Somehow it does not seem that long ago. The names are still so familiar—Willie Mays, Arnold Palmer, Rocky Marciano and, oh yes, Roger Bannister, the man who did the impossible. In retrospect, it was Bannister's achievement that opened up the infinite possibilities of the years ahead. He did what no man had done before: he broke through the impregnable four-minute mile barrier. After that day at Oxford, anything seemed possible. As the record of these pages shows, just about anything was.
Next year" finally arrived for the Dodgers, who beat the Yankees in the World Series four games to three. The Dodgers' Duke Snider hit four homers, and Johnny Podres pitched two complete-game wins. In the first game 36-year-old Jackie Robinson stole home; in the final game Sandy Amoros made a sparkling catch of Yogi Berra's drive to left in the sixth inning.
Jack Fleck, an almost unknown golfer, upset Ben Hogan in a playoff to win the U.S. Open in San Francisco. There was a thrilling equine rivalry between Swaps and Nashua. In the Kentucky Derby, Swaps, with Willie Shoemaker up, beat Nashua, ridden by Eddie Arcaro. Then, in a match race between the two at Chicago's Washington Park, Nashua, winner of the Preakness and Belmont (neither of which Swaps entered), won by 6½ lengths. Defending Indy champ Bill Vukovich was killed in a pileup in the 500. At the 24-hour race at Le Mans, France, a crash took 81 lives. Appearing in their sixth consecutive NFL championship game and Quarterback Otto Graham's last, the Cleveland Browns beat the Rams 38-14. Bud Wilkinson's dynastic Oklahoma Sooners, getting their 30th win in what would be a 47-game streak, were the top college team. His 17-year O.U. record: 145-29-4. Sugar Ray Robinson regained the middleweight title, knocking out Carl (Bobo) Olson.
August 12, 1979
Mickey Mantle, the Yankees' 24-year-old centerfielder, won the American League Triple Crown, batting .353, hitting 52 homers and driving in 130 runs, but Don Larsen stole his thunder in the World Series triumph over the Dodgers. In the fifth game Larsen pitched the only perfect game in Series history. Pittsburgh's Dale Long set a major league record that yet survives when he hit home runs in eight straight games. Cincinnati's Frank Robinson tied a rookie record by hitting 38 homers. In the first Olympics south of the equator, at Melbourne, Texas' Bobby Morrow won both sprints and anchored the gold-medal sprint relay team to a world record (39.5). Tom Courtney of the U.S. won the 800-meter run and anchored the 1,600-meter relay team to victory. The U.S. swept both hurdle events, Glenn Davis taking the gold in the 400 and Lee Calhoun the 110. Parry O'Brien and Bob Richards repeated their 1952 triumphs, winning the shotput and pole vault, respectively, and Pat McCormick again won both women's diving events.
Rocky Marciano retired undefeated as heavyweight champion, and Floyd Patterson succeeded him by knocking out Archie Moore in the fifth round of their fight for the vacated title. Carmen Basilio lost his welterweight title to Johnny Saxton, then regained it. The University of San Francisco, led by Center Bill Russell, won a second consecutive NCAA basketball championship, defeating Iowa 83-71. A rookie quarterback for the Baltimore Colts, Johnny Unitas, caught his own deflected pass for a net gain of one yard. Australia's Jim Bailey ran the first sub-four-minute mile (3:58.6) in the U.S. By winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Nashua boosted his earnings to $1,288,565.
The New York Giants trounced the Chicago Bears 47-7 for the NFL championship. The Wilson Sporting Goods Company announced that it was working on a fumble-resistant football. The project was not dropped; the ball is in use today.
Althea Gibson, the first black tennis player to gain international acclaim, won the Wimbledon women's singles and women's doubles titles and the U.S. singles at Forest Hills. A man already esteemed as one of the great jockeys, Willie Shoemaker, committed an unforgettable gaffe. Riding Gallant Man to an apparent victory in the Kentucky Derby, he stood up in his irons at the 16th pole, assuming incorrectly that the race was over. Iron Liege surged by him to win the race. The Braves brought a World Series championship to their 5-year-old home, Milwaukee's County Stadium, by beating the Yankees four games to three, Lew Burdette pitching three complete-game victories.
The fabulous Sugar Ray Robinson lost his middleweight crown to Gene Fullmer in January and regained it from him in May. Robinson would not hang 'em up until 1965, retiring with 175 victories in 202 bouts. The Detroit Lions came back from a seemingly insurmountable 20 points down to defeat the San Francisco 49ers 31-27 in a Western Conference playoff game. They then crushed Cleveland 59-14 in the NFL title game. The Browns did, however, unveil a promising rookie—Jim Brown. The former Syracuse All-America ran for 942 yards in 1957, and a record 12,312 in his nine-year career.
