Category Archives: History
LBJ punches out, Foreman punches in
Today is the 50th anniversary of a landmark Supreme Court case (one which I will not name, nor will I discuss), the death of a former President of the United States, and the birth of a sports legend.
Lyndon Baines Johnson, the Texan who succeeded to the presidency when Lee Harvey Oswald (probably) put a bullet in John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s head one November Friday afternoon in Dallas, died a little after 1600 Central Standard Time on 22 January 1973, approximately 52 hours after his successor, Richard Milhous Nixon, took the Oath of Office for his second term.
LBJ was death warmed over during the last several months of his life. In his 2011 biography, then-Louisiana Gov Edwin Edwards noted just how terrible the former president looked when he attended a memorial service for U.S. Representative Hale Boggs in New Orleans on 4 January, 18 days before LBJ succumbed to his fifth (recorded) heart attack.
In 1955, LBJ nearly died from a massive coronary, brought on by his heavy smoking, poor diet and the stress of being Senate Majority Leader. He tried to keep smoking, but Lady Bird and their daughters had to persuade him to quit. Unfortunately, LBJ returned to the nasty habit immediately after leaving the White House, and smoked heavier in his last four years than he did before the 1955 incident. In fact, LBJ started puffing away as soon as he boarded the plane to return to Texas following Nixon’s first inauguration in 1969.
LBJ’s death was announced live on the CBS Evening News by Walter Cronkite. After wrapping up his report on the Supreme Court decision, Cronkite was reporting on the stock market when he received a call from Tom Johnson (no relation), a LBJ spokesman, from the ranch in Johnson City. LBJ was stricken in his bed, and although a medical helicopter arrived almost immediately to transport him to a hospital in San Antonio, it was too late.
It was fitting Cronkite reported LBJ’s death live, since it brought the reporter and the politician full circle.
Cronkite became the Most Trusted Man in America in the hours after JFK’s assassination, including the announcement that LBJ would be taking the Oath of Office to succeed the fallen leader of the free world.
Less than three hours after LBJ was pronounced dead, Joe Frazier was set to defend his World Heavyweight Championship vs. George Foreman in Jamaica.
Foreman, a gold medalist at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, entered the fight 37-0 with 34 knockouts, but many experts felt he had fought nothing but punching bags and tomato cans, and would be no match for the powerful Frazier, who was 22 months removed from his pummeling of Muhammad Ali in the “Fight of the Century”.
On the other hand, Frazier defended his championship only twice since defeating Ali against men named Terry Daniels and Ron Stander. The fight against Daniels took place in New Orleans the night before Super Bowl VI, and it was just as one-sided as the Cowboys’ win vs. the Dolphins. Four months later, Stander was forced to retire after the fourth round in Omaha.
Frazier’s fight against Foreman did not reach the fourth round, but not because Smoking Joe was unstoppable.
Quite the opposite.
Foreman came out firing with hard rights mixed in with quick lefts, and less than two minutes into the bout, Joe Frazier went down.
Howard Cosell, describing the fight for ABC’s Wide World of Sports (that wouldn’t air until the following Saturday; the live closed -circuit feed was narrated by Don Dunphy), blurted out one of the most iconic lines in the history of sports broadcasting.
“DOWN GOES FRAZIER! DOWN GOES FRAZIER! DOWN GOES FRAZIER!”
Arthur Mercante, the third man in the ring for Ali-Frazier two years prior and possibly the greatest referee in the history of the sport, gave Frazier a standing eight count.
Foreman was just as relentless after the knockdown, raining down blows on Frazier and scoring a second knockdown a minute later. Just before the bell rang to end the opening round, Foreman scored a third knockdown.
It got no better in the second round. Foreman was more ruthless than the Israeli army during the Six-Day War, and scored three more knockdowns of the seemingly invincible Frazier.
On the sixth knockdown, Mercante said enough was enough. George Foreman was the new Heavyweight Champion of the World via technical knockout.
George Foreman was hated by many boxing fans for his angry demeanor, and was widely ridiculed when he lost the championship to Ali in October 1974 in “The Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire (Democratic Republic of the Congo).
After retiring in 1977 following a loss to Jimmy Ellis, Foreman became a born-again Christian. When he returned to the ring in 1987, he became the most popular figure in the sport.
On 5 November 1994, George Foreman, five days away from his 46th birthday, knocked out Michael Moorer in the 10th round to capture the championship almost 20 years to the day after he lost it.
The Chiefs won yesterday. ICK. The Bengals are leading. ICK. It means the AFC championship might be in Kansas City. PUKE.
On this date: Cowboys are finally “this year’s team”
Greetings from Columbia, a place I haven’t passed through in 18 months and haven’t stayed in 27 months.
I’m at the Springhill Suites, the hotel I lodged at when I was in Columbia in October 2020 for Missouri’s football game vs. LSU, one which wasn’t supposed to be played at all in 2020, and certainly not at Faurot Field.
In a nutshell, LSU and Missouri were paired when the Southeastern Conference scrapped all non-conference football games in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. To make up the lost games, the SEC added two conference games per team. Not all would be played.
Missouri was originally scheduled to make the trip to Baton Rouge, but the approach of Hurricane Delta to the Louisiana coast prompted SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey to move the game to CoMo 72 hours before the scheduled kickoff.
Mizzou won 45-41. This October, LSU is scheduled to make its return, a game which has been on both teams’ dockets since 2014.
I’m not staying in Columbia. By noon tomorrow, it’s eastbound and down to St. Louis, a place I have not been in far too long.
Saturday was the 50th anniversary of Super Bowl VII, where the Dolphins completed their 17-0 season by defeating the Washington REDSKINS. The final was 14-7, but the game was never that close; the only reason the REDSKINS got on the board was because Garo Yepremian didn’t have the sense to fall on the ball after recovering a blocked field goal attempt.
Instead, Yepremian batted the pigskin in the air like a volleyball, and REDSKIN safety Mike Bass–a teammate of Yepremian’s during Garo’s brief time with the Lions–returned it 49 yards for a touchdown.
Miami probably wanted to play Dallas, which lost the NFC championship game to Washington, after the Cowboys emasculated the Dolphins in Super Bowl VI. Instead, Don Shula’s club got to face the original paranoid coach himself, George Herbert Allen.
I don’t have enough space right now for all the bad things I have to say about George Herbert Allen. I wasn’t old enough to remember him coaching the REDSKINS (1971-77) and certainly not the Rams (1966-70), but from all I’ve seen on NFL Network, he was the blueprint for Bill Belichick, Andy Reid and every other coach who would be a perfect employee for the CIA.
Today is the 51st anniversary of Super Bowl VI, when the Cowboys, derisively called “Next Year’s Team” after playoff losses in each of the previous five seasons, destroyed the Dolphins in New Orleans’ Tulane Stadium. The final was 24-3, but it easily could have been 54-3.
Dallas began the 1971 season 4-3, including a loss to the Saints on the very same field. Following New Orleans’ 24-14 victory that October day, few could have believed the Cowboys would be back three months later.
Tom Landry finally saw the light after a 23-19 loss to the Bears at Solider Field which saw the Cowboys alternate quarterbacks Craig Morton and Roger Staubach on nearly every play.
A few days before going to St. Louis and facing a Cardinal team which defeated Dallas 20-7 and 38-0 the previous season, Landry named Staubach as his starter.
The Cardinals were in the midst of the first of three consecutive 4-9-1 seasons, but they gave Dallas all they could handle before a late field goal by Toni Fritsch pulled it out for the Cowboys 16-13.
Dallas’ Super Bowl express was revved up, and it gained steam by winning its next six games to close the regular season, followed by impressive wins over the Vikings and 49ers in the playoffs.
Yes, the Cowboys needed to defeat the Dolphins to officially win Super Bowl VI.
In reality, Dallas clinched the championship as its plane returning from the Christmas Day playoff at Minnesota was somewhere over Oklahoma.
At approximately 1835 that evening, the only team with a realistic chance of defeating the Cowboys, the Chiefs, were shocked 27-24 by the Dolphins in the longest game in professional football history, lasting 82 minutes and 40 seconds of playing time.
Ironically, the Dolphins-Chiefs game of 1971 was SHORTER than the Dolphins’ loss to the Bills yesterday which ended in regulation. By 20 minutes.
The Chiefs, who went from Super Bowl IV champion in 1969 to 7-5-2 in 1970, bounced back nicely in 1971 despite an opening day loss to the Chargers. Their season gained momentum when they rallied from a 17-6 halftime deficit to defeat the 5-0 REDSKINS, and overcame November losses to the Jets and Lions to defeat the 49ers in San Francisco on Monday Night Football, followed by a scintillating 16-14 victory over the Raiders at Kansas City to win the AFC West and keep Oakland out of the playoffs for the only time between 1967 and 1977.
After the Chiefs lost, there was no way the Cowboys would lose to any of the five remaining teams.
They hammered the REDSKINS in Washington in November, and if Washington won at San Francisco, the NFC championship would be in the Cowboys’ new palace in Irving. The 49ers had a strong defense, but their offense was inconsistent, not to mention San Francisco spit the bit in the 1970 NFC championship game, losing 17-10 to Dallas in the last game in Kezar Stadium.
In the AFC, the Dolphins had a premier passer in Bob Griese, premier runners in Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick, and a suffocating defense led by Nick Buoniconti, Manny Fernandez and Dick Anderson. However, Miami lacked big game experience.
The Colts defeated the Cowboys in Super Bowl V, but Johnny Unitas (and backup Earl Morrall) were not getting younger. Also, there’s no telling what kind of revenge Dallas would have in store for Baltimore if there was a rematch.
