By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (July 16) – Jesus, I’m old.
How many reading this remember where they were at 9:32 a.m. EDT 45 years ago today? If they were around 45 years ago today?
I didn’t think so.
At the moment in question, I was standing with a transistor (or portable) radio on the grounds of Camp Fundale – a summer day-camp for 10-year-old’s like me. I was probably tuned to CBL-740, the CBC’s former Toronto news station on the AM dial. At 32 minutes after 9 a.m., I listened intently as the Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket lifted off from Cape Kennedy in Florida, ushering astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins into Earth orbit for their journey to the moon. Four nights later – if all went according to plan – Armstrong would become the first human to step on another celestial body. It was gripping stuff, believe me.
I will always remember snuggling between my dad and my late mom when Armstrong and Aldrin made that historic moonwalk late at night on July 20, 1969. It was part of the most bustling, innovative and newsworthy decade in the 20th century – rivaled only by the 1940’s and the tragic events of World War II. The 60’s featured the assassinations of U.S. president John F. Kennedy (Nov. 22, 1963); his brother Robert F. Kennedy (June 5, 1968) and civil rights leader Martin Luther King (Apr. 4, 1968). It brought us Muhhamad Ali, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, The Who, Bob Dylan and an unpopular war in Vietnam. The decade was capped by the moonwalk; the cult-like murders by Charles Manson’s “family” in the Benedict Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles (Aug. 8, 1969) and the peaceful gathering of more than 500,000 music lovers on a farm in upstate New York the following week (Aug. 15-17, 1969) that became known as Woodstock. Yes, it was gripping stuff.
THE GHOSTLY IMAGE OF ASTRONAUTS NEIL ARMSTRONG AND BUZZ ALDRIN AS SEEN ON TV DURING THE HISTORIC APOLLO 11 MOONWALK – JULY 20, 1969.
Where were we in professional sport 45 years ago this week?
Here are 10 reminders:
? The National Hockey League was comprised of 12 teams, having doubled in size for 1967-68. The pre-expansion clubs – incorrectly referred to as the “Original Six” – (Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs) were in the East Division; the newer teams (Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Oakland Seals, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues) in the West Division.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS CAPTAIN GEORGE ARMSTRONG CHASES OAKLAND SEALS COUNTERPART TED HAMPSON DURING 1969 GAME AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS.
? Toronto Maple Leafs qualified for the 1969 playoffs but probably wish they hadn’t. Between Apr. 2 and Apr. 6, the Leafs were