Sports Dynasties: UConn Women Part Of The Club
Tiffany Hayes and teammates celebrate the win at the Final Four at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas Tuesday April 6, 2010 for the national women's basketball championship. (BETTINA HANSEN / HARTFORD COURANT / April 6, 2010)
But he knows they exist.
"I remember growing up in Philadelphia in the '60s, and people would ask, 'How's your basketball team?' You'd say, 'Pretty good,' but not really.
"They'd ask, 'How's your baseball team?' You'd say, 'Pretty good,' but not really. Or 'How's your football team?
"And you'd think, 'How are we going to beat the Celtics? How are we going to beat the Dodgers or the Yankees? And you realize, there is something different about those places."
• Map: UConn Victory Parade Route
Dynasty may be the most misused term in sports. By definition, it is a "sequence of rulers from the same family or group," and suggests supremacy spanning generations.
"I don't know what the proper time frame would be," Auriemma said. "Teams win two championships now and they call it a 'dynasty.'"
The UConn women's basketball program would certainly qualify for anyone's list, having won seven national championships since 1995, which, by the nature of college athletics, means dozens of different players have been involved. More to the point, since 2000 they have won six, including stretches of three in a row and two in a row. Plus, there is the 70-game winning streak in 2001-03 and the 78-game streak that started in 2008. The Huskies' second consecutive perfect season will be celebrated in a parade through downtown Hartford today.
The Yankees, who won 29 American League championships and 20 World Series between 1921-64, have long been considered the gold standard of sports dynasties. Their dominance included two owners, the Ruppert family before World War II and the Dan Topping/Del Webb group from 1945 to 1964, seven different managers, including Miller Huggins, Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel for long stretches, and several distinct cores of players built around superstars Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.
Since 1964, the Yankees' success has been more sporadic, but the franchise has been in seven of the last 14 World Series, and won its 27th championship in 2009. There is a lineage that seems unbroken in the Bronx.
"I think more about the tradition than of a dynasty," said Joe Girardi, the current manager. "You think about the players that played before you, and the level they played at, and the managers who managed before you, and the level they managed at. And you think about the expectations that go with that."
The word "expectation" is sprinkled throughout any talk of a dynasty, or playing for one. Said Curtis Granderson, one of the new Yankees, "People told me coming here, it was going to be different. These people are ready to win right now."
"You go into [most] arenas and you see a ton of banners," Auriemma said. "Then you go into Pauley Pavilion [at UCLA] and you just see . It kind of lets you know that, if they don't win a national championship, they're not interested in jumping up and down. They expect to hang banners there."
At UCLA, the men's basketball team won 10 championships in 12 years under John Wooden during the 1960s and '70s, including 88 consecutive wins between 1971-74, the record Auriemma's team will try to break next season. Wooden stressed the principle that his team was competing against itself, establishing its own standard.
"Be the best at whatever you undertake," Bill Walton, one of the signature stars of that UCLA era, once said of the Bruins' philosophy. "Don't worry about the score. Don't worry about image. Don't worry about the opponent. It sounds easy, but it's very difficult."
Dynasties, too, must disregard the elements and obstacles of all kinds to maintain themselves. The Green Bay Packers set the standard for NFL dynasties during the 1960s, with five championships, including the first two Super Bowls. Twice, in the 1962 NFL championship game in New York, and the famous "Ice Bowl" against the Cowboys in Green Bay in 1967, they had to win in freezing weather to keep their run alive. By coming from behind to beat Dallas, the Packers became, in the words of Steve Sabol of NFL Films, "a team for the ages."
Bob Skoronski of Derby and Fairfield Prep played on those Green Bay teams.
"One thing Vince Lombardi instilled in us," Skoronski told The Courant in 2008, "was that you had to play in all kinds of weather. You had to be ready to play in all kinds of conditions. That's what it takes to be a champion."
And when dynasties end, they die hard. The Patriots won three Super Bowls in a four-year span, and were going for a fourth — and an unbeaten season — in February 2008 when they lost to the Giants. The last Yankees dynasty, four titles in five years, ended in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the 2001 World Series, when the Arizona Diamondbacks scored off Mariano Rivera.
"You just want to squeeze every ounce you can out of it," said Andy Pettitte, a Yankee from 1995-2003, and since 2007.
Dynasties can lift their sports, or their league. UConn and Tennessee have brought new awareness to women's basketball. The Celtics, who have won the most championships (17) in NBA history, lorded over the league from 1957-69, winning 11 times in 13 years as the league's popularity was burgeoning.
Playing for such a group, naturally, sets one apart. Playing for the Tennessee's women's basketball team, which won the last of its eight national titles in 2008, Kara Lawson knew everyone in Knoxville was always watching.
"I'd stop at a traffic light," she said, "and people would stop alongside me and roll down the window. I'd think maybe they were lost, but they'd want to let me know they recognized me and wished me good luck. People are always watching to see how you carry yourself, how you represent the team and the history."
Swin Cash, who played on UConn championship teams a decade ago, says she feels "blessed" to have been part of something that began before she came to Storrs, and has continued. She looked up at the banners in Gampel Pavilion this past week and said, "I think when I bring my children and my grandchildren here one day, they will appreciate it, and I'll appreciate it maybe more than I do now."
Neither the dynasty nor its uniform can make the player, Auriemma says. It must always be the other way around. Derek Jeter says he never calls a free agent to sell him on playing for the Yankees; only those who covet the challenge of playing for a dynasty need apply.
"Some people come here and think, just because they put on a Connecticut uniform, they're a Connecticut player," Auriemma said. "It's more about the players who recruit you than about who you recruit. It has to be in you. You have to look up at all the banners and say 'That's in me.' And then the uniform becomes a Superman's cape."