Cleveland? Yes, Leroy Kelly, Bill Nelsen and many of the others who contributed to humiliating Cowboy defeats in the 1968 and ’69 NFL Eastern Conference championship games were still around. But Paul Warfield was in Miami. Not only that, but the Browns had an untested coach, Nick Skorich, and a lineup which was either too young (Jack Gregory, Doug Dieken, Clarence Scott) or too old (Kelly, Nelsen, Erich Barnes).
San Francisco got a second chance at Dallas with the Super Bowl on the line, defeating Allen’s REDSKINS 24-20 at under-construction Candlestick Park. The Colts won the rubber match of their three-game playoff series in Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium (aka The Mistake by the Lake) by leaving the Browns stuck in the mud in a 20-3 win.
In their first playoff game in Irving, the Cowboys put the 49ers on ice early in the second quarter when defensive end George Andrie inserted himself between John Brodie and Ken Willard on a screen pass at the San Francisco 7-yard line. Andrie intercepted, and two plays later, Calvin Hill scored to make it 7-0.
San Francisco only mustered a field goal against Doomsday, and Duane Thomas swept into the end zone in the fourth period to finalize the score at 14-3.
In the Orange Bowl, Griese’s 75-yard bomb to Warfield in the first quarter was a body blow to the Colts’ hopes of repeating as Super Bowl champion.
In the third, Anderson’s 62-yard interception return was the death knell for the Colts, who did not play for another AFC championship until 1995, and did not return to the Super Bowl until 2006.
Miami’s 21-0 win was sweet for the Dolphins and their fans, but they would have been better off not getting on the plane to New Orleans.
In the 28 years between Super Bowl VI and his death at age 75, Tom Landry said time and again he never saw the Cowboys more confident of victory than they were the week in New Orleans. Landry and his staff were also loose and relaxed. They knew they had the better team, and it would take Miami playing a near-flawless and game and Dallas playing a C-minus game for the Dolphins to have a shot.
Instead, Dallas played the near-flawless game. Miami played something much less.
Larry Csonka’s fumble on Miami’s second drive was an omen. Dallas fell just short of the end zone, but the time-consuming drive which ended in Mike Clark’s 9-yard field goal (the goalposts were on the goal line until 1974) was the blueprint the Cowboys would use to bludgeon Buoniconti and his mates, who were gifted the “No-Name” sobriquet by Landry the week leading up to the game.
With just over a minute remaining before halftime, Staubach fired a bullet to Lance Alworth, the Chargers legend who was deemed expendable by Sid Gillman only a few months prior. Alworth hauled in the pass just inside the flag and in front of Dolphins cornerback Curtis Johnson for the touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
Miami drove downfield to a 31-yard field goal by Yepremian following Alworth’s TD, but all it did was allow the Dolphins to avoid being shut out.
Dallas came out in the second half and made Miami look silly, driving 71 yards on eight plays to a 3-yard sweep around left end by Thomas for the touchdown which put the game away once and for all.
Even though it was 17-3 at that point still more than a quarter and a half remained, the Dolphins knew they were doomed.
Chuck Howley, the veteran Cowboy linebacker who became the first–and to date, only–player from a losing team to be named Super Bowl Most Valuable Player the previous year in Miami, added an exclamation point early in the fourth quarter by stepping in front of Kiick on a screen pass and returning it 41 yards to the Dolphins’ 9.
Staubach threw a 7-yard scoring pass to Mike Ditka three plays later.
Ditka nearly scored on a tight end reverse just prior to the two-minute warning. When Hill attempted to go up and over for another touchdown, the ball was popped loose, and Fernandez recovered. Mercifully, the clock soon ran out.
Most Dolphins ignored Landry’s gadget play near the end, but one did not.
Mercury Morris, the speedy running back who had yet to escape Shula’s doghouse due to injury and lackadaisical effort, blasted Ditka’s run as “bush league”.
It should be noted in 1971, the victory formation was still years away. Sure, most teams ran simple plays when trying to kill the clock and protect a lead, but the concept of the quarterback kneeling immediately after taking the snap did not come into vogue until the “Miracle at the Meadowlands” in 1978.
Morris also harshly criticized Shula in the locker room at Tulane Stadium for not using him during the game. The next morning, Shula ordered Morris to meet him in his hotel suite so the two could clear the air.
That meeting was part of the foundation for the undefeated season, as Morris beat out Kiick for the starting position next to Csonka in the Dolphin backfield in 1972. Morris’ speed and Csonka’s power have rarely been matched in an NFL backfield since.
I watched the first three plays of the Cowboys-Buccaneers playoff game. Dallas went three-and-out. The announcers are kissing Tom Brady’s ass so much that all the Chapstick in the world won’t help them. GOAT this, GOAT that, GOAT this, GOAT that.
Yes, Brady has won more Super Bowls than any other quarterback. That is a fact which cannot be refuted.
The greatest of all-time? If the rules giving the offense every advantage had been in place when Unitas played, Landry and other defensive-minded coaches would have been out of jobs. Conversely, if Brady played under the rules Unitas did, the whiny baby would have no tears left because he would have cried them all out after two seasons.
I dread another Chiefs-Buccaneers Super Bowl. San Francisco and Buffalo, it’s up to YOU to prevent this.
The Jets’ one shining moment, 54 years later
Fifty-four years ago tonight, Joe Namath became a sports legend, if he already wasn’t one.
Three days before Namath’s New York Jets were to play the mighty Baltimore Colts in third AFL-NFL World Championship Game–more commonly known as Super Bowl III–the Jets quarterback predicted his American Football League champions would knock off the mighty National Football League champion Colts.
The bold prediction drew scorn from media outlets from coast-to-coast. Since the Internet nor cable television existed in 1969 (okay, cable did exist, but only in about .00001% of the United States, all in rural areas where an antenna could not pull in a signal), unless you were in the room when Namath made his prediction, you would have to wait until the next morning to read about it in your local newspaper.
Namath’s Jets won the AFL’s Eastern Conference, by far the weaker of the two conferences, by a large margin in 1968. Meanwhile, the league’s two best teams, the Raiders and Chiefs, were locked in a battle to the death in the West.
Kansas City defeated Oakland 24-10 in October, as Hank Stram compensated for injuries to his top three wide receivers by running the Straight-T formation. Len Dawson threw just three passes, while Kansas City ran it 60 times and piled up almost 300 yards rushing.
(My father and a friend drove 15 hours from New Orleans to Kansas City to watch the game at the old Municipal Stadium., nearly all of it on the two-lane US 71.)
Later in the season, the Raiders defeated the Chiefs 38-21 at Oakland. When the teams completed their respective regular seasons 12-2, a one-game playoff was mandated to determine who would face the Jets in New York on the last Sunday of 1968.
Oakland won the coin toss to hold home field advantage, and for Kansas City fans, it was best they didn’t have to witness this up close.
The Raiders, seek a return to the Super Bowl after losing to Vince Lombardi’s Packers a year earlier, routed the Chiefs, the AFL’s first Super Bowl participant, 41-6.
Hype for the AFL championship was through the roof, thanks to the game the Jets and the Raiders played on 17 November.
That was the infamous “Heidi Game” in which Oakland scored two touchdowns in the game’s final 65 seconds to turn a 32-29 deficit into a 43-32 victory. If you were anywhere east of the Colorado state line, you didn’t see the ending, because NBC cut to the movie Heidi at 1900 Eastern/1800 Central.
The game lived up to the hype and then some, with the Jets prevailing 27-23.
The 1968 Colts, led by the monomaniacal and militaristic Don Shula, destroyed most of the opponents on their NFL schedule. They won all but one of their 14 regular season games, and after defeating the Vikings in the Western Conference playoff, Baltimore went to Cleveland and battered the Browns 34-0, avenging a 30-20 regular season loss.
Even with the greatest quarterback of all-time, John Constantine Unitas, sidelined most of the season due to a severely injured elbow, the Colts offense didn’t miss a beat, thanks to Earl Morrall.
Morrall was acquired off waivers from the Giants, where he spent 1967 stuck behind Fran Tarkenton. All Morrall did was earn the NFL’s Most Valuable Player honor.
Baltimore’s defense was one of the best in NFL history to that point, allowing only 144 points over 14 games. Unlike the Colt teams of the late 1950s which featured Hall of Famers Gino Marchetti and Art Donovan, this Colt defense did not have any future enshrinees in Canton, but still featured All-Pro caliber players like end Bubba Smith, linebacker Mike “Mad Dog” Curtis and defensive backs Bobby Boyd and Lenny Lyles.
Feeling the 1968 Colts were better than the Packer teams which played in each of the first two Super Bowls (but not as good as the 1962 Packers, which were far and away Lombardi’s best), and that the Jets’ defense was a notch below those of the Chiefs and Raiders, bettors in Las Vegas installed Baltimore as 18-point favorites.
The Jets not only had Namath, they also had a huge advantage on the sideline.
Weeb Ewbank was the man who coached the Colts to back-to-back NFL championships in 1958 and ’59, with Baltimore besting the star-studded New York Giants each time. Ewbank developed Unitas into the greatest quarterback to play the game (an opinion I will not change; screw you, Tom Brady), surrounded by Hall of Famers like Lenny Moore at running back, Raymond Berry at receiver and Jim Parker at tackle. Donovan, Marchetti, Boyd and Lyles were the stalwarts of a rock-ribbed defense which also featured two players who would end up starting in Super Bowl III, end Ordell Braase and linebacker Don Shinnick.
The first quarter saw the Colts control play, but come away empty-handed after Lou Michaels (brother of future Jets coach Walt) blow a 25-yard field goal. Baltimore got another chance on the final play of the opening period when Lyles popped the ball loose from George Sauer and Ron Porter recovered at the New York 22.
Then came the turning point.
