Top 10 Legendary Streaks in Sports
It’s easy for a team to put together seven or eight wins in a row, or for a basketball player to make 15 straight free throws, or a baseball player to collect a hit in 10 straight games. Those aren’t memorable achievements, and certainly nothing for the history books. But in the world of athletics, there are some streaks, both good and bad, that will stand out for as long as we play, watch, and love sports. These are 10 of the most legendary streaks in sports history.
10. Caltech Men’s Basketball’s 207 Straight Losses
For most streaks, the ones achieving it want to see it continue for as long as possible. For the Caltech men’s basketball team, however, theirs was a streak so dubious they simply could not wait to be rid of it. Beginning in 1996, the Beavers lost an astounding 207 consecutive games, a streak that continued for 11 years before finally being snapped in 2007.
They finally won a non-conference game, but continued to flounder in conference games, dropping 310 straight games before finally getting a win last February. We don’t know whom we feel worse for: the people who had to endure all of those losses, or the team this historically inept program finally beat.
9. Arsenal’s 49-Match Unbeaten Streak
Soccer, or football if you prefer, is a difficult sport to put together a long winning streak in, largely because any random bounce of the ball could sway a match either way. It’s especially true in the Premiership, the most prestigious professional league in the world, and home to teams like Manchester United, Liverpool, and Chelsea. But back in 2003, Arsenal began an unfathomable streak that extended into 2004, when they played 49 matches without a single loss.
The “Invincibles”, as they were called, won 36 of those matches, and earned 13 draws. The streak was very nearly snapped early on, when in the eighth game of the incredible stretch, a late penalty kick clanged off the crossbar to preserve a 0-0 draw.
8. UCLA Men’s Basketball’s 88 Straight Wins
Now we know that we might get some backlash because we went with UCLA’s win streak over the recent Connecticut women’s basketball streak, which stretched to 90 games, but there’s one glaring difference between the two streaks: the depth of competition. Quite simply, there is none in women’s collegiate basketball. Year in and year out, there are perhaps three or four great teams, followed by a bunch of mediocre teams.
When the UCLA Bruins put together 88 straight wins, however, they were doing it against some truly great programs. The streak began in 1971, and stretched into 1974, before Notre Dame upset UCLA to snap the streak. Coincidentally, the last team to beat the Bruins before the streak began was the Fighting Irish. To put into perspective just how impressive the streak was, the previous record had been 60 consecutive games. Oh, and the team they beat to break that particular record? Yep, it was Notre Dame. That leprechaun gets around.
7. Martina Navratilova’s 16 Straight Years with a Grand Slam Win
Once you get to the top of the professional tennis world, people expect greatness. Greatness is exactly what they got from Martina Navratilova, who became one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, winning 18 singles titles and 31 doubles titles at Grand Slam events. If you’re thinking that sounds like an awful lot of victories, and it would need to span a long time, you’re right. Not only did Navratilova achieve greatness, but she sustained it with nearly unparalleled consistency, winning at least one Grand Slam title for 16 straight years, beginning in 1975 and ending with her last title in 1990.
She also set an Open-Era record with 19 straight Grand Slam singles tournament semifinals appearances, and won a record six straight singles titles at Wimbledon. Navratilova holds virtually every individual record in women’s tennis history, though sadly she’s probably better known now for having appeared on the British reality show I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! as well as Dancing with the Stars.
6. Orel Hershiser’s 59 1/3 Straight Scoreless Innings Pitched
Pitching a shutout in Major League Baseball is no easy feat. First of all, you have to go the distance and toss a complete game. Secondly, you have to shut down Major League hitters, which are, by definition, the greatest hitters in the world. It’s a difficult task for anyone, which is what makes Orel Hershiser’s streak of 59 1/3 straight scoreless innings pitched nearly unfathomable.
And we’re not talking about a reliever coming in and pitching an inning here and there. Hershiser was a starting pitcher who pitched the equivalent of more than six straight shutouts to end the 1988 regular season. Oh, and did we mention that, in the sixth game, he actually threw for 10 innings? That’s not even counting the playoffs, in which Hershiser threw eight more scoreless innings before giving up a single run in the ninth against the Mets.
