Iconic moments in sports that defined the '70s
More than just bell-bottom jeans and permed hair, the 1970s were another transformative decade in American history books. Coming off the heels of the tumult and revolutionary spirit of the 1960s, the seventies saw a nation adjusting to life after a devastating war and integrating new technologies that drastically altered everyday life. In the world of sports, the decade was flooded with events both dramatic and inspirational that are remembered just as well as the Watergate Scandal, the Camp David Accords, and the sheen emanating from disco balls that spun round and round into the wee hours of the morning of New York’s trendiest clubs.
The decade opened with a merger between the American Football League and National Football League, which catapulted professional football even higher in popularity. The 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich became recognized for otherworldly feats by athletes like swimmer Mark Spitz, but the celebrations were dampened by a hostage situation that resulted in the death of athletes from Israel. America lost several other sports heroes during this decade, from Roberto Clemente—who died in a plane crash on his way to deliver humanitarian supplies to Nicaragua—to Thurman Munson—who perished while practicing flying his own craft on an off day during the 1979 Major League Baseball season.
Stacker looks back at 30 of the most iconic moments in sports that defined the 1970s. There were great champions like the 1970 New York Knicks, inspired by the grit and determination of Willis Reed, and pioneers in the fight for gender equality like Billie Jean King, who didn’t back down from any challenge—man or woman—on the tennis court. Click through to find the backstory behind these memorable scenes, as well as the rivalries that brewed and the champions whose legacies still live on today.
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Brazil, the best ever?
The 1970 World Cup was broadcast to record audiences around the globe who witnessed a dominating performance by Brazil. Led be Pelé, Brazil captured their third World Cup. Some consider the 1970 Brazil team the best ever—they won each of their quarterfinal, semifinal, and final matchups by two goals or more.
There goes that man
That catchphrase probably would have been uttered by broadcaster Mark Jackson if he were calling the 1970 NBA Finals. In a decisive Game 7 between the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers, a hobbled Willis Reed emerged from the locker room to return to the floor after missing Game 6 with a torn thigh muscle. Reed inspired the Knicks to a 113-99 victory and their first championship.
Pete Rose earns the nickname Charlie Hustle
Catcher Ray Fosse was named an All-Star for the first time in 1970, but his participation in the Midsummer Classic would end with a violent collision at home plate. In the 12th inning, Pete Rose came charging down the third-base line attempting to score and ran Fosse over. Rose’s National League side won on his run, 5-4, but Fosse separated his shoulder. Rose showed little remorse for running over a catcher in what was supposed to be an exhibition game.
Beginning with the 1970 season, 10 teams from the American Football League entered the NFL. Two 13-team conferences were created within the new NFL—the American Football Conference and National Football Conference. An eight-team playoff featuring four teams from each conference was instituted.
Her Court now
Margaret Court became the first woman in the Open Era (generally agreed upon as 1968 onward), and only the second woman ever, to complete the Grand Slam (win all four major tennis tournaments in one year). Court had missed a Grand Slam by one event—Wimbledon—in 1969, and actually won two doubles majors to boot in 1970. Serena Williams is now chasing Court, sitting one behind tying her record of 24 career Grand Slam singles titles.
Tragedy strikes Marshall
Returning home from a game at East Carolina University, 37 Marshall football players and eight coaches died in a plane crash. Coach Jack Lengyel and others kept the program from being discontinued and Marshall football carries on today, having fielded some of college football’s greats like Chad Pennington and Randy Moss. Tragically, a few weeks prior to the Marshall crash, 14 members of the Wichita State football team were killed in a plane crash.
On June 23, 1972, Title IX became law. The law states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” For over 45 years, Title IX has greatly increased athletic opportunities for female athletes.
Spitz sets records before terror strikes
American swimmer Mark Spitz won seven gold medals and set seven world records at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. However, his triumph was short-lived, as the games soon became overshadowed by a massacre when members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and eventually killed. Spitz, who identifies as Jewish, was protected by guards once word spread of the hostage situation and was eventually taken to London then the U.S.
A Cold War controversy
The 1972 Summer Olympic men’s basketball final pitted the U.S. against the Soviet Union. In the game’s final moments, the U.S. led 50-49, but a controversial timeout call and clock malfunction led to the Soviets gaining multiple attempts at a game-winner. After the two false starts, the Soviets hit a layup as time expired for the win. The U.S., furious at the officiating, did not claim their silver medals.
The NHL faces new competition
In October 1972, the World Hockey Association began play. Bobby Hull was one of the first major stars to jump from the National Hockey League to the WHA. In 1979, a merger was formed and four WHA teams continued on in the NHL, including the Edmonton Oilers, who soon won five Stanley Cups.2018 All rights reserved.