It was called "the best football game ever played," and it may have been just that. More significantly, it helped transform professional football from a sort of workingman's diversion into a national obsession. Rarely has a single sports event captured and held an audience as dramatically as did the game for the National Football League championship. The Colts won 23-17 when their fullback, Alan Ameche, scored from one yard out eight minutes and 15 seconds into overtime to conclude a masterful 80-yard drive engineered by Quarterback Johnny Unitas. It was the first sudden-death game in the history of the NFL championships. It made Unitas a national hero and it convinced millions of Americans watching on TV that professional football was "The Game."
Baseball, too, was experiencing radical change. On April 15, in San Francisco's Seals Stadium, the former New York Giants beat the former Brooklyn Dodgers 8-0 in the debut of major league ball on the Pacific Coast.
Elgin Baylor's Seattle Chieftains were upset by Kentucky 84-72 in the NCAA basketball final. It was a record fourth title for the Wildcats, and Coach Adolph Rupp termed his squad "just a bunch of fiddlers who turned into violinists." England resumed its ancient America's Cup losing streak after a 21-year hiatus, Sceptre bowing to Columbia off Newport, R.I. Australia, France and Sweden tried for the old mug in subsequent years, with no more success. The first U.S.-U.S.S.R. track meet was held, in Moscow, and Rafer Johnson set a world record in the decathlon. The undefeated Louisiana State football team got handsome yardage from Halfback Billy Cannon and stout defense from some overachievers called "The Chinese Bandits." The Tigers won the national championship. The Army team introduced the Lonesome End offense. That end was Bill Carpenter. Halfback Pete Dawkins won the Heisman Trophy.
The Boston Celtics won the first of eight consecutive NBA championships and added a new dimension to the professional game. Bill Russell blocked shots and cleared the boards as none had before and few have since, and his outlet passes to Bob Cousy, the magical veteran, and other nimble Celts made Boston's fast break the most devastating in history. As a fillip, there was the shooting of Bill Sharman, who sank a record 56 consecutive free throws and finished the season shooting 93.2% from the foul line.
In one of the ring's biggest upsets, Ingemar Johansson of Sweden, a 4-to-1 underdog with "toonder and lightning" in his right fist, put heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson down seven times in scoring a third-round knockout. It was the first time a foreigner had won the title since Primo Carnera triumphed in 1934. Sugar Ray Robinson "retired" long enough for Gene Fullmer to K.O. Carmen Basilio and claim the NBA middleweight title, but the Sugar Man would be back soon enough. The newly transplanted Dodgers whipped the "Go-Go" White Sox in six games to win the World Series. More than 92,000 fans saw each of the three games played in the Los Angeles Coliseum, attendance records that probably will never be surpassed. In the regular season, the Pirates' Harvey Haddix pitched 12 perfect innings, only to lose in the 13th to the Braves. A young lefty named Sandy Koufax tied a record held by Bob Feller when he struck out 18 batters in nine innings.
A smallish, slowish and starless team from the University of California, brilliantly coached by Pete Newell, upset Cincinnati and Oscar Robertson in the semifinals and West Virginia and Jerry West in the finals of the NCAA basketball tournament. "My name's Dalton, what's yours?" Cal's Bobby Dalton said, introducing himself to the startled alltime All-America Robertson before the tipoff.
The Colts again defeated the Giants for the NFL championship, this time by 31-16. In August the American Football League was formed, with plans to begin playing in 1960.
Arnold Palmer, the new Galahad of the links, charged to victory in the Masters, the U.S. Open and five other tournaments, pocketing a record $75,262.85. In the Open at Denver's Cherry Hills, he came from seven strokes back on the last day, birdieing six of the first seven holes for a 30 on the front nine, and scored a 65 for the round. At the Olympic Games in Rome, Wilma Rudolph, one of 19 sisters and brothers, became the first American woman to win both sprints. She took a third gold medal, anchoring the 400-meter relay team. Running barefoot, Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia won an affecting marathon. A noisy kid from Louisville took the light-heavyweight boxing title.
The Montreal Canadiens won a record fifth straight NHL championship, and Maurice (Rocket) Richard, a wing of volatile mood and towering skill, retired. Another alltimer, Ted Williams, also retired. Bill Mazeroski won a wacky World Series for Pittsburgh with a ninth-inning homer in the seventh game. Floyd Patterson became the first fighter to regain the heavyweight championship when he knocked out Ingemar Johansson in a return match. And into the NBA came a giant among giants, name of Wilt.
Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. won eight straight fights in this, his first full year as a professional and both charmed and annoyed boxing fans with his braggadocio. "Who made me—is me," he proclaimed and, though only 19, began making sounds about wresting the heavyweight title from Floyd Patterson. Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs in a season was threatened over the long summer by not one man, but two—Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle of the Yankees. By the end of July Maris had 40 homers and Mantle 39. By Sept. 1 Maris had 51 and Mantle 48. After the 154th game of an American League season lengthened for the first time to 162 games, Maris was one shy of the Babe. The purists contended that he had, therefore, failed, because Ruth hit his 60 in a 154-game schedule.
But Maris kept swinging. He hit No. 60 on Sept. 26 in the 159th game, and in the final game of the season for the Yankees he smote his 61st off Boston's Tracy Stallard. Mantle finished with 54. Yielding to pressure from the Ruth preservation lobby, Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick decreed that an asterisk be placed after Maris' name in the record books and that Ruth should remain in them as the home run king of the 154-game schedule. With Mr. Asterisk and Mantle leading them, the Yankees easily defeated the Reds in the Series, four games to one.
In his first regular-season NFL game, Minnesota rookie Fran Tarkenton passed for four touchdowns and ran for a fifth. The rest of the season was not so easy. The fledgling Vikings finished last in the Western Conference with a record of 3—11. The Green Bay Packers, coached by Vince Lombardi, demolished the Giants in the NFL title game 37-0. In the first AFL championship game, Houston beat the L.A. (later San Diego) Chargers 24-16. George Blanda passed for three touchdowns and kicked a field goal and three points. Russia's Valeri Brumel set a world record of 7'4¼" in the high jump.
Basketball experts were raving about a forward from Missouri who averaged 30.6 points a game for the Princeton freshman team and sank his last 57 free throws. More would be heard of him later. Fellow named Bill Bradley. Peter Snell set a world record of 3:54.4 for the mile on a grass track at Wanganui in his native New Zealand. Baleful Sonny Liston won the heavyweight championship with a first-round knockout of Floyd Patterson in Chicago, and Emile Griffith regained the welterweight title from Benny (Kid) Paret in a fight that ended with Paret helpless on the ropes. He died shortly afterward from injuries suffered in the ring. The Giants, ignited by Willie Mays, defeated the Dodgers in a dramatic three-game playoff for the National League pennant. Then, in the first World Series ever played in San Francisco, they lost to the Yankees. With the winning runs on base, Bobby Richardson speared Willie McCovey's line drive at second base for the final out. The new Houston Colt .45s brought major league baseball to Texas, and Maury Wills of the Dodgers stole 104 bases to break Ty Cobb's 47-year-old record of 96. Cobb's was set in a shorter season, but there was no talk of asterisks this time. Wilt Chamberlain scored an NBA-record 100 points for Philadelphia against the Knicks.
He was pudgy and blond and rather solemn, and no "Army" followed his charges down the fairway, but Jack Nicklaus was getting his share of Arnold Palmer's action. At 23, Nicklaus became the youngest golfer to win the Masters. He also won the PGA Championship and finished second to Arnie in prize money with $100,040. The Age of Nicklaus was dawning, and it is with us yet. Another youthful golfer about whom much would be heard later was Judy Torluemke (now Rankin), who, at 18, was the youngest player on the women's tour.
Stan (The Man) Musial retired, finishing his magnificent career with a National League record of 3,630 hits and a lifetime batting average of .331. He led the league in hitting seven times. Early Wynn, at 43, won his 300th game on July 13.
Scotland's Jim Clark became the first Grand Prix driver to win seven major races in a year. At Indy he led a foreign invasion that enlivened the mid-'60s. Clark won the 500 in 1965. In one of the wildest Rose Bowl games, USC defeated Wisconsin 42-37, but the Badgers' quarterback, Ron VanderKelen, emerged as a hero, completing 33 passes for 401 yards. Coach of the Year Darrell Royal brought the Southwest its first national football title since 1939. His Texas Longhorns were the sole unbeaten, untied major team, and in the subsequent Cotton Bowl they beat Roger Staubach's Midshipmen. Ernie Davis, the 1961 Heisman Trophy winner from Syracuse, died of leukemia. Although he never played a game for them, the Cleveland Browns retired his No. 45 jersey.
In one of the oddest heavyweight title fights, young Cassius Clay took the championship from Sonny Liston when Liston was unable to answer the bell for the seventh round, claiming a shoulder injury. Clay, who announced after the fight that henceforth he would answer only to his Muslim name, Muhammad Ali, nearly quit himself after the fifth round when he was momentarily blinded by ointment on Liston's gloves. The Clay victory was considered a shocking upset, even with the bizarre finish, because most fight experts had had difficulty taking the clowning youngster seriously. They would later.