On the second play of the second quarter, Morrall spotted reserve tight end Tom Mitchell open in the middle of the end zone. The ball popped off of Mitchell’s left shoulder and into the hands of Jets safety Randy Beverley.
Following the touchback, the Jets drove 80 yards on 12 plays, with Matt Snell scoring the touchdown on a 4-yard sweep around left end. Jim Turner’s extra point made it 7-0, the first time the AFL led in a Super Bowl.
Morrall threw two more interceptions in the second quarter, one to former Colt Johnny Sample, and another to Jim Hudson when he failed to spot Jimmy Orr all alone in the back left corner of the end zone on a flea-flicker.
With the Colts trailing 13-0 and Morrall failing to spark the offense, Shula finally brought in Unitas late in the third quarter.
Before Johnny U could get anything going, Namath hit Sauer from 39 yards out to move the ball to the Colts’ 2. A touchdown here would have put the game out of reach, but to their credit, Baltimore’s defense held New York to a short field goal by Turner, his third of the day.
Down 16-0, Unitas drove into Jets territory, only to be intercepted by Beverley. Turner missed a 42-yard field goal on the ensuing drive, but the possession achieved its goal by burning precious time off the clock.
The Colts finally broke the ice on a 1-yard run by Jerry Hill, but only 3:19 remained, and Baltimore still needed two scores (the 2-point conversion was used in the AFL before the merger, but not in a Super Bowl until January 1995) to win.
The Colts recovered an onside kick, but had to turn it over on downs.
Not long thereafter, the gun sounded. Jets 16, Colts 7. Namath ran off the Orange Bowl field waving his right index finger in the air.
The Jets have not been back to the Super Bowl since. They have played in only four AFC championship games (1982, ’98, 2009, 2010) since, all on the road. They have not been to the playoffs since losing the 2010 AFC final to the Steelers, the NFL’s longest active drought.
Joseph William Namath remains the Jets’ best quarterback. Only the Bears, where it has been Sid Luckman and a whole bunch of nothing for 70 years, has had it worst at one of the most important positions in professional sports.
I seriously need better things to write about if this was the best I could do.
Terror in the Big Easy
The final four hours of 1972 in New Orleans featured two time-honored traditions.
One was the debauchery in the French Quarter, as thousands of drunken slobs got ready to change a calendar.
The second was the Sugar Bowl, which saw Oklahoma defeat Penn State 14-0.
Wait, a Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Eve?
Moving the Sugar Bowl from the traditional New Year’s Day slot it had occupied since 1935 to prime time on New Year’s Eve was made at the request of the American Broadcasting Company, which took over the television rights to the Sugar Bowl in 1969.
During the first three years it televised the Sugar Bowl, ABC noted its television ratings were far behind those of the Cotton Bowl, which was also played in the early afternoon of New Year’s Day.
For two of the three years in question, the Cotton Bowl matchup was Texas vs. Notre Dame. The Sugar Bowl offered Arkansas vs. Ole Miss in January 1970 and Tennessee vs. Air Force the next season.
Let’s see here…the nation’s No. 1 team two years running against the most recognizable brand in the sport playing in Dallas, against two all-white southern teams one year, then another southern team which only had a handful of blacks going up against a service academy, one which had zero following outside the Rocky Mountain region.
Who do YOU think would win the ratings battle?
It got little better in January 1972. Texas was back in the Cotton Bowl, this time facing Penn State. The Sugar Bowl had Oklahoma facing Auburn.
The Sugar Bowl started an hour before the Cotton Bowl, but when the Sooners bolted to a 31-0 halftime lead, TV sets everywhere outside of Oklahoma City and Tulsa flipped to watch the Nittany Lions and Longhorns.
In the spring of 1972, ABC demanded the Mid-Winter Sports Carnival, the New Orleans group responsible for the Sugar Bowl, move the game or else face cuts in team payouts.
ABC ponied up the cash–$575,000 per team, which in 1972 was a heck of a lot. The Sugar Bowl relented.
Sorry I got sidetracked with football. Back to the main story.
As the Sugar Bowl wound down, Mark James Robert Essex drove from his wretched boarding house on Dryades Street to the Orleans Parish Prison, known by locals as Central Lockup.
Essex’ goal in the waning minutes of 1972 was not to free prisoners, but to kill “pigs”.
His first target was a 19-year old unarmed police cadet named Bruce Weatherford.
Weatherford was assigned to work the graveyard shift–2300 to 0700–at the prison.
Just as the cadet emerged from his car after listening to the end of the Sugar Bowl on the radio, Essex fired his .44 magnum carbine.
The bullet missed Weatherford’s head, kicking up concrete chips as he ran towards the prison entrance. Weatherford waved to Alfred Harrell, a fellow cadet and good friend, to raise the gate to entrance, known as the “sally port”.
Even though Weatherford made it inside the prison safely, Essex kept firing. He struck Lt. Horace Perez in the ankle and shot Harrell, a 19-year old black, through the chest.
Lt. Kenneth Dupauquier checked Harrell for a pulse. There was none.
Alfred Harrell left behind a wife and a nine-month old son.
Essex ran from the prison and hid in a warehouse in Gert Town, one of the most crime-ridden sectors of the city. He set off an alarm inside the warehouse, and that drew the attention of patrolmen Edwin Hosli Sr. and Harold Blappert.
Hosli sent in his K-9 to sniff out the suspect, but before the dog could act, Essex shot Hosli.
The wounds turned out to be fatal.
Hosli never regained consciousness. He spent two months hooked up to life-support machines before succumbing 5 March 1973, the day before Mardi Gras. He was 27, leaving behind a wife and four children, one of whom, Edwin Hosli Jr., reached the rank of Captain with the NOPD.
Word of Harrell’s murder, Hosli’s life-threatening injuries and the bullet wound to Perez soon reached Police Chief Clarence Giarrusso, who naturally was angry and saddened by the turn of events.
Giarrusso’s second-in-command, Deputy Chief Louis Sirgo, led the investigation into Hosli’s shooting at the warehouse.
The next day, a group of officers prepared to storm the warehouse in an attempt to flush out Essex. Just before the raid was to commence, word came from headquarters to stand down. Many officers thought about defying a direct order and going after the sniper, but did as they were told.
With the city on edge as 1973 commenced, Essex went into hiding. His only known appearance in public during the first six days of the year came when he walked into a small grocery store at the corner of Gayoso and Erato Streets.
On the afternoon of 3 January, Cadet Alfred Harrell was laid to rest. Many of the NOPD’s top brass, including Giarrusso, Sirgo and Chief of Detectives Henry Morris, attended, as did Mayor Moon Landrieu.
The next day, a memorial service was held at St. Louis Cathedral for U.S. Representative Hale Boggs, who was flying in a plane over Alaska with that state’s Representative, Nick Begich, when it was lost in a snowstorm. Boggs, who was House Majority Leader for the 92nd Congress under Speaker Carl Albert, was declared dead the day the 93rd Congress convened.
A few hours after Boggs’ service ended in the French Quarter, grocery store Joe Perniciaro and his stock boy came to police headquarters with a tip about a customer who resembled the shooter at parish prison.
Apparently, the blacks who lived in the area knew Perniciaro went to the police. They tipped off Essex.
On the first Sunday morning of 1973, Mark James Robert Essex went to Perniciaro’s grocery store with his .44 carbine. As the grocer turned to run, Essex shot Perniciaro in the shoulder.
Essex left the grocery store and soon happened upon Marvin Albert, a black man sitting outside his South White Street reisdence in his 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle.
Albert soon looked up to find the double barrel of a .44 magnum in his face.
Essex demanded, “Hi brother. Get out of the car!”
Albert replied “Are you crazy?”
Essex then said “I’m only killing honkies today, but I will kill you, too.”
Not wanting to give his life for something as trivial as a car, White got out. Essex sped off in the stolen vehicle and headed straight for the Downtown Howard Johnson’s Hotel at 330 Loyola Avenue, across the street from the Louisiana Supreme Court and City Hall.
White flagged down officer Peter Dominick, who let White ride shotgun as they searched for Essex and the car.
Essex nearly t-boned another driver in the parking garage, then left the car on the fourth floor of the seven-floor garage. He attempted to gain access to floors on one end of the hallway, but each door was locked.
Then he got to the 18th floor, the top floor of the hotel.
A piece of linen placed there by a maid held the door ajar. Essex was inside the hotel, and his reign of terror was about to commence.
As he rushed by startled maids, all of whom were black, Essex said “Don’t you worry. I want the whites”.
The maids did not care Essex wasn’t going to harm them. They were far more concerned with the huge bulge in his shirt which concealed his .44 magnum.
The first person Essex encountered in the 18th floor hallway was Dr. Robert Stegall. He and his wife, Betty, resided in Martinsville, Virginia, and were on a belated honeymoon throughout the southern United States. The Stegalls were scheduled to check out of the Howard Johnson’s by noon and head east to Panama City, Florida.
Dr. Stegall saw Essex running and attempted to dislodge the rifle from the sniper. Essex recovered, hit the doctor with the butt, then shot him twice through the chest.
Mrs. Stegall pleaded frantically with Essex to spare her husband, but he shoved her aside. Once the doctor was bleeding out, Mrs. Stegall was shot through the back of the skull. He lay the bodies next to each other, then set the room on fire. He set fire to every 18th floor room he found open by squirting the phone directory with lighter fluid, lighting it, then setting it under the drapes.
In short order, Essex blew out the brains of the hotel’s assistant manager, Frank Schneider, then shot the general manager, Walter Collins, who died 19 days later.
With fires raging throughout the hotel, the NOFD quickly arrived on the scene. The first fire to climb a ladder, Lt. Tim Ursin, was shot in the shoulder by Essex from a balcony on the 18th floor. Ursin eventually lost that arm.
