I still have the T-shirt.
On the front side is the Quad-City Times sports page from April 23, 1998, proclaiming the Quad-City Thunder’s championship in the Continental Basketball Association finals.
On the back is the sports page from May 15, just a few weeks later, celebrating the Quad-City Mallards’ triumph in the United Hockey League’s Colonial Cup playoffs.
It’s been 20 years since that rollicking, roller-coaster spring in which the Quad-Cities made history. No other community ever has won professional championships in both basketball and hockey in the same year. Not before, not since.
Yeah, it was minor league hockey and minor league basketball. It wasn't exactly the NHL and NBA.
But it sure was fun.
It was an amazing time, not only because both teams won but because of how they did it.
Both had the best won-loss record in the regular season in their respective leagues.
Both had to stage huge comebacks to win.
Both were down 3-2 in the finals before bouncing back to win two dramatic games at home.
The Mallards were down 3 games to 1 in the opening round and trailed 3-1 after two periods in Game 5 before making a miraculous rally in a game played on Easter Sunday. (As one columnist we know observed at the time, "If you're going to come back from the dead, there's no better time to do it than Easter Sunday.")
There weren’t a lot of blowouts in either championship run.
The Mallards played six overtime games along the way, including three in the finals. One of those was the longest game in UHL history.
The Thunder played three one-point games and three two-point games among its 15 playoff encounters.
Both teams had to overcome more than their share of adversity.
The Thunder’s run included all sorts of in-fighting. Several players publicly pouted over a lack of playing time. One of them abruptly left the team in the midst of the playoffs. At least one refused to go into a game at a crucial moment.
Byron Houston, who was named the finals MVP, played much of the postseason on a bum ankle. CBA rookie of the year Alvin Sims suffered a broken hand along the way.
The Mallards also dealt with injuries to heroes such as Steve Gibson and Kerry Toporowski, but most of their fighting was done with the opposition.
Toporowski's injury came from punching a Madison Monsters player.
After the Mallards eliminated Muskegon in Game 6 of the semifinal series, the two teams brawled in the parking lot following the game. There were major fracases at the end of Games 2 and 4 in the finals that resulted in suspensions and fines.
In the end, both teams were able to celebrate their final, satisfying triumph against hated rivals in the friendly confines of what was then known as The Mark of the Quad-Cities.
The Thunder clinched things with a 92-88 victory over the Sioux Falls Skyforce on April 22. Three weeks later, the Mallards defeated the Flint Generals in overtime under the same roof.
Strangely and sadly, two franchises that were so eminently successful just two decades ago have not endured. The Thunder went out of business in 2001. The Mallards closed up shop a few weeks ago, and it appears the Quad-Cities will not have a pro hockey team next winter.
But the memories of 1998 most likely never will go away.
And if they ever do, I still have the T-shirt.