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FLASHBACK WEEK: From Brock’s 893rd Steal to ‘The Phantom Catch’…My Favorite ’70s Sports Moments

It’s flashback week on 101 ESPN, and all week long we’re going to look back at the five most recent decades. I have favorite moments from each, beginning today with the seventies..

The 1970’s

Lou Brock steals his record 105th base of 1974.  All summer long, I had worn my gray T-shirt with “Brock’s Base Burglers 105 club” in red letters.  Brock was stalking Maury Wills’ single season mark of 104 stolen bases, and on September 10 against Philadelphia, I was listening on the radio in my parents’ kitchen.  Brock singled and tied Wills in the first inning.  In the seventh, Brock led off with a single against Dick Ruthven and broke the record by stealing 105 off Ruthven and Bob Boone.  Brock would finish the season with 118 steals, which is still second most (behind Rickey Henderson’s 130 in 1982) in the modern era.

Brock steals number 893:  August 29 of 1977 was a lot like the night Brock broke Wills’ record.  We knew he was going to pass Ty Cobb’s career mark of 892 stolen bases.  In the first inning at San Diego, I was listening on the stereo in my bedroom.  Brock led off with a single and stole number 892 on the first pitch.  In the seventh, he reached against Dave Freisleben and again stole on the first pitch, passing Cobb with his 893rd.  His teammates mobbed Brock, who would go on to steal 938 for his career.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaOiRntywrk]

#40 for Chuck Lefley:  In the 70’s, Garry Unger was like a St. Louis Blues metronome.  He always led them in scoring.  But in November of 1974 they acquired right wing Chuck Lefley from Montreal.  In late October of the next season, the Blues traded for the troubled Derek Sanderson from the Rangers, but he wasn’t trouble on the ice.  As soon as Sanderson showed up, he was put on a line with Lefley and they exploded.  They played with flair, and were nicknamed “The Sunshine Boys.”  When Lefley scored 40 goals, it was just different than when Unger did it. Lefley finished the year with 43. Alas, he scored only eleven the next year and was out of the league soon after that.  But that one season was pretty cool.

Mel Gray MNF vs. Dallas:  Being a fan of the Cardiac Cardinals football team as a kid in the 70’s was pretty cool.  Whenever they were down in a game, they had a chance to come back.  As the Big Red became good, I learned to hate the Cowboys and the Redskins.  In November of 1977, the Cardinals were rebounding from a bad start to the season and went to Dallas on a Monday night.  Down 17-10 in the fourth quarter, Jim Hart hit Mel Gray for a majestic 49-yard touchdown bomb, with Gray splitting the Cowboy defense and outrunning safety Aaron freaking Kyle.  Kyle stumbled over his feet into the end zone, and Gray threw the ball down by his helmet after scoring.  It was a “take that” moment, and it was awesome.  Moments later, Hart capped another TD drive with a three-yard pass to Jackie Smith, and the Cardinals won 24-17.  Gray doing that is a moment that’s still in my mind’s eye to this day.  It was awesome.  (6:05 mark)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEZtMos29m8]

Mizzou goes to Nebraska and wins: Mizzou’s football program was known as the Giant Killers in the 1970’s…they beat tons of ranked teams, but could never beat Oklahoma and Nebraska.  Until November 18, 1978.  Kellen Winslow caught six passes for 132 yards from Phil Bradley, and James Wilder rambled for 181 yards on 28 carries, with the last of his four touchdowns being a bruising seven-yard struggle with 3:42 left to give the Tigers one of their best wins of that Giant Killing decade.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlxLxSCug-U]

As much as I liked all those moments, one stands out in my mind’s eye as my favorite…

The Phantom catch:  The disdain that our town had for the Washington Redskins, and specifically their coach George Allen, was palpable in the 70’s.  So, when they came to St. Louis on November 16, 1975 with an identical 6-2 record to the Big Red’s, you could cut the tension with a knife.  The Redskins led 14-3 entering the 4th quarter and 17-10 in the final minute, when Jim Hart hit Gray for the tying score. (3:17 mark…As you can see there was no doubt that it WAS a catch.)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4NyyiNNjpw]

What made the score particularly great was that the Redskin defender, Pat Fisher, was a notorious whiner.  Originally, the pass was called incomplete, but Dan Dierdorf talked the officials into calling in a touchdown.  In overtime, the Cardinals rammed the ball down the throat of the Washington defense, and Jim Bakken kicked the game winning field goal. Fischer went crazy.  Allen called for a congressional investigation.  And the Cardinals won. St. Louis didn’t win a championship in the 70’s, so beating Allen and the Redskins that day was as gratifying a win during the decade as we had.  Gray’s Phantom Catch was the top moment of the 70’s for me.

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