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11 of the Most Dominant Seasons in Sports History

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Here’s a look at 11 of the most dominant statistical seasons in various sports at the pro and college levels.  

1. Babe Ruth, 1921

The Bambino’s 59 home runs were more than eight American and National League teams hit in 1921. He led the league in RBIs (171) and runs (177) while batting .378, walked a league-high 145 times, had 17 steals, and amassed 457 total bases, a single-season record. Ruth’s 1921 season was equally remarkable when measured by his WAR (Wins Above Replacement), a comprehensive statistic that attempts to quantify how many wins a player contributes to his team’s win total over what a fictitious “replacement player” would contribute. The statistic factors in a player’s offense, defense, position, and the year in which he played. In 1921, Ruth’s 13.9 WAR led the league, according to Fangraphs.com, and was the second-highest single-season WAR in history. 

2. Wayne Gretzky, 1981-82

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There’s little question that The Great One had the greatest individual season in NHL history, but one could debate which season was his most dominant. Gretzky, who was 20 at the start of the 1981-82 season, set a new record for goals and points while playing for the Edmonton Oilers. His 92 goals shattered the previous record of 76 set by Phil Esposito during the 1970-71 season, and his 212 points were 65 more than Mike Bossy. Another candidate for Gretzky’s best season is 1984-85. He led the NHL in goals (73) and assists (135) and set a single-season record for plus-minus (+98), a statistic that measures the difference in goals for and goals against while a player is on the ice.

3. Wilt Chamberlain, 1961-62

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Chamberlain’s incredible season with the Philadelphia Warriors is best remembered for the 100-point game he had on March 2, 1962 against the New York Knicks, but his dominance wasn’t limited to a single outing. Chamberlain led the league with 50.4 points and 25.6 rebounds per game. Elgin Baylor was the league’s second-highest scorer that season with 38.3 points per game, but he played in 32 fewer games. Chamberlain’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER), a stat developed by John Hollinger that attempts to summarize a player’s statistical accomplishments in a single number, was 31.6, the second-highest of all time. (Chamberlain’s PER was a record 31.8 the following season.) 

4. Barry Sanders, 1988

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Sanders’ junior season at Oklahoma State was one for the ages. The future Detroit Lions star rushed for 2,628 yards and 39 touchdowns, NCAA records that still stand 25 years later. Sanders, who won the Heisman Trophy that year, averaged an absurd 7.6 yards per carry and eclipsed 300 yards in four games.

5. Lew Alcindor, 1966-67

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In his varsity basketball debut as a sophomore in 1966, Alcindor broke 19 UCLA records. He averaged 29 points per game and, in a game against Washington State in February 1967, scored 61 points on 26 field goals. How dominant was the man who would later change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? After the season, the NCAA banned dunking until 1976. Honorable mention: Pete Maravich’s senior season in 1970, when the LSU guard averaged a ridiculous 44.5 points per game. 

6. Dan Marino, 1984

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Long before the NFL turned into the pass-happy league that it is today, Marino became the first quarterback to eclipse 5000 passing yards in a season. Playing for the Miami Dolphins, he set a single-season record for touchdowns (48) in 1984 while completing 64 percent of his passes and averaging an impressive 9.0 yards per attempt. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have since broken his touchdown record, but Marino’s season still stands as one of the greatest in sports. 

7. Tiger Woods, 2000

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Woods won nine of the 20 PGA tour events he entered in 2000, including three majors, and set a tour record for lowest scoring average. None of Woods’ performances were more impressive—or dominating—than his 15-stroke victory at the U.S. Open in Pebble Beach, Calif. Woods finished 12 under par, while runners-up Miguel Angel Jimenez and Ernie Els were both three over. Honorable mention: Byron Nelson, who won 18 of 35 PGA tournaments, including 11 in a row in 1945. 

8. Jimmy Connors, 1974

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Connors went 99-4 and won 15 tournaments in 1974, including three Grand Slam titles. Connors would’ve been the favorite to win the French Open as well, but tournament organizers barred him from participating after he signed with World Team Tennis’s Baltimore Banners. 

9. Martina Navratilova, 1983

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Navratilova went 86-1 in 1983 and captured three Grand Slam titles. Her only loss of the year was to Kathy Horvath in the semifinals of the French Open. The following year, Navratilova set a women’s tennis record with 74 consecutive wins.

