Indeed, the triple rematch is a rarity in any team sport.
Among the competitions in which it has never happened are the W.N.B.A. finals, the M.L.S. Cup, the Final Four (men’s or women’s) and the F.A. Cup.
There have been three significant instances of the phenomenon, one each in professional baseball, football and hockey.
In the early 1920s, New York was the epicenter of baseball greatness, and the Giants and Yankees faced off in the World Series in 1921, ’22 and ’23.
You could not even call the first two of them “Subway Series,” as no subway was needed for travel between games: The teams played in the same park, the Polo Grounds. In 1921, The New York Times was bold enough to declare: “Yankees’ Batting Should Win Series.” Babe Ruth did hit .313, despite being hampered by an arm injury. But the Giants won the best-of-nine series, five games to three.
Noting the one time that the Cubs and White Sox had faced each other in the World Series, The Times crowed about the Giants-Yankees rematch the next year under the boldly declarative headline “New York Now Has Edge on Chicago.” The Giants won again, taking a best-of-seven series four games to none with one tie, with Ruth hitting just .118.
“They are still champions of the universe, and a better team of champions never won the highest honors of the game,” The Times wrote. Heinie Groh and Frankie Frisch both hit over .470.
In 1923, with the Yankees in their new stadium, the series was seen as a tossup. But the Yankees turned the tables and won, four games to two, with Ruth having a monumental series, hitting .368 with three homers.
The eighth inning of the last game, in which the Yankees scored five runs to take the lead, was likened by the immortal Grantland Rice to “the fall of Rome, the destruction of Carthage, the feast of Belshazzar, the rout of Cyrus, the wreck of the Hesperus and the Chicago fire.”
The Giants were back for a fourth time the next year, but their opponents were the Washington Senators, making a rare appearance after finishing two games ahead of the Yankees in the American League.
The N.F.L.’s triple match was between two teams no one is expecting to return to the big game soon: the Lions and the Browns, from 1952 to 1954.
In the days before neutral site Super Bowls, the Lions had to travel to Cleveland in 1952, but came away with the win, 17-7, behind stars like Bobby Layne and Doak Walker. They did it again in Detroit the next year, 17-16, despite three field goals by the Browns’ Lou Groza. But in 1954, Cleveland blew them out, 56-10, intercepting Layne six times. It was “crushing and humiliating,” wrote The Times.
The Browns were back the next year, but the victims were the Los Angeles Rams. The Lions sank to 3-9.
In the N.H.L., the Canadiens and Red Wings met in 1954, ’55 and ’56. This could hardly have been a surprise to hockey fans: One or both of the teams had been in every Stanley Cup finals for 13 years. The ’54 and ’55 finals were hard fought, with Detroit winning each in seven games. In 1954, the series was decided by an overtime goal by Tony Leswick. It remains the last time a Game 7 in a finals went into overtime.
In 1956, the Canadiens had their revenge, winning in a relatively comfortable five games. Jean Béliveau had seven goals in the series.
In an era when the league had only six teams, returning to the finals was easier than it is today, and the Wings and Canadiens had the two best records the next year. But Detroit was surprised by Boston in the semifinals.
Other trilogies in major team finals can be found, but they are few and far between. In the Euroleague basketball tournament, Real Madrid and Varese met from 1974-76. In the Frozen Four, the finalists were Michigan Tech and Minnesota from 1974-76.
Now the Cavaliers and Warriors join them. A lot can happen in a year. But given their dominance, no one is betting against a staggering fourpeat in 2018.
Continue reading the main story