After shooting Ursin, Essex moved to the roof, where he began to fire at will every time a police officer came into view. A group of young blacks stood across Loyola from the hotel and loudly cheered “RIGHT ON!” every time Essex fired. The blacks also hurled epithets and threw objects at the police attempting to keep order.
When officer Phillip Coleman drove his squad car onto a grassy area across the street from the hotel, Essex shot Coleman in the head from a distance of more than 95 meters (315 feet). The 26-year old died instantly. Coleman’s partner, Ken Solis, was wounded, as was Sgt. Emanuel Palmisano. It took Times-Picayune photographer Gerry Arnold to take the radio from Coleman’s car and call for help.
Not long after Coleman was murdered, motorcycle officer Paul Persigo was also shot fatally in the head by Essex. The 33-year old Persigo was wearing a white helmet, making him a sitting duck.
By this time, Giarrusso had arrived on scene at the hotel. He had been headed to New Orleans International Airport to catch a flight to Washington for a law enforcement conference, but turned back when his radio crackled with news of the shooting. He actually was in the line of fire as he made his way down Loyola from the Bank of Louisiana building to the hotel. He set up his command post in the hotel’s lobby, a move which Giarrusso admitted in hindsight was not the best idea.
Word soon reached Giarrusso that two officers, Michael Burl and Paul Childress, were trapped in the elevator shaft. Electricity in the hotel had gone out, leaving the elevator cars stuck on the top floor. Burl and Childress were about to asphyxiate from smoke inhalation if they did not get out of the shaft soon.
Giarrusso ordered Sirgo to lead a group of officers up the stairwell where the elevators were located in order to free Burl and Childress.
As Sirgo led the group up the stairs between the 16th and 17th floors, Essex fired in the dark.
Louis Sirgo, hand-picked by Giarrusso to be deputy superintendent in 1970, six years after Sirgo retired from the forced while Clarence’s older brother, Joe, was police chief, had been fatally wounded at the age of 48.
Sirgo’s loss left Giarrusso and every other officer on the scene despondent. Essex had taken out three officers and four civilians in only a few hours, and Lord only knew how many more could die if this madman was not contained.
At the Belle Chasse Naval Air Station approximately 24 kilometers (15 miles) southeast of the Central Business District, Lt. Col. Chuck Pitman watched with horror as the sniping continued unabated throughout the afternoon. WWL, the CBS affiliate in New Orleans, cut into regular programming to provide frequent updates on the happenings at 330 Loyola. The reporting by Phil Johnson, Bill Elder and others cemented WWL’s reputation as one of the best local news affiliates in the country.
Pitman called Giarrusso and Landrieu to offer his services. After going through several ideas, Pittman suggested he would be able to take a load of officers up in a CH53 Black Hawk helicopter and allow them to shoot through the portholes which normally housed machine guns.
To Pittman, trying to take out one sniper had to be a hell of a lot easier than what he experienced in Vietnam, where his helicopter was shot down seven times. Pitman also made nearly 1,200 successful missions and had enough medals to make MacArthur and Eisenhower jealous.
Pitman landed his helicopter near the construction site of the Superdome. Three officers–Frank Buras, Thomas Casey and Antoine Saacks–volunteered to go up in the helicopter with Pittman in order to root out Essex.
Meanwhile, civilians were showing up at the hotel with rifles, elephant guns and all sorts of weapons, volunteering their services to find the elusive sniper. Giarrusso found out these false reports were being on radio stations across New Orleans, and those on WWL AM could be heard in places like Kansas City, Denver, Omaha, Louisville and Atlanta.
Giarrusso angrily told the civilians to leave or face arrest.
Rooting out Essex was easier said than done.
Pittman made two passes over the roof, attempting to flush Essex out of his concrete bunker on the east side of the hotel. The sniper returned fire, hitting the helicopter and forcing it to land.
On the third pass, the officers were able to hit the drainpipe which Essex clung to in the bunker, forcing him out into the open.
Once Essex became visible, a day’s worth of frustration was unleashed by Buras, Casey, Saacks and other officers, including Detective Gus Krinkie and NOPD Ballistics Chief Anthony Vega, who were perched atop the burned-out Rault Center, where Essex’s dastardly deeds began 39 days earlier.
Mark James Robert Essex was dead at the age of 23. An autopsy performed by New Orleans coroner Dr. Carl Rabin revealed Essex had been hit by more than 200 bullets.
Essex was dead, but Giarrusso and the others believed there were one or two more snipers somewhere in the hotel. The next morning, Pitman flew more sorties over the roof, but nobody else was there.
By early afternoon Monday, Giarrusso did what he had avoided doing for so long: he ordered an assault on the roof by numerous officers.
There was gunfire aplenty, but the only people wounded were NOPD officers, victims of friendly fire.
By sunset on 8 January, one of New Orleans’ greatest tragedies was over.
Giarrusso believed Essex was part of a larger conspiracy to kill police officers. Gov. Edwin Edwards encouraged the Louisiana Legislature to pass a new death penalty bill for such heinous crimes. Black leaders attempted to cool the temperature by pointing out Essex was not from Louisiana, but rather came uninvited from Kansas.
On the morning of 9 January, Essex was identified as the sniper. His boyhood in Emporia, his service in the Navy, his time in New Orleans all became public knowledge.
Nellie Essex, the sniper’s mother, blamed “white society” for killing “her Jimmy” and that it was time for “white America” to get off its “(butts) and do something”. This interview was broadcast on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite to millions of American homes three days after Essex’s rampage.
Persigo, Coleman and Sirgo were buried later that week, with Giarrusso and Landrieu leading the eulogies at all three funerals. Essex was buried in Emporia that Saturday, with many black militants in attendance.
The day after Essex was buried, the Dolphins defeated the Redskins in Super Bowl VII to complete their 17-0 season. It was good to be back to normal.
The Super Bowl, Nixon’s second inauguration, Roe v. Wade, Lyndon Johnson’s death, George Foreman’s stunning knockout of Joe Frazier and the Paris Peace Accords all buried Essex’s sniping to the back burner rather quickly. However, to those who were living in New Orleans at that time, and those who grew up in the city, it cannot be forgotten.
Through the years, I have regarded Mark James Robert Essex as as dastardly criminal, one who does not deserve any respect. My stomach turns when I see internet postings about how Essex is a “hero” and a “martyr” for black Americans.
People have prejudices. I have them.
However, it does not give anyone the right to use violence to correct those wrongs. Essex chose to shoot police officers and civilians in a show of raw hatred. He set that fire at the Rault Center, knowing most of the clients of the salon and Lamplighter Club were white, although a black lady was one of the ones who jumped to her death.
Giarrusso was subject to numerous death threats in the weeks following the carnage. There were threats made against his family that they would be kidnapped during Mardi Gras and held for ransom.
Mardi Gras 1973 was held under a very dark cloud. That year’s Mardi Gras already figured to be discordant, since the City Council banned parades from rolling int the French Quarter in August 1972. The racial tension exacerbated it.
Hatred reared its ugly head in New Orleans later in 1973.
On the evening of 24 June, fire raged at The Upstairs, a lounge at the edge of the French Quarter which was a known hangout for gay men.
The fire was blamed on an angry patron who had been denied entrance. He bought a bottle of lighter fluid at a nearby Walgreens, doused the stairwell upon his return, then lit a match to spark the inferno.
The fire killed 32, making it the deadliest in Louisiana’s history.
Two months before my birth, Wichita was the location of a sniper atop a hotel.
On 11 August 1976, 19-year old Michael Soles went to the top of the Holiday Inn on Douglas Street downtown and fired at will, killing three and injuring eight. Unlike Essex, who forced the police to blow him to bits, Soles surrendered and was sentenced to three life terms. He has been denied parole on numerous occasions over the last 31 years.
Essex and Soles are largely forgotten in the wake of Columbine, 9/11, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Stoneman Douglas, Uvalde and many others. Time may heal most wounds, but these still run deep.
Thank you for reading this two-part tragedy. I hope I didn’t depress you. Take care.
A grisly link from Emporia to New Orleans
NOTE: I realized one post would be way too unwieldy for what I’m discussing here. This is part one of two.
On the morning of 7 January 1993, I awoke and dressed for another day of school at Brother Martin High.
Splashed across the front page of The Times-Picayune was a headline and a picture commemorating the 20th anniversary of a bloody 30-hour standoff at a high-rise hotel which saw three New Orleans Police Department officers and four civilians lose their lives, with numerous others injured, including a firefighter who lost his arm.
That was the first I heard of the Howard Johnson’s sniper.
When I attended LSU in the mid to late 1990s, the basement of the library housed microfilm copies of the newspapers in New Orleans and Baton Roue dating to the 19th century, plus film of papers from New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles and St. Louis, among other locales.
One of the first things I did was pull out The Times-Picayune film from the incident.
I discovered the sniper, Mark James Robert Essex, was born and raised in Emporia.
Yes, Emporia, KANSAS.
Essex grew up with two brothers and two sisters. His father was a foreman at the local meat packing plant. His mother was a strict housewife who regularly paddled her children when doing so was encouraged.
After graduation from Emporia High in 1967, Essex enrolled at Pittsburg State University, but he soon dropped out.
As a 19-year old without a college deferment, Essex knew he was a prime candidate to be drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam, where the war showed no signs of ending.
Not wanting to be transported home in a “cardboard box” (thank you, Country Joe and the Fish) from southeast Asia, Essex voluntarily joined the military, enlisting in the Navy, where the likelihood of combat duty was not zero, but far less the Army and Marines.
It turned worked out quite well for the young black man.
Instead of slogging through rice paddies and taking on enemy fire nearly every day, Essex was sent to the large naval base in San Diego, where he became a dental technician under the guidance of Lt. Dr. Richard Hatcher following basic training.
