Neil and Diane Kessler are very good friends. Iíve known Neil since the 6th. grade back in beautiful St. Louis; we met in 1950. And Diane and I have been friends for a long time as well. As usual this time of year, namely February 6th., they made the trek from So. Cal. to Las Vegas to be with my wife of just six months and me; they met her a year ago. Whatís the big deal about February 6th? Itís my birthday and, ironically, itís Neilís as well. Itís too bad Neil turned 67 but looks like a Civil War veteran, and I hit 66 and still get "carded" in the casinos; ok, so I distorted the facts, but only a little bit. We also celebrated my wifeís upcoming birthday. Diane and Neil, thanks for always making Taraza feel so comfortable. It was a super weekend.
Speaking of super, as in Super Bowl, New England did it again. Despite making more mistakes than usual, they won because they still made fewer mistakes than did Philly. Each team lost a fumble, but McNabb tossed three picks to Bradyís none, and was erratic most of the game. And in keeping with my premise that the team that can run the ball best will win, the Pats had 112 net rushing yards to a paltry 45 for the Eagles. I am ready now to concede that New England, with three Wís in the last four Super Bowls, is a dynasty, and thereís no reason right now to think they canít do it again next season. As a footnote, those of you who took Philly and the points have only Terrell Owens to thank for cashing in your tickets. Without Owens and his metal leg, the Patriots would have easily covered the line. The guy stepped up and showed great "game" with a severe injury.
Story of the Week
1978-79 NCAA BASKETBALL TITLE
Iíve done feature stories about Earvin Johnson and Larry Bird; youíll find them by scrolling down the "Access the Articles" page. The two of them revitalized the NBA. I was sitting in my office at my computer, looking over all the wonderful and plentiful sports memorabilia I have in every possible form, and one picture caught my eye, a picture of the two of them together, the great Johnson and Bird duo. I miss them; they spoiled me forever. And then the thought hit me, and I became exhilarated; Iíve never devoted a feature story to their great college match-up for the NCAA title game on March 26, 1979. So here it is.
In the late 1970ís, interest in college (and pro) basketball was stagnant at best, and declining in many areas. College basketball was in search of stars and top teams following all those UCLA dynasty years of 1964 to 1975.
Beginning with the 1978-1979 college basketball season, however, Earvin "Magic" Johnson from Michigan State University and Indiana Stateís Larry Bird began to change all that. Together, they gave an immediate boost to college basketball, and their rivalry led the NBA to unprecedented popularity during the 1980ís.
Despite some sentiment that their rivalry was sparked by their differences, Bird and Johnson were very much alike. Neither of the two was exceptionally quick, and neither was a great leaper. But both were great passers with tremendous court sense and vision. Both would put the ball in the hands of an open teammate instead of taking a jump shot while being over-guarded. Both were fiercely competitive. Most importantly, both made every player on their respective teams much better. Under their leadership, the emphasis on team basketball was back. There was a difference in the respect that Johnson was a superior ball-handler, while Bird was a better pure shooter.
Both Michigan State and Indiana State emerged victorious from their first four NCAA tournament games in 1979. As many fans had hoped, the championship game would feature a highly anticipated Johnson-Bird confrontation even then. On March 26, 1979, the nation turned to their television sets in record numbers to watch the first meeting of what would become one of the greatest rivalries in sports history.
The game itself actually did not live up to its hype. Michigan State employed a double-team on Bird throughout the contest, and enjoyed a double-digit lead through most of the game. They got typically strong offensive output from Magic and Greg Kelser. Michigan State defeated Indiana State, 75-64. Bird finished with just 7-21 from the floor, and just 19 points, while Magic finished with 24 points, seven boards and five assists.
That game, televised on NBC, received the highest Nielsen television rating ever for a NCAA basketball tournament game. The nation witnessed the rebirth of basketball, and the birth of a brilliant rivalry between two brilliant players. Weíll never see the likes of it again!
Last Weekís Trivia
Jim Brown led the NFL in rushing from 1957-1965 except for one year. The streak was broken by Jim Taylor of Green Bay in 1962.
Trivia Question of the Week
Who holds the MLB record for being hit by a pitch the most times during a season? See next weekís Sports Junkie for the answer.