Golden State, take note. Putting together a historic regular-season is only half the battle for teams trying to etch out a spot in the annals of sports immortality.
It doesn’t guarantee a title.
If the Warriors break the Chicago Bulls’ single-season win record of 72 set in the 1995-96 season, they’ll be celebrated as the greatest team in NBA history – of the regular-season variety, that is. To go down as truly the best ever, as unfair as this may seem, they would still have to win a championship.
Here’s some teams that had regular seasons for all-time, yet fell short of ending their seasons with their sport’s biggest prize:
NFL: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS, 2007
There’s been only one perfect season in NFL history, the Miami Dolphins going 17-0 in 1972.
New England was actually better, until the end.
The Patriots took an 18-0 record – an NFL first – into the Super Bowl at the end of that season, going up against the New York Giants. But the Giants got a touchdown catch from David Tyree early in the fourth quarter, then a circus catch from Tyree late in the game to set up Plaxico Burress’ 13-yard go-ahead scoring grab of a pass by Eli Manning and won the game 17-14.
“It is extremely disappointing,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “It isn’t something any of us prepared for.”
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: CLEMSON TIGERS, 2015
Clemson was gunning to be the first 15-0 major college football team since the NCAA was formed, and the first in nearly 120 years when it faced Alabama in this past season’s College Football Playoff championship game.
And it was on the Tigers’ minds, too. Some players said they even started talking about it at the season’s first practice back in August.
History was not to be made, however. Derrick Henry rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns and Alabama prevailed 45-40.
“You can’t let one game define you,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Right now, all of our hearts are broken.”
MLB: SEATTLE MARINERS, 2001
Seattle matched the all-time Major League record for wins, 116 – done only once before or since, by the 1906 Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in their 116-win year, losing to the Chicago White Sox in six games.
The Mariners didn’t even get to the Fall Classic, losing to the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. Getting 242 hits in a season from Ichiro Suzuki, 206 more from Bret Boone and having four 15-game winners in the rotation wasn’t enough to have the season end with champagne baths.
“It’s a tougher task as you move down the process,” Mariners manager Lou Piniella said. “You know, the amazing thing about baseball is that no matter how many games you win, unless you win a World Series, you’re going to feel disappointment.”
NHL: DETROIT RED WINGS, 1995-96
With a league all-time record 62 wins in the 1995-96 regular season, the Detroit Red Wings were miles above the rest of the NHL. They finished the regular season with 131 points, 27 more than the second-best team in the league that year.
That team would be the Colorado Avalanche, and they weren’t second-best in the playoffs.
The Wings’ season started with a loss in Denver, and that’s how it ended. Detroit didn’t even get to the Stanley Cup final, losing in six games to Colorado in the Western Conference final. The Avalanche would go on to roll past Florida for the Stanley Cup.
Detroit won 22 of 24 games in one regular-season stretch, didn’t lose a home game in November, December, January and February – and still fell short of the ultimate prize.
“We said it, and we meant it,” Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman said. “Winning 62 games in the regular season meant nothing.”
MEN’S BASKETBALL: KENTUCKY WILDCATS, 2014-15
The men’s basketball team was 38-0 heading into the national semifinals against Wisconsin, two wins away from being the first 40-0 team in college basketball history and on the brink of being the sport’s first undefeated champion since Indiana in 1976.
And the Wildcats didn’t get to the final.
Frank Kaminsky scored 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and Wisconsin pulled away late to beat Kentucky 71-64.
“I wasn’t thinking 40-0,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said that night. “I was just trying to win the game, get on to another game. I would hope my team was that way, but they’re 18- and 19-year-olds. Maybe they were. You know what? If they were, OK. I’ll deal with that.”
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: NOTRE DAME, 2013-14
The Irish were trying to become the fourth team in women’s Division I history to finish a season 38-0 or better, which would have had them joining Connecticut, Baylor and Tennessee.
Problem was, UConn was standing in Notre Dame’s way.
Notre Dame stayed close for a while, trailing by only seven at halftime but eventually fell 79-58 for what became Connecticut’s ninth national title. The Huskies finished 40-0 that season.
“I thought we were playing the Miami Heat. … LeBron was the only thing they were missing,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said of UConn afterward.