Southern California instead of the Mekong Delta? San Diego instead of Saigon? Jackpot.
By August 1970, Essex began to accuse fellow sailors of racism. He went AWOL two months later and was court-martialed in January 1971.
One month after his court-martial, Essex was discharged. It was not dishonorable, but it was certainly not honorable. This prevented him from re-enrolling in college under the GI bill, and would have hindered him in receiving healthcare from the Veterans Administration.
Essex’ hatred of white people dominated what was left of his life.
Following his discharge, Essex went to New York, where he spent three months receiving indoctrination from radical Black Panthers under the leadership of Eldridge Cleaver, whose more militant Panthers broke away from those led by Bobby Seale. Cleaver accused Seale of “selling out” because he was now living in a luxury penthouse in Oakland and toned down his rhetoric, much the same way Malcolm X before his 1965 assassination.
Cleaver’s group published a newspaper which included tips for black radicals on how to kill “pigs” (police officers) and “honkies” (white people). A mantra of the paper stated “revolution comes from the barrel of a gun”.
The Black Panthers were a shadow of themselves in early 1971. Essex became disillusioned after retaliatory killings by members of the Cleaver and Seale factions, and left New York in mid-May of that year.
Essex got out of New York just before two NYPD officers, Waverly Jones (a black) and Joseph Piganetini, were murdered by members of the Black Liberation Army, a socialist revolutionary group which was even more violent than the heyday of the Panthers.
Essex returned to Emporia. The hate-filled 22-year old was fired from job after job due to insubordination. He couldn’t even stick around at the meat packing plant where his father worked.
In his spare time, which was plenty because of his large swaths of unemployment, Essex was a voracious reader of anti-white literature. His anger was further stoked after the September riots at Attica State Prison in western New York, where 28 prisoners (mostly black) and nine corrections officers were killed.
Essex took the next step down his fateful road in April 1972 when he purchased a .44 magnum carbine from Montgomery Ward with the help of a friend. All Essex had to do to acquire the powerful weapon was fill out a one-page form.
That spring and summer, Essex spent his free time in vast open spaces around Lyon County shooting his weapon.
In August 1972, Essex packed up his .44 carbine and a sawed-off shotgun, along with a few meager possessions, and drove his 1963 Chevrolet to New Orleans, where a good friend, Rodney Frank, resided. Frank and Essex served together in the Navy, and like Essex, Frank harbored a strong hatred of whites.
Essex was accepted into a federal job training program. He studied vending machine repair and excelled in the course. However, he could never keep a steady address, moving from one dilapidated apartment to another.
As was the case at every job he held in Kansas, Essex found vending machine repair beneath him. He dropped out of the course and spent his days reading more radical anti-white literature.
In a two-week stretch of November, Mark Essex went from angry to deadly.
The Thursday before Thanksgiving (16 November), protests erupted at Southern University, a historically black school on the north side of Baton Rouge, 18 kilometers (11 miles) from the largely white LSU.
Those protests soon became full-fledged riots, prompting university president Dr. Leon Netterville to call from help from the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s office.
Soon, Gov. Edwin Edwards learned of what was going on at Southern, and he ordered the Louisiana State Police in. Edwards soon flew to the university by helicopter and spoke to the students, who mercilessly heckled the man who would go on to serve four terms as governor and later end up in federal prison on racketeering and bribery convictions.
Two students, Leonard Brown and Denver Smith, were killed.
This enraged Essex, who thought “pigs” were again shooting and killing innocent black people.
(On the other hand, Essex probably didn’t give a damn when four white students were shot and killed at Kent State in May 1970.)
Essex’s rage boiled into an inferno–literally.
On 29 November, a massive fire broke out on the 15th floor of the Rault Center, a high rise in the Central Buisness District.
The fire raged through the Lamplighter Club and an adjacent hair salon.
Several trapped on the 15th floor made it to the 16th, where they were rescued by helicopter, but sadly, not everyone could make it out.
Faced with the terrifying prospect of burning to death or otherwise dying from smoke inhalation, five women in the salon attempted to jump to safety.
Three died instantly. One died of her injuries several days later.
The fifth, Natalie V. Smith, lived more than 40 years after.
There were no sprinklers in the Rault Center, which angered then-Deputy Fire Chief William McCrossen. When he was promoted to the top spot in the spring of 1973, McCrossen immediately demanded all buildings be fitted with sprinklers.
Arson was immediately suspected.
Two suspicious black men were spotted on the 15th floor the morning of the fire. One of them matched the description of Mark Essex.
Unfortunately for building owner Joseph Rault, the New Orleans Fire Department and the victims’ families, they would never see Mark Essex brought to justice.
That’s because Essex wouldn’t live long enough to be brought to justice for the arson, thanks to more brazen crimes.
TO BE CONTINUED
Green Wave crests
The world is a scary and sick place.
Between the Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin’s scary medical emergency on the field last night in Cincinnati and several Trump worshippers sabotaging the vote for Speaker of the House, the last 27 hours have been horrible. It can only get better, right?
Four hours before Hamlin’s collapse, Tulane wrote the fairytale ending to one of the greatest Cinderella stories in college football this century.
The Green Wave, 2-10 in 2021, rallied from a 15-point deficit in the final six minutes of the Cotton Bowl to stun mighty Southern California 46-45. By going 12-2 this season, Tulane now has the greatest single-season turnaround in the history of college football’s top division.
Tulane deserves the moment in the sun, considering it has been among college football have-nots for most of the last 73 seasons.
In 1949, the Wave was ranked No. 4 when it went to South Bend and was crushed 46-7 by Frank Leahy’s Fighting Irish. Tulane recovered to win the Southeastern Conference championship, but was denied a berth in the Sugar Bowl–on its home field–when it lost 21-0 to LSU. The Bayou Bengals went to the Sugar Bowl and were demolished 35-0 by Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma Sooners, whose offense was led by quarterback Darrell Royal.
Starting in the early 1950s, Tulane forced athletes to take the same rigorous course load required of all other undergraduates. This meant physical education and other so-called “fluff” classes were no more.
Additionally, Tulane drastically reduced the number of scholarships it offered, leaving it with precious little depth when battling LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss and other SEC behemoths.
Years of losing caught up to Tulane’s administration and boosters, and on 31 December 1964, the school announced it was leaving the SEC at the end of the 1965-66 school year.
The Wave had a few good seasons here and there–8-4 under Jim Pittman in 1970, 9-3 under Bennie Ellender in 1973, 9-3 under Larry Smith in 1979–but by the mid-1980s, the program was at its nadir.
Wally English, Tulane’s coach in 1983 and ’84, began his tenure by starting his son, Jon, at quarterback. Problem was, Jon English was ineligible, and the Wave was forced to forfeit four wins in ’83, including one over Florida State. When 1984 ended with a bench-clearing brawl vs. LSU in Baton Rouge, Tulane athletic director Hindman Wall had seen enough and sent English packing.
Meanwhile, two very dark clouds hung over Willow Street.
The first was a point-shaving scandal involving the men’s basketball team. Several players, including superstar John “Hot Rod” Williams, were forced to testify in front of a grand jury. Williams was eventually acquitted, but others were not so lucky.
On 4 April 1985, Tulane president Eamon Kelly announced the immediate termination of the men’s basketball program. Tulane was expelled from the Metro Conference later that month, as a men’s basketball program was an ironclad requirement for membership.
Shortly after the point-shaving scandal, Tulane football appeared to be on life support.
Mack Brown was hired to replace English. He soon became Tulane’s interim athletic director following Wall’s resignation in the wake of the point-shaving scandal.
As Brown led the Wave through a depressing 1-10 campaign in 1985, a 14-member committee studied whether or not the university should drop football.
The night before Tulane faced Southern Mississippi, the committee deadlocked 7-7. Another vote was taken before the Wave hosted LSU, and it came out 8-6 in favor of football.
One of the members of the committee was Darrell Royal, who won 190 games and three national championships coaching Texas from 1957-76. Royal told Brown that he should get the hell out of New Orleans as quickly as possible, because Tulane was never going to be able to compete with LSU.
Brown stayed at Tulane through 1987, then went to North Carolina, a large state school, but one where he was in the large shadow cast by Dean Smith. Ironically, Brown made his way to Austin in 1998 and spent 16 seasons on the 40 Acres, winning the 2005 national championship, the Longhorns’ first since Royal’s last in 1970.
Tulane, which had been an independent since leaving the SEC, joined the new Conference USA in 1996. The Wave went 12-0 in 1998 and finished No. 7 in the national polls, but soon returned to the lower echelon of the sport it had become too accustomed to.
Willie Fritz was hired from Georgia Southern in 2016 and led Tulane to three consecutive bowl games from 2018-20, the first time the Wave had achieved that feat.
Hurricane Ida destroyed any hopes Tulane had of making it four in a row.
What transpired Monday in Arlington has more than made up for it.
LSU won 63-7 over a depleted Purdue team in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. No need to say much about that one. LSU was expected to win big and it did. Now it needs to carry the momentum into Brian Kelly’s second season.
LSU and Tulane go head-to-head…sadly not on the same field
Camping World Stadium in Orlando and AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas are 1,780 kilometers (1,106) miles apart. It will take at least 17 hours driving to get from one to the other.
In less than three hours, two universities whose football stadiums are a mere 132 km (81 miles) apart will be playing simultaneously in bowl games.
Tulane, located in a upper-class residential section of New Orleans, will play Southern California (USC; DON’T call them Southern Cal) in the Cotton Bowl at the home of the Dallas Cowboys, while LSU, nestled along the Mississippi River at the southwest edge of Baton Rouge, will face Purdue in the Citrus Bowl at Orlando.
