Who Were the Greatest Sports Teams of All Time?

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For as long as there have been team sports, there have been arguments about who the GOATs, or Greatest Of All Time, have been. Here’s a list that should settle the matter once and for all (until the next time you argue about it with your mates, of course.)

RUGBY: The All Blacks, 2015

Whatever the year, the very mention of the All Blacks can strike fear into the hearts of rival rugby teams. But the 2015 incarnation stands apart as perhaps the single finest side of all time. Having won the Rugby World Cup in 2011, New Zealand’s heroes went ahead and did it again in 2015, defeating Australia 34-17 in the final. This made the All Blacks the first team to keep hold of the Webb Ellis Cup. In the words of England player Clive Woodward, “To win one World Cup is amazing but to win back-to-back tournaments is off the scale.”

Their greatness was noted by opponents even before the tournament was won, with the South Africa coach ruefully admitting that the current All Blacks were the “best side to ever play the game”. Such was their supremacy that it shocked spectators (and bookies) when Ireland beat the All Blacks for the very first time in November the following year – ending the Kiwis’ run of 18 consecutive wins. 

ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE: Manchester United, 1998-99

Considering how vast the landscape of international football is, we’ve decided to limit ourselves to the EPL, the most-watched soccer league on Earth. When picking the GOAT, many point to the Arsenal “Invincibles” of 2003-04, who topped the English Premier League without a single defeat. But our vote has to go to the legendary Manchester United side of 1998-99, who not only won the League, but also the FA Cup AND the Champions League – an unprecedented triple-whammy that earned manager Alex Ferguson a knighthood.

Bear in mind that the path to Champions League glory had been strewn with trapdoors and explosives (metaphorically speaking), with Man United thrown into a group of death with powerhouse teams Barcelona and Bayern Munich. The Red Devils batted them aside, just as they batted pretty much everyone else aside that fabled year. But when they did eventually fall, they fell hard at the hands of Chelsea, who ended United’s 10-month winning streak with a 0-5 thrashing in the following season. That would have been quite the windfall for any punters who bet on United not just losing, but losing five goals to nil.

CRICKET: The West Indies, late-70s-early-90s

In their heyday – which sprawled all the way from the late 1970s through to the 90s – the West Indies weren’t just great; they were terrifying. In the words of journalist Jason Cowley, “never before or since has there been a more formidable or brutal cricketing machine”. The statistics speak for themselves, with the Windies not losing a single Test series between 1980 and 1995. Then there’s the towering calibre of the players, from the great captains Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards, to lethal bowlers like Michael Holding, aka “Whispering Death”.

Their iconic triumphs included the 5-0 whitewash against England, on English soil, in 1984. It was proudly hailed as a “blackwash” against their former colonial overlords, as was the 5-0 battering the Windies again delivered to England in 1985-86. Yet, despite seeming invincible for so many years, the end of their era would eventually come in May 1995, when Australia – helped along by Steve Waugh’s double century – beat the Windies in a tear-jerking upset which changed the course of cricket.

AMERICAN FOOTBALL: The Miami Dolphins, 1972

In 2019, the Dolphins of 1972 were “officially” given the title of the greatest ever by a panel of 80 experts selected by the Associated Press and NFL Media. And we’re not going to argue. The ’72 Dolphins remain the only NFL team to have a perfect, undefeated and untied season (17-0) and go on to win the Super Bowl. Their coach, Don Shula, attained the status of a sporting deity, while players like Larry Csonka and Earl Morrall joined the ranks of the immortals.

Their feat was so stupendous, it even birthed an urban legend. As the story goes, the surviving Dolphins of 1972 put aside a bottle of champagne every NFL season, which they then pop when the last remaining undefeated team inevitably loses its first game of the season. OK, so it’s almost certainly untrue, but it’s a nice little epilogue to the remarkable saga of the ’72 Dolphins, whose winning streak would finally end in the 1973 season when they were defeated by the Oakland Raiders.

BASEBALL: The New York Yankees, 1927

How dangerous were the 1927 Yankees? Well, their batting line-up was nicknamed “Murderers’ Row”, which should tell you something. Two of the biggest sporting icons in American history, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, headed things up, with the Babe scoring a record 60 home runs in a season which saw the Yankees winning their fifth pennant a whopping 19 games ahead of the next closest team.

As well as setting a new American League record with 110 wins, they also swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1927 World Series. Babe Ruth himself summed the team’s power up nicely: “Wham! Wham! Wham! Wham! and Wham! No matter who was pitching.” Oh, and they went on to win another pennant AND another sweep of the World Series in 1928. Yep, they were that good.

BASKETBALL: Golden State Warriors, 2015-16

Ask someone who’s never watched basketball what the greatest NBA team of all time might be, and they might say suggest “Whatever team Michael Jordan was in at his peak”. And they’d be almost right – the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, starring the immortal Jordan, were once generally regarded as the GOAT. Until the Golden State Warriors of 2015-16 came along and changed everything.

The Warriors broke the Bulls’ record of most wins in a regular season, bagging 73 (versus the Bulls’ 72). They also casually shattered dozens of other NBA records, such as the largest win margin over a campaign’s first four games, the best ever start to a season, and the longest home court winning streak. So it’s no wonder Draymond Green proudly declared “I’m part of the best team ever”. But he was a bit less enthusiastic when the Warriors ended up blowing a 3-1 lead in the Finals that year, and then suffered a surprise loss, courtesy of the San Antonio Spurs, in the 2016-2017 season’s opening game. “We got punched in the mouth,” Green said – echoing the sentiments of any bookies who had to pay out to punters bold enough to predict the Warriors would begin the season with a 29-point home defeat. 

List compiled by CasinoSelect NZ.

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