This year’s March Madness is going to be weird for Duke haters. Are you happy that the Blue Devils have missed the men’s tournament? Or are you disappointed you can’t root for them to lose and then celebrate their upset defeat? Coach K’s crew has won a few titles over the years and have been a tourney staple. Not in 2021, however. This is the first time Duke has missed out on March Madness since the 1994-95 season. That was quite a while ago. What was going on in 1995 when the Blue Devils were sitting at home watching the NCAA Men’s Tournament with the rest of us? Let’s take a look.
We might as well start with the teams that made the NCAA Tournament, right? Duke fans will probably be extra upset, because North Carolina made the Final Four this year alongside Arkansas, UCLA, and Oklahoma State. The Razorbacks, the preseason number one, made it to the championship game, but they fell short to the Bruins. Ed O’Bannon was named the outstanding player of the tourney, but these days he’s best known for fighting for college athletes to get compensated for the use of their names and likenesses.
Sticking in college hoops, Joe Smith out of Maryland was pretty much the consensus top player of the season. He won the Wooden, the Naismith, and the AP Player of the Year awards. The only other player to make a challenge was Michigan State’s Shawn Respert. Both players, as well as O’Bannon, were All-Americans.
It may not be surprising to hear that Connecticut won the women’s tournament in 1995. After all, the Huskies have dominated women’s college basketball under Geno Auriemma. However, this was just the beginning of that run. While UConn went undefeated in the 1994-95 season and beat Tennessee in the championship game, this was the team’s first title. It certainly would not be their last.
Since the Super Bowl happens early in the year, just a couple of months before March Madness, we are going to talk about the Super Bowl that happened in 1995, but that would make it the championship game of the 1994 season. The San Francisco 49ers returned to the Super Bowl this year, facing in-state opponents the San Diego Chargers. Led by Steve Young and Jerry Rice, the 49ers made easy work of the Chargers, winning 49-26. It was the fifth Super Bowl for the franchise.
Now, let’s move on to some things that happened during that 1995 NFL season. Or, in this case, before the season. When 1995 began, the city of Los Angeles had two NFL teams. By the time the year ended they had none. This year the Rams left LA for St. Louis, while the Raiders headed back up to Oakland. Of course, now the Rams are back in Los Angeles, while the Raiders have made the move to Las Vegas.
Los Angeles may have lost both its teams in 1995, but two other cities gained teams. This was the first year that the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers played games. While the Jaguars struggled to a 4-12 record, the Panthers were better than you might expect from an expansion team, as they went 7-9.
The gunslinging quarterback would win three MVPs in a row, though he shared one with Barry Sanders, so it had to start somewhere with Favre. That would be in 1995 when he won his first MVP thanks to leading the NFL with 38 touchdown passes. This is the only year Favre led the NFL in both passing yards and passing touchdowns, and also the only year he was also named Offensive Player of the Year.
Part of the point of doing an article like this is to illustrate how much things have changed since the last time Duke missed the tourney. Here’s something that will drive that home. In 1995, the top pick in the NFL Draft was a running back. In fact, the Bengals traded up from the fifth pick to take the back out of Penn State. It did not work out great for them. The Panthers, who had the first-overall pick originally, took Kerry Collins, which worked out better. Although, nobody’s first-round holds a candle to the Buccaneers, who added two future Hall of Famers in Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks.
A Las Vegas Bowl between Toledo and Nevada does not seem likely to be noteworthy all these years later. However, this game was the first time that a Division I-A college football game went into overtime. It was added for the 1995 bowl season before being added for regular-season games in 1996. That means the final tie game in Division I-A (now FBS) also happened in 1995.
Once upon a time, the Southwest Conference was one of the best conferences in college sports, especially in football. It played home to seven Texas schools plus Arkansas. Texas and Texas A&M were SWC schools, and so was SMU in their heyday. Of course, SMU’s heyday involved breaking the NCAA’s rules, which led to the school getting the “death penalty” in football. This started the downturn for the SWC. Arkansas was the first to leave, and eventually, four of the schools would join the Big 8 to form the Big 12. Houston beat Rice 18-17 to end the 1995 season, the final SWC game ever played.
Whether we wanted to talk about the team winning the 1994 title at the beginning of 1995 or the champion of the 1995 season, it would be the same team. Tom Osborne’s Nebraska Cornhuskers used their option offense to dominate in the mid-‘90s. First-ranked Nebraska and second-ranked Florida faced off in the Fiesta Bowl to serve as a de facto championship game at the end of the 1995 season. There was no contest, as the Cornhuskers dominated in a 62-24 win.
George’s breakout campaign came in the 1994 season, but in 1995 he took things to the next level. The Buckeyes running back rushed for 1,927 yards and 24 touchdowns, earning him the Heisman Trophy. George would go on to have a fine NFL career, being named the Offensive Rookie of the Year and making four Pro Bowls.
