PRO BASKETBALL—The New York Knicks found the groove last week and stayed in it, with a 105-95 defeat of the New York Nets. A day later they signed Bob McAdoo and Tom McMillen from Buffalo for a reported $2.5 million. While McAdoo sat on the bench resting a pulled groin muscle, McMillen scored 18 points and grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds and his fellow Rhodes scholar, Bill Bradley, chipped in with 20 points in a 112-96 win over Phoenix. Chicago put together its finest week of the season, winning three of four games—Los Angeles 89-81, 92-78 over New Orleans, 84-76 over the Celtics—with the kind of defense the Bulls used to be famous for. Marvin Barnes scored his first basket as a Detroit Piston in a 107-100 defeat of Chicago, then kept his consecutive-game playing streak of two intact with a nine-point effort in a 106-104 win against the Nets. Portland continued to lead the Pacific Division by 3½ games, despite erratic play. Should the Trail Blazers falter, Seattle and Golden State seemed poised to take over first. The Sonics racked up their 29th consecutive home-court victory, a 99-93 win over Golden State, but the Warriors rebounded with a 124-112 defeat of Houston that featured Phil Smith's 51-point performance. Houston continued to trail Cleveland in the Central, the Cavaliers losing to Denver 104-94 and Atlanta 95-94, while the Rockets dropped games to Phoenix, Los Angeles and Golden State.
PRO FOOTBALL—Washington squeezed out a wild-card playoff berth with a come-from-behind 27-14 win over Dallas, thanks to former Cowboy Calvin Hill who went 15 yards around right end for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter (page 32). The Steel Curtain finally rang down on Cincinnati's playoff hopes, Pittsburgh beating Houston 21-0 to eliminate the Bengals from the playoffs in the AFC Central. Cincinnati booted its last chance at a playoff berth in a 35-20 loss to Oakland Monday night; the Bengals' 42-3 victory over the New York Jets came too late. Fran Tarkenton threw three touchdown passes as the Vikings beat the Dolphins 29-7. Los Angeles scored 17 points in the second half while holding Detroit scoreless for a 20-17 victory. The New York Giants struggled gamely with St. Louis before dropping a 17-14 decision. Tampa Bay became the first team in the history of the NFL to go through an entire 14-game schedule without a victory, losing to New England 31-14. When Philadelphia, one of the NFC's worst offensive teams, met Seattle, the conference's worst defensive team, sparks didn't exactly fly, but the Eagles did, 27-10. O. J. Simpson gained 171 yards to win his fourth league rushing championship, but his Buffalo Bills concluded a dismal 2-12 season with a 58-20 trouncing at the hands of Baltimore. Simpson's rival for rushing honors, Chicago's Walter Payton, made only 49 yards before being injured, as the Bears lost to Denver 28-14. Kansas City upset Cleveland 39-14, with Ed Podolak scoring three touchdowns to become the Chiefs' alltime leading rusher. New Orleans drew first blood, but San Francisco rookie Quarterback Scott Bull led the 49ers on to a 27-7 victory. Oakland Quarterback Ken Stabler relaxed on the bench and watched stand-in Mike Rae rifle three touchdown passes to beat San Diego 24-0.
GOLF—SEVERIANO BALLESTEROS and MANUEL PINERO, representing Spain, shot a combined 574 to defeat the U.S. team of Jerry Pate and Dave Stockton by two strokes in the World Cup championship at Palm Springs, Calif.
HOCKEY—NHL: Montreal continued to overwhelm. The Canadiens led the league in goals scored (152, the New York Rangers were runners-up with 119) and the most wins (23). After the Canadiens defeated Chicago 4-3, Montreal Coach Scotty Bowman accused Black Hawk Center Pit Martin of swinging his stick at a Montreal player. Chicago Coach Billy Reay to Bowman: "I'd like to take the puck and shove it down his throat." Life at the top can be rough. Montreal has a 21-point lead over Pittsburgh with not even half the season gone. The Penguins, like the rest of the Norris teams, are below .500. Withal, they're playing better than the Smythe teams; no club in that division, not even first-place St. Louis, has won half its games. In contrast, every team in the Patrick and Adams, with the exception of Cleveland, is playing at .500 or above. The Barons defeated Washington 7-1 to end an 11-game slide without a win. The Rangers had a nine-game unbeaten streak stopped with a 4-1 loss to Toronto in Maple Leaf Gardens, where they have not won since 1972, then came back home to defeat Montreal 5-2. As Philadelphia prepared to play the Bruins in Boston, it had an eight-game unbeaten streak going for it but a 1-18-4 regular-season record stretching back to 1967 in Boston Garden. This jinx was broken, too, the Flyers winning 3-1; two days later at the Spectrum they defeated the Bruins 4-3 (page 30).
December 20, 1976
WHA: Quebec held on to first place in the East by defeating Phoenix 5-4 on Real Cloutier's hat trick, then beating Houston 4-1. Indianapolis stayed only one point behind by beating San Diego 3-2 for its 12th win in 13 games. New England also fattened up on Houston, which lost all three of its games. The Aeros gave up another hat trick in the 5-1 loss, this one by Whaler rookie George Lyle. Winnipeg got by Calgary 4-2, the Jets scoring all of their goals in the final period. Despite losing to Birmingham 5-3 two nights later, Winnipeg opened a five-point lead over San Diego in the West.
TENNIS—MANUEL ORANTES beat Wojtek Fibak 5-7, 6-2, 0-6, 7-6, 6-1 to win the Grand Prix, Masters tournament and $40,000 in Houston.
VOLLEYBALL—USC defeated UCLA 15-6, 14-16, 15-5 in Austin, Texas to win the AIAW title.
MILEPOSTS—HIRED: As head coach at the University of Arkansas, LOU HOLTZ. Holtz, 39, had announced his intention to honor the remaining four years of his five-year contract with the New York Jets, then declared, "God did not put Lou Holtz on this earth to coach pro football." Under Holtz, the Jets were 3-11. Also hired: as head football coach at Cornell, BOB BLACKMAN; as head coach at Pittsburgh, JACKIE SHERRILL; as head coach at Arizona, TONY MASON. Blackman, 58, whose Dartmouth teams won or tied for the Ivy League title seven times, rejoined the conference after six years at Illinois, where his record was 29-36-1. Sherrill, 34, who succeeds Johnny Majors at Pitt, was an assistant under Majors at Iowa State and Pitt, and head coach last season at Washington Stale, where he was 3-8. Mason, 46, who replaces Jim Young, was 26-18 in four seasons at the University of Cincinnati.
NAMED: As winner of the Outland Award for the outstanding college football lineman. ROSS BROWNER, a 6'3", 240-pound junior defensive end at Notre Dame.
DIED: DANNY THOMPSON, 28, the regular shortstop for the Minnesota Twins from 1970 to '75, until being traded to the Texas Rangers last season; in Rochester, Minn. In 1973 Thompson learned that he had leukemia.