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New Year’s bowl games; when boxing was king

It’s a new year ahead of us, and the bowl bonanza basically is behind us except for the national championship game next Monday.

Back in our youth in the 1960s and 70s, New Year’s Day was college football’s banner day, and the NFC and AFC championships usually were a few days away.

These were the days when the bowl games were few and had a significant meaning to all of us - as were the NFL playoffs that just carried a select number of games instead of the seemingly ever-growing number of teams.

Thinking back, what happened to the state of the boxing world that once held a prominent place in the sports realm back in the 1970s? Can anyone name who the current boxing champions are? The sport has seemingly taken a back seat to the UFC.

In this week’s version of Yesterday - reminiscing about the 1960s, 70s, 80 and sometimes beyond - I will take a brief look at boxing in its prime in the 1970s, some final bowl game thoughts, and some tidbits along the way.

Plenty Could Rule the Ring: It’s hard to argue that Muhammed Ali dominated the heavyweight boxing scene in the 1970s.

Most of his and other fights were carried by ABC, with Howard Cosell calling the fight like no one else could. CBS had some of the broadcasts. Most of us had to wait until the following morning to find the results of fights that were held in Asia or South America. We didn’t have the luxury of the Internet, and ESPN didn’t launch until the late 70s.

We also were introduced to a new option called Pay-Per-View. How many of us actually purchased or asked our parents to buy one for us?

Many of us can recall Ali’s three epic fights with Joe Frazier in the 70s, recalling the final two being labeled “The Rumble in the Jungle,” and the “Thrilla in Manila.”

Ali also had a battle with Japanese wrestler and martial arts expert Antoni Inoki in a supposed scripted exhibition 15-round bout in which Ali nearly had one of his legs amputated because of Inoki’s constant kicks to them. Most people may forget when Ali confronted legendary wrestler Gorilla Monsoon after his match in Philadelphia in 1976, and Monsoon lifted and slammed Ali to the mat.

“The Greatest” or the “Louisville Lip” retired in 1979 after he won a rematch with short-lived Leon Spinks. His last knockout victim was Richard Dunn, which can be a great trivia question.

Aside from Ali, Frazier, and Spinks, some of the known heavyweight names from the eras were Jerry Quarry, Ken Norton, Ernie Shavers, George Foreman (the future grill king), Jimmy Young, Chuck Wepner (the “Rocky” character inspiration), Trevor Berbick, Ron Lyle, Buster Mathis, Joe Bugner, Alfredo Evangelista and Jean-Pierre Cooperman. You can also add Floyd Patterson to the list.

There also was a budding heavyweight from Easton named Larry Holmes on the horizon. I still remember watching the Holmes-Norton WBC championship fight on a closed circuit or pay-per-view feed at a graduation party held by my high school in an Easton location on June 9, 1978.

Ali came out of retirement in 1980, and lost a championship fight to Holmes in an 11-round TKO. His final fight was a 10-round loss to Berbick in 1981. If I missed any heavyweights from the decade, please let me know.

Some Final Bowl Chatter: With the bowl game frenzy coming to an end, there always will be some memorable New Year’s Day bowl games for all of us. This was decorated as the day to watch college football. You always had your beverage of choice and all your snacks ready.

Jan. 1 was the prime day for bowl games with the Sun and Cotton Bowls in the late morning and early afternoon, the Rose Bowl in the late afternoon – usually with USC and John McKay – and the Orange Bowl at night. Think back about how many times did you see either Ohio State’s Woody Hayes or Michigan’s Bo Schembechler on the sidelines?

Unknown to many of us, there were just 11 bowl games back in the 1970s.

Ara’s Era Ends: Speaking of the 1970s and bowl games, Notre Dame’s Ara Parseghian ended his era at Notre Dame on New Year’s Day in 1974. The sixth-ranked Fighting Irish defeated the second-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide by a 13-11 score. Parseghian compiled an overall 95-17-4 record on the Golden Dome campus, winning two national championships.

In 1971, his team ended the Southwestern Conference’s 30-year win streak at the Cotton Bowl when a Joe Theismann-led squad defeated Texas, 24-11. That team featured future Eagles’ tackle Jerry Sizemore and Rams’ running back Jim Bertlesen (remember them?)

Another Eagles’ First: On Jan. 3, 1981, the Eagles won their first division playoff game with a 31-16 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at the Vet. The Eagles’ defense intercepted Minnesota’s Tommy Kramer five times, with two picks apiece by cornerbacks Herm Edwards and Roynell Young.

Ron Jaworski completed 17-of-39 passes for 190 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, and Wilbert Montgomery ran for a modest 74 yards. The Eagles rallied from a 14-0 deficit in the second quarter.

Another Football Memory: I can never get tired of reminiscing about old football games - the indoor toy games - we used to play as a kid.

However, one staple I always had was the Street and Smith Yearbook. I began purchasing them in the summers of 1970 or 1971, and it became my frame of reference for the upcoming season.

It always included a thorough preview of every team as well as other features. If you ever had one, they also were packed with ads about how to gain strength and fight off “the bad guys” with programs from either Charles Atlas or Joe Weider. I always wondered if they actually worked, and maybe you tried one.

With baseball season around the corner, it also was a must to buy their baseball yearbook.

Name That Tune: In their own ways, the Beatles were still prominent in the 70s and 80s.

On Jan. 3, 1971, George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” was the No. 1 song in the land. Ten years later on the same date, John Lennon’s “Starting Over” was at the top of the charts after the album became increasingly popular after his death on Dec. 8, 1980.

Memory Lane: Every week, I’ll recount a likely forgotten player, manager, coach, or announcer from yesterday.

Do you remember Joe Lis? He played three seasons with the Phillies from 1970 to 1972 as a first baseman, third baseman, and outfielder. In three seasons, he hit 13 homers and drove in 32 runs over 134 games in Philly.

Lis was traded along with pitchers Ken Reynolds and Ken Sanders to Minnesota in 1972 for utility man Cesar Tovar. Lis played eight seasons in the majors, with other stops at Cleveland and Seattle. For his career, he hit .233 with 32 homers and 92 RBIs. Lis passed away at the age of 64 in 2010.