With the merger between the National Football League and the American Football League almost complete the AFL badly needed something to lift their fortunes. The NFL also needed to revive interest in Super Bowl, which was getting a one-sided contest.
The only problem was that the Baltimore Colts were 18-point favourites to make it three wins in a row for the NFL. But Joe Namath, the New York Jets quarterback, though otherwise. On the Thursday night before the game he stood up and announced “We will win the Super Bowl. I guarantee it”. It was what the public had come to expect of “Broadway Joe”. He lived the high life in New York, dating leading actresses and appearing in movies. Namath duly delivered. The Colts brought their veteran quarterback Johnny Unitas off the bench in desperation in the fourth quarter, but not even he could stop the Jets winning 16 - 7.
Flyers had just broken the sound barrier when Max Faulkener became the last Briton to win the Open in 1951. Now Neil Armstrong was about to become the first man on the moon. For 18 years Australians, Americans South Africans and even an Argentinean had won the Open. The Americans might as well have pawned the Ryder Cup because Britain had forgotten what it looked like. British golf was in the doldrums.
Then came Jacklin, the son of a Scunthorpe steel worker. He had good looks, personality and a good driver. He had become the first British player to win in the United States since Ted Ray in 1920. The Open at Royal Lytham beckoned and Britain expected. Jacklin had the weight of the nation on his shoulders when he began with a birdie. By the sixth he was four under and with an opening round of 68 was well placed behind Bob Charles who had shot a course record of 66. Then some superb bunker play and a series of 10 -foot putts helped Jacklin to a 2-shot lead with a 70 in the third round.
He extended his lead over the outward nine on the final round and when he reached the last tee Jacklin needed a bogey on the tight par four 389-yard final hole to win. A mighty roar greeted his drive down the middle of the fairway, to within 130 yards. It took a seven iron and two putts for the man in the mauve sweater to lift the claret jug for the home nation.
Britain approached the Ryder Cup at Royal Birkdale on September 18 with optimism. Tony Jacklin had won the Open and the team was well balanced.
Their hopes were not unfounded They won three foursomes on the first morning and were 4 - 3 ahead by the end of the day. The American came back on the second day and, although Jacklin had won three of his four matches and halved the other, the teams were all square.
In the end it came down to the results of the singles match between Jack Nicklaus making his debut for the US and Jacklin. The Englishman sank a 60 foot putt at the 17th for an eagle to stay in contention.
Then Nicklaus holed a 4-foot effort at the last and to the surprise of all walked over to Jacklin and conceded a putt of 2½ feet. Nicklaus said “I don't think you would have missed that putt but in the circumstances I would never give you the opportunity”. The match was tied. Eighteen of the 32 matches finished on the last green and for the first time in history the up was shared 13 - 13 with six halved.
Rod Laver brought a touch of perfection to tennis. He mastered every shot in the coaching manual. This produced the greatest player in the game. The left-handed Australian confirmed his standing by winning his second Grand Slam in seven years., after sweeping aside his rivals in the four major championships. Only Donald budge in 1938 had won the
Many runners have laid claim to the title “Horse of the Century” but only one has, undoubtedly, deserved the accolade - Nijinsky. The Northern Dancer colt cost $84,000 as a yearling in Canada largely on the strength of his pedigree and looks. When he arrived at Vincent O’Brien’s stables it did not take long for the Irish trainer to realise he had the talent to match.
The 2,000 Guineas was Nijinsky’s seventh win in as many starts, but even that was nothing compared with the Derby. If Sir Ivor’s victory the previous year had been dazzling then Nijinsky’s triumph in a record time that spreadeagled the field was blinding. And he still was not finished. Nijinsky showed scant respect for his elders in the King George V and Queen Elizabeth Stakes
This race he won by a comfortable two lengths. O’Brien and Nijinsky’s owner then faced a difficult choice: go for the St Leger and the first Triple Crown since 1935, or the Arc de Triumph which carried greater prestige. The answer was simple -both! The decision though, was to prove Nijinsky’s undoing. He had suffered an attack of worms and did not have the strength for two tough races. The Triple Crown was won but Nijinsky was finally beaten though only by a head in Paris.
When Leeds kicked off against Southampton on March 28 they had played 52 matches and lost 3. A fabulous treble was in their sights: the League championship; FA Cup and European Cup. By April 29, 33 days later, they had played 10 more matches and won only one. Every trophy had slipped from their grasp.
Because of the World Cup the season had been shortened by a month. This was to prove their undoing!. The tie that probably wrecked Leeds hopes was the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United. It took Leeds three stamina sapping matches to dispatch Matt Busby’s team. So drained were the Leeds players that fielded a team of reserves over that weekend and virtually handed the League title to Everton. The players had a weeks rest before the FA Cup final against Chelsea. Despite doing enough to have won the game, Leeds were taken to extra time and a replay.
Leeds were really suffering now. Three days later came the European Cup semi-final second leg at Hampden. Despite an early lead Leeds conceded three goals and were eliminated.
So Leeds went to Old Trafford for the FA Cup replay and the end of their tiring season and left empty handed. Again Leeds began by scoring a great goal from Mick Jones nine minutes from half-time. They kept that lead until 15 minutes were on the clock. Peter Osgood took the final into extra time again. Leeds were finished, physically and emotionally, and David Webb executed the coup-de-grace.
