Rossovich one of many free-spirited stars
Tim Rossovich was a cross between legendary Bears’ linebacker Dick Butkus and pro wrestler George “The Animal” Steele.
The late and former defensive end/middle linebacker was aggressively scary in his four years with the Eagles from 1968 to 1971. I mistakenly missed listing him as a member of the Philadelphia Bell last week, as he played middle linebacker for the World Football League franchise for two seasons.
This latest installment of my look back at YESTERDAY - a trip back in time to the late 1960s, the 1970s and the early 80s - is a recollection of some of the more memorable “flakes,” free spirits,” or “eccentric” Philadelphia players from that era, while also highlighting some eccentric events, pop-culture situations and items that were in the news during that time frame.
Rossovich certainly beat to a different drum. He was a first-round pick from Southern Cal in 1968 and made the Pro Bowl his second season when he switched to linebacker. He was a solid player, but his antics off the field gained him national recognition.
Rossovich frequently would set his hair on fire, and also bit off bottle tops and ate glass. Some of his other feats included diving head-first into the whirlpool, wearing tie-dye capes and listening to Gregorian chants on the stereo, grabbing a spider off a locker room table and eating it, and diving naked into a birthday cake.
He played a year with the then San Diego Chargers before his two years with the Bell. He retired after a year with Houston in 1976, and appropriately went to work in Hollywood as an actor and stuntman.
Rossovich wasn’t the only free-spirit in Philly during that time, however.
The mid-70s Phillies’ team had their share of characters.
Steve Carlton rewrote the Phillies’ record books, but he stopped speaking with reporters in 1978 after an alleged incident with longtime AP sports editor Ralph Bernstein. Carlton had some quirky workout rituals with rice and sand that worked, and seemingly had a chip on his shoulder before he went silent.
Relief pitcher Tug McGraw was one of, or possibly the most, vocal free spirit of the Phillies. He always had a nervous glove flap on his thigh, but was a master of mayhem in the clubhouse. Like Carlton though, McGraw got the job done.
Jay Johnstone was another player who also wasn’t afraid to reach beyond the bounds. He was famous for having a glowing shine of his cleats before games and wearing an array of various hats. In a rain delay, Johnstone would often don a hat with a propeller on the top of it. He gained the nickname “Moonman” for his odd antics. Johnstone was a solid lefty bat for the Phillies who hit above 300.
You could also throw in Arnold “Bake” McBride from that unit. McBride had a huge afro and was the epitome of “cool” in that decade. His long arms and legs created a long, looping swing that was effective. McBride gave the Phils a legitimate base-stealing threat.
Before the Phillies’ divisional runs, Willie Montanez was a showboat back in the early part of the decade. The left-handed hitting first baseman would flip his bat with both hands, make the sign of the cross, and had a swashbuckling home-run trot. He also would flip his glove during putouts.
The late Richie “Dick” Allen crossed barriers in the 60s and 70s. Allen was a budding star in the mid-60s, but he was aloof and often had trouble with authority. Allen had all of the tools needed to be one of the greats and is often underrated, but his issues dating back to a clubhouse fight in 1964 continued to haunt him.
In his second stint with the Phillies in ‘75 and ‘76, Allen reportedly had an issue with teammates that stemmed around racial issues. The Phillies traded him to Oakland in the offseason.
The Flyers’ “Broad Street Bullies” of the mid-70s were a rare breed.
Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, Bob “The Hound” Kelly, Andre “Moose” Dupont, Don “Big Bird” Saleski, Bobby “The Chief” Taylor, and “Cowboy” Bill Flett were cartoon-like in their nature, and the perfect role players for the two-time Stanley Cup champions.
Head coach Freddie “The Fog” Shero, who truly epitomized his nickname, was the perfect coach. Broadcaster Gene Hart – can you remember broadcast partner Don Earle starting games by saying “Let’s Go Flyers, and Let’s Go Gene Hart?” – made us all feel good with his larger than life personality.
The Sixers also had a few unusual characters on their teams in the 70s.
Joe “Jellybean” Bryant could ignite the crowd when he came off the bench with his variety of moves and dunks.
Lloyd Free changed his name to “World B.” He was known for his high-arcing, slow jump shots, and his flamboyant style on the floor. Free was an instant attraction when he came off the bench, and he was effective.
Along with Bryand and Free, Darryl Dawkins was a dominant character. His size and strength and rawness as a recent high school graduate created the role of the team’s enforcer. But “Chocolate Thunder” also claimed to be from the planet of “Lovetron,” where all was good. He later played and coached the Lehigh Valley-based Pennsylvania Valley Dawgs.
George ‘The Animal’ Steele stole the show ... Steele was arguably one of, if not the most, peculiar wrestler of the era. His grunts and garbled yells to the fans were legendary, as was his chomping of turnbuckles.
Managers such as the “Grand Wizard” with his turban and wide-rimmed sunglasses and the ranting and animated “Captain Lou Albano” also grabbed the headlines.
Groundbreaking eccentric comedies ... You may remember “The Benny Hill Show,” a British comedy television show starring Benny Hill that aired in various forms between 1955 and 1989 in over 140 countries. The show was classic slapstick with sexual overtones and scantily clad women.
Along with Benny Hill, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” debuted as a British comedy in 1969, and made its way to the American airwaves on a regular basis roughly 10 years later. The show ironically was aired on PBS in the late 70s before eventually making its way to other channels. The overtones were similar to Hill’s, but it was more intellectual-based comedy.
We can probably all recall some Monty Python skits and songs that can’t easily be related in print.
Songs that crossed the norm ... There were plenty of songs in the 1970s that could have fallen into this category, but here are a few of the more recognizable ones.
In 1973, Edgar Winter released the instrumental hit, “Frankenstein” that mixed current sounds with ones that would truly fit the movie title. It included a long drum solo.
A year later, Ray Stephens broke to the top of the charts with “The Streak” in which a TV reporter interviewed people who saw others in the “streaking craze.”
C.W. McCall had a one-hit wonder in 1976 with “Convoy,” which touched the CB craze during that time.
Rick Dees made history with “Disco Duck,” a quirky jingle with a Donald Duck-sounding character highlighting the scene.
Final thought ... This weekend won’t be the first time the Los Angeles Rams have a “home field advantage” for a Super Bowl.
The 1980 Super Bowl between the Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers was played at the Rose Bowl - 10 miles away from Los Angeles. It was the last of Pittsburgh’s four consecutive Super Bowl wins.
Remember Vince Ferragamo? He was the Rams’ quarterback starting quarterback in that game.
And the national anthem singer? It was ex-Charlie Angel Cheryl Ladd.