Welcome to the Best Team Ever bracket series, where the greatest of all time had their most dominant seasons stacked up against each other until we ultimately crowned a champion in each sport. The tournament was decided by fan vote! Check out the first round of voting here, the second round of voting here, the Final Four voting here and the championship round of voting here. Polls closed on Tuesday.
All sports fans have had the debate.
Were the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins the best NFL team of all time? What about the 1984 49ers with Joe Montana or the 1985 Bears with Walter Payton and their historic defense? In the NBA, did we truly experience the best team ever in 2017 when the Golden State Warriors ran through the league?
With sports on hold, we figured it’d be a good time to find out which teams had the best seasons ever in their respective sports. And after a week of voting, we have our champions.
NFL: 1985 Chicago Bears
In a weird way, the one-hit wonder status of the 1985 Bears has probably helped their legacy.
Steelers fans can argue which of the four 1970s championship teams were best. The most-asked question in the “Best Ever Bracket” series was why the 1989 49ers weren’t included (a self-imposed rule: franchises needed more than a five-year gap between teams and the 1984 49ers won out). The Packers have 13 NFL championships, dating back to the NFL’s stone age.
But the ‘85 Bears — who play in the third-largest U.S. city, and it’s easily more sports-mad than New York or Los Angeles — stand far above as the greatest Bears team, with all due respect to the 1963 team and some of the World War II era championship squads. The Bears still have just one Super Bowl championship team. If you attend any gathering in Chicago, the ‘85 Bears will come up at some point. It’s a proven fact.
Nostalgia can be a strong force. Through the ups and the downs of the Bears over the past 34 years, Chicago fans always had the ‘85 team to think back on. There’s a bond with that team that is unique in NFL circles.
NBA: 1996 Chicago Bulls
Michael Jordan reigns supreme. Again.
The greatest player in NBA history commanded the Best Team Ever, at least according to Yahoo Sports polling, and it was not close. Facing the toughest road of any roster in the 16-team bracket, the 72-win Bulls received 74 percent of the vote or better in disposing of the best versions of both Bill Russell and Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers and Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant’s Golden State Warriors — arguably the four greatest dynasties not featuring Jordan.
It should come as little surprise, despite our custom GOAT Grade algorithm listing the 1996 Bulls as a third seed behind the 2017 Warriors and 1986 Celtics. Jordan not only never lost in the Finals, he never even faced a Game 7 in six title series. We can debate whether Chicago faced teams as talented as some other dynasties, but it did not appear the majority of voters wanted to have that conversation.
MLB: 1927 New York Yankees
Sometimes you just live up to your nickname.
In the case of the 1927 New York Yankees — famously dubbed “Murderers’ Row” — they’re still racking up victims almost 100 years later. These Yankees, which gave us 110 wins, a World Series sweep and two of the best seasons on record from Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, are largely considered the best baseball team ever.
That sentiment is shared by Yahoo Sports readers, who voted them the winners of our “Best Team Ever” bracket. The Murderers’ Row Yankees did in our bracket what they did on the field — dominate.
In the final round against the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, the Yankees won easily, getting 67 percent of the vote. It was in line with their performance in the whole tournament. No one came close to knocking them off.
College football: 2019 LSU Tigers
The reigning national champions are champions once again.
The 2019 LSU Tigers, the No. 3 seed in our Best Team Ever bracket, cruised past 2013 Florida State and 2009 Alabama to reach the semifinals, but had to get past the top two seeds in our tournament to be crowned the best college football team ever.
The Tigers met the No. 2 seed, 2001 Miami, in the semifinals and earned 55 percent of the vote to pull off the upset over arguably the most talent-rich roster (17 future NFL first-round picks) in college football history. From there, LSU squared off against the No. 1 seed, the mighty 1995 Nebraska Huskers. The ‘95 Huskers, the most dominant of Tom Osborne’s three title teams, handily defeated the 2004 USC Trojans to advance to the championship round.
The Huskers, long considered among college football’s all-time elite, took an early voting edge over LSU. But LSU made a late climb and took the lead by Tuesday morning. It was one of the closest votes of the entire tournament across all sports, but when the dust settled, LSU garnered 51 percent of the more than 38,000 votes cast.
Men’s college basketball: 1972-73 UCLA Bruins
John Wooden’s team cruised through our Best Team Ever tournament, crushing every team they faced with a convincing amount of votes. Michael Jordan and the 1982-83 North Carolina Tar Heels were no exception in the final matchup. UCLA won with a commanding 69 percent of votes.
