Wednesday, August 21, 2019

And ... In Other Sports, 1969

The Cubs and The Mets weren't the ONLY sports story in 1969 ...

In addition to the Amazing Mets winning the World Series, you can't forget that it followed Joe Namath and the Jets winning Super Bowl III in January.

Ah, yes!!! Broadway Joe! 

Actually, history has been rewritten to show the 1969 game as Super Bowl III ... but the truth is, this is the first year the battle between the NFL Division Leaders was actually CALLED "The Super Bowl", a phrase coined by Kansas City Chiefs Owner Lamar Hunt after reportedly seeing his grandchildren playing with a Super Ball! (NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle initially wanted to call the ultimate play-off game "The Big One" ... thankfully, the other league owners liked Hunt's idea better!!!)  

The Championship Series was initiated as a means to help pacify the merger of The National Football League and The American Football League into one football dynasty forever after known as The NFL. The best two teams in each conference would play each other in the game designed to show COMPLETE supremacy in the sport of football.  

The heavily favored Baltimore Colts won ten games straight that season behind the arm of quarterback Earl Morrall, substituting for an injured Johnny Unitas for most of the season. They finished the season 13-1 (and even that one loss was avenged when they shut out The Cleveland Browns 34-0 in The NFL Championship Game.) Even though Unitas was ready to play by Super Bowl time, Colts Coach Don Shula went with the guy who had gotten the team this far in the first place. (Morrall won The NFL Player Of The Year Award and threw 26 touchdowns that season!)  

Meanwhile, The New York Jets, 18-point underdogs at game time, led by Broadway Joe Namath ... probably an even bigger celebrity OFF the field than he was on ... dominated the game after showing virtually no interest in preparing for it. Instead, he was seen out late partying with his flock of female fans or sunning himself by the pool. Namath was a footloose and carefree soul, often spouting off to the press and totally amerced in his own celebrity. But he DID promise a Jets victory ... and to this regard, he delivered. It's still considered to be one of the best Super Bowl games ever.  

It is often said that when the truth and the legend collide, you should always print the legend. Such is the case with Joe Namath. Taking NOTHING away from his abilities or showmanship, the fact is that although Namath won The NFL / MVP Award that year, his season was uneven at best. (It was a running inside joke that in a loss to The Buffalo Bills, Namath threw SEVEN touchdown passes in that game ... unfortunately only four of those were to his own team ... the OTHER three were intercepted, allowing The Bills to capitalize on these mistakes and win the game!) While the memories may be golden, the truth is that this was pretty much the norm ... Namath threw more interceptions that season (17) than touchdown passes (15). But he kept his promise at Super Bowl time by delivering a Jets victory and, as such, has gone down in the annals of sports legend for his performance during that game ... despite the fact that he not only didn't throw a touchdown pass during the game, but, in fact, did not even attempt a single pass in the entire fourth quarter!!!  

The popularity of football had been overtaking America's so-called "National Past-Time" for a few years already ... and, during the 1969-1970 football season, the idea for Monday Night Football was born ... giving arm-chair quarterbacks one more opportunity to see their favorite teams play each week ... and the match-ups were typically geared with the ultimate sports fan in mind. (This new trend also gave birth to "Tuesday Morning Quarterbacks" ... and an AWFUL lot of sleepy Tuesday Mornings as millions of normally early risers stayed up WAY past their bedtimes to catch the end of the game!!!)  

Major League Baseball was trying out new ideas to keep their fans interested, too. With newly-appointed Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn in place, discussion of the designated hitter first came into play in 1969 (although it wouldn't be adopted until 1973.) The general feeling was that baseball was becoming dominated by superior pitching ... perhaps the addition of another "clutch hitter" in the line-up would liven things up a bit and bring more excitement to the game. (The counter philosophy to all of this was that this change would take away one of the ultimate managerial skills of knowing WHEN to take a pitcher out of a game ... if he's pitching well, do you let him bat in the late innings or, if you're down a couple of runs, do you bring in a pinch hitter and go to the bullpen?) Ultimately, only The American League adopted the designated hitter rule ... although The National League abides by it when playing in American League ballparks now that inter-league play is part of the regular season ... as well as in the post-season.  

