Sports World Nostalgia — Where Were You Then? The ’70’s

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There’s an enormous void.

Given the tragedy that has struck so many during this pandemic, it feels trivial to complain over the elimination of all sporting events while we search for a way to return our world to normal. But the void is real. We miss our sports and all they bring to us in the way of entertainment, distraction and joy.

However, if there is a silver lining to the dearth of daily sports programming on the tube, it’s that those of us with a bent for nostalgia are getting some unexpected relief as the networks replay fun and exciting games from years past.

My Mets fan buddies back east have been reveling in replays of the postseason runs of 1969 and 1986. Angels fans here in SoCal have been getting a steady diet of vintage hardball from their championship season of 2002. And do we need to further reinforce the hype surrounding MJ and the Bulls teams of the ’90’s? The Last Dance concludes tonight, right? Promise?

Of course, trying to come up with glory days for certain franchises can be more difficult. For example, the other day as I surfed the channel guide out here, I came upon a replay of the 1974-75 NBA eastern conference semifinals between the Washington Bullets and the Buffalo Braves. Why was this relevant to west coast hoops fans? Well, the Braves were the precursor of the current-day Clippers, and since there isn’t much postseason glory to harken back to for fans of the Clips, we had to travel in time all the way back to the mid-’70’s, when the Clippers played their games in Buffalo, New York.

And it was one hell of an enjoyable journey. First of all, we had Brent Musburger calling the game, with the Big O, Oscar Robertson (in full ’70’s splendor with an open neck shirt and maroon sports coat) doing the color commentating. Honestly, I’d forgotten just how good that Braves squad was. Ernie Digregorio (who sat this one out with an injury) was the Buffalo point guard, and the NBA’s consensus fastest man, Randy Smith, was coming into his own as a talented, two-way shooting guard. Garfield Heard was a beast on the glass, with much better offensive moves around the basket than I remembered. And I’d totally forgotten Buffalo had picked up Jimmy McMillian from the Lakers, but there he was, firing away every time he got his hands on the ball.

Dr. Jack Ramsay was stomping around the Buffalo sideline, cursing like a sailor, rolled up program in hand. He’d implemented a fast-paced system built around superstar Bob McAdoo, and the Braves could score in bunches. And man, was McAdoo good. So good that it almost made me understand how the Knicks could have crippled their franchise for years to come when they acquired him a few years down the road. Big Mac’s battles against the uber talented (and often ignored in comparison to other big men of the ’70’s) Elvin Hayes — The Big E!!– was worth the price of admission. Phil Chenier, Wes Unseld and Kevin Porter on the Bullets side of things made this two hours of awesome entertainment.

The real point here, though, is that we are left to ponder “where were we then” when these grainy gems pop up on our screens. During the era when the Bullets-Braves game was played, nine-year-old me was probably shooting baskets in the driveway of my Glendora, CA home. I was no doubt ignoring what was going on in the NBA back east (the Knicks fall from grace was just beginning, but certain not to last very long…) and wondering how the uninteresting Warriors, led by that selfish gunner Rick Barry, could somehow be emerging as favorites out west.

It got me thinking back to the 1970’s, and other memorable sporting event moments of my youth, from a “where was I when that happened” perspective.

I’m guessing all sports fans have their personal list of most meaningful and memorable events, the ones that really left an imprint. The years may have faded out the specifics and details, but the headlines live on deep inside us. While we wait out this interminable slog toward some form of professional sports resumption, it is nice to be able to escape for awhile — to sit back and think back — and construct our lists of the sporting moments that have stayed with us all these years.