This is the first time LSU and Tulane are playing in bowl games on the same day. Of course, ESPN and ABC would put them on against each other at noon Central.
Tulane is enjoying one of its finest seasons ever. The Wave went to Manhattan (the little one) and defeated eventual Big 12 champion Kansas State, then went on to win the American Athletic Conference championship, defeating Central Florida in a rematch from the regular season won by the Knights.
Last year, Tulane went 2-10 in a season severely disrupted by the August landfall of Hurricane Ida. The Category 4 storm forced the Wave to move its highly anticipated opener vs. Oklahoma from New Orleans to Norman. Tulane then spent several weeks living and practicing in Birmingham, and one home game had to be moved there.
Instead of a knee-jerk reaction by firing coach Willie Fritz, athletic director Troy Dannen reiterated his unwavering support for Fritz, and that faith has paid off handsomely.
Strangely, this will not be the first bowl game between Tulane and USC. The Trojans defeated the Wave 21-12 in the Rose Bowl following the 1931 season. A Rose Bowl appearance is one thing Tulane can claim and LSU cannot.
LSU enjoyed a solid first season under Brian Kelly, who surprisingly left Notre Dame after 12 seasons to clean up the mess left in the wake of Ed Orgeron’s unseemly departure. The Bayou Bengals bounced back from an opening loss to Florida State (the Seminoles won 24-23 by blocking an extra point on the game’s final play) and a 40-13 shellacking at home vs. Tennessee to earn a trip to the SEC championship games, with big wins over Ole Miss and Alabama, LSU’s first over the Crimson Tide in Baton Rouge in 12 years.
The Bayou Bengals need a win vs. the Boilermakers to avoid a three-game losing streak. After rising to No. 5 in the College Football Playoff poll, LSU was hammered by Texas A&M in College Station, then overwhelmed by Georgia in the SEC title game. The losses knocked the Bayou Bengals out of trips to the Sugar, Orange or Cotton Bowls and instead to the Citrus Bowl for the fourth time since 2009. Ironically, the last time LSU played in this bowl, it lost 21-17 to Kelly’s Fighting Irish.
Had LSU not lost to A&M, it more than likely would have ended up playing Tulane in Arlington.
Sadly, it will take a bowl game to revive this series, barring a miracle.
The Green Wave and Bayou Bengals used to have a spirited gridiron rivalry. It was played continuously from 1919 and 1994, but sadly, it has been played only six times since, the last in 2009.
As an LSU alum and New Orleans native who attended numerous Tulane games growing up in New Orleans, I am very angry about this. I am especially pissed LSU sees fit to play the lower-level in-state schools–McNeese State, Northwestern State, Southeastern Louisiana, Nicholls, Southern and Grambling–but refuses to consider playing Tulane.
It is inexcusable LSU will only play the four Division I FBS schools in the state–Tulane, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana Tech–only occasionally, if at all, yet will fork over huge sums of cash to prop up the smaller schools, especially when one is only 132 km to the east and the other is only 80 km to the west.
This past September, LSU played Southern, which is 18 km (11 miles) north on the other side of Baton Rouge. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a notorious LSU booster, and many others praised the meeting of the cross-town rivals on the gridiron.
I thought it was asinine.
I’m not opposed to LSU playing Southern and other smaller in-state schools in baseball and softball. There are more than enough games in those sports to allow room for those games while still being able to schedule larger non-conference opponents.
In basketball, LSU should attempt to schedule one or two per season, but also need to attempt to play higher-caliber foes. Should LSU’s men play Kansas, Duke, Gonzaga, Michigan State and North Carolina in the same season? No. However, LSU’s non-conference schedules have been laughable to pitiful since Dale Brown’s retirement 26 years ago.
That said, LSU and Southern should not be playing on the same football field. Neither should LSU and Southeastern, LSU and McNeese, LSU and Northwestern St. (a game vs. the Big Ten’s Northwestern would be fine, but there could be no home-and-home due to the Wildcats’ stadium in Evanston being less than half the size of Tiger Stadium, unless it were moved to wherever the Bears are playing), LSU vs. Nicholls and LSU vs. Grambling.
LSU and Tulane should be happening every year, or barring that, at least once every three years.
In 2014, Tulane opened Yulman Stadium, a 30,000-seat facility which occupies largely the same footprint as the legendary Tulane Stadium, which stood from 1926 until its demolition near the end of 1979. The 80,000-seat steel behemoth hosted 41 Sugar Bowls from January 1935 through December 1974, three Super Bowls (IV, VI and IX) and 56 Saints home games.
Tulane moved to Superdome in 1975, and the Green Wave’s crowds, already small by southern standards, fell precipitously, except for games vs. LSU and the occasional matchup with a national power.
The LSU-Tulane game at New Orleans sold out in most years between 1975 and ’87 (the Dome hosted the game in odd-numbered years in that era), but by 1994, the last year of the annual series, less than 33,000 came to Poydras Street to watch LSU, led by lame-duck coach Curley Hallman, defeat the Wave 49-25.
LSU athletic director Joe Dean, a notorious cheapskate, demanded Tulane give up the home-and-home if it wanted to continue the series. The Green Wave stood their ground, and thus the series terminated after 1994, with single games in 1996, 2001, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. Only the 2007 game was played in New Orleans.
Dean was ruinous for LSU athletics with his cheapness. Had it not been for five baseball national championships from 1991-2000 and numerous track and field titles, both men and women, the years Dean was athletic director (1987-2000) would have been worse than they were. Of course, Dean inherited baseball coach Skip Bertman, his future successor as athletic director, and track had long been a power before he hired Pat Henry.
Thankfully, then-LSU chancellor Mark Emmert told Dean to shut up in November 1999 after Dean’s buddy, Gerry DiNardo, was fired as football coach. Emmert took charge and got the deal done with Nick Saban.
I understand the desire of Green Wave fans to want to play LSU home-and-home.
However, Tulane boosters should seriously consider just how much better the athletic budget would be if the Wave plays every year in Baton Rouge, where there are 70,000 more seats.
Tulane would not only make a substantial gate playing in Tiger Stadium, much more than it would make for a home game or a road game against a non-Power 5 program, it would only have to pay travel expenses for bus rental to and from Baton Rouge. Even if it wanted to stay in Baton Rouge the night before the game, there would be no expense for a charter flight.
If LSU is to play in New Orleans, the game has to be in the Superdome.
Tulane is scheduled to play Ole Miss (2023), Kansas State (2024), Northwestern and Duke (2025) and Iowa State (2029) at Yulman. I’m surprised the Rebels agreed to this. I was shocked Oklahoma agreed to play Tulane on campus and not at the Superdome before Ida changed everything.
LSU is a different animal than most.
It would not be fair to the Bayou Bengals to play the game in a 30,000-seat stadium, not when LSU could bring many more fans than that and ensure a sellout at the Superdome, which would mean more for the bottom line for both schools.
If I were calling the shots, I would offer Tulane a three-for-one contract for 12 years–three games in Baton Rouge for every one in New Orleans. I would also be open to two-for-one.
I hope and pray LSU vs. Tulane returns to the gridiron before I pass. I’m asking too much, aren’t I?
I’m going to be rooting hard for both my alma mater and the Wave today. I have special interest in Tulane since a dear friend of mine, Rebecca Hale, is a passionate Wave booster. She taught me one semester of English during my junior year at Brother Martin High, and she quickly became one of my favorite teachers ever. We got back in touch four years ago, and it has been gratifying.
ROLL WAVE! GEAUX TIGERS!
For those of you who woke up with a hangover this morning, I have ZERO sympathy for you. In fact, I mock your stupidity. You got what you deserved for partying all because a calendar changed. Congratulations. Remember how you felt this morning when you make the decision whether or not to repeat this 364 days from now. (HINT: if you do, you are far dumber than I thought).
In case you haven’t heard, Georgia and TEXAS CHRISTIAN UNIVERISTY (TCU) will play for the 2022 college football national championship a week from Monday at Inglewood, California. That’s right, the TCU Horned Frogs, a team which was relegated to 16 years in college football’s wilderness thanks to powerful Texas politicians, is one win away from its first national championship since 1938.
A remarkable story considering the wilderness the Horned Frogs were forced to wander through before making it back to the big stage.
By the end of 1993, it was apparent the Southwest Conference was on life support.
Arkansas, a powerhouse in football, men’s basketball, baseball and track and field, departed for the Southeastern Conference in the fall of 1991 for all sports except football; the Razorbacks played a last lame-duck year in the SWC before moving over in 1992.
The Razorbacks’ departure was mostly for financial reasons, but Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles, who coached the football team to unprecedented success from 1958-76, was tired of fellow members being slapped with severe sanctions by the NCAA, which in turn tarnished the reputation of the entire SWC.
The worst of the worst was at Southern Methodist, where the Mustangs had a large slush fund football and men’s basketball athletes. Mustangs All-America running back Eric Dickerson, who would go on to a Hall of Fame career in the NFL with the Rams and Colts, joked he had to take a pay cut when he left SMU and reported to Anaheim, where Rams owner Georgia Frontiere was known as one of the tightest owners in the league. Craig James, who helped the Patriots reach Super Bowl XX in 1985, was part of the “Pony Express” backfield with Dickerson when the Mustangs went 11-0-1 in 1982 and finished second behind Penn State in the final rankings, also was paid, but not as much as Dickerson and others.
SMU was placed on probation under coach Ron Meyer for the 1981 season. The Mustangs went 10-1 and won the SWC championship, but could not play in the Cotton Bowl, which happens to be less than 12 kilometers (7 miles) from SMU’s campus. Meyer left to coach the Patriots following the 1981 season, but his successor, Bobby Collins, found more trouble with the boosters, and SMU was placed on probation for 1985 and 1986–no TV, no bowl games.