5. Byron Nelson’s 11 Straight PGA Tour Wins
Winning a golf tournament is extremely difficult, particularly on the professional level. You have no teammates to pick up the slack for you if you have a bad day, you’re playing among a large field of players who are also very good, and you have to deal with weather and geographical conditions of the golf course. There’s also the mental aspect of golf, which might be the biggest obstacle of them all. Winning once or twice in a season is considered a great success.
So the fact that Byron Nelson once won 11 consecutive PGA Tour events is utterly mind-blowing. Nelson won all 11 of those events in the same calendar year back in 1945, and the closest anyone has come since was Tiger Woods in 2006-2007, when he won seven straight events. By the way, those 11 wins in a row? That was a little more than half of his total victories from that year alone. Lord Byron won a staggering 18 tournaments that year.
4. Brett Favre’s 297 Straight NFL Games Started
Football is a violent sport. We’re not exactly shattering any world when we say that. Huge, fast, strong men run around smacking into each other, leading to frequent, and sometimes grotesque, injuries. And at the center of the violence is the one man that everyone on the defensive side of the ball wants to drive into the ground: the quarterback. So for a quarterback, particularly a gunslinger who loves to take chances, to stay on his feet for an incredible 297 straight starts is unheard of.
And that’s why Brett Favre, love him or hate him, has to be respected for his toughness and resiliency, as he started all of those games despite the punishment doled out game after game. It’s particularly impressive, and timely, to point out that he did this while teams were specifically gunning for him and other quarterbacks, due to the various bounty programs that have come to light in recent months.
3. Boston Celtics’ Eight Straight NBA Championships
Just stop and think for a minute about how difficult it is to win a championship at any level of any sport. You either have to be by far the most dominant team, or you have to be the team that catches all of the breaks. Well, the Boston Celtics got a little bit of both during their incredible run of eight straight NBA Championships, which began in 1959 and stretched all the way to 1966. They also won in 1957 and, oh yeah, when the streak briefly stopped in 1967, the responded by winning back-to-back titles in 1968 and 1969.
At the center of all of those championships, quite literally, was Bill Russell. He was the Celtics’ unquestioned leader, and one of the greatest winners of all-time. Remember that 60-game collegiate winning streak, that UCLA broke on their way to 88? The team that set the previous record was Russell’s San Francisco squad.
2. Cal Ripken’s 2,632 Consecutive Games Played
Lou Gehrig is widely regarded as one of the greatest baseball players of all-time and, over the span of 15 seasons, he played an astonishing 2,130 games in a row, a streak that likely would have continued had he not been stricken down by a disease that would soon come to bear his name. For decades, no one thought that record-setting streak could ever come close to being touched. That is, of course, until Cal Ripken took the field on May 30, 1982. He played that game, and didn’t miss a single one afterwards until the home finale for the Baltimore Orioles in 1998.
All told, Ripken played 2,632 consecutive games at shortstop and third base, racking up nearly 3,200 hits in his Major League career. The streak only ended when he voluntarily took his name out of the lineup. To make this historic run even more memorable, Ripken belted a homer in his record-tying 2,130th straight game, and hit another homer in his record-breaking 2,131st, a game which was voted on by fans as the greatest moment in MLB history in 2007. It is a truly incredible streak but there’s still one record that tops even the Iron Man.
1. Joe DiMaggio’s 56-Game Hitting Streak
People talk about how some records will never be broken. For the most part, that’s completely false. No one ever thought that anyone would top the 61 homers by Roger Maris and, when that fell, no one thought that Mark McGwire’s 70 home runs would ever be topped. Obviously it was, by hook or by crook. But there is one record that is hard to fathom anyone coming close to touching: Joe DiMaggio’s epic 56-game hitting streak.
The next best hitting streak is 45 games, but that was set in 1896-1897 when, frankly, baseball wasn’t particularly good and the record was less impressive. In the modern-era of baseball, Pete Rose came closer to anyone when he hit in 44 straight games in 1978. Since 1987, Paul Molitor has come the closest, with 39 straight games, and Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins hit in 38 straight games at the end of 2005, into the start of 2006. Needless to say, no one has come remotely close to touching Joe D’s record, making it the greatest streak of all.