"Sports Highlights of the '70s"
OLYMPIC SWIMMING: Mark Spitz's Cold War at the Pool
At the 1972 Olympics, Mark Spitz swam away with an unprecedented
seven gold medals. And that was after an intelligence skirmish
with the Russian team.
"Go back to 1972, when everyone had real long hair. I'm 22. We had just finished
the NCAA championship. Here was my chance to do something I wanted: grow a
mustache. It took from the end of March to June. It was my pride and joy that I
could even grow this thing. I had all intentions of shaving it off at the
Olympic trials. But I did so well in the first event -- I think I even broke a
world record -- that I decided it was a good-luck piece.
"The day before the opening ceremony, I felt it was necessary to swim the pool
at exactly the time of the finals. I wanted to see the ambient light at that
time. I went over to the pool planning to ask whoever was training for just 15
minutes. The Russians were there. They knew who I was, and I knew one coach who
spoke perfect English. He said that it would be perfectly fine. He gave me an
outside lane to myself.
"There were these big windows on the side of the pool, and I noticed some
flashing. The Russians were taking pictures of my stroke. So I started swimming
absolutely terribly -- the weirdest stroke you can imagine. When I got out, the
Russian coach came up to me and said, 'I couldn't help but notice your stroke
was unconventional. You don't swim like that when your actually compete.' So I
started telling him it was a new technique to gain muscle by swimming
inefficiently. I was just making this up. Then he said, 'And doesn't your
mustache drag water?' I said, 'No, it actually deflects water from my mouth and
allows me to keep my head in a lower position that helps my speed.' He repeats
everything in Russian to some guy taking notes. The next year, Vladimir Bure, a
top Russian swimmer, shows up to competition with a mustache."
- o -
PRO FOOTBALL: "Broadway Joe" Shakes a Leg, in Pantyhose
Some athletes were just jocks. Joe Namath also became famous for
his off-field exploits, including one in nylon.
"They came with ad storyboards to our office, and I got a laugh out of it: the
camera panning from the feet up the legs, and me saying, 'If Beautymist can make
my legs look good, imagine what they'll do for yours.' When they get up to me,
I'm wearing green shorts and a football jersey. We asked our secretary, 'What do
you think?' She said, 'It's cute, but my daddy wouldn't like it. He doesn't
think football players should wear pantyhose.' So that started us thinking. We
went on for about 10 days trying to figure out if we'd offend someone. Finally I
just said, "Let's go with our gut feeling. It's humor. I can handle the heat.'
And it was a lot of fun, though when I looked at it, my stomach turned; I didn't
like anything about the way I looked. And some old-timers were perplexed. This
guy in Alabama came up to me and said, 'You know, Joe Willy, I don't mind you
wearing those there pantyhose like that, but Lord, son, did you really shave
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MAJOR-LEAGUE BASEBALL: Pittsburgh's Roberto Clemente Gets #3,000
Roberto Clemente was baseball's first Latin American superstar.
Teammate Nellie Briles reflects on his final feat before he died in
a plane crash en route to Nicaragua with aid for earthquake victims.
"I saw him get his 3,000th hit. It was a time when he had become the consummate
major-league professional ballplayer. He had no more to prove -- he'd won his
batting titles and MVPs, and now he could play for the love of the game. It was
the last day of the season in 1972. He had 2,999 hits, and I understand the
story was that Roberto was not going to be in the lineup the last day. Bob
Prince, the broadcaster who was the voice of the Pirates, saw that and asked
Clemente why he wasn't in the lineup. Roberto said, 'It's good for marketing if
I wait and get my 3,000 hit next year. It would help season tickets and a lot of
things.' And Bob told him to play because you never know what's going to happen.
After the hit all he did was stand on second base and tip his hat. It was a very
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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: UCLA's John Wooden on How to Put on Your Socks
As men's basketball coach at UCLA, John Wooden led his team to 10
national titles, including a remarkable seven in a row from 1967
to 1973. He took care to shape his players heads -- and save their
"I think it's the little things that really count. The first thing I would show
our players at our first meeting was how to take a little extra time putting on
their shoes and socks properly. The most important part of your equipment is
your shoes and socks. You play on a hard floor. So you must have shoes that fit
right. And you must not permit your socks to have wrinkles around the little toe
-- where you generally get blisters -- or around the heels. It took just a few
minutes, but I did show my players how I wanted them to do it. Hold up the sock,
work it around the little toe area and the heel area so that there are no
wrinkles. Smooth it out good. Then hold the sock up while you put the shoe on.
And the shoe must be spread apart -- not just pulled on the top laces. You
tighten it up snugly be each eyelet. Then you tie it. And then you double-tie it
so it won't come undone --- because I don't want shoes coming untied during
practice, or during the game. I don't want that to happen. I'm sure that once I
started teaching that many years ago, it did cut down on blisters. It definitely
helped. But that's just a little detail that coaches must take advantage of,
because it's the little details that make the big things come about."
