1980 Sports: The Fightin' Phils, Magic Arrives & Dynasties End

The great sports fans of Philadelphia enjoyed one of the most complete years ever experienced by a fan base in 1980, and it was highlighted in baseball by the Phillies. The franchise had not won the World Series since 1915, and it didn’t look like this year would be any different, as they fell behind early in the NL East race, at a time when you had to finish in first place to qualify for the postseason.

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But the Fightin’ Phils battled back. They won a great division race with the Montreal Expos (today’s Washington Nationals) on the regular season’s penultimate day. The Phils then won what is probably the greatest League Championship Series ever played. The LCS was then a best-of-five affair. Philadelphia’s tussle with the Houston Astros not only went the full five, but four went to extra innings and Game 5 saw two dramatic momentum shifts late in the game.
When the Phils reached the World Series, they faced the Kansas City Royals. It was a battle of two MVP third basemen. Philadelphia had Mike Schmidt, while Kansas City had George Brett, who had dominated the summer as he made a run at batting .400. Brett didn’t quite get there, but he still hit .388 and then clinched the ALCS when he unloaded a blast into the third deck at the old Yankee Stadium.
Philadelphia won the World Series in six games and ended the long championship drought.
Basketball went very well for Philadelphia, as Julius Erving and the 76ers reached the NBA Finals, knocking off Boston Celtics’ rookie Larry Bird in the conference finals. But it went even better in Los Angeles, where another rookie, Magic Johnson, turned in one of the most electric performances in sports history when he dropped 42 points and a triple-double while playing out of position at center in the clinching Game 6.
Read more about the 1980 Philadelphia Phillies
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Another Philadelphia team, the NFL’s Eagles, also played for a championship. Dick Vermeil, Ron Jaworski and the Birds won the NFC crown, but they fell to the surging Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl. The Raiders became the first team to play in the wild-card round, then only three years old, and win the Super Bowl.
Oakland’s championship was one part of a dramatic postseason in the NFL, highlighted by its second round. The Raiders won a frigid game in Cleveland when they intercepted a pass in the end zone off of the Browns’ MVP quarterback Brian Sipe. The San Diego Chargers rallied to beat the Buffalo Bills on a late 50-yard touchdown strike by Dan Fouts. And the Dallas Cowboys trailed the Atlanta Falcons 27-17 late in the fourth quarter before rallying for two touchdowns and a win.
The Philadelphia Grand Slam—all four pro sports teams qualifying for the championship round—included hockey. The Flyers reached the Stanley Cup Finals, but as in the NFL and NBA, it was another city doing the ultimate celebrating. This time we went to Long Island, and the New York Islanders.
New York had been knocking on the Stanley Cup door for a couple years, and the Montreal Canadiens faded just enough for their dynasty of 1976-79 to come to an end. One dynasty’s ending was another one’s beginning and the Islander championship marked the first of four straight years they would hoist the Cup.
Read more about the 1980 NFL season
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The world of college sports didn’t produce drama, but the NCAA Tournament still broke new ground. 1980 marked the sixth year that the tournament was allowing teams other than conference tourney winners into the field, and with the field expanded to 48 teams, there was now increased possibilities of upsets and dark horses.
In our own day we take it for granted that every few years the Final Four will look completely gutted, with mostly middling-seeding teams making it to the sport’s showcase event. In 1980, the fact only one of the Final Four was seeded higher than #5 in their own regional was a new phenomena.
We would still wait for the notion of a Cinderella national champion though. Louisville was the one powerhouse team, and they delivered at the Final Four. The “Doctors Of Dunk”, led by Darrell Griffith, won the school’s first national title.
College football saw the Alabama dynasty come to an end, after consecutive national titles in 1978-79 following a 1977 season where they were ranked #2. The SEC didn’t give way to anyone though, and it was Georgia, with sensational freshman running back Herschel Walker, that rolled through the conference and ultimately beat Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to win the national championship.
Read more about the 1980 NCAA Tournament
Read more about the 1980 college football season