Don Schollander became the first swimmer to win four Olympic gold medals, taking the 100-and 400-meter freestyle events and competing on two victorious relay teams at Tokyo. Donna de Varona won two golds, in the 400-meter individual medley and the 400 freestyle relay. In a vintage performance by U.S. track and field athletes, Bob Schul became the first American to win the Olympic 5,000 meters and Billy Mills the first to take the 10,000. Bob Hayes winged to victory in the 100, and Al Oerter won the third of his four discus golds. New Zealand's Peter Snell won both the 800 and the 1,500, and Abebe Bikila—shod this time—repeated his 1960 marathon triumph.
The Yankees won their fifth straight American League pennant, but for the second year in a row they were beaten in the World Series, this time by the Cardinals, who won in seven games. In the aftermath, the Yankees pulled an unprecedented switcheroo, firing their manager, Yogi Berra, and hiring the one who had just beaten them, Johnny Keane of the Cardinals. In so doing, they coined a new axiom: if you can't beat them, have them join you. Ken Johnson of the Colt .45s became the first major league pitcher to lose a no-hitter. At Washington, D.C.'s Congressional Country Club, Ken Venturi nearly wilted in the blistering sun but survived to win the U.S. Open on a 36-hole final day.
Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale won 49 games between them to propel the weak-hitting Dodgers, who had but 78 home runs, to the National League pennant in a tight race with the Giants, Pirates and Reds. The slugging Minnesota Twins, meanwhile, breezed to 102 victories in winning the American League pennant, and they defeated both Koufax and Drysdale in the first two games of the World Series. But the Dodgers' Claude Osteen pitched a five-hit shutout in the third game, Drysdale won 7-2 in the fourth and Koufax threw another shutout in the fifth. The Twins beat Osteen in the sixth game, and Dodger Manager Walter Alston was obliged to pick between Koufax and Drysdale for the deciding seventh game. He chose Koufax, who would have only two days' rest. Sandy pitched his second successive shutout and struck out 10 as the Dodgers won 2-0. Earlier in the year Koufax pitched his fourth career no-hitter, a major league record.
In a game at Candlestick Park, Giant Pitcher Juan Marichal conked Dodger Catcher Johnny Roseboro with a bat during an argument at the plate. Jim Maloney pitched two nohitters for the Reds, losing one of them, and Casey Stengel retired at age 75. The Houston Astrodome opened with an exhibition between the Astros—formerly the Colt .45s—and the Yankees. It was the major leagues' first indoor baseball game.
Joe Namath, the University of Alabama quarterback, signed a $400,000 contract with the New York Jets of the AFL—an enormous sum at the time—conferring big-time stature on the fledgling league. Gale Sayers of the Chicago Bears scored six touchdowns against the San Francisco 49ers in the rain at Wrigley Field. Olympic hero Don Schollander, 18, became the youngest winner of the AAU's Sullivan Award. Gary Player won the Open and Jack Nicklaus the Masters, and Carol Mann took the Women's Open. Josè Torres won the light-heavyweight boxing championship by knocking out Willie Pastrano.
Jim Ryun returned the mile world record to the U.S. for the first time in 32 years when he ran 3:51.3 at Edwards Stadium in Berkeley, Calif., clipping 2.3 seconds off Michel Jazy's record. The purported "Game of the Century" between undefeated Michigan State and Notre Dame ended with more whimper than bang when Irish Coach Ara Parseghian, with the ball in his team's possession and enough time left for at least four passing plays, opted for a 10-10 tie instead of gambling for a win. Parseghian's conservativism paid dividends, though, for, tie or no, his team was named the national champion in the polls despite Alabama's perfect record.
The Baltimore Orioles won their first pennant in 70 years, then swept the Dodgers in the Series. The second game matched Sandy Koufax against 20-year-old Jim Palmer. Palmer responded to the challenge with a 6-0 win, becoming the youngest pitcher in Series history to throw a shutout. It was also the last game of Koufax's remarkable career. Suffering from arthritis in the elbow of his pitching arm, he retired at age 30. To yet another city went the Braves. Thirteen years after they moved from Boston to Milwaukee, they departed for Atlanta. A crowd of 50,000 watched them lose the first regular-season major league game played in the Deep South.
The Celtics won their eighth consecutive NBA title, and Bill Russell was hired as coach, the first black in NBA history to hold that job. Bobby Hull became the first NHL player to score more than 50 goals in a season. Bobby Orr, who would come to personify a new kind of rushing defenseman, joined the Boston Bruins.
The first Super Bowl matched the Green Bay Packers of the NFL with the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs. After a first half of probing, the powerful Packers, led by Bart Starr, Elijah Pitts and Jim Taylor, asserted themselves, scoring three touchdowns in the final half to win 35-10 before a disappointing crowd of 61,946 in the Los Angeles Coliseum (capacity for the game: 72,000). Max McGee, the Packers' veteran wide receiver, was the unexpected star of the game, catching seven Bart Starr passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
The Red Sox, carried manfully forward all year on the shoulders of Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski, fought off the Twins, the Tigers and the White Sox to win their first pennant since 1946 in a thrilling American League race that went down to the final day of the season. The Bosox could not sustain their surge through the Series, though, as the Cardinals beat them in seven games. Bob Gibson won three for the champs.
