recent American history, a pivotal time when sports provided a respite from world news and influenced the way governments interacted with allies and foes from different parts of the globe.
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Do you believe in miracles?
Entering the 1980 Winter Olympics, the Soviet Union had won the previous four Olympic golds in ice hockey. But an upstart team of college kids from the U.S. proved to be the perfect foil against the Soviet Machine, as they upset the USSR, 4-3, in the medal round. Television broadcaster Al Michaels capped the victory with his infamous call of “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” The Americans, coached by Herb Brooks, eventually won the gold at the games held in Lake Placid, N.Y., and boosted American morale during the height of the Cold War.
1980 NBA Finals
The Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers squared off for the National Basketball Association title in 1980. Julius “Dr. J” Erving showed off his athleticism in the series, including one memorable play where he swooped under the basket holding the ball with one hand, and laid it in. But it was the Lakers, led by rookie Earvin “Magic” Johnson who would prove victorious—Johnson was named Finals Most Valuable Player.
With Cold War tensions escalating, the U.S. decided to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics, which were held in Moscow. The U.S. specifically was taking a stance against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; four years later, when the Summer Games were in Los Angeles, the Soviets returned the favor by staging a boycott of their own.
During the 1981 Major League Baseball season, the Los Angeles Dodgers let loose a 20-year-old rookie fireballer from Mexico, and Fernandomania ensued. Fernando Valenzuela immediately flummoxed big league batters and led the majors with 180 strikeouts and eight shutouts. Valenzuela was named 1981 Rookie of the Year and won the National League Cy Young Award.
You cannot be serious!
During the 1981 Wimbledon Championships, John McEnroe was battling Tom Gullikson when one of McEnroe’s shots was called out. Lambasting an umpire, McEnroe shouted, “You cannot be serious!” McEnroe was docked a point, but won the match and eventually took the title. McEnroe has turned his outburst into a catchphrase, even naming a book after it; he also became a poster boy for athlete outbursts.
Watson holds off Nicklaus
Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus were tied for the lead of the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach entering the 17th hole. Watson ended up in the rough off the 17th green, but chipped in from about 16 feet out to take the lead, nailing what is considered by many to be one of the most clutch shots in golf history. Watson won the tournament by two shots—his only U.S. Open victory in his career.
And the band plays on
With four seconds left in the 1982 Stanford-Cal football game, the Cardinal nailed a field goal to take a 20-19 lead. Many thought the game was over, but the Golden Bears converted a number of laterals during the ensuing kickoff return and Cal’s Kevin Moen eventually broke free. As Moen charged toward the end zone, he knocked over members of the Stanford marching band who had begun their post-game routine believing the game was over.
The Wolfpack claim an NCAA title
As a #6 seed in the West Regional, North Carolina State was not a favorite to win the 1983 NCAA basketball tournament. But the Wolfpack, coached by Jim Valvano, stormed to the finals where they met a high-powered team from Houston that featured Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon. Dereck Whittenburg threw up a desperation shot just before time ran out, and Lorenzo Charles corralled the air-ball and dunked it to win the game. The celebration of Valvano running on the court has become a staple of March Madness montages.
George Brett goes berserk
July 24, 1983, was supposed to be a regular baseball game between the New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals, but the day would go down in sports history for producing one of the most outrageous outbursts by an athlete. With the Royals trailing 4-3 in the ninth inning, George Brett hit a go-ahead home run—or so he thought. The umpires ruled that Brett had an inordinate amount of pine tar on his bat—which was illegal—and ruled him out. Brett responded by rushing onto the field to yell in the face of the umpires. Eventually, the Royals protested and won, and the Royals won the restarted game, 5-4, in August.
The Great One hits the century mark
Combining the 1983-84 National Hockey League regular season and playoffs, Wayne Gretzky scored a record 100 goals. Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers won their first of four Stanley Cups during the 1980s this season, while The Great One took home the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s MVP.2018 All rights reserved.