Here, in chronological order, is mine, focusing on the decade of the ’70’s — SportsAttic note: for the purpose of this exercise, I’m leaving out the obvious, such as Buddy Harrelson kicking Pete Rose’s ass in the ’73 NLCS and Reggie’s three dingers in the ’77 series, since they’ve already gotten plenty of coverage from prior SportsAttic posts:

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  1. “The Game of the Century” — Nebraska vs. Oklahoma in Norman, OK — 11/25/71

Alabama QB Pat Sullivan won the Heisman Trophy in 1971, but the two best players on the two best teams were flanker Johnny Rodgers of Nebraska and tailback Greg Pruitt of Oklahoma. Rodgers had caught 57 balls for 956 yards and 11 TD’s that year — off the charts numbers when you consider the ground and pound style of the Cornhuskers back then, and six-year-old me considered him the greatest college football player of all time. Period. Pruitt was no slouch though, gaining 9.5 yards per carry for the Sooners back in ’71. The build up to this game earned it the cover of Sports Illustrated, and the game didn’t disappoint. It was a night game, and I didn’t make it anywhere near the end, but all I needed to see was Rodgers take the first punt of the game 72 yards to open the scoring, and all of my opinions about the utter greatness of the receiver who would win the Heisman in 1972 were confirmed. It didn’t matter that Nebraska fullback Jeff Kinney scored the next four TD’s for the Huskers, including the game winner late, because to me this was all about Rodgers besting Pruitt. Anyone else remember this one? I took in the action from a very ’70’s family room sofa in Convent Station, NJ. How ’bout you?

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2. The NFL’s “Longest Game” — Miami Dolphins vs Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City — Christmas Day, 1971

Easy to understand why this one remains lodged in the old memory banks. My sixth Christmas was spent at my great-grandmother’s apartment in Bronxville, NY. It was there I first heard the term “sudden death,” and was instantly fascinated with how a term I understood in its literal context could be applied to a football game. This one never should have gone to OT. Jan Stenerud missed a 32-yard field goal attempt that would have won it for KC in the final seconds of regulation, and then had a 42-yarder blocked in the first OT. Miami would then miss a 52-yarder, also in the first OT, before Garo Yepremian (funny how this little guy showed up in so many early NFL memories for me) redeemed himself and mercifully ended it in OT number two. There were 13 future Hall of Famers involved in this matchup, but it was obscure Chief Ed Podolak’s day — 350 total yards amassed on the ground, in the air and returning punts and kickoffs. I would replay in my mind Lenny Dawson going deep to Otis Taylor for years after that one. What a game!

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3. 1972 Summer Olympics — USSR vs United States 9/9/72 — Munich, Germany

I was back on the couch in that Convent Station, NJ family room for this one. What I remember most is my father’s extreme, visceral reaction as the United States was blatantly robbed of a gold medal in front of the entire world. This was back before USA Basketball turned olympic hoops into a farce by including pros and creating the Dream Team. As it was explained to seven-year-old me back then, the coolest part of olympic basketball was that our amateurs took on pros from around the world and still won every four years. In fact, the USA had collected all seven gold medals awarded since hoops became a part of the games (with the USSR frustrated by only silver for the prior five of them). Despite a chippy and hard fought game that included the Americans’ top scorer getting ejected early in the second half, and a mugging of Doug Collins as the clock wound down where no technical was called, Collins somehow dusted himself off and hit two free throws that should have ended the game with another gold medal for Team USA. Not so fast. A blatant disregard for scoreboard operation, the rulebook, and player substitutions gave the USSR three tries at a full length desperation inbounds pass. Long-armed, 6’11 Tom McMillen was even moved six feet from the baseline by the refs to better facilitate the USSR’s third try at winning the game. And yup, that one connected, giving the USSR the gold and my dad a near-coronary.

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4. The Bruins streak comes to an end — UCLA vs Notre Dame, 1/19/74 — South Bend, Indiana

My family moved to Southern California in the early-’70’s, at the height of UCLA Basketball’s dominance. The Bruins, under the leadership of the legendary John Wooden, won seven straight national championships and 88 consecutive games (72 of the 88 by double digits!) heading into their January matchup with the second-ranked Fighting Irish. The streak was at 1092 days and counting, and eight-year-old me had no reason to think it would ever end (UCLA had not lost a basketball game the entire time my family had lived in the state of California). Especially since that day Bill Walton was returning, having missed the previous three games with a bad back. Notre Dame had a terrific team, featuring Adrian Dantley and John Shumate, but in addition to Walton, UCLA put out a lineup that included future NBAers in Keith Wilkes and David Meyers. To this day, this UCLA hoops fan believes they should have won that one in South Bend, too. As time was running out, Walton missed a short turn around off an inbounds pass, and the Bruins had two more cracks at it, including a missed Meyers tip-in that I still can’t believe didn’t go down. Shumate finally pulled down the rebound for the Irish, launching the ball toward the rafters — the streak was over.

