Yesterday column: Evel Knievel was a legendary motorcycling-jumping daredevil
Do you remember Evel Knievel?
The motorcycling-jumping daredevil made 86 jumps that involved major cities and events from 1965 to 1980. In some ways, Knievel was also viewed as being part of our sports realm. His events became regular staples of the sports world.
In this week’s version of my Yesterday column - reminiscing about sports in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond - I’ll take a brief look at Knievel’s career and some early legendary April events, as well as some pop-culture items.
If you were a Phillies fan, you remember April 13, 2009. And do you remember Bedrock, and who the Phillies’ starter was in the Veterans Stadium opener in 1971?
See No Evel ... Knievel’s career was inspired by the legendary “Joie Chitwood Thrill Show,” in which the namesake would perform dangerous stunts with automobiles. The shows ran from 1945 until 1998. I remember seeing announcements and flyers about the shows in the greater Allentown area, but I never attended one.
Knievel had seven jumps broadcast on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Arguably, his most famous one was his attempt across the Snake River Canyon in Idaho on Sept. 8, 1974. I do remember watching most if not all of his televised attempts. Catasauqua head boys’ basketball coach, and good friend Eric Snyder, confirmed it was on an Easter Monday.
In place of his signature Harley Davidson, Evel attempted this jump in a sky cycle - a jet-powered sled that took off from an inclined metal runway constructed on the edge of the canyon by the Knievel team.
Moments after Evel Knievel’s skycycle cleared the edge of the canyon, his parachute ejected prematurely. The TV audience watched Evel descend into the canyon, and he appeared to be headed directly for the river, which likely would have meant death. Fortunately, Knievel and his cycle were saved because they landed on the rocks on the far edge of the river.
Knievel did return in 1975 at Wembley Stadium in England, and made a successful jump over 13 double-tiered buses. However, he crashed and flipped over the handlebars. It truly was a scary moment, with Knievel sliding and his bike landed on top of him. America held its breath to see if he was alive.
Even though he suffered numerous injuries, he was able to walk out of the stadium.
Knievel made a stop in Wilkes-Barre in July of 1971, when he leaped over 12 Stegmaier beer trucks, as well as the Spectrum in August of that year when he had a jump over eight cars and one van.
His final act was in January of 1977 when he attempted to leap over 13 sharks, but he crashed and was injured in a practice attempt. Knievel suffered a broken collarbone, fractured arm and severe bruising. That stunt was based on all of the “Jaws” movie hype.
If you recall, Fonzie made a leap on skis over a shark in an episode of “Happy Days,” from which the phrase “Jump the Shark” was created.
With his popularity, Ideal launched a series of Evel Knievel toys from 1972 through 1977. In 1973, they released the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle, which became “the” must-have toy that holiday season.
A Historic and Tragic Day ... On April 13, the Phillies’ world celebrated both historic days on both ends of the spectrum.
In 1984, Pete Rose smacked his 4,000th-career hit as a member of the Montreal Expos, ironically off Phillies’ pitcher Jerry Koosman. The Phillies had hoped to re-sign Rose, and have him play a limited role with the team. Instead, Rose bolted north. He did return to the Reds at midseason.
On a sadder note, it was the same day in 2009 that legendary Phillies announcer Harry Kalas suffered a fatal heart attack in the TV booth before the Phillies opener at Washington. It happened on Easter Monday. The Philadelphia sports world came to a sudden and abrupt stop.
Kalas was famous for his “It’s Outta Here” home run call, but he also had a “This Ball Is In Astro Orbit” during his days with the Astros.
The Bank Is Open ... On April 12, 2004, Citizens Bank Park officially opened its doors, but the team suffered a 4-1 loss to Cincinnati.
In 2010, the team set a new team record for attendance with 3,777,322. It achieved the mark having 15,000 less in capacity than the Vet.
In Living Color ... In 1966, CBS had its first color broadcast of The Masters tournament.
CBS equipped its crew with the only color “stop-action” machine in the United States, giving their crew the ability to show replays and pause action in full color, a novelty at the time.
At the time, it required some 60,000 feet of underground cable and $600,000, or what would be a cost of about $4.8 million in today’s dollars.
Another Classic Game ... In turn with the start of the baseball season, did you ever have the Tom Seaver Electric Baseball Game?
It debuted in 1970 after the Mets won the World Series in 1969. The game had an electric pitching arm and a small wooden bat you could swing with the pull of a string. Although it didn’t have the same overwhelming popularity of its football counterpart, the game would have been cool to play back in the day.
Solid As Bedrock ... On April 1, 1966, the final episode of “The Flintstones” aired on ABC.
We all were enamored with Fred Flinstone and Barney Rubble, whose characters were based in part on Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton from the 50s sitcom, “The Honeymooners.”
I remember watching them primarily after the series ended with syndicated reruns. If you were an avid watcher, you should know “Gazoo,” the alien who always said “only children and dum-dums can see me.”
In the final season, children Pebbles and Bam-Bam created headlines with their song, “Let The Sun Shine In.” The duo later had a Saturday morning series in the mid-1970s.
Memory Lane ... Each week, I will look back at a former player, manager, coach or media personality who was a part of our yesterday.
Do you remember Jim Bunning? The righthander started the first game at Veterans Stadium on April 10, 1971, and spent six years with the Phillies.
Bunning first came to the Phillies in 1964 from the Tigers, and recorded four double-digit winning seasons, winning 19 games twice. He was traded to Pittsburgh in December of 1967 for Don Money, Woodie Fryman, Bill Laxton, and Harold Clem.
As a Phillie, Bunning had an 89-73 record with a 2.93 ERA. His career numbers were 224-189, with a 3.27 ERA in 17 seasons. His most notable Phillies’ win was when he pitched a perfect game on Father’s Day in 1964.
He served as a manager in the Phillies’ minor league system from 1972-76. Bunning later served as a congressman and senator in his home state of Kentucky. He was named to the Baseball Hall of Fame via the Veterans’ Committee in 2001.
Bunning passed away in 2017 at the age of 85.