Today we look at streaks. It seems like the appropriate time, with Brett Favre's consecutive-games played streak ending recently and the Connecticut women breaking the Division I basketball record of 88 wins Tuesday night. It's difficult to list the 20 greatest streaks in sports history and practically impossible to rank them. But we try.
1. Brett Favre's 297 consecutive regular-season starts
That's remarkable, given a defenseless quarterback is running for his life against 11 beasts whose sole intent is to hurt him. It's easy to slough off this achievement because Favre has become a joke in recent years, but do the math. We're talking uninterrupted starts over 19 seasons at perhaps the most demanding position in sports.
2. Ty Cobb's 23 consecutive seasons of hitting at least .300
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What is so impressive about this streak is that it wasn't limited to a short stretch in which luck could have played a role in keeping it alive. And Cobb's lowest average in the streak was .316.
3. Johnny Unitas' 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass
Only two other quarterbacks in history have had touchdown-pass streaks of at least 30 games: Brett Favre (36) and Dan Marino (30). Unitas' streak ran from 1956 to 1960, a run-heavy era when defenses were given every advantage to stop passing attacks. Unitas set a record that even modern-day pass-happy quarterbacks haven't come close to sniffing.
4. Byron Nelson's 11 consecutive PGA Tour wins
You might argue that the competition wasn't that stiff in 1945, when Nelson set this mark. But in golf, you're not playing against other players as much as you're playing the course. With that in mind, Nelson played more than 40 consecutive good to great rounds on 11 courses. To go that long without running into trouble is very impressive.
5. Cal Ripken's 2,632 consecutive games played
I go back and forth on this streak because we're essentially saluting a guy for showing up. Millions of Americans do that every day at more physically demanding jobs, and they don't get a three-month vacation each year. And it can be argued there were times Ripken's streak was detrimental to him and his team and that he played at times just to keep the streak going. But it's an admirable accomplishment, especially when so many athletes take days off or dog it when they do play. Ripken's streak epitomizes giving everything you have.
6. Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak
The best argument for how good this streak is is that no one has really come close to it. The next-longest streak is Wee Willie Keeler's 45 games in 1896-97. After that, it's Pete Rose's 44 games in 1978. But let's remember: DiMaggio's steak came in 1941, when relief pitchers weren't used as much as they are today, defenses weren't as good, minorities didn't play in the majors and high-tech, detailed scouting reports were non-existent.
7. Atlanta Braves' 14 consecutive post-season appearances
The Braves made the playoffs every year from 1991 to 2005 (there was no post-season in 1994). Pitcher John Smoltz was the only player on all 14 teams.
8. UCLA basketball's 88-game winning streak
The Bruins' streak from Jan. 23, 1971, to Jan. 19, 1974, includes three national championships. With deeper competition and longer NCAA Tournaments, it's against the odds that any men's team can go through one season undefeated again, let alone nearly three.
9. Boston Celtics' eight consecutive NBA titles
The Celtics' run from 1959 to 1966 featured pretty much the same players: Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones, Tom Heinsohn. About the time Bob Cousy was on his way out, John Havlicek was on his way in.
10. Los Angeles Lakers' 33-game winning streak
The Lakers won 33 in a row during their championship 1971-72 season. The previous record was 20 games. The closest a team has come since is 22. The best Michael Jordan's 1995-96 Bulls could do was 18 in a row.
11. Orel Hershiser's 59 1 ⁄ 3 -inning scoreless streak
In 1988, the Dodgers pitcher tossed the equivalent of 61/2 games without giving up a run, earned or unearned. That's filthy good.
12. Oklahoma football's 47-game win streak
What's tough to determine is how good the Sooners' competition was, especially because Oklahoma played in only two bowl games in the stretch from Oct. 10, 1953, to Nov. 9, 1957. But this record seems unlikely to be broken.
13. Edwin Moses' 122-race winning streak in 400-meter hurdles
From Sept. 2, 1977, to June 4, 1987, Moses won 122 races in a row. This included an Olympic gold-medal victory and four world records set. Not losing in nearly 10 years is ridiculous.
14. Florida State football finishes in top five for 14 straight years
Bobby Bowden's Seminoles finished in the top five in The Associated Press and coaches polls every year from 1987 to 2000. They never lost more than twice in a season. Plus, when a team is that good, it's playing in a top-notch bowl game every year against a big-time opponent.
15. Wayne Gretzky's 51-game point streak
The Great One owns a billion NHL records, but this one is as impressive as any. He notched at least one point in 51 consecutive games during the 1983-84 season. In those games, he amassed 61 goals and 92 assists for a mind-boggling 153 points.
16. Philadelphia Flyers' 35-game unbeaten streak
The NHL didn't have overtime in 1979-80, meaning ties helped keep the streak alive (the Flyers had 10). Still, the Flyers went nearly three months without a loss.
17. New York Giants' 26-game baseball winning streak
The 1916 Giants won on Sept. 7 and didn't lose again until Sept. 30. The A's won 20 in a row in 2002, so the record might eventually fall.
18. Carl Lewis' four consecutive Olympic gold medals in the long jump
Lewis won gold in 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996. He was 24 when he won his first and 35 when he won his last.
19. Julio Cesar Chavez's 87-bout winning streak
He won the first 87 fights of his pro career, from Feb. 5, 1980, through Sept. 10, 1993. And the streak ended because of a draw. He then won two more fights before losing, meaning his unbeaten streak was 90 bouts.
20. UConn's 89-game (and counting) winning streak
I'm sure I'll get angry comments, but this almost didn't make the list. The reason: Women's college basketball isn't that deep. It has only 15 or 20 really good programs. But to UConn's credit, it is beating the other top programs, and to be fair, no other program has racked up this many victories in a row. In the end, this streak is not as impressive as the UCLA men's 88-game winning streak, because UCLA faced much better competition more consistently.