Infamously, the 1994 MLB season ended with a strike that canceled the World Series. In 1995, baseball returned. When the season came to a close, Atlanta bested Cleveland for the World Series, making the Braves franchise the first to win a World Series in three different cities.
The Cy Young winners of the 1995 season are two names baseball fans certainly know. Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux, two of the all-time best pitchers ever, both won Cy Youngs thanks to incredible seasons. Meanwhile, Mo Vaughn was the AL MVP for the Boston Red Sox, while Barry Larkin took home the NL MVP for the Cincinnati Reds. Hideo Nomo came over from Japan and wowed to win the NL Rookie of the Year. The AL Rookie of the Year was Marty Cordova. We thought it would be unfair not to mention him.
We mentioned baseball’s strike in 1994, and the NHL was not without labor disputes as well. The 1994-95 season was shorted to only 48 games due to a lockout. If that wasn’t bleak enough, the New Jersey Devils used their dreaded neutral-zone trap to sweep the Detroit Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup. It set the stage for a defensive era of hockey that was pretty rough to watch at times.
The first-overall pick of the 1995 NBA Draft was the aforementioned Joe Smith, who had a solid if unremarkable NBA career. He’s best remembered for being the player at the center of a salary cap scandal that plagued the Minnesota Timberwolves. Speaking of the Timberwolves, they made history when they drafted Kevin Garnett with the fifth pick in that draft. He became the first player taken directly out of high school since Moses Malone two decades earlier.
As you surely know, Michael Jordan retired after the Bulls won the title in 1993. He went to go play baseball and all that. However, during the 1994-95 NBA season, Jordan decided that his future was in basketball. Famously, he sent in a fax simply saying, “I’m back.” Jordan would return, wearing the number 45, but he could not get the Bulls back to the NBA Finals.
The Houston Rockets won the NBA title the first year sans Jordan, and then they repeated as champs led by Hakeem Olajuwon in 1995. So why was the Rockets winning a surprise? Because Houston didn’t have a great regular season. In fact, the 1994-95 Houston Rockets are the lowest-seeded team to ever win the NBA championship, as they went on to win it all as the sixth seed.
Olajuwon and the Rockets won the NBA title. Shaquille O’Neal got the Magic to the Finals and led the league in points per game at 29.3. However, neither of these players won the MVP. That award went to the Admiral himself, David Robinson. Robinson averaged 27.6 points and 10.7 rebounds per game while playing his usual stout defense. In fact, the Navy alum blocked 3.2 shots per game. Crazy? Not for Robinson, who averaged over three blocks for seven-straight seasons. Also on the awards front, Grant Hill and Jason Kidd shared the Rookie of the Year award.
Villeneuve is not one of the biggest names in auto racing history, but he made a splash by winning the 1995 Indianapolis 500. It’s his only notable racing achievement in the United States, but the Canadian made a big name for himself in Europe. In 1997, he was the champion of Formula One. On the auto racing front, Sterling Marlin won his second of back-to-back Daytona 500s, while the legendary Jeff Gordon won his first NASCAR championship.
John Daly is known as much for his personality and his partying ways as his golf career. He had a big drive, and clearly had some skill, but his extracurricular activities got in the way. Still, he did manage to win two majors in his career, including the 1995 British Open. It would be his second, and last, majors win. The other majors winners were Ben Crenshaw, Corey Pavin, and Steve Elkington.
Sorenstam is one of the all-time great golfers from the LPGA tour, but everybody has to start somewhere. While the Swede turned pro in 1992, it wasn’t until 1995 that she won her first tournament. It was a pretty nice win, as Sorenstam took home a major, the U.S. Women’s Open, for her first career LPGA win.
It was pretty clear that Sampras was the best player on the men’s tour in 1995, as he both began and ended the year as the top-ranked player on the ATP Tour. It helped that he won two Grand Slam tournaments, taking home both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Meanwhile, Andre Agassi was the second-ranked player and won the Australian Open.
Eventually, Agassi would marry Graf, and it was a real meeting of two dominant tennis powers. Graf had an incredible season in 1995. She won more tournaments than anybody with nine, and three of those were Grand Slams. The only Grand Slam she didn’t take home was the Australian Open, which went to Mary Pierce.
These days, we’re used to Pixar being a dominant force in film. When “Toy Story” was being released, though, we had no idea what might come. This was, after all, the first-ever completely computer-animated film. It was Pixar’s first movie. Things turned out just fine. “Toy Story” was a huge hit, finishing second in the box office. The movie spawned three sequels, and it’s considered one of the best film series of all-time.
It had been a wild ride since Timothy Dalton’s two-movie run as James Bond when Pierce Brosnan stepped into the role. He made his debut as Bond in “Goldeneye.” It was a big success and led to Brosnan performing as Bond in three more films, each with diminishing returns.