In the rounds prior to the championship, this undefeated Bruins team was too much for teams like the 1983 Houston Cougars led by Hakeem Olajuwon and the 2003 Syracuse team with Carmelo Anthony’s dominant tournament performance.
During UCLA’s glory days, the Bruins set a new NCAA record of 75 consecutive wins, only losing one game in three seasons. Coach John Wooden finished his career with an impressive record of 664 wins and 162 losses. This 1973 national championship was his seventh consecutive title and UCLA won 10 titles in 12 years. Wooden is one of the greatest coaches of all time and his legacy will live on for years to come.
Women’s college basketball: 2001-02 UConn Huskies
The best women’s college basketball team ever is from Connecticut.
The Huskies placed seven of their 11 national championship teams in the bracket, spread out from a No. 1 ranking to No. 15. They may be the game’s most successful powerhouse, but they aren’t the only ones.
It didn’t matter. The only UConn squads to lose in the bracket’s four rounds were those going against other UConn squads. The 2003 team beat the iconic 1982 Louisiana Tech team ranked No. 2. The 2014 iteration defeated the Tennessee Lady Vols teams of 2007 and 1998.
It was an all-Huskies Final Four featuring three of the four 2010s title teams Breanna Stewart led. But it was the 2002 squad of future WNBA royalty that won it all in the Yahoo Sports Best Ever women’s college basketball bracket.
WNBA: 2000 Houston Comets
Val Ackerman believes the founders of the WNBA “blew it.” Hence, why we have the 2000 Houston Comets, named the league’s Best Team Ever by Yahoo Sports voters.
The 1998 and ’99 teams were also named two of the league’s best 16 for the bracket and the inaugural 1997 squad was on the bubble. They all won titles with three future Naismith Hall of Fame selections. And yet if league leaders in the 1990s, like Ackerman, had recognized the skill of Cynthia Cooper, it may never have been.
The 2000 Comets are widely regarded as the best ever — though they will have a competitor now in the 2019 Washington Mystics — and won the championship round with 63 percent of the vote against the 2001 Los Angeles Comets.
Club soccer: 2008-09 Barcelona
Barcelona’s 2008-09 edition can add another trophy to its haul: our “Best Team Ever” as voted by fans, defeating fellow treble winner 1998-99 Manchester United in the final with 59 percent of the vote.
In soccer, revolution and results are very often misaligned. There have been lots of great teams that innovated or perfected some aspect of the sport but didn't win.
The extraordinary thing about the 2008-09 FC Barcelona is that it combined its innovation with trophies. Its death-by-a-thousand-papercuts passing style — tiki-taka, combining a lot of short, square balls with a high press and a desperate obsession with possession — set the tone for the sport for a good decade.
NHL: 1985 Edmonton Oilers
The 1985 Edmonton Oilers are the greatest team to ever lace up in the NHL, and there’s very little doubt about it.
After being named the NHL’s “Greatest NHL Team of All Time” via the league’s centennial celebration fan vote back in 2017, fans confirmed the sentiment a few years later in our recent “Best Team Ever” bracket by once again crowning the Gretzky-led Oilers squad of ‘85 the GOAT, and fairly easily.
Even in the final round, up against the close-to-consensus second-best squad ever, it wasn’t even close as voters heavily favored this Edmonton unit over the absurdly dominant Montreal Canadiens of 1976-77.
That’s how outrageously, egregiously, preposterously good this Oilers group was. The mid-80s to early-90s Oilers as a whole were one of the all-time great dynasties in sports, but the particular iteration Edmonton iced during the 1984-85 season was in a world of its own.
NASCAR: 1998 Jeff Gordon
The man with the best NASCAR season in modern history is considered one of the best drivers ever. And, somehow, his career is also a significant NASCAR “what if?”
Jeff Gordon’s 1998 season was absolutely dominant. And it came after Gordon had been the best driver in the Cup Series over the previous three seasons. Before his 1998 season Gordon had won two of the previous three titles and recorded 27 wins and a crazy 60 top-five finishes in 94 races.
Somehow, Gordon got even better in 1998. Gordon won a whopping 13 of 33 races and finished in the top 10 on 28 different occasions. His average finish of 5.7 is a modern era record.
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