Four new expansion teams were added to the major leagues that season: The Kansas City Royals and The Seattle Pilots (later Mariners) in The American League and The San Diego Padres and The Montreal Expos in The National League. With 24 teams now in existence, for the first time, both leagues were divided into two divisions, an East and West Division, now requiring a Play-Off Series prior to The World Series. (Baseball would expand again into THREE divisions, adding a Central Division in 1994.)  

In other baseball news, former Yankees Great Mickey Mantle decided to hang things up before the start of the 1969 baseball season ... this after 18 years with The Bronx Bombers. On June 8th of that year, Yankee Stadium held a special Mickey Mantle Day when they retired his uniform #7. Mantle was named American League MVP three times during his illustrious career. 

Speaking of baseball's greatest hitters, former Boston Red Sox Great, Ted Williams, was named manager of The Washington Senators that season as D.C. Stadium was renamed Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Although The Senators finished 23 games out of first place, Williams was STILL named American League Manager of The Year for improving the team's record by 41 games from the previous season.

Curt Flood made baseball as well as national headlines after the 1969 season when he refused to accept a trade from The St. Louis Cardinals to The Philadelphia Phillies.  

Appealing first to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ... and then all the way to The Supreme Court ... Flood filed for what today is known as "Free Agency."  Flood argued "After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes. I believe that any system which produces that result violates my basic rights as a citizen and is inconsistent with the laws of the United States and of the several States.  

"It is my desire to play baseball in 1970, and I am capable of playing. I have received a contract offer from the Philadelphia club, but I believe I have the right to consider offers from other clubs before making any decision. I, therefore, request that you make known to all Major League clubs my feelings in this matter, and advise them of my availability for the 1970 season." Flood would not win his case ... and ended up sitting out the 1970 baseball season ... but the rights of players were forever changed after he took his stand in 1969.

And here's a little known fun baseball fact: 

In 1963, San Francisco Giants Manager Alvin Dark remarked during a post-game interview, regarding the consistently weak hitting by his legendary pitcher Gaylord Perry, "They'll put a man on the moon before HE ever hits a home run." On July 20th, 1969, Perry hit his very first major league home run ... literally HOURS after Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon!!!

Elsewhere in the wide, wide world of sports ...

Two basketball legends squared off against each other in The NBA Finals that year. Bill Russell of The Boston Celtics and Wilt Chamberlain of The L.A. Lakers faced each other for the last time in this classic match-up, won by Boston in the seventh game after Chamberlain injured his knee and was unable to return to the court. It would be Russell's last year on the court. (In fact, his "official" status that season was Player / Coach.) Wilt The Stilt had only recently come over from The Philadelphia 76ers and fell right into form leading The Lakers to The Division Championship Series. (Nice of him to squeeze in some of those basketball games between his 10,000 bedroom conquests!!!)

In 1969, Boxing Great Muhammad Ali was still serving out his suspension from boxing as part of his draft evasion conviction a couple of years before. With Ali stripped of his title, Joe Frazier was crowned the new World Champ and in 1969 he defeated Jerry Quarry. (Both would prove to be fitting Ali nemesis when Ali returned to the ring the following year. In 1970, The State of Georgia allowed Ali to fight Jerry Quarry and in 1971 the first of the legendary Ali-Frazier Fights was held.) One of the all-time boxing greats, Rocky Marciano, passed away in 1969.  

Another guy making headlines that year was young Mario Andretti, who won The Indianapolis 500. In fact, he won eight other races on the Indy Car circuit, won The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and was named Athlete Of The Year by ABC's Wide World Of Sports. Ironically, despite winning The Daytona 500 in 1967, The Indianapolis 500 in 1969 and The Formula One World Championship in 1978, Andretti never again won at Indy.