SI Vault
1954-1979: DOWN GLORY ROAD
Ron Fimrite
August 13, 1979
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.
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 13, 1979

1954-1979: Down Glory Road

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9


Secretariat became the first horse in 25 years to win the Triple Crown, setting track records in both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont and establishing a new high for money earned in a year: $860,404. In a match P. T. Barnum might have staged, Billie Jean King, representing womanhood, defeated Bobby Riggs, representing middle-aged manhood, in straight sets in the so-called "Battle of the Sexes" before 30,472 at the Houston Astrodome. Ms. King arrived for the match carried aloft, Cleopatra-like. Riggs was wheeled courtward in a ricksha. Billie Jean gave Bobby, the 55-year-old former U.S. singles champion, a live pig (male chauvinist species) in retaliation for his remarks about the quality of women's tennis.

"The Juice"—O. J. Simpson—gaining more than 200 yards in each of his last two games, shattered Jim Brown's NFL rushing record of 1,863 yards by advancing for 2,003.

The Miami Dolphins, with a masterful coach ( Don Shula), quarterback ( Bob Griese) and running game ( Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick), rounded out a 17-game undefeated season—including playoffs—by defeating the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII, 14-7. A Swedish teen-ager, Bjorn Borg, became the hit of Wimbledon by reaching the quarterfinals. Hulking George Foreman K.O.'d Joe Frazier in the second round of their bout in Kingston, Jamaica to win the heavyweight championship, but Muhammad Ali's comeback was further stalled when he lost a 12-round split decision to Ken Norton, who broke the former champ's jaw in an early round. The Oakland A's, fighting each other as often as the opposition, won a second straight World Series. The designated-hitter rule was introduced, but only in the American League. The National League would have no part of it. On Oct. 27 the Alabama football team set an NCAA record by rushing for 743 yards against Virginia Tech in a 77-6 victory at Tuscaloosa.


In the fourth inning of the Atlanta Braves' home opener with the Dodgers, Henry Aaron hit an Al Downing fastball into left centerfield. It was the 715th home run of his career, one more than Babe Ruth had hit. By surpassing the Babe's supposedly unsurpassable record, Aaron assured himself a measure of immortality, but he was typically unaffected. "Right now it feels like just another home run," he said dryly. It obviously was not. Aaron had tied Ruth at 714 on the opening day of the season in Cincinnati by hitting one off Jack Billingham. It was a baseball season for records. Lou Brock stole 118 bases, bettering Maury Wills' 1962 record of 104. Charlie Finley's A's won their third World Series in a row, defeating the Dodgers in five games to become the first team to win that many Series in succession since the Yankees took five, from 1949 through '53. Employing yet another new tactic, the "rope-a-dope," Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman in the eighth round at Kinshasa, Za�re, to regain his heavyweight championship. Instead of floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee, Ali let Foreman punch himself out in the early rounds as he lay against the ropes covering up. When Foreman finally grew arm-weary, Ali lashed out with a sudden flurry, and it was all over. He thus became only the second champion in history to regain the heavyweight title after losing it.

Sweethearts Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert won the men's and women's singles championships at Wimbledon. Skippered by Ted Hood, the American yacht Courageous beat Australia's Southern Cross as the U.S. remained undefeated in America's Cup competition. On Dec. 14 in an NHL game between the St. Louis Blues and the New York Rangers, 246 penalty minutes were assessed, 180 in the third period alone. Only eight players were available to finish the game, which was won by the Blues 6-2. Crime paid handsomely in hockey, though: violent Philadelphia won the Stanley Cup.


In a startling upset, Arthur Ashe defeated Jimmy Connors 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 for his first Wimbledon championship. Billie Jean King won her sixth women's singles title. Chris Evert won the U.S. Open and earned $425,000-plus for the year. The long-deprived Pittsburgh Steelers began a two-year reign as Super Bowl champions, throwing up a defensive "Steel Curtain" and biting off chunks of yardage with Terry Bradshaw's passes. Pel�, the legendary Brazilian soccer star, unretired to play for the Cosmos of the North American Soccer League, giving soccer in the U.S. its biggest boost so far.

In a memorable World Series the Reds defeated the Red Sox four games to three. Almost every game was a thriller, especially the sixth, which Boston won on a 12th-inning homer by Carlton Fisk off the leftfield foul pole. Frank Robinson became major league baseball's first black manager, and in his first game as boss he got a home run as the designated hitter to lead his Cleveland Indians to a 5-3 win over the Yankees. Nolan Ryan pitched his fourth no-hitter, tying him with Sandy Koufax for the major league record. Muhammad Ali made it two out of three over Joe Frazier to bring their savage rivalry to a close, winning the "Thrilla in Manila" on a 14th-round TKO.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9