Muhammad Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title for refusing to allow himself to be drafted into the armed services. Ali pleaded that his new Muslim religion would not permit him to fight outside the ring. At Indianapolis, A. J. Foyt won his third 500. Jim Ryun broke his own mile record with a 3:51.1 in Bakersfield, Calif., a time that would stand until 1975. A game to decide the Pacific Coast's Rose Bowl representative featured USC's O. J. Simpson and UCLA Quarterback Gary Beban. USC won 21-20, then went on to beat Indiana at Pasadena. Notre Dame won its 500th football game, joining Michigan as the only non-Ivy League school to win that many. A daredevil with the improbable name of Evel Knievel cleared 16 automobiles in a motorcycle jump in Gardena, Calif.
The Olympic Games in Mexico City were among the most controversial yet. There were student riots in the streets and a black-power protest inside the stadium. On the victory stand, as the anthem was played, U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised black-gloved fists in protest against racial injustice. Smith had won the 200 meters in a world-record 19.8 and Carlos had finished third. Both were suspended from the Games and ordered to leave Mexico within 48 hours. It required a virtually unbelievable long jump by Bob Beamon to brighten the troubled scene. The lanky Beamon jumped 29'2½", nearly two feet farther than anyone before. At Grenoble, Jean-Claude Killy became the second skier in Olympic history to sweep the Alpine events, matching Sailer's 1956 feat.
Pitching dominated baseball as seldom before. Detroit's Denny McLain won 31 games and lost six to become the first 30-game winner since Dizzy Dean won that many in 1934. Bob Gibson of the Cardinals had a 22-9 record and an earned run average of 1.12, the lowest in 54 years. Gibson had the better of it in the World Series, winning twice and setting strikeout records for a single game (17) and for a Series (35). McLain was only 1-2, but the Tigers beat the Cards in seven games. UCLA's basketball streak ended at 47 games as the Big E, Elvin Hayes, and Houston upset the Bruins, led by Lew Alcindor, before 52,693 spectators, the sport's largest crowd ever. Score: 71—69. With Ali inactive, two heavyweight champions emerged. Joe Frazier knocked out Buster Mathis to become the titleholder in six states, Mexico and South America, and Jimmy Ellis decisioned Jerry Quarry to win the championship of the rest of the world. As the year began, Vince Lombardi's Packers defeated Oakland 33-14 in the second Super Bowl. But in Baltimore, Coach Don Shula would rouse the Colts to a championship season—culminating in January 1969 in the surprise of their lives.
New York teams brought off two of the most astonishing upsets in sports history. In Super Bowl III the Jets, spurred on by their dashing young quarterback, Joe Namath, defeated the heavily favored Baltimore Colts 16-7. They thus became the first AFL team to win the pro football championship. Three days before the game Namath flatly predicted the victory. Broadway Joe completed 17 of 28 passes for 206 yards and was named the game's most valuable player.
The once laughable Mets, who had never been higher than ninth, finished first in the National League East, defeated the Braves in the first year of divisional playoffs and stunned the proud Orioles four games to one in the Series. Tom Seaver won 25 games and lost only seven for the so-called "Miracle Mets." The Mets and the Jets both champions? Not so strange, perhaps, in the year man first stepped on the moon. There were other historic occasions. Bowie Kuhn was named commissioner of baseball, and on April 14 the first regular-season major league game was played outside the U.S. when the expansion Montreal Expos beat the Cardinals 8-7. On Sept. 15 the Cards' Steve Carlton struck out 19 batters to better by one the major league single-game record shared by Bob Feller and Sandy Koufax. Australia's Rod Laver became the first to win two tennis Grand Slams—the Australian, French, U.S. and Wimbledon titles. Laver's first was in 1962. Rocky Marciano, the retired undefeated heavyweight champion, was killed in a plane crash. The sale of the Philadelphia Eagles for $16,155,000 was a measure of the increasing prosperity of professional football. Another measure was the cost of Super Bowl commercials—up now to $135,000 for a minute of air time.
