1986:The Year in Sports

For drama, excitement, and late heroics, baseball's playoffs and World Series get this observer's vote as the outstanding events of a memorable sports year. Familiar names and faces made most of the other big headlines. The Chicago Bears climaxed a great season by winning the Super Bowl. The Boston Celtics and Montreal Canadiens added new chapters to their proud championship traditions. Diego Maradona, generally acknowledged as the greatest active soccer player, led Argentina to the World Cup. Martina Navratilova and Ivan Lendl dominated the tennis scene as usual. And Jack Nicklaus played like the Golden Bear of old to win his sixth Masters title.

Off the field, the problem of drug abuse reached a tragic climax with the cocaine-related deaths of college basketball All-American Len Bias and pro football star Don Rogers. Meanwhile, officials in many sports took steps to crack down on drug use. Recruiting violations and academic scandals continued to mar college athletics, with authorities there also vowing to get things back under control.

The moments we prefer to remember, however, are those on the field. And there were plenty of these in 1986, as the following capsule summary demonstrates. Baseball

There was less drama than usual in the regular season races, but the postseason more than made up for it. Both the American League playoffs and the World Series featured last-ditch comebacks by teams that had been one strike away from elimination. And the National League playoffs were even more pulsating in terms of game-by-game, inning-by-inning, pitch-by-pitch heroics.

The New York Mets, who had dominated the season with 108 victories, had to fight back time and again against Houston. They won Game 3 via two big comebacks, then took the last two in extra innings, including a tension-packed 16-inning finale.

Boston and California packed most of their excitement into one incredible game - and especially one moment that remains etched indelibly in the memories of all who saw it. Behind three games to one, and trailing 5-4 with one on, two out, and a 1-2 count on the batter, the Red Sox were down to their last strike. The crowd of 64,223 was going berserk in anticipation of the first pennant in the Angels' 26-year history. Then with one swing of his bat, Dave Henderson hit the tide-turning home run that transformed him into an instant folk hero.

A week later, though, in a twist worthy of O'Henry, it was the Red Sox who ``snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.'' This time the scene was Shea Stadium, and the Mets trailed 5-3 in the 10th inning of Game 6 with two out, nobody on, and two strikes on Gary Carter. But three hits, a wild pitch, and a grounder that rolled through first baseman Bill Buckner's legs produced a 6-5 victory, after which the Mets went on to win the seventh game and the Series.

The big individual story was Boston's Roger Clemens, who led the majors with a 24-4 record, struck out a record 20 batters in one nine-inning game, was MVP of the All-Star Game, and won both the Cy Young and MVP awards in the American League. Mike Scott, who led the majors with a 2.22 earned run average and 306 strikeouts, and pitched a no-hitter to clinch Houston's division title was the NL Cy Young winner, while home run and RBI king Mike Schmidt was the MVP for a record-tying third time. Pro football

The Bears decimated New England 46-10 in the Super Bowl, then went 14-2 this fall to win another division title and tie the New York Giants for the National Football League's best overall record. Other division champions were San Francisco, New England, Cleveland, and Denver, while Washington, the Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City, and the New York Jets earned wild card playoff berths.

Eric Dickerson of the Rams won the the rushing title with 1,821 yards gained, while Miami's Dan Marino topped the passers in total yardage with 4,343. College football

Heisman Trophy winner Vinnie Testaverde quarterbacked Miami to an 11-0 record and the No. 1 spot in the national polls heading into a Jan. 2 Fiesta Bowl showdown with No. 2 Penn State (also 11-0). Pro basketball

The anticipated ``superteam'' rematch between Boston and Los Angeles failed to materialize when the defending National Basketall Association champion Lakers were upset by Houston in the Western finals. The Celtics, led by league and playoff MVP Larry Bird, overpowered the Rockets in six games for their 16th title. Hockey

The once-dominant Canadiens, an also-ran lately to such recent powers as the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers, brought the Stanley Cup back to Montreal via a surprise series of playoff victories. Edmonton was the winningest regular-season team again but was upset in the playoffs by Calgary, which in turn lost to Montreal in the finals. Tennis

Lendl won the French Open, lost to Boris Becker at Wimbledon, retained his US Open title, and capped a big year with a victory in the Masters in December.

Navratilova lost to Chris Evert Lloyd in the French Open, but won a record-tying fifth consecutive Wimbledon title and seventh overall, and captured her third US Open. She also returned to Czechoslovakia for the first time since her defection in 1975, receiving an emotional welcome as she led the United States to victory in the Federation Cup. Golf

Greg Norman established himself as the dominant figure in the men's game, leading all four major tournaments going into the last round, and winning the British Open. Nicklaus burned up the back nine at Augusta, Ga., to snatch away the Masters title, while veteran Ray Floyd came out of the pack with a closing 66 to win the US Open. Then after Norman held on to win at Turnberry, Bob Tway edged him in the PGA Championship with another late rally, this one capped by a memorable bunker shot that found the cup for a winning birdie on the 18th hole.

Norman set a single-season money-winning record of $653,296 even though he left the PGA tour early to fulfill commitments elsewhere. He won numerous other events in both Europe and his native Australia.

Pat Bradley dominated the women's game, counting three major titles among her five victories and setting a money-winning record of $492,021. Soccer

Maradona dazzled the huge crowds in Mexico City and the millions watching on TV around the globe, playing a spectacular all-around game and scoring all of Argentina's goals in a 2-1 quarterfinal victory over England and a 2-0 semifinal win over Belgium. The explosive striker was guarded closely by West Germany in the final, but his very presence opened things up for his teammates in the 3-2 triumph that nailed down the cup. Miscellaneous

Greg Lemond became the first American to win cycling's Tour de France ... Norway's Ingrid Kristiansen set world records in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters and won the women's crown in both the Boston and Chicago marathons... Louisville won the NCAA basketball title, beating Duke 72-69 in the final...Bobby Rahal won the Indianapolis 500 ... the America's Cup yachting off Fremantle, Australia, reached the semifinals with boats from the United States, New Zealand, and France battling for the right to meet the Australian defender. -30-{et

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