- o -
TENNIS: Billie Jean King and Gender Politics on Center Court
In 1973, Billie Jean King took on -- and beat -- Bobby Riggs in a
tennis match billed as "Battle of the Sexes." She's still hearing
"I watched in agony when Bobby Riggs beat Margaret Court in the first 'Battle of
the Sexes.' She didn't get a ball in the court! I knew I would have to play him.
There wasn't one woman sportswriter at my match, except Nora Ephron. She was the
only one that interviewed me. I was very clear on what the match meant. I went
to Hilton Head and tried to stay away from the hype. I had a lot of doubts. I
didn't have any idea if I could beat him. I only knew stories about Bobby: he
was a hustler. I heard he won $50,000 betting on himself. He was going to try
and psych me out. For him it was showtime. That was fine with me; I liked
entertainment. It was still going to come down to skill. I never watched the
tape of the match until 1995. It wasn't until then that I saw the signs in the
crowd like KING WEARS JOCKEY SHORTS! I was focused. When it was over, I was just
relieved. Bobby jumped the net and said, 'You were too good.' They didn't think
tennis fans would run onto the court. There was no security -- we were just
totally crushed. George Foreman was there helping out. I remember people were
mad at me. They shouted, 'I lost my money on you!' Nowadays people still come up
to me -- men more than women -- and say, 'Thank you for what you did for my
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PROFESSIONAL BOXING: The World Was Muhammad Ali's Canvas
Muhammad Ali says his greatest bout was the Thrilla in Manila. But
his whole life has been one great fight.
"The greatest fight I ever had was the Thrilla in Manila against Joe Frazier in
1975. But the greatest thing I ever did was not going to Vietnam. People said
to me, 'Boy, you've got a lot of nerve.' I said, 'You're going to Vietnam,
you're probably going to get killed. You're the one with the nerve, not me.'
"But the Rumble in the Jungle was a fight that made the whole country more
conscious. I wanted to establish a relationship between American blacks and
Africans. All the time I was there, I'd travel to the jungles, places where
there was no radio or television, and people would come up and touch me, and I
could touch them. The fight was about racial problems, Vietnam. All of that.
"Everyone said George was going to whup me. But the man who has no imagination
stands on the earth, he has no wings, he will never fly. Before the fight, I
told all the writers, 'All you who think I'm going to lose, when we get to
Africa, [Zairean President Mobutu Sese Seko] is going to cook you and eat you.'
I wanted to scare white people, make them think Africans would cook them. Why?
Because they scared us.
"The day I signed the contract for the fight, I knew the way he moved and I knew
the way I moved. I was going to dance around him for 15 rounds. So in the first
round I kept moving away from him. But after one round, I knew that I couldn't
keep the pace up. That's when I decided to do the rope-a-dope. I went to the
ropes and let him throw the punches. Some got through, some didn't. I had
trainers yelling at me, 'Jab, keep your hands up.' I didn't need that. All great
fighters fight their own fight, and no one tells them what to do.
"By the fourth round, I realized George was getting tired. So I started talking
to him. I was saying, 'Come on, sucker, show me something. I can't feel it. You
ain't nothing but a chump. You done run out of gas, now I'm gonna kick your
ass.' I did it to make him mad and keep punching. Every once in a while I'd pop
him, then go back to the ropes. I could tell his arms were getting heavy.
"When you go into the ring, you're looking for the shot. You want to knock the
other fighter out, but you can't tell 'til you do it. You throw punches, but
you're surprised when your opponent falls down. When George Foreman fell, in the
eighth round, I knew that was it. I was glad it was over. If George got up and
resumed fighting, I would have popped him again.
"Now I'm fighting Parkinson's disease. But I don't let it stop me. I still
travel, attend to my business, do interviews. And let me tell you something
that'll shock the earth. I'm going to train and get in really good shape, lose
35 pounds and do an exhibition in Madison Square Garden with two or three
contenders. I'll dance for 15 rounds, and whup 'em. I haven't forgotten. I'll
being weighing in at 210 pounds, I'll just say, 'I am returned. Get the
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OLYMPIC DECATHLON: Bruce Jenner's Spirit of '76
At the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Bruce Jenner set a decathlon
record with 8,618 points. It wasn't long before the photogenic
gold medalist showed up on a box of Wheaties.
