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The Long Count
William Nack
September 22, 1997
Seventy years ago, in a heavyweight title bout in Chicago, Jack Dempsey knocked Gene Tunney to the canvas. What happened next made this the most famous fight in the Golden Age of Sports
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September 22, 1997

The Long Count

Seventy years ago, in a heavyweight title bout in Chicago, Jack Dempsey knocked Gene Tunney to the canvas. What happened next made this the most famous fight in the Golden Age of Sports

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Povich sees it yet today: "Tunney is going down, and my memory is sharp of Dempsey pummeling him on the head as he sags. And I can still see Tunney's hand, a vivid memory, reaching for the [middle] rope and finally grabbing it."

Beyond Soldier Field, 50 million people gathered by their home radios as announcer Graham McNamee, speaking to more people at one time than any man ever had, blurted out the news in his cracked, quavering voice: "And then Dempsey comes back, and Tunney is down! Tunney is down from a barrage of lefts and rights to the lace!" Nine people died of heart attacks listening to that broadcast, three of them during McNamee's blow-by-blow of the seventh round.

Eleven-year-old Dan Satenstein was at home in Chicago sharing the earphones of a crystal set with his 20-year-old brother, Charlie. when Dempsey pounced. "I started to scream, 'Tunney is down! He knocked him down!' " Dan, 81, recalls. "My [two] brothers started screaming and jumping up and down. But then there was such bedlam and noise at Soldier Field that we lost the audio, 'I can't hear,' I kept saying. 'Everything is drowned out.' "

The voice of McNamee was lost in those great combers of sound that boomed out of the Chicago night. In Hell's Kitchen, on Manhattan's tough West Side, another 11-year-old boy had been leaning far out the window of his tenement flat and listening, across a 10-foot gangway, to a neighbor's radio describing the fight. "I'd never seen or heard anything like it before," says 81-year-old Harold Robbins, author of The Carpetbaggers and other popular novels. "I was hanging there, from my waist out. I could hear the voice, but then there was all the excitement and noise, and I couldn't tell who was down or what was going on."

It was precisely 10:34 p.m. on Sept. 22, 1927, 70 years ago this week, and what was going on in the middle of Soldier Field was the most dramatic, memorable sporting event of its era, the so-called Golden Age of Sports. Even today, seen in the silvery flicker of old films, the aftermath of the knockdown bedevils the eye and haunts the memory of that night.

The knockdown rule decreed by the Illinois State Athletic Commission was plain enough: When a knockdown occurs the timekeeper shall immediately arise and announce the seconds audibly as they elapse. The referee shall first see that the opponent retires to the farthest corner and then, turning to the timekeeper, shall pick up the count in unison with the timekeeper, announcing the seconds to the boxer on the floor. Should the boxer on his feet fail to stay in the corner, the referee and timekeeper shall cease counting until he has so retired.

A dazed Tunney is sitting on the floor, and Dempsey skips around him. heading toward his own corner, directly behind Tunney, while timekeeper Paul Beeler, at ringside, counts....

One!

Now Dave Barry, the referee, is touching Dempsey's chest and pointing to a neutral corner to his left, ordering Dempsey there, but the fighter ignores him and steps into his own corner, about five feet behind Tunney, who has just uncrooked his twisted right leg....

Two!

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