That wasn’t enough to deter the Mustang bigwigs, led by former–and future–governor Bill Clements. Therefore, the NCAA was forced to take the most drastic step.
On 25 February 1987, SMU’s football program was handed the “death penalty”. There would be no games in 1987, and if the Mustangs chose to play in 1988, it could only play its eight conference games, all on the road. SMU could sign NO new players in February 1988, and would be penalized 55 scholarships in all through February 1990. Also, the Mustangs would be banned from live TV and bowl games for 1988 and 1989. SMU saw the writing on the wall and cancelled its 1988 season as well.
While SMU’s egregious violations were well-known from Seattle to Miami, from San Diego to Boston, there was chicanery also occurring on the opposite side of the Metroplex.
TCU went 8-4 in 1984, its first winning season since 1971. Not bad for a program which went 23-104-5 from 1972 through 1983.
However, two games into the 1985 season, it was revealed numerous Horned Frogs, including star running back Kenneth Davis, had been accepting payments from boosters, the same as their rivals to the east on Interstate 30.
Instead of waiting for the hammer to drop from NCAA headquarters in Kansas City, TCU coach Jim Wacker reported the violations himself.
Angered by the problems at SMU, Houston and other SWC schools, the NCAA hammered the Horned Frogs, placing them on three years’ probation and taking away 45 scholarships between 1986 and ’88.
TCU sank back to the depths it experienced previously. It never truly recovered until the late 1990s, when Dennis Franchione took over the coaching reigns and brought in a once-in-a-lifetime running back named LaDanian Tomlinson.
In early 1994, the eight remaining SWC schools went hat-in-hand to the Big Eight Conference and proposed a merger to form the first 16-team superconference.
The Big Eight was receptive…but only to adding Texas and Texas A&M. The other six (Baylor, Houston, Rice, SMU, TCU, Texas Tech) were told they would have to fend for themselves.
Not so fast, said then-Texas Governor Ann Richards and Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock.
Richards and Bullock, whose position also made him president of the Texas Senate, told the Big Eight that if did not include Texas Tech and Baylor in the merger, then the Longhorns and Aggies would not be allowed to join.
If the Big Eight was going to take two other schools besides the behemoths in Austin and College Station, wouldn’t it want one in each of the major metropolitan areas? What sense would it make to take the schools in Lubbock and Waco instead of one in Houston and one in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex?
That would have made sense, but Richards and Bullock both had degrees from…BAYLOR.
With an election looming, one where Richards would have to face George W. Bush, the son of the former president and then-owner of the Texas Rangers, the incumbent governor figured she could get votes from traditionally-Republican northwest Texas by adding in Texas Tech to the merger.
On 25 February 1994, the Big 12 was unveiled, with the Big Eight (Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State) being joined by Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor. It would start play in the fall of 1996.
Not surprisingly, the reaction from Houston, Rice, SMU and TCU was swift and blistering.
Houston was angry it was the lone public school from the SWC being left out. Rice, SMU and TCU were angry that Baylor got the lone invitation among the private schools.
If I had been in charge, I would have taken TCU and Rice. That would have given the Big 12 the metro areas while also adding academic prestige. Houston had way too many run-ins with the NCAA under Bill Yeoman in the 1970s and 1980s, and it continued into Jack Pardee’s tenure. SMU had too much baggage for the obvious reasons. Baylor also had run-ins with the NCAA, and the religious fanaticism on that campus is not attractive.
Houston, Rice, SMU and TCU were marooned on island with no life raft in sight.
The Owls, Mustangs and Horned Frogs latched on an expanded Western Athletic Conference. Beginning in 1996, the conference had 16 teams, with four quadrants of four locked into two divisions. The unwieldy conference stretched from Hawaii to Houston, with teams in three of the four major American time zones.
The travel proved to be a breaking point for many of the old-line WAC members, most notably its two most prominent football powers, BYU and Utah.
The Cougars and Utes convinced Air Force, Colorado State, Wyoming and San Diego State, the other consistent football winners, to form a new conference, with basketball powers New Mexico and UNLV also invited. The Mountain West Conference was born in 1999.
Houston, which refused the WAC’s overtures, joined the new Conference USA, where it joined schools without football (Charlotte, DePaul, Marquette, Saint Louis), basketball powers with middling football programs (Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis), former southern independents (Southern Miss, Tulane), and two schools (UAB, South Florida) with nascent football programs.
Two years after the WAC old-timers left, TCU also departed the WAC, joining its former SWC rival in C-USA.
The Horned Frogs’ stay in C-USA would be short. In 2005, TCU reunited with BYU, Utah and all the rest in the Mountain West.
Utah and TCU dominated the MWC in football in the late 2000s. The Utes went undefeated and bested Alabama in the Sugar Bowl after the 2008 season, while the Horned Frogs put together back-to-back undefeated regular seasons in 2009 and ’10.
TCU lost the Fiesta Bowl after the 2009 season to Boise State, but one year later, the Horned Frogs, led by Andy Dalton, stunned Wisconsin and J.J. Watt in the Rose Bowl. TCU finished the 2010 season ranked #2 behind Auburn.
As the Horned Frogs made their run to Pasadena, they were invited to join the Big East in 2012. The Big East had an automatic berth to the Bowl Championship Series, something the MWC did not, and the conference figured to be ripe for the Horned Frogs to dominate on the gridiron.
By October 2011, the Big 12 was on the verge of a sudden collapse.
On 1 July 2011, two Big Eight expatriates, Colorado and Nebraska, were out of the Big 12, with the Buffaloes joining the Pac-10 (renamed the Pac-12 with the simultaneous addition of Utah) and the Cornhuskers becoming the 12th school of the Big Ten.
Two months later, Texas A&M announced it would be heading to the SEC the next year. Rumors were swirling Missouri would join Aggies as the SEC’s 14th member.
To fill A&M’s vacancy, TCU received the invitation it had been waiting on for almost 18 years. Bye bye Big East! Nice not knowing ye.
The Horned Frogs were back among college athletics’ elite. West Virginia took Missouri’s spot.
Next year, TCU will be reunited with three former conference rivals when BYU, Houston and Cincinnati join the Big 12, along with Central Florida.
TCU becoming the first Big 12 team to play in the CFP championship game came from absolutely nowhere.
In the midst of a terrible 2021 season, the Horned Frogs did the unthinkable by firing longtime coach Gary Patterson, whose bronze likeness greets visitors to Amon G. Carter Stadium. Patterson coached the Horned Frogs to their greatest success since Abe Martin in the late 1950s, going 181-79 over 21 seasons, including the unprecedented dominance of 2009 and ’10.
To replace Patterson, TCU raided its old archrival to the east, hiring SMU coach Sonny Dykes.
Dykes is a scion of Texas football royalty as the son of the late Spike Dykes, a three-time SWC Coach of the Year at Texas Tech and still revered in Lubbock as much as the late Mike Leach, who sadly passed away three weeks ago.
Many outside of the Metroplex worried Dykes would be overwhelmed by the challenges of the Big 12. The media picked TCU to finish seventh in the 2022 Big 12 standings.
The Horned Frogs started with wins over Colorado, Tarleton State (??) and SMU, but a 55-24 rout of Oklahoma in Fort Worth made the experts take notice.
TCU went to Lawrence the next week and handed Kansas its first loss after five consecutive wins. A thrilling 43-40 win in two overtimes vs. Oklahoma State and a comeback from an 18-point deficit vs. Kansas State catapulted the Frogs into national championship conversation.
West Virginia, Texas Tech and Texas all went down, but those title hopes appeared to be dead in Waco.
TCU was out of timeouts and trailing 28-26 in the final minute. The Horned Frogs had to rush their field goal team onto the field in order to get an attempt off before time expired. The snap came with maybe six-tenths of a second remaining. The kick was good. TCU 29, Baylor 28.
The Frogs routed Iowa State to conclude the regular season undefeated, but in the Big 12 title game vs. Kansas State, they were stuffed on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line. The Wildcats kicked a field goal to win the game 31-28 and their third Big 12 championship.
TCU’s playoff hopes were tenuous. Ohio State claimed it was worthy of a spot despite being crushed at home by Michigan in its regular season finale. Alabama said it should be the first two-loss team in the playoff, with the losses coming to Tennessee on a field goal at the gun and to LSU when the Bayou Bengals were successful on a 2-point conversion in overtime. Nick Saban went on TV at halftime of the Big Ten title game to plead his case.
The next morning, the Frogs were not penalized for the loss to the Wildcats. TCU was in at No. 3, where it was expected to be if it won vs. K-State.
TCU was not expected to have a chance against mighty Michigan, the program which has won more games than any in NCAA history. The Wolverines had learned from their rout at the hands of Georgia the previous year. Jim Harbaugh and his team were united and focused upon winning the Maize and Blue’s first title in 25 years.
That’s why they play the games.
TCU defeated Michigan 51-45 in the Fiesta Bowl. Now it’s time to take on the Bulldogs, who will be aiming for back-to-back titles, which hasn’t been done since the playoff started in 2014.
Earlier in this rambling post, I mentioned TCU went 23-104-5 from 1972 through 1983.
In 1971, TCU hired Jim Pittman, who led Tulane to an 8-4 record and a Liberty Bowl victory vs. Colorado in 1970. Pittman had the Frogs at 5-3 heading into their 30 October game in Waco.
Late in the first quarter, Pittman collapsed on the visitors’ sideline at Baylor (later Floyd Casey) Stadium with a massive heart attack. He was rushed to Providence Hospital, but at 2003 (8:03 p.m.), he was pronounced dead. The 55-year old Pittman was a Marine Corps veteran who served during World War II, seeing action at Iwo Jima, as well as a husband and father of two sons.
