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.