It was Brooks Robinson's World Series. The Orioles' third baseman made one spectacular play after another in the field and hit .429 with two home runs in leading his team to a five-game trouncing of the Reds. The Series was also notable for the phantom tag that Baltimore Catcher Elrod Hendricks made on Bernie Carbo in the sixth inning of the opening game. Hendricks wheeled and tagged the sliding Carbo with his mitt. The ball, however, was in his other hand. Plate Umpire Ken Burkhart, caught up in a swirl of hurtling bodies and with his back to the play, called Carbo out. "The umpires didn't beat us," said Reds Manager Sparky Anderson. "Baltimore did." So they did, particularly Robinson, whose catch and off-balance throw of Lee May's smash down the line in that crowded sixth inning of Game 1 ranks among the finest fielding plays ever.
This was also the year the American Broadcasting Company invaded weeknight prime time with a sports show. NFL Monday Night Football, with the imitable Howard Cosell and sidekicks Don Meredith and Keith Jackson (later Frank Gifford), instantly captured one-third of the viewing audience and became, in effect, a social institution. Bars and restaurants particularly profited from the additional business the broadcasts brought their way. It was, moreover, the year of the "true-confession" sports book, in which athletes were portrayed not so much as paragons of manly virtue but as individuals as morally frail as the rest of us. The most popular of these was Jim Bouton's Ball Four, a candid portrait of ballplayers in action on field and off.
Joe Frazier knocked out Jimmy Ellis to take sole possession of Ali's vacated heavyweight title, and Ali himself returned to the ring following adjudication of his dispute with the government over his draft status. The ex-champion defeated Jerry Quarry and Oscar Bonavena. The New York Knicks, with their "hit-the-open-man" offense, run by such adherents of team play as Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley, Willis Reed and Dave DeBusschere, won the NBA championship. Tom Dempsey, born with only part of a right foot, kicked a record 63-yard field goal to give the New Orleans Saints a 19-17 win over the Lions.
Lee Trevino, "The Merry Mex," was the PGA Player of the year. The winner of the British and U.S. Opens and four other PGA tournaments, he earned $231,202, second only in tour prize money to Jack Nicklaus' $244,490.50, and his lighthearted antics delighted the galleries. On March 8, Muhammad Ali attempted to reclaim the heavyweight crown in a bout with Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden. Despite a gallant effort, the still ring-rusty Ali lost a unanimous decision to Smokin' Joe. Roberto Clemente put all of his considerable talent on display against the Orioles in the World Series, hitting .414 with two homers as his Pirates won four of the last five games after losing the first two. UCLA won the fifth of its seven consecutive NCAA basketball tournaments under Coach John Wooden. Robyn Smith became the first woman jockey of note at major tracks. Stanford, led by Jim Plunkett, scored a stunning 27—17 upset of Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, and Nebraska was again named the No. 1 college football team.
Tragedy darkened the Summer Olympics in Munich as Palestinian terrorists invaded the Olympic Village, abducted and eventually murdered 11 Israelis. The cancellation of the remaining events was proposed, and Egypt, Kuwait and Syria, fearful perhaps of reprisals, dropped out, but the Games continued, if in a somber mood. The American team's misfortunes were confined to the arena. Jim Ryun collided with Billy Fordjour of Ghana and tumbled to the track during a 1,500-meter heat and was eliminated from competition. American sprinters Eddie Hart and Rey Robinson missed their 100-meter heats when U.S. Sprint Coach Stan Wright gave them incorrect starting times. There were some happier events, though. Frank Shorter became the first American to win the marathon since 1908, and swimmer Mark Spitz won seven gold medals, establishing world records in each of his races. Dave Wottle won the 800 meters while sporting a golf cap, which, to his considerable embarrassment, he failed to doff on the victory stand during the playing of the anthem. Russian Gymnast Olga Korbut won two gold medals and transformed television watchers into gymnastics fans. In Reykjavik, Iceland, Bobby Fischer became the first American to win the world chess championship, defeating a Soviet opponent, Boris Spassky. Hockey superstar Bobby Hull of Chicago jumped the NHL for the World Hockey Association, accepting a reported $2.75 million to play for Winnipeg. The A's, now in Oakland, won their first World Series since 1930—when they were the Philadelphia Athletics—by beating the Reds. The baseball season had opened late because of a players' strike. Roberto Clemente got his 3,000th hit, a double, on Sept. 30. It would be his last. On Dec. 31 he was killed in a plane crash while taking off on a relief mission to Nicaragua. In the NFL the Miami Dolphins became the first team to go undefeated in a 14-game season.
Secretariat became the first horse in 25 years to win the Triple Crown, setting track records in both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont and establishing a new high for money earned in a year: $860,404. In a match P. T. Barnum might have staged, Billie Jean King, representing womanhood, defeated Bobby Riggs, representing middle-aged manhood, in straight sets in the so-called "Battle of the Sexes" before 30,472 at the Houston Astrodome. Ms. King arrived for the match carried aloft, Cleopatra-like. Riggs was wheeled courtward in a ricksha. Billie Jean gave Bobby, the 55-year-old former U.S. singles champion, a live pig (male chauvinist species) in retaliation for his remarks about the quality of women's tennis.