Somehow, the Frogs soldiered on that evening, winning 34-27. One of TCU’s starting defensive backs was Dave McGinnis, the future coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
TCU finished 6-5 in 1971. I can’t help but think Pittman would have kept TCU on the upswing had he lived, the same as he did at Tulane.
In the next 12 seasons, the Frogs had four one-win seasons and an 0-11 campaign in 1976. There was also the tragic paralysis of running back Kent Waldrep during a 1974 game vs. Alabama in Birmingham.
I hope the same thing doesn’t happen to Mississippi State in the wake of Mike Leach’s tragic death. The Bulldogs already had an uphill battle in the SEC due to its remote location and relative lack of success compared to Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Auburn, Ole Miss, Florida and Tennessee, but without one of the greatest offensive minds college football has known and a man with a personality larger than the Magnolia State, it will be that much more difficult.
With TCU headed to the national championship game and Tulane playing in the Cotton Bowl tomorrow, I can’t help but think Jim Pittman has a broad grin on his face as he watches from his cloud in heaven.
Useless info about my birth date, matey!
My 46th birthday was pretty fantastic. The Cheesecake Factory is always great, and I had a slice of their latest concoction, the Basque cheesecake, with fresh berries and a burnt top. Delicious. I’m still sad it no longer has the Kahlua cheesecake, my favorite, but I still have Tiramisu, Cinnabon and now Basque. I’ll live.
I knew for a long time two of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ most important games in franchise history occurred Oct. 13. Until today, I didn’t know there was a third.
The two I knew of were:
–Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, when Bill Mazerowski hit the single most important home run in MLB history to give Pittsburgh a 10-9 victory over the Yankees. The Pirates prevailed despite being outscored 55-27 and out-hit 91-60 by the Bronx Bombers in the series. New York won games two and six at Forbes Field 16-3 and 10-0, and also won game three 10-0 in the Bronx. Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson, who set a then-World Series record with 12 hits, was the series Most Valuable Player. The Yankees fired manager Casey Stengel a few days later.
–Game 4 of the 1971 World Series, the first postseason night game in MLB history. The game drew such high ratings that Commissioner Bowie Kuhn ordered all future weekday games in the World Series be played at night. By 1985, Kuhn’s successor, Peter Ueberroth, determined all World Series games would be played at night. Prior to 1971, all World Series games started at 1 p.m. local time (except Sunday games in Baltimore, which had to start at 2 p.m. due to a municipal ordinance, one which played a part in the Colts leaving for Indianapolis in March 1984). Before 1967, Daylight Savings Time was not uniformly observed, meaning games in New York started at 11 a.m. in cities like New Orleans, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Oklahoma City and Little Rock.
Today, I found out the first World Series ended 13 October 1983, when the Boston Pilgrims wrapped up the championship in eight games vs. the Pirates. The Pilgrims are now the Red Sox.
The Pirates also played in the World Series on 13 October 1979, losing game four 9-6 to the Orioles at Three Rivers Stadium. Pittsburgh was pushed to the brink trailing 3-1, but the Pirates rallied to win game five at home, then the last two at Baltimore.
The Pirates have not played a game as late as 13 October since they blew the seventh game of the National League Championship Series in Atlanta on 14 October 1992 (the Pirates won game six the previous night). It’s a shame how far this once-proud franchise has fallen.
FYI, the 1960 World Series was the last to wrap up on 13 October. There hasn’t been a World Series game played on my birthday since 13 October 1984, when the Tigers defeated the Padres 4-1 in game four at Detroit. The Tigers won it the next night, winning 8-4 on the strength of Kirk Gibson’s three-run homer off of Goose Gossage in the eighth inning.
The winner of the first MLB game of my lifetime? I’m currently in a hotel approximately 16 kilometers (10 miles) north of that team’s stadium.
Yes, the Kansas City Royals stayed alive in the 1976 American League Championship Series with a 7-4 victory in game four at Yankee Stadium. First pitch was about five hours after I was born.
The next night, Kansas City was in agony following Chris Chambliss’ home run off of Mark LIttel on the first pitch of the bottom of the ninth, giving the Yankees a 7-6 victory and their first AL pennant in 12 years.
Speaking of baseball, the first notable person I knew of who was born 13 October was Eddie Mathews, the slugging third baseman for the Milwaukee Braves.
Mathews hit 512 home runs during his Hall of Fame career, which began in 1952, the Braves’ last season in Boston. He led the NL in home runs, clouting 47 in 1953 and 46 in 1959. Mathews, Hank Aaron and Joe Adcock formed one of the most feared slugging trios in MLB history. Had they played in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, their fame would have been enormous.
After Mathews, I soon found out I was born exactly 51 years after Lady Margaret Thatcher, the one and only Iron Lady of the United Kingdom, in my opinion the second greatest UK female behind Queen Elizabeth II.
Preceding my birth on 13 October were legendary NFL receiver Jerry Rice (1962), U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington (1958), actress Kate Walsh (1967), singers Sammy Hagar (1947) and Marie Osmond (1959), jockey Pat Day (1952) and figure skater Nancy Kerrigan (1969).
Those with the bad fortune of being born 13 October after me include NBA standouts Paul Pierce (1977) and Jermaine O’Neal (1978), singer Ashanti (1980), Olympic gold medal swimmer Ian Thorpe (1982), Tiffany Trump, The Donald’s only child with Marla Maples (1993) and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) (1989).
AOC was born on my 13th birthday, which was Friday the 13th. Apparently, she isn’t as cursed as me.
That’s all for the first day of year 47. Time to sleep.
Today’s musical trifecta
Today is the 45th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. It overshadows two other important musical events which took place well before The King fell asleep and never woke up at Graceland.
Elvis almost died at 15 months, thanks to a massive tornado on 5 April 1936 which flattened much of Tupelo, Mississippi, Presley’s birthplace. At least 216 people died and more than 700 were injured in what remains the deadliest tornado in Mississippi history. One day later, another tornado killed over 200 in Gainesville, Georgia. Surprisingly, Kansas has never had a tornado kill in triple digits; the highest was in Udall in 1955 which took 83 lives. The Greensburg tornado in 2007 killed 12. Twelve deaths are 12 too many, but how only 12 died in a storm which flattened 90 percent of the town is a minor miracle.
This isn’t a weather post. Back to what made 16 August so important in the musical world.
First, Madonna Louise Ciccone was born 16 August 1958 in Bay City, Michigan. In 1983, she hit the music scene as Madonna and hasn’t looked back.
Other than her music, Madonna was great on the big screen in A League of Their Own, portraying Rockford Peaches center fielder Mae Morabito, the quintessential party girl (at least, as much of a party girl as 1943 would allow). Certainly 180 degrees on the party spectrum from Peaches superstar catcher Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) and grinder first baseman Helen Haley (Anne Elizabeth Ramsay).
Fittingly, the superstar singer contributed a No. 1 single, “This Used to Be My Playground”, to the soundtrack.
Madonna contributes the funniest line of the movie when Peaches manager Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) stumbles into the clubhouse after another night of heavy drinking and immediately needs to use the facility. That line is something I haven’t been able to forget 30 years later. Much like “no shirt, no shoes, no dice!” from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which I watched twice this past weekend to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its release.
Ironic I should mention those two movies in the same paragraph. Between those movies, Madonna and Sean Penn were married for four years.
Four years following Madonna’s birth, and 11 days following the death of one of Madonna’s idols, Marilyn Monroe, The Quarrymen, a band in Liverpool, England, replaced drummer Pete Best with Ringo Starr.
Starr joined a lineup which featured John Lennon, George Harrison and Paul McCartney. The Quarrymen soon renamed themselves The Beatles, and the rest is history.
I enjoy listening to Elvis, Madonna and The Beatles. I loved Madonna from the first time I heard her as a seven-year old in late 1983 and early 1984, but I wasn’t as sold on Elvis or The Beatles. Both grew on me.
I’ll give you my lists of top songs from each artist. You might be surprised.
First, my top 10 from Elvis:
1. Burning Love
2. Jailhouse Rock
3. Kentucky Rain
4. Little Sister
5. Return To Sender
6. Don’t Be Cruel
7. Viva Las Vegas
8. Suspicious Minds
9. All Shook Up
10. Hound Dog
Next, my top 15 from The Beatles:
1. Drive My Car
2. Day Tripper
3. Come Together
5. A Hard Day’s Night
6. Twist and Shout
7. Hey Jude
8. I Saw Her Standing There
9. She Loves You
10. Magical Mystery Tour
11. I Want To Hold Your Hand
12. Get Back
13. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
14. Can’t Buy Me Love
15. Got To Get You Into My Life
BONUS: top 10 by solo Beatles
1. My Sweet Lord (George)
2. Jet (Paul)
3. Whatever Gets You Through the Night (John w/Elton John)
4. It Don’t Come Easy (Ringo)
5. Silly Love Songs (Paul)
6. Got My Mind Set On You (George)
7. No. 9 Dream (John)
8. Let ‘Em In (Paul)
9. Live and Let Die (Paul)
10. Ebony and Ivory (Paul w/Michael Jackson)
Finally, my Madonna top 20:
1. Who’s That Girl
2. La Isla Bonita
3. Material Girl
4. Live To Tell
6. Causing a Commotion
7. Deeper and Deeper
8. Dress You Up
9. Express Yourself
10. Into The Groove
12. Keep It Together
13. Lucky Star
14. I’ll Remember
16. Like A Prayer
17. Crazy For You
19. Take A Bow
20. Open Your Heart
There’s someone I know who loves a lesser-known Madonna hit, “Bad Girl”.
That’s all for now. Rest in Peace, Elvis. Happy birthday, Madonna.