Story of the Week
THE LONG COUNT
It’s a fabled boxing story indeed. That fight was a classic, and has always been one of my favorite sports stories. It’s been 74 years, but "the Long Count" legacy lingers.
Jack Dempsey was a mawling former hobo who got his start fighting in saloons in mining towns in the West. He was a magnet for publicity, either in the ring or appearing in vaudeville. He generated great crowd interest.
Gene Tunney was a superb ring tactician who read the classics and was comfortable in literary circles. He was a popular all-American type, and a World War 1 hero. He was a crowd favorite.
The first meeting between the two for the heavyweight championship drew a record 120,757 spectators at Philadelphia’s Sesquicentennial Stadium on September 26, 1926. (Think about it; 120,757 people.) Jack Dempsey was defending the title in that fight; he had been heavyweight champion since 1919. Gene Tunney won a unanimous 10-round decision; he was now champion.
The boxing world demanded, and got, a return bout. It was scheduled for September 25, 1927. More than 104,000 people attended the rematch at Soldier Field in Chicago. On this night, Dempsey was better prepared than he was a year before, and charged Tunney from opening bell. But Tunney still proved to be the master through the first six rounds. Then it happened.
In round seven, Dempsey connected with a combination of punches that floored the champion. Dempsey did not retreat to a neutral corner, as the Illinois State Athletic Commission rules stated he should in the event of a knockdown. The referee, Dave Barry, literally pushed Dempsey in the proper direction. Meanwhile, Tunney sat on the canvas. A full five seconds went by before Barry began his count. Tunney made it to his feet when the referee counted nine, which in fact was 14. Thus, "the Long Count" was born.
Tunney was able to avoid more punishment during the round. Having regained his wits between rounds, Tunney reassumed control of the fight, and boxed his way to another 10-round unanimous decision over Dempsey.
After the fight, Tunney insisted that he could have easily beaten the count had Dave Barry begun the count sooner. He said he had no reason to get up off the canvas any sooner than he did, so he didn’t. When he was asked why he didn’t go to a neutral corner when Tunney went down, Dempsey replied that ‘he wanted Tunney to get up so he could kill him.’ Dempsey later admitted that "the Long Count" was his own fault.
Dempsey never fought again. Tunney fought once more, won, then retired. Dempsey opened a restaurant in New York City that was a popular landmark for 30 years. Tunney became a very successful businessman.
Ring Magazine ranked Dempsey the second greatest heavyweight of all-time, second only to Joe Louis, and ranked Tunney the sixth greatest heavyweight of all-time. Their names will be linked in the annals of boxing forever.
Last Week’s Trivia
1957 was the last year for Pacific Coast League baseball in L.A. What were our two local PCL teams? Where did they play? They were farm clubs of what major league teams? The Hollywood Stars, a Pittsburgh Pirates farm club, played at Gilmore Field near Beverly & Fairfax in West Hollywood. (We lived in West Hollywood from 1952 to 1955; I saw many games at Gilmore Field.) The Los Angeles Angels, a Chicago Cubs farm club, played at Wrigley Field in downtown L.A.
Trivia Question of the Week
What team owns the record for fewest yards passing in a Super Bowl? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.