"The Juice"—O. J. Simpson—gaining more than 200 yards in each of his last two games, shattered Jim Brown's NFL rushing record of 1,863 yards by advancing for 2,003.
The Miami Dolphins, with a masterful coach (Don Shula), quarterback (Bob Griese) and running game (Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick), rounded out a 17-game undefeated season—including playoffs—by defeating the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII, 14-7. A Swedish teen-ager, Bjorn Borg, became the hit of Wimbledon by reaching the quarterfinals. Hulking George Foreman K.O.'d Joe Frazier in the second round of their bout in Kingston, Jamaica to win the heavyweight championship, but Muhammad Ali's comeback was further stalled when he lost a 12-round split decision to Ken Norton, who broke the former champ's jaw in an early round. The Oakland A's, fighting each other as often as the opposition, won a second straight World Series. The designated-hitter rule was introduced, but only in the American League. The National League would have no part of it. On Oct. 27 the Alabama football team set an NCAA record by rushing for 743 yards against Virginia Tech in a 77-6 victory at Tuscaloosa.
In the fourth inning of the Atlanta Braves' home opener with the Dodgers, Henry Aaron hit an Al Downing fastball into left centerfield. It was the 715th home run of his career, one more than Babe Ruth had hit. By surpassing the Babe's supposedly unsurpassable record, Aaron assured himself a measure of immortality, but he was typically unaffected. "Right now it feels like just another home run," he said dryly. It obviously was not. Aaron had tied Ruth at 714 on the opening day of the season in Cincinnati by hitting one off Jack Billingham. It was a baseball season for records. Lou Brock stole 118 bases, bettering Maury Wills' 1962 record of 104. Charlie Finley's A's won their third World Series in a row, defeating the Dodgers in five games to become the first team to win that many Series in succession since the Yankees took five, from 1949 through '53. Employing yet another new tactic, the "rope-a-dope," Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman in the eighth round at Kinshasa, Za‚Äö√†√∂‚àö√≤re, to regain his heavyweight championship. Instead of floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee, Ali let Foreman punch himself out in the early rounds as he lay against the ropes covering up. When Foreman finally grew arm-weary, Ali lashed out with a sudden flurry, and it was all over. He thus became only the second champion in history to regain the heavyweight title after losing it.
Sweethearts Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert won the men's and women's singles championships at Wimbledon. Skippered by Ted Hood, the American yacht Courageous beat Australia's Southern Cross as the U.S. remained undefeated in America's Cup competition. On Dec. 14 in an NHL game between the St. Louis Blues and the New York Rangers, 246 penalty minutes were assessed, 180 in the third period alone. Only eight players were available to finish the game, which was won by the Blues 6-2. Crime paid handsomely in hockey, though: violent Philadelphia won the Stanley Cup.
In a startling upset, Arthur Ashe defeated Jimmy Connors 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 for his first Wimbledon championship. Billie Jean King won her sixth women's singles title. Chris Evert won the U.S. Open and earned $425,000-plus for the year. The long-deprived Pittsburgh Steelers began a two-year reign as Super Bowl champions, throwing up a defensive "Steel Curtain" and biting off chunks of yardage with Terry Bradshaw's passes. Pelè, the legendary Brazilian soccer star, unretired to play for the Cosmos of the North American Soccer League, giving soccer in the U.S. its biggest boost so far.
In a memorable World Series the Reds defeated the Red Sox four games to three. Almost every game was a thriller, especially the sixth, which Boston won on a 12th-inning homer by Carlton Fisk off the leftfield foul pole. Frank Robinson became major league baseball's first black manager, and in his first game as boss he got a home run as the designated hitter to lead his Cleveland Indians to a 5-3 win over the Yankees. Nolan Ryan pitched his fourth no-hitter, tying him with Sandy Koufax for the major league record. Muhammad Ali made it two out of three over Joe Frazier to bring their savage rivalry to a close, winning the "Thrilla in Manila" on a 14th-round TKO.
Bruce Jenner won the decathlon and mile-record holder John Walker the 1,500, but 14-year-old Nadia Comaneci of Romania stole the show at the Montreal Olympics, scoring the first perfect 10 in gymnastics history and winning three gold medals. Julius Erving, the "Dr. J" of the champion New York Nets, was named the MVP in the American Basketball Association's last year. In June the ABA merged with the established NBA. Later the Philadelphia 76ers paid $6.5 million for Dr. J.
