It’s ironic that on this 70’s day on 101 ESPN’s Flashback Week, George Steinbrenner passed away of a massive heart attack at the age of 80.
The Cardinals went downhill after the 1969 season, dismantling their powerful club from the 60’s. Into the power breach stepped the Oakland A’s, the Cincinnati Reds, and then Steinbrenner’s New York Yankees.
Steinbrenner bought the Yankees
in 1973, and then bought players like Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Mike Torrez and Don Gullett as free agents. As a teenager, I watched those Yankee clubs win championships in the late 70’s, and I became a fan. No, I didn’t like that he called Dave Winfield Mr. May, or when he expected players to produce at a ridiculous level just because he paid them a lot of money. But at the end of the day, Steinbrenner was like any fan. He wanted to win, and would do anything TO win. And he could. This morning on SportsCenter, ESPN’s Buster Olney called Steinbrenner the greatest owner in sports history. Tim Kurkjian called him the most influential owner in baseball over the last 37 years. It’s impossible for me to disagree.
In addition to the Yankees World Series wins, and especially Reggie’s
three-homer game in the ’78 classic, here are my other top moments of the 70’s…
1) St. Louis becoming a football town during the decade. You couldn’t GET a ticket to a St. Louis Cardinal football game, yet could get a box seat behind the dugout on gameday for the baseball Cardinals. Led by Jim Hart, Terry Metcalf, and Hall of Famers Jackie Smith, Roger Wehrli and Dan Dierdorf,
the Big Red were the “Cardiac Cardinals,” winning seven games in the final minute in 1975. They featured the most exciting offense in the NFL, akin to an early version of the Greatest Show on Turf. Don Coryell’s Cardinals were impossible to not embrace, and as a kid, I did embrace them. My fondest childhood memories.
2) The baseball Cardinals had great offense, but couldn’t win the division. Garry Templeton, Keith Hernandez, Reggie Smith, George Hendrick, Lou Brock and Ted Simmons were just some of the offensive players the Cards employed. Al Hrabosky was a nice closer for most of the decade. Bob Gibson had terrific years in 1970 and ’72, but the Cards didn’t take advantage. Future Hall of Famer
Steve Carlton was traded to Philadelphia after a 20-win 1971 season. He wanted $5,000 more than Cardinal owner Gussie Busch was prepared to pay, and was sent packing for Rick Wise. In ’73 and ’74…without a true number one starter, the Cards lost the division by a game and a half each year. That was the story of the ‘70’s Cardinals. That being said, you could grab the Redbird Express at Northwest Plaza, get a round trip ticket for $2, sit in the bleachers for $1 or general admission (top seven rows of the old Busch) for $2, and have a great time. By the way, kids would work their way down to those box seats by the fourth or fifth inning. Ahhhh, the memories. Northwest Plaza, the Redbird Express and the old ballpark are all gone now.
3) I remember Garry Unger being my favorite Blue of the 70’s, but the one day I remember most was when the Blues went to Philadelphia on January 6, 1972, and staged a classic brawl with the Flyers AND their fans. It was THE talk of my 5th grade class the next day. There’s nothing like watching pro athletes go into the stands. It was awesome.
4) Many people became Steelers fans during the 70’s. I was never emotionally involved with them, but had tons of respect for the
Steel Curtain defense. They dominated the NFL landscape of the decade, as they should have. And that fan base they assembled during the 70’s exists to this day. No pro sports fan base travels better than Pittsburgh.
5) The other thing I remember about the 70’s is that Mizzou’s football program was known as The Giant Killers. Coached by coach Al Onofrio,
they would travel to Alabama, Notre Dame, USC, Ohio State…anywhere they could get a game…and beat those teams. The problem was beating Nebraska and Oklahoma in the Big Eight. But I remember watching and listening to Mizzou and loving the fact that they grabbed the national spotlight because of who they played. Check this out: between 1970 and 1979, Mizzou played 40 non-conference games. 28 of those were against teams ranked in the top 20. During the decade, Mizzou won at #8 Notre Dame in 1972, vs. #7 Arizona State in 1974, at #2 Alabama and at #5 Illinois in 1975, at #8 USC and at #2 Ohio State, plus vs. #12 North Carolina in 1976…at #5 Notre Dame in 1978…and vs. #12 San Diego State, plus at #11 Illinois and #9 Ole Miss in 1979. That doesn’t even include games with highly ranked Michigan, Virginia, Penn State and Texas, which was then in the Southwest Conference. I miss those days.