If you told a baseball fan 20 years ago that the Montreal Expos would move to Washington, they would not be surprised. But if you said that they’d win the World Series within the next two decades, they might have been shocked.
In fact, if you told a baseball fan 20 years ago that in the next two decades the Red Sox and Giants would each develop dynasties, and that the Cubs would win a World Series, they might not believe you.
A hockey fan 20 years ago would be incredulous to learn that the Montreal Canadiens have gone 25 years without a title. They wouldn’t have guessed that the Chicago Blackhawks built a dynasty or that the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning are perennial contenders.
In 1999, nobody would have imagined anyone surpassing Dan Marino’s 48-touchdown season in 1984, but it’s happened four times since. The Patriots, longtime laughingstock of the NFL, are now its greatest dynasty. And the Eagles and Buccaneers each finally won a Super Bowl.
Jerry West, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, and Oscar Robertson were all ranked outside of the top 10 NBA players of all time by ESPN in 2016, which would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.
20 years ago, it would have been crazy to imagine the dominance of fantasy sports, the legalization of sports betting, or the rise of massive contracts like the 19 basketball and baseball contracts totalling over $200 million.
“Unbreakable” records have been broken. In 2012, Drew Brees broke Johnny Unitas’ consecutive touchdown streak. In 2008, Michael Phelps’ eight gold medals broke a seemingly unbreakable record. A few weeks ago, Eliud Kipchoge ran a marathon in under two hours.
For some reason, it seems crazy to us every time a “loser” team wins a championship. Ending a drought was a key storyline for the Cubs, Capitals, Eagles, Blues, and Nationals in the past few years. What has come to baffle me is not that the record was broken, but how surprised people get when it is.
Each individual streak or record is such an outlier that we assume it will never be broken. But as the past few years have made clear, we need to start expecting records to be broken. If someone has set a record, it is not unbreakable. Instead, that person has proven that it is possible to achieve that level of success.
In the next 20 years, more records and streaks will be broken. The Browns, Lions, or Cardinals could win a Super Bowl. Someone might break Joe Dimaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Someone might score more than 100 points in an NBA game to break Wilt Chamberlain’s record. Maybe the United States men’s national soccer team will win a FIFA World Cup. Well, maybe let’s not go that far, but you get the point.
Streaks are made to be ended. Records are made to be broken. As amazing as some records are, we should be prepared for more to be broken. It’s what keeps us watching, and what makes sports great.