Saturday, June 7, 2014

Call It Los Angeles and New York's Series 7

By Allen Bacon, The Daily Bosco

It's hard to believe but when the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings faced off against each other this past Thursday night for Game 1 of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, it had been nearly 33 years since teams from the two biggest and most popular cities in America played each other in a Major Professional Sports Championship.

It seemed like when I was a kid growing up in the 1970's it happened almost every year.

The fact of the matter is that this has only happened seven times in history.   In the previous seven meetings in Professional Championships involving Los Angeles playing New York teams the teams from the Empire State hold a 4-3 lead.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have played the New York Yankees four times in the Baseball World Series with each team winning two championships each.

The Los Angeles Lakers have played the New York Knicks three times in the National Basketball Association playoffs and the Knicks hold a 2-1 edge.

So let's just call this Ranger-King Stanley Cup Final a chance for the Left Coast to draw even.

The thing that is almost unbelievable is that there never has been a National Football League Championship Game or Super Bowl between a New York team and a Los Angeles team.

That was most likely to occur in the 1950's when the Los Angeles Rams were in the NFL Championship game five times during the decade.  The New York Giants were one of the teams involved in the "Greatest Game of All Time" NFL Championship against Baltimore in the late 50's.   But the Rams never met the Giants in any of the Championships in the Pre-Super Bowl era.

Likewise the Los Angeles Rams never played the New York Jets or the Los Angeles Raiders never played the New York Giants in a NFL Super Bowl.  And if you want to take it further, the Los Angeles Chargers never played the New York Titans in the American Football League Championship or the Los Angeles Express never played the New York-New Jersey Generals in a USFL Championship.

Those would have been some interesting match ups if that had happened.  With the current situation of not having an NFL team in Los Angeles this is not likely to happen any time soon.

I guess I first was introduced to the New York - Los Angeles sports rivalry when I was a three year old boy growing up in Southern California.

It was 1963 and it was an early October day when I was cognizant of the images flickering and the voices of Announcers Mel Allen and Vin Scully coming from a Black and White Television in the middle of my families' apartment living room in Southern California.  My dad and my Uncle were watching that year's World Series, the first Professional Championship between a Los Angeles and New York team.

The 1963 World Series was an exciting one for Southern California Baseball fans.

Behind dominating performances from pitchers Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres and reliever Ron Perranoski (who combined to give up only four runs in the entire series) the Los Angeles Dodgers swept the two-time defending champion New York Yankees four games to none to win their second title in five years.

This was the very first time that the New York Yankees had been swept in a World Series in four games in their illustrious history.

It was the first and remains to this day the only championship in LA Dodger history to be won at home at Dodger Stadium. And it seemed that the Dodgers, who were routinely beaten by the Yankees in the World Series (save for 1955) when the two teams were in New York seemed to finally turn the corner against their arch rivals.

It would take seven more years until New York would play Los Angeles in a major professional sports championship again but when it happened I had become quite the little sports fan.

It was 1970 and the New York Knicks played the Los Angeles Lakers for the National Basketball Association championship.

I would go to my Grandparents to watch the series on their big color TV Set.  Because the Lakers had the best announcer in the NBA, Chick Hearn, and we lived in the LA area, we would turn the sound down on the television and turn the radio on to hear Chick's words.

I had not heard Chris Schenkel and Howard Cosell's call of the game on ABC television until recently when I found the entire game 7 on YouTube.  With no disrespect to the legendary broadcasters Schenkel and Cosell, I think my grandpa and I made the right call listening to Chick.

It is still one of the most compelling NBA Final series I have ever seen.  It had a little bit of everything. Game 3 was a game for the ages which included the famous 63 foot desperation shot by Jerry West which went in to send the game to overtime.  There was also another overtime thriller in Game 4.

It was also a disappointment for Los Angeles Laker fans.

The Laker owner at the time, Jack Kent Cooke, had built and bought the best team that money could buy. With Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor as part of the starting lineup, the team were destined to win a championship.  The Lakers were routinely beaten in the 1960's by the Boston Celtics in the championship.  But with the dawn of the new decade, it seemed the momentum was now going to go in Los Angeles favor.

I still believe the sheer will of the New York Knicks and their fans that year turned the tide in the Championship.  After a hard fought six first games, the series went back to Madison Square Garden for a Game Seven.  The Knick's tough and talented Center and Captain Willis Reed was doubtful he could even go with a severe leg injury suffered in Game Five.  He had to sit out Game Six.

All indications were that Reed would not be able to play in Game Seven. But during warm-ups, Willis Reed walked onto the floor, and the Madison Square Garden crowd erupted with cheers on the heels of his entrance. Reed proceeded to score the first two baskets of the game to give the Knicks an early lead and send the crowd into a frenzy.

The Knicks without Reed were very beatable as was witnessed in Game Six but with Reed on the bench in this one they built an over 20 point second half lead, and won 113-99 to capture their first NBA championship.  It was as if the fans were the sixth man that carried the Knicks to that championship.

But it was a totally different story in the 1972 NBA Finals when New York and Los Angeles played each other for a second time.

The 1971-72 Lakers were arguably the Best Basketball team of all time.  They rattled off  33 straight victories during the regular season which still stands as the record for a professional sports team.  The Lakers were in total command of the series except for Game One which they lost and Game Four (which they won) and went on to beat the Knicks four games to one to win their first Championship in Los Angeles.

The 1973 NBA Championship was again a rematch between the two teams with the Knicks dominating the series and winning four games to one.  It was the last time the Knicks and Lakers played each other in the NBA Finals.  Given the current state of affairs for both teams, who are definitely in rebuilding mode now, it may be a while before that happens again.

The next three championships between New York and Los Angeles teams were all Baseball World Series and some of the most compelling baseball in the storied history of the Yankees and Dodgers.

In 1977 the Yankees defeated the Dodgers, four games to two, to win the franchise's 21st World Series championship, their first since 1962, and the first under the ownership of George Steinbrenner. It was during this Series, Reggie Jackson earned the nickname "Mr. October" for his heroics. Billy Martin won what would be his only World Series title as a manager after guiding the Yankees to a second straight pennant.

The Dodgers and Yankees played a rematch in 1978, with the Yankees winning again in six games to repeat as champions. This Series had two memorable confrontations between Dodger rookie pitcher Bob Welch and the Yankees' Reggie Jackson.

In Game Two, Welch struck Jackson out in the top of the ninth with two outs and the tying and go-ahead runs on base to end the game. Jackson would get his revenge in Game Six by crushing a two-run home run off Welch in the seventh to increase the Yankees' lead from 5–2 to 7–2 to seal the deal for the Yankees.

The Dodgers would finally break through in the 1981 World Series which marked the third meeting in the Series in five years between New York and Los Angeles as well as a record eleventh Series meeting overall and last Series meeting to date. The Dodgers won the Series in six games for their first title since 1965, and their first victory over the Yankees since 1963 and third over them overall.

How will the latest installment of the New York vs. Los Angeles Championship Series go?

If the first Stanley Cup Game between the Kings and Rangers on Thursday night (which went into sudden death overtime) and the first six series mentioned here are any indication it should be one for the ages.

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