The balletic pass receiving of Lynn Swann and a tight defense gave the Steelers Super Bowl X, 21-17 over Dallas. Yankee Stadium, remodeled at a cost of some $100 million, reopened, and the Yanks, managed by Billy Martin, responded by winning their first pennant in a dozen years. In the Series, however, they were swept in four games by the Reds. Charlie Finley's sales of Vida Blue to the Yanks for $1.5 million and Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to Boston for $1 million each were vetoed by Kuhn.
Two teen-agers captured the fancy of the public. At 14, Tracy Austin became the youngest player to make the Top 10 in women's tennis, the youngest to win a professional tournament singles championship, the youngest to enter the U.S. Open, where she reached the quarterfinals, and the youngest to play at Wimbledon. And Steve Cauthen, who turned 17 in May, electrified racing by becoming the nation's leading rider, bringing home purses amounting to a record $6 million.
Tom Watson won the Masters and his second British Open, amassing $310,653 as the PGA tour's leading money-winner. Bill Walton, injury-free for the first time in his pro basketball career, played brilliantly in leading the team-oriented Portland Trail Blazers to the NBA championship over the Philadelphia 76ers. Walton was named the series' MVP. Los Angeles' Kareem Abdul-Jabbar repeated as the league's MVP. Seattle Slew became the first undefeated horse to win the Triple Crown. Reggie Jackson gave an awesome performance as the Yankees defeated the Dodgers in the World Series. Jackson hit homers in his last four official times at bat—all on first pitches—and five overall to set Series records. His three homers in the final game tied him with Babe Ruth for most hit in one Series game. Rod Carew, whose .388 average was the highest in 20 years, won his sixth league batting title.
At Indianapolis, A. J. Foyt took the 500 for a record fourth time. Bill Rodgers won his second straight New York City Marathon over a record field of 4,823. The Chicago Bears' Walter Payton set an NFL single-game rushing record by gaining 275 yards against the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 20, surpassing the record of 273 held by O. J. Simpson. In Pasadena, Ken Stabler's Oakland Raiders won their first Super Bowl and Fran Tarkenton's Vikings lost their fourth, by a crushing 32-14 before a record 103,438 spectators and a TV audience of 81 million, at the time the largest ever to watch a sports event.
Pete Rose hit safely in 44 consecutive games to tie a National League record set in 1897 by Wee Willie Keeler. Earlier Rose became the 13th player to get 3,000 hits. After the season he left Cincinnati and signed a $3.2 million contract with the Phillies. The Yankees switched managers in midstream—Bob Lemon for Billy Martin—and, trailing the Red Sox by 14 games as late as July 19, caught and beat them in a playoff game for the division title. The Yankees defeated the Dodgers again in the Series. Jack Nicklaus won his third British Open—his 17th major victory—and Gary Player his third Masters. Nancy Lopez transformed the women's golf tour by winning nine tournaments, five in a row. In February, Muhammad Ali lost the heavyweight title to young Leon Spinks, then won it back in September to become the only man to win it three times. Montreal's Guy Lafleur won his third straight NHL scoring title (132 points), but his 60 goals, a personal best, did not threaten the record of 76 set by Boston's Phil Esposito in 1971.
As the quarter-century waned, Roger Bannister's youthful countryman, Sebastian Coe, 22, brought the mile record full circle back to England. Competing in Oslo against a splendid field that included record holder John Walker, Coe lowered Walker's mark by .4 of a second to 3:49. The New Zealander finished sixth. Ireland's Eamonn Coghlan, who had set an indoor record of 3:52.6 in February, ran fourth. Twelve days before the mile, on the same track, Coe had broken Alberto Juantorena's 800-meter world record by a full second with a 1:42.4. At Wimbledon, Bjorn Borg won the singles championship for the fourth year in a row, the first man to do so in modern times.
Woody Hayes' stormy 28-year career as Ohio State football coach ended on a sour note when he was sacked after punching a Clemson player during the Gator Bowl game. Billy Martin, like Hayes no stranger to controversy, had better luck. Fired 11 months earlier and replaced by Bob Lemon as Yankee manager, Martin returned in June to replace his replacement. He was supposed to be back in 1980 anyway, but owner George Steinbrenner decided a return to the old order—or disorder-was indicated sooner.
College basketball's two finest players met in the NCAA finals, and Earvin (Magic) Johnson and his Michigan State teammates beat Larry Bird and Indiana State 75-64. That ended the Sycamores' winning streak at 33 games. Montreal won a fourth straight Stanley Cup, but clearly the best hockey team in the world was the Soviet club that humiliated a team of NHL All-Stars in a three-game series in New York. All in all, there was perhaps no better exemplar of man's will to excel, to stretch the boundaries of mind and muscle, than a beanpole of a Californian named Bryan Allen. As pilot and engine of a fragile flying machine called the Gossamer Albatross, he flew the English Channel. It was the first such crossing in "human-powered" flight, an ancient obsession.