"I'll never forget what it felt like running that last event in the decathlon. I
wanted to run the 1,500-meters fast. But by that time, after nine grueling
events, I was so tired and sore each step was painful. As I ran the race, my
legs were so filled with lactic acid it felt like someone was putting a razor to
them. But it didn't matter. The last hundred meters all I could think of was
finishing and winning. And when I broke the tape, I'd run the fastest 1,500 in
my life. I was, of course, euphoric. It was the defining moment of my life, the
culmination of everything I'd worked for since I was a kid. But at the same
time, I felt a real sadness. Decathlon, the 'friend' that had followed me
everywhere I went and that had consumed me 24 hours a day, was no longer going
to be with me. I was the best at it in the world, and I felt so confident in my
little arena. And I would never get another chance to do it again.
- o -
CHEERLEADING: The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders - Sassy But Classy
Cheerleaders have graced the sports sidelines for decades, but they
were never quite a national obsession before the underdressed Dallas
Cowboy cheerleaders arrived in the 1970s to entertain football fans
who like a little sex with their violence. Suzanne Mitchell was the
saucy squad's director from 1976 to 1989.
"During a lull in the action of Super Bowl X in Miami, one of the cameras caught
one of the girls. So she winked. She had her hands on her hips, with her
pompoms. After that Super Bowl, I got more calls than you can shake a stick at.
NBC, ABC, all the networks. I had agents calling me left and right. They wanted
the girls popping out of cakes. They wanted them to entertain at parties -- any
kind. For the next six months, all I did was say no. I wouldn't let them do
anything. I had all of my rules, all of my regulations, which were very strict.
I had a reputation for being very bitchy. I wouldn't let them appear anywhere
where there was any alcohol because we were dealing with an image. We were
dealing with Texas. We were dealing with coach [Tom] Landry. We were dealing
with [general manager and president] Tex Schramm. We were dealing with look-
don't-touch Southern women. Tex wanted sexy ladies out there, but he wanted
them, above all, to be classy.
"My premise was that the waist was the sexiest part of the body. Everybody has
always said to me, 'You choose nothing but big-chested girls,' which was nothing
but a baldfaced lie. Big-chested girls usually had trouble dancing, and these
girls do hour-long musical shows. The uniform only accentuated and made things
look a little more than they were. I used to tell the girls, 'First, you have to
get there attention.'
"But we never appealed to everybody. Some people didn't like these girls. The
Bible Belters used to write me all the time saying that I was a purveyor of
women, that I was misusing the youth. And I would usually write them back, and
say, 'OK, what were you doing last Christmas Eve? My girls were sitting, at
midnight, in a flight shack on the DMZ in Korea after having entertained more
than 5,000 troops, done four shows, visited eight bases. They were asleep at
midnight in minus 20 degrees.' When they really wrote horrible things to me, I'd
say, "What's the last thing you did for your country?' They would write back and
say, 'I'm sorry. I didn't know.'"
- Newsweek, 10/25/99.
"My '70 Sports Heroes"
by Randall Floyd
April 21, 1976
Quick, who do you think of when you hear the phrase "perfect role model? I will
bet some of you thought of Roger Staubach, the scrambling quarterback of the
Cowboys, or maybe a guy like Walter Cronkite.
Sorry folks, but my role models have never been the so-called "All-American"
ones. Instead of clean-cut Tom Seaver, my baseball hero is Reggie Jackson --
a guy who speaks his mind and is not afraid to show a little emotion. He makes
baseball (a fairly boring sport to me) that much more exciting when he is on the
field. Give me the goatee and behind-the-back flair of Pistol Pete Maravich over
the traditional John Havlicek. Why? Because these guys are not afraid to go
against the grain, to take chances. After all, this is what our country seems to be
so proud to boast -- an independent mind. Unfortunately, this is more theory than
what is actually practiced.
My all-time role model is Joe Namath. This is an athelete who has revolutionized
the sports world. He helped bring white shoes, long hair, and style to a game long
considered Neanderthal. Many people dislike his cockiness and would look more
to someone like Johnny Unitas as a better role model. Unitas may have better
statistics and a flat-top, but Namath has led the way for players to start thinking
for themselves. It was Namath, with his long hair and white cleats that led the
Jets to an upset victory over the Johnny Unitas-style Colts in the 1969 Super
Bowl. Broadway Joe changed the face of sports forever. You don't have to look
like Wally Cleaver to be a great athelete.
Let's face it, being clean-cut doesn't mean much anymore. The outrageous book
Ball Four showed that baseball players are definitely not angels. Baseball, booze
and sex is more accurate than baseball, hot dogs and apple pie. Take Babe Ruth
for instance. Despite hitting 714 home runs and being loved by thousands of kids,
Babe Ruth was seen chasing girls and was a regular at most of New York City's
night clubs. This is the point: he did it on the playing field and that is what counts.
This country has to quit worrying about how things look, whether the image is
right, and think more about results.
- from Dazed and Confused (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1993).
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