You Can’t Overlook the Nutmeggers


By Derek DiTomasso

If you drove by Hartford, Connecticut on April 8, 2023, it might seem like any other day in the Constitution State. You might take an extra moment to appreciate the lavishness of The Gold Building, or the artistry of the Blue Onion Dome. But compared to other cities, Hartford probably wouldn’t evoke the spectacular.

But if you made your way into the heart of the city that day—maybe because you wondered if The Gold Building was really made of gold—you’d experience the pure jubilance of a city and state enjoying the sweet, sweet taste of victory.

“Last Monday night, we had to remind the sports world where the hell the basketball capital of the world is, and that’s Connecticut!” said Dan Hurley, head coach of the UConn men’s basketball team.

Hurley was, of course, referring to the University of Connecticut’s 76-59 victory against San Diego State on April 4, securing the school’s fifth NCAA championship in men’s college basketball. Or, in other words, they managed to complete one of the most dominant championship runs in tournament history, trouncing opponents by an average of 20.0 points.

Four days after the exhilarating win, 45,000 Connecticutians cheered for the Huskies’ parade, chanting for their favorite players to stay one more year. Later that day, fans were given another reason to chant: winning the national college hockey title.

In a thrilling overtime game, Connecticut’s Quinnipiac Bobcats men’s ice hockey battled the Minnesota Golden Gophers for a 3-2 victory, earning the program their first ever national title. That’s two rings in one week for one state.

While Connecticut still basks in a spotlight usually reserved for bigger states like California or Texas, it’s time to acknowledge Connecticut’s rich yet often overlooked history of sports achievements.

Yale Bulldogs Football:

During the late 1800s, the accredited Yale University’s football program was equal in prowess to their quality of education. Unfortunately, while their academics have sustained such high standards, their football team hasn’t come close to a national title since 1927. But, to tweak the words of the average New York Yankees fan, the Bulldogs still have the most national titles in college football history at 18—despite their recent inability to get it done. And like the Yankees, Yale football was as dominant as any team in history in their heyday.

The Ivy League school reached the climax of their dominance in the late 1880s and early 1890s by going on two separate 37-game win streaks. Amidst Yale’s second 37-game win streak, the Bulldogs won 26 consecutive games—two entire seasons—without the opposing team even putting up a point. Their excellence on the field, at times, seemed to transcend into mythology.

“Sing, muse, the destructive wrath of [Yale’s captain] McCormick, which brought numberless woes upon the Princetonians and sent many excellent athletes to the ambulance, and made them a prey to the jeers of the pitiless crowd,” wrote the New York Times of Yale’s “Homeric” 1892 championship victory, the final victory of their unscored on streak

Yet, Yale’s impact on football didn’t just unfold within the box scores. The university’s football program hosted Walter Camp, better known as “The Father of Football,” both as a player from 1876-1881 and as a coach from 1888-1892. Not only did this Connecticut native put together an outstanding 67-2 record during his tenure as Yale’s head coach, but he was also one of the main reasons why football departed from its rugby origins. 

Safeties, the quarterback position, the scrimmage line, the 11-man team, and the exchange of possession after failing to advance a certain distance, all emerged from Camp’s proposals to the Intercollegiate Football Rules Committee. Camp served as a devoted member of the rules committee until his death in 1925, and grew the sports’ popularity most notably in his selection of the All-America football team in a magazine titled “The Week’s Sport.”

It was Camp’s foundational contributions to football that have helped the world fall in love with the game. And it all started at Connecticut’s first college. 

UConn Huskies Women’s Basketball:

1,180 wins, 156 losses, and 11 championships. The dynasty of all dynasties. These are the credentials of Geno Auriemma, the current head coach of the UConn women’s basketball team. These statistics may seem shocking to some basketball fans—Auriemma really lost that many games? It certainly feels like they’ve lost less, and that’s because Auriemma’s win percentage jumped from 67 percent during the first 8 years of his tenure to nearly 93 percent in the subsequent 30 years. 