10. Secretariat, 1973

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Secretariat won the Triple Crown in dominating fashion, setting records in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes that still stand today. Secretariat won the first two legs of the Triple Crown by 2.5 lengths before taking the Belmont by a record 31 lengths in 2:24. The second-fastest time in Belmont Stakes history is a full two seconds slower. Following Secretariat’s death, an autopsy revealed that his heart was an abnormally large 22 pounds, more than twice the size of a typical thoroughbred. [Note: The original version of this story incorrectly identified Secretariat as the last winner of the Triple Crown. Our apologies to Seattle Slew and Affirmed.]

11. Richard Petty, 1967

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The NASCAR legend won 27 of his 48 starts and finished in the top five in 38 races in 1967. From August to October, Petty won 10 consecutive races, which remains a Sprint Cup Series record. 

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How Cambodian Refugees Started the Pink Doughnut Box Trend
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Like the red-and-green cardboard pizza boxes or white Chinese takeout containers, many doughnut boxes share a certain look regardless of where you buy them. This is especially true in Southern California: Order a dozen crullers from one of the region's many independently-run doughnut shops and you’ll likely receive them in a glossy pink box. According to Great Big Story, this trend can be traced back to an influential immigrant business owner.

In the 1970s, Ted Ngoy moved to Southern California as a refugee from Cambodia. Much of Los Angeles's current doughnut scene is thanks to him: He opened dozens of doughnut shops of his own and helped fellow Cambodian refugees in the area get started in the business. Along with passing down entrepreneurial advice, he also inspired them to choose the light pink boxes that he used in his stores. As Ngoy recalled years later, either he or his business partner, Ning Yen, started the trend after asking their supplier for a cheaper alternative to the traditional white boxes. The company was able to offer them pink boxes at a discount. Because red is considered a lucky color in many Asian cultures, the distinctive shade stuck.

Today, many doughnut places in L.A. County are still owned by Cambodian-American immigrants and their families, and they still use the same old-school packaging Ngoy and his partner popularized 40 years ago.

You can get the full origin story in the video below.

[h/t Great Big Story]

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Pop Culture
Fumbled: The Story of the United States Football League
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There were supposed to be 44 players marching to the field when the visiting Los Angeles Express played their final regular season game against the Orlando Renegades in June 1985.

Thirty-six of them showed up. The team couldn’t afford more.

“We didn’t even have money for tape,” Express quarterback Steve Young said in 1986. “Or ice.” The squad was so poor that Young played fullback during the game. They only had one, and he was injured.

Other teams had ridden school buses to practice, driven three hours for “home games,” or shared dressing room space with the local rodeo. In August 1986, the cash-strapped United States Football League called off the coming season. The league itself would soon vaporize entirely after gambling its future on an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League. The USFL argued the NFL was monopolizing television time; the NFL countered that the USFL—once seen as a promising upstart—was being victimized by its own reckless expansion and the wild spending of team owners like Donald Trump.

They were both right.

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Spring football. That was David Dixon’s pitch. The New Orleans businessman and football advocate—he helped get the Saints in his state—was a fan of college ball and noticed that spring scrimmages at Tulane University led to a little more excitement in the air. With a fiscally responsible salary cap in place and a 12-team roster, he figured his idea could be profitable. Market research agreed: a hired broadcast research firm asserted 76 percent of fans would watch what Dixon had planned.

He had no intention of grappling with the NFL for viewers. That league’s season aired from September through January, leaving a football drought March through July. And in 1982, a players’ strike led to a shortened NFL season, making the idea of an alternative even more appealing to networks. Along with investors for each team region, Dixon got ABC and the recently-formed ESPN signed to broadcast deals worth a combined $35 million over two years.

When the Chicago Blitz faced the Washington Federals on the USFL’s opening day March 6, 1983, over 39,000 fans braved rain at RFK Stadium in Washington to see it. The Federals lost 28-7, foreshadowing their overall performance as one of the league’s worst. Owner Berl Bernhard would later complain the team played like “untrained gerbils.”

Anything more coordinated might have been too expensive. The USFL had instituted a strict $1.8 million salary cap that first year to avoid franchise overspending, but there were allowances made so each team could grab one or two standout rookies. In 1983, the big acquisition was Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, who opted out of his senior year at Georgia to turn pro. Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals in a three-year, $5 million deal.

Jim Kelly and Steve Young followed. Stan White left the Detroit Lions. Marcus Dupree left college. The rosters were built up from scratch using NFL cast-offs or prospects from nearby colleges, where teams had rights to “territorial” drafts.

