2020 needs to get here. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
By now, most of the sports-loving public has seen the early look on the upcoming ESPN ten-part documentary, The Last Dance, which will drop in 2020. For those of us who witnessed the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls’ season in real time, it stands to be one hell of a treat, and potentially Bristol’s single greatest production when the final credits roll. For those who only know of Michael Jordan as a meme and sneaker brand, Dennis Rodman as a dictator’s friend and Phil Jackson as another failed New York Knicks hire, The Last Dance will be more than a history lesson as it could somewhat remind them of another team that reigned two decades later - the James/Wade/Bosh-era Miami Heat - as well as explain how this dynasty is like no other in NBA history.
The ‘97-’98 Bulls had always fascinated me not only for what it accomplished, but how it got there in spite of so many internal fissures that we had slowly discovered over the years. We knew that Jordan would retire again, Scottie Pippen would eventually be traded to Houston, Rodman would be released and Jackson would head out to L.A. Oh, and that damn lockout. But in a list of many teams that I’d like to see get a similar docuseries treatment - with game film to boot - there are a couple more teams that would be rather compelling to watch for a few retrospective nights.
The Patriots’ Nearly Perfect Run
For any NFL fan, this is it. There are so many other compelling teams, many who won titles and built dynasties and even more whose talent could not overcome combustible elements within (say, any team coached by a Ryan). Yet while NFL Films, HBO Sports and others have given us many dives into these squads, there’s never truly been a unit like the one that went on a scorched earth campaign upon the league after the infamous Spygate investigation.
Having witnessed the at-the-time budding perfection of those 2007 New England Patriots up close during their regular season finale against the New York Giants, there was a “rock star” element to the team that few other American sports teams have ever achieved. Against those Giants a few weeks later, they were a few plays away from turning the 1972 Miami Dolphins’ annual toast of their perfection into an Irish wake. (And that loss made so much damn money for bettors, media and the league.)
It would be fascinating to see coaches and players break down the plays that defined a team that scored fewer than 25 points in just two regular season games, and under 20 points just once in the playoffs (the SB loss). Even more so, with the majority of those players now retired, including recent Hall of Fame inductee Randy Moss, the insights into what kept “the Patriot Way” afloat back then to where it stands today would be illuminating. Also, while we’ve seen plenty of tape from the Super Bowl itself, a deeper treatment would give us a much needed dive into what this Scribe thinks is the best NFL game of the last 18 years. (Hint: a Hail Mary could have ended it all if it was caught one yard deeper.)
Bonds, Kent and 2002
Yes, the Anaheim Angels won their first World Series in one of the greatest Fall Classics ever, but the most prominent player in the seven-game tilt played for the other team. Just as he had all season long en route to his fifth NL MVP award, Barry Bonds was murdering the ball in his first and only World Series. All eyes were on the Hall-of-Famer-by-metrics as he was the most feared hitter, and maybe most feared active athlete in terms of his actual profession at the time. With each swing, it seemed as if half the sports world cheered and the other half convulsed simultaneously because of how much emotion he had inspired over the years.
With his rivalrous teammate Jeff Kent and the drama surrounding Dusty Baker’s status with the team (he left for the Chicago Cubs the next season), and the 2002 Giants were perceived as a talented ticking time bomb. The Bonds/Kent dynamic had played itself out through national and local media for some time, but it exploded in June of that season when the two had their infamous shoving match in San Diego.
Somehow, everyone else around the team didn’t let the acrimony between Bonds and Kent disrupt them entirely - Benito Santiago and Rob Nen were named All-Stars alongside Bonds, Reggie Sanders was in the middle of his “somehow he’s in the playoffs every year” flow, and the team somehow survived Livan Hernandez and Russ Ortiz at the top of the rotation thanks to Jason Schmidt excelling in his first season by the Bay. As a Wild Card, the Giants came back from a 2-1 deficit in the NLDS against a loaded 101-win Atlanta Braves before dispatching the St. Louis Cardinals - and then-ascending Albert Pujols - to get to the Series.
But of course, nothing about this season can be spoken of without looking at the PED/steroid specter around Bonds (and Santiago, who had a resurgence in the backend of his career). The screams about Bonds’ suspected use grew louder and louder as the years went on and he eventually became the all-time career home run king, but in this lone season where he’d play October baseball, there was no more talked about single athlete in America than him.
It would be interesting to hear from players and coaches about what it was like to be in the dugout, going through batting practice, hitting the road and eventually dealing with the comedown of losing the World Series and the manager over those eight-plus months. How did everyone cope with baseball’s most controversial player? Heck, how did Bonds himself see his team and that particular season, knowing change was coming? And of course, how many other times did he and Kent go after each other that year? Inquiring minds would like to know.
These are just two from the pick of hundreds of dynastic, championship or near championship teams that captured my attention like no other over the years. Certainly, you have a few of your own, so share some in the comments and let’s pray that some network executives are reading this.
Jason is the editor-in-chief here at TSFJ. In addition to a past life as a research analyst in advertising, television and online media, he spent seven seasons as the New York Beacon's beat writer for the New York Giants. Jason has written for Yardbarker, Dime Magazine, Decider, Awful Announcing and The Week. He is also a member of his high school's 4th period gym class floor hockey champions.