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5. The “Anthony Davis Game” — USC vs Notre Dame — The Coliseum/Los Angeles, CA —  11/30/74

Southern California sports fans gained some measure of revenge against their tormentors from South Bend later in 1974, when the best USC football team ever assembled hosted the Fighting Irish at The Coliseum. The Trojans were loaded as they were for most of the ’70’s, but it was always about the tailback at USC. In 1974, that tailback was Anthony Davis, and he was having an unbelievable year — one that should have led to him taking home the Heisman Trophy. To my utter disbelief, the Trojans fell behind 24-0 in the first half, and it appeared their national title dreams were in the process of being dashed in a rout at the hands of one of their biggest rivals. But just before halftime, Davis returned a kickoff from his own end zone, taking it all the way (fun fact — Davis averaged 42.5 yards per kickoff return in 1974). The extra point missed, but the Trojans didn’t look back on their way to scoring 55 unanswered points. Most of the 55 came on the back of the spectacular Davis, who produced one of the most prolific performances in NCAA football history. Those 55 points  came in only 17 minutes of play, absolutely destroying the Golden Domers. But for Davis, the performance was a little too late. Back in those bygone days, the Heisman voting deadline was prior to the end of the regular season, so voters didn’t get to factor in Davis’ performance against Notre Dame, and the trophy went to Ohio State’s Archie Griffin in yet another travesty of justice. This contest was viewed in the family room of another very ’70’s home located in Glendora, CA. Where were you the day Anthony Davis went wild?

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6. Chris Chambliss Game Winner — New York Yankees vs Kansas City Royals, ALCS Game 5 — 10/14/76 — Yankee Stadium

It’s hard to imagine there was a time when this lifelong Mets fan actually liked and rooted for the New York Yankees, but that was the case back in 1976 when the Bombers returned to the postseason for the first time in my lifetime. The Yanks of ’76 were a likable ball club that had been constructed by a combination of smart trades that brought players like Mickey Rivers, Ed Figueroa and Lou Piniella to the Bronx, and free agency (Catfish Hunter). The ’76 ALCS began an epic rivalry that would last much of the next decade between the Yanks and Royals, and the  teams were always evenly matched. This one appeared to be heading toward an easy clinching party for the Bombers, when Figueroa (working on three days rest) coasted into the 8th up 6-3. But Billy Martin lifted him after giving up a leadoff single, and before you could say Grant Jackson (really, what was Martin thinking), George Brett tied things up with a three-run homer that nobody other than Brett remembers to this day. That’s because in the bottom of the ninth, the Yanks strong, silent first baseman, Chris Chambliss, turned on Mark Littell’s first pitch and launched his game-winner (we didn’t call them walk-offs back then). As an added element of excitement for 11-year-old me, watching in yet another very ’70’s family room, this one in Morris Township, NJ, Chambliss was unable to make it completely around the bases. The delirious crowd had stormed the field and an ugly scene unfolded. My last memory of that night was seeing the burly Chambliss turn into a fullback, bowling over fans as he ran for his life into the Yankees dugout. I worried that Chambliss’ not touching home plate could constitute a forfeiture, but was reassured when I read in the next day’s Star-Ledger that they’d brought him out later to ceremoniously touch the ground where home plate had once been (a lucky fan had taken off with the actual plate).

So there’s your view into the nostalgic vault of AtticBro’s 1970’s sports world head. Let’s hear from SportsAttic Nation — when you think back on your most meaningful sports memories from the decade of the 1970’s, what comes to mind?

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One thought on “Sports World Nostalgia — Where Were You Then? The ’70’s”

  1. What comes to mind is you re-living some great sports moments, in one of those very 70’s family rooms in Convent Station NJ, Glendora CA, and Morris Twp, NJ. Also special to me is that I was able to live them then, and re-live them tonight with you, those special times. Thanks for these very real memories.

    Like

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