To draw a line in the sand, the USFL had advertising play up the differences between the NFL’s product and their own. Their slogan, “When Football Was Fun,” was a swipe at the NFL’s increasingly draconian rules regarding players having any personality. They also advised teams to run a series of marketable halftime attractions. The Denver Gold once offered a money-back guarantee for attendees who weren’t satisfied. During one Houston Gamblers game, boxer George Foreman officiated a wedding. Cars were given away at Tampa Bay Bandits games. The NFL, the upstart argued, stood for the No Fun League.

For a while, it appeared to be working. The Panthers, which had invaded the city occupied by the Detroit Lions, averaged 60,000 fans per game, higher than their NFL counterparts. ABC was pleased with steady ratings. The league was still conservative in their spending.

That would change—many would argue for the worse—with the arrival of Donald Trump.

Despite Walker’s abilities on the field, his New Jersey Generals ended the inaugural 1983 season at 6-12, one of the worst records in the league. The excitement having worn off, owner J. Walter Duncan decided to sell the team to real estate investor Trump for a reported $5-9 million.

A fixture of New York media who was putting the finishing touches on Trump Tower, Trump introduced two extremes to the USFL. His presence gave the league far more press attention than it had ever received, but his bombastic approach to business guaranteed he wouldn’t be satisfied with an informal salary cap. Trump spent and spent some more, recruiting players to improve the Generals. Another Heisman winner, quarterback Doug Flutie, was signed to a five-year, $7 million contract, the largest in pro football at the time. Trump even pursued Lawrence Taylor, then a player for the New York Giants, who signed a contract saying that, after his Giants contract expired, he’d join Trump’s team. The Giants wound up buying out the Taylor/Trump contract for $750,000 and quadrupled Taylor’s salary, and Trump wound up with pages of publicity.

Trump’s approach was effective: the Generals improved to 14-4 in their sophomore season. But it also had a domino effect. In order to compete with the elevated bar of talent, other team owners began spending more, too. In a race to defray costs, the USFL approved six expansion teams that paid a buy-in of $6 million each to the league.

It did little to patch the seams. Teams were so cash-strapped that simple amenities became luxuries. The Michigan Panthers dined on burnt spaghetti and took yellow school buses to training camp; players would race to cash checks knowing the last in line stood a chance of having one bounce. When losses became too great, teams began to merge with one another: The Washington Federals became the Orlando Renegades. By the 1985 season, the USFL was down to 14 teams. And because the ABC contract required the league to have teams in certain top TV markets, ABC started withholding checks.

Trump was unmoved. Since taking over the Generals, he had been petitioning behind the scenes for the other owners to pursue a shift to a fall season, where they would compete with the NFL head on. A few owners countered that fans had already voiced their preference for a spring schedule. Some thought it would be tantamount to league suicide.

Trump continued to push. By the end of the 1984 season, he had swayed opinion enough for the USFL to plan on one final spring block in 1985 before making the move to fall in 1986.

In order to make that transition, they would have to win a massive lawsuit against the NFL.

In the mid-1980s, three major networks meant that three major broadcast contracts would be up for grabs—and the NFL owned all three. To Trump and the USFL, this constituted a monopoly. They filed suit in October 1984. By the time it went to trial in May 1986, the league had shrunk from 18 teams to 14, hadn’t hosted a game since July 1985, kept only threadbare rosters, and was losing what existing television deals it had by migrating to smaller markets (a major part of the NFL’s case was that the real reason for the lawsuit, and the moves to smaller markets, was to make the league an attractive takeover prospect for the NFL). The ruling—which could have forced the NFL to drop one of the three network deals—would effectively become the deciding factor of whether the USFL would continue operations.

They came close. A New York jury deliberated for 31 hours over five days. After the verdict, jurors told press that half believed the NFL was guilty of being a monopoly and were prepared to offer the USFL up to $300 million in damages; the other half thought the USFL had been crippled by its own irresponsible expansion efforts. Neither side would budge.

To avoid a hung jury, it was decided they would find in favor of the USFL but only award damages in the amount of $1. One juror told the Los Angeles Times that she thought it would be an indication for the judge to calculate proper damages.

He didn’t. The USFL was awarded treble damages for $3 in total, an amount that grew slightly with interest after time for appeal. The NFL sent them a payment of $3.76. (Less famously, the NFL was also ordered to pay $5.5 million in legal fees.)

Rudy Shiffer, vice-president of the Memphis Showboats, summed up the USFL's fate shortly after the ruling was handed down. “We’re dead,” he said.

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