After Michael Keaton made two Batman films with Tim Burton, he hung up the cowl after “Batman Returns.” If there is one thing we know, though, it’s that you can’t keep the Caped Crusader down. Bruce Wayne returned to screen in 1995 with “Batman Forever,” with Val Kilmer stepping into the role. It would be Kilmer’s only turn as the Dark Knight, and he was overshadowed by Jim Carrey as Riddler.
After winning Best Picture for “Dances with Wolves,” there was something of a target on Kevin Costner’s back. His next big film after his victory was “Waterworld,” a weird, post-apocalyptic film that became a punchline. The problem, in part, was that at the time it was the most expensive film ever made. That led to the perception that it would be a fiasco. However, believe it or not, in spite of all the jokes “Waterworld” finished ninth in the worldwide box office for 1995, and it made its money back.
Time has not been kind to the 1995 Oscars. “Braveheart” won Best Picture, and Mel Gibson won Best Director. Meanwhile, Kevin Spacey won Best Supporting Actor for “The Usual Suspects.” Those are two guys we don’t like to talk about anymore and with good reason. Nicolas Cage also won Best Actor for “Leaving Las Vegas,” which might surprise people who only think of Cage for his over-the-top performances in bad movies.
For many years, there were three networks: CBS, NBC, and ABC. Then, FOX was added to the mix. Finally, in 1995, we got a couple more over-the-air channels in The WB Network and UPN. Eventually, they would join forces as The CW.
If you were a wrestling fan in the ‘90s, you likely remember the Monday Night Wars. This was when the WWF (later the WWE) and WCW fought for supremacy on Monday nights with their respective shows. This began in 1995 when WCW debuted Monday Night Nitro on TNT. It emanated from the Mall of America, where Hulk Hogan was on hand to promote his new fast-food restaurant Pastamania!. Yes, really.
Ferrell is one of the biggest names in comedy, and it all began in 1995 when he joined the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” He wasn’t the only one, as Cheri O’Teri joined the cast at the same time. Those two would join forces with their popular cheerleader characters. Also added to the cast was Darrell Hammond, who became the longest-running “SNL” cast member until Kenan Thompson took that spot.
“The Simpsons” was at its peak of popularity in the ‘90s, and they decided to pull off a big swing. They ended their sixth season with “Who Shot Mr. Burns, Part 1,” a cliffhanger that left the evil businessman wounded by a mysterious gunshot. They spent the time between the seasons building up the mystery, and the seventh-season premiere, “Who Shot Mr. Burns, Part 2,” was led into by a fake episode of “America’s Most Wanted.” Turns out that Maggie did it.
There’s not a lot of shows with a lasting legacy that debuted in 1995. “The Drew Carey Show” definitely had some success. “Xena: Warrior Princess” is cultishly adored. However, in terms of cults, few comedy shows get the love of “Mr. Show,” the HBO sketch comedy program starring Bob Odenkirk and David Cross. Both have gone on to big things since, especially Odenkirk, who is now a successful dramatic actor.
If we wanted to keep talking about cult sketch comedy shows of the ‘90s, we could focus on MTV’s “The State” ending here. That would be a bit self-indulgent, though. Instead, let’s turn to the family-friendly “Full House,” which concluded its run in 1995 after having debuted in 1987. The adventures of the Tanner family had run their course, but then again that didn’t stop “Fuller House” from springing to reality for Netflix.
Both “Frasier” and “NYPD Blue” were major players in the Emmys, so it’s not surprising that they won Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Drama Series, respectively. Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce also won Emmys for “Frasier.” Speaking of heavy hitters, Candice Bergen also won yet-another Emmy for “Murphy Brown.” It was her fifth Emmy for the role, and she declined to submit herself for consideration after this win.
A lot of people think the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is silly. We get it, but people debate it for a reason. Well, the Hall of Fame opened in Cleveland, Ohio in the year 1995. Yes, it hasn’t been around longer than that. With this and “The Drew Carey Show,” it was a big year for Cleveland.
Few bands have as devoted a following as The Grateful Dead. In July of 1995, the band performed at Soldier Field in Chicago with Jerry Garcia as the frontman as always. Garcia had gone into rehab after that, but the damage done to his body had taken its toll. The beloved musician suffered a heart attack and died, passing away at 53. All across the country, and probably the world, Deadheads gathered to more the beloved musicians. Eventually, two of those Deadheads, Ben and Jerry, would name an ice cream after him.
As grim as it is, there was no bigger cultural event in 1995 than the O.J. Simpson trial. It was the television experience of the year, if not the decade. The trial began on television in January and a reported 150 million people tuned in to see the verdict released on October 3. As you surely know, Simpson was found not guilty, and that led to all sorts of reactions around the country.
Since you are reading this on the internet, we figured we should close with an internet-related topic. In 1995, the United States government stopped providing public funding for the internet. That made it officially entirely privatized. This same year, both Prodigy and America Online began offering people access to the World Wide Web with their browsers. It truly changed the way we interact with the world, and with each other.