To sum up their brilliance, the Huskies have been incessantly elite for what feels like an eternity. Time and time again, the legendary program has produced some of basketball’s greatest athletes. Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, and Breanna Stewart, just to name a few of the greats, have amassed a laundry list of accolades. 

The four have a combined 11 WNBA titles, three WNBA MVPs, five years of Olympic gold medals, and 10 NCAA national titles. Amongst the greatest of their statistical accomplishments, Bird leads the WNBA in all-time assists with 3,234 and wins with 333; Moore is the NCAA all-time leader in wins with 150 and UConn’s all-time points leader with 3,036; Taurasi is the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer with 9,174; and Stewart is the first player to ever win Naismith College Player of the Year in three consecutive years—plus she led the Huskies to their historic four-peat. 

While these players have cemented their names in basketball history (Stewart and Bird still having active careers), UConn continues to turn out elite talent. Soon-to-be junior guard Azzi Fudd looks to unlock more of her potential next year, after her stellar start to the season was significantly impacted by a season-hindering knee injury. Paige Bueckers, the first woman to win the Naismith as a freshman and potential number one overall draft pick, is returning for her senior season after missing the entire 2022-23 season with an ACL tear. And Nika Muhl, 2022 Big East Defensive Player of the Year, and Aaliyah Edwards, the physical forward who has seen increased production in nearly every statistical category, are returning for their final seasons at UConn.

Despite their lack of recent success, it’s safe to say that the UConn women’s basketball team are perennial contenders. 

The Connecticut Sun:

While Connecticut is primarily known as the basketball capital of the world because of its collegiate success—admittedly by Connecticut natives—the state’s professional hoopers offer a lot to appreciate. 

With the exception of the Anne Donavan era, the Connecticut Sun have always been a strong team. If you swap a few losses for wins in their four failed Finals appearances, (the most in the WNBA) the Sun would be regarded as one of the best franchises in women’s basketball history.

But, hypotheticals aside, the Suns’ past two seasons have been some of their best work in franchise history. During their 2021 season, the Sun posted their best record in franchise history (26-6) with arguably their most star-studded cast. The franchise witnessed the greatness of Jonquel Jones’ MVP campaign as she averaged 19.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, and earned a spot on the WNBA’s All-Defensive First Team. On top of the Suns’ second ever league MVP, Jonquel Jones was joined by All-Stars DeWanna Bonner and the league’s Most Improved Player, Brionna Jones, all of whom were led by the league’s Coach of the Year, Curtis Miller.

Despite the Sun’s disappointing semifinals defeat to the Chicago Sky, the Connecticut pro team still managed to improve upon their 2021 season. Alyssa Thomas came back from a torn achilles tendon to secure the league’s Comeback Player of the Year award, while Jones put together another All-Star and All-Defensive Second Team performance. Brionna Jones topped the Suns’ stack of accolades by earning the WNBA’s Sixth Player of the Year. 

While the title still eluded the Sun as they fell to the Las Vegas Aces in the Finals, they look to fight for another shot in their upcoming season. Jonquel Jones’ unfortunate trade to the New York Liberty will hopefully be remedied by the re-signing of Brionna Jones, the addition of Tiffany Hayes, and the start of the Stephanie White era as the Suns’ new head coach. White brought a ring to Purdue as a player and one to the Indiana Fever as an assistant. The Sun hope White’s championship history and mentality will soon translate into a WNBA championship trophy.

To some extent, Connecticut could be remembered as “the sports hub that could’ve been.” In 1997, the NHL’s Hartford Whalers relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina, leaving the New York Ranger’s top-affiliate hockey team, the Hartford Wolf Pack, in its wake. Two years later, after word spread of the New England Patriots relocating to Hartford, Robert Kraft, New England’s owner, opted-out of the Hartford stadium deal.

And while some Connecticutians may still fantasize about those missed opportunities, Connecticut has undeniably gotten the most of the team’s that have stayed. The Nutmeg State will forever be the home of some of the greatest dynasties in sports history, and you don’t have to look back all that far in that history to find some more hardware. 

Just look at last month. One small state. Two big championships.