A week before England began their defence of the World Cup, Bobby Moore, their captain, was arrested for the theft of a £600 emerald and diamond bracelet in Bogota, Colombia. Moore was accused by a shop girl who worked in a small jewellery boutique in the England hotel.
Gradually, however, the accusations began to disintegrate and it transpired that other visiting celebrities had been similarly accused and had paid up to avoid publicity. Diplomatic pressure was brought to bear and Moore was bailed to play in the World
The year began in the worst possible way in Scotland on January 2. At the annual New Year ‘Old Firm’ game between Rangers and Celtic 66 spectators died and 140 were injured when thousands streaming down the steps to leave the game early rushed back up to meet hundreds more on the way down. Bodies fell and hundreds were crushed in the ensuing chaos. Celtic had been leading 1 - 0 with time running out, then Colin Stein equalised for Rangers and the Ibrox crowd were cheering madly. Those leaving rushed back to find out the cause of the excitement and inadvertently created Britain’s worst football disaster to that point in time.
It was called the Fight of champions, and it certainly was. For 15 brutal rounds on March 8 the two unbeaten champions battled like fury. Muhammed Ali used his 6½ inch reach advantage to sidestep, counter and jab, while Joe Frazier bored in on Ali’s body to get in his left hooks. Both fighters took a pounding as 20,000 in Madison Square Gardens and 300 million on TV in 46 countries watched in awe.
In Chicago, fight fans were so angry that their closed-circuit show was cancelled because of projector failure that they wrecked the venue. For war torn America the clash was perceived as a battle of ideologies. In the red corner, Ali, the hero of the liberals, the refuseniks and the blacks. In the blue corner, Frazier, the flag bearer of the establishment, the rednecks and the moral majority. Amazingly, Frazier had been burdened with the role of the “Great White Hope” . Frazier gave better than he took and in the 15th floored Ali, who jumped up after the mandatory eight count but Frazier was clear on points to an unanimous win.
Lee Trevino, the joker in the pack, came up trumps in 24 days of stunning golf. The 31 year-old had emerged from the wrong side of the tracks to become the leading money-winner on the US tour in 1970 within four years of joining the circuit. In the summer of 1971 he put the seal on his status as a great.
Trevino with the typical banter which had made him a fairway favourite, won the US Open at Merion in Pennsylvania after a play-off with Jack Nicklaus, coming home in 33 to win by 3 shots. A fortnight later he won the Canadian open at Richelieu Valley in Montreal, coming back from four shots down after two rounds to beat Art Wall. The Next stop was Royal Birkdale for the Open centenary and Trevino was charging. He shot a 69 on the opening day, sank a 40-foot eagle putt at the last on the second day and grabbed a one shot lead in the third round ahead of Tony Jacklin and Liang-Huan Lu of Taiwan. On the final day, the Texan turned five shots ahead but ran into trouble on 17 with a seven. However he birdied the last for a one shot victory and a unique hat-trick..
The XX Summer Olympics were intended as a cheerful, peaceful occasion. Instead, a terrorist attack by Palestinian guerrillas on Israel’s team in the Olympic village brought shock and outrage.
Eleven athletes, five terrorists and one policeman were killed during the kidnapping of Israeli athletes at Munich and the subsequent attempt to rescue them. Even though numerous competitors and officials had advocated abandoning the Games after the tragedy, the IOC decided to continue the competitions in accordance with the wishes of the Israeli government
Avery Brundage demanded “The Games must go on”. The IOC President who was due to retire after these Games, would not allow the peaceful spirit of the Olympic movement to be ruined by a ‘handful of terrorists’. Despite his appeals however, several athletes left Munich, concerned about inadequate security. The day after the memorial service, competitions were continued with the Olympic flag at half mast
But controversy did not stop there. Following the banning of South Africa and a threat of boycott by 27 African nations, the IOC were now forced to expel Rhodesia - admitted into the Olympic fold a year earlier and having already sent a team of 30 athletes to Munich - for its apartheid politics.
In Munich indoor handball had its debut and became one of 195 Olympic disciplines. After its 1964 premier, judo also established itself as a permanent sport while archery again returned to the Olympic schedule.
With 20 gold medals, the East Germans confirmed their claim to be the third sports nation in the world behind the USSR (50 golds) and the USA (33 wins). In subsequent years East Germany would go on to improve its world standing even further. West Germany won 40 medals (13 gold, 11 silver and 16 bronze). finishing 4th in the table.
The sporting highlights of the Games was the performance of the American swimmer Mark Spitz. He won four gold medals in world record times in the 100 and 200 metres freestyle and in the 100 and 200 butterfly. He also took golds in the 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 freestyle relays and the 4 x 100 metres medley relay, thus becoming the most successful swimmer of all time.
The female swimming star was the Australian Shane Gould, who picked up three gold medals as well as one silver and a bronze. The Soviet gymnast, Olga Korbut quickly became the crowd’s favourite. The diminutive Korbut thrilled audiences with victories in the floor and balance beam events and took a silver medal in the asymmetric bars event. She added a third gold in the combined exercises team event.
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