Skip to main content
Original Issue

1954-1979: DOWN GLORY ROAD

1954
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.

1955

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.

1956

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.

1957

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.

1958

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.

1959

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.

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.

1961

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.

1962
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.

1963

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.

1964

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.

1965

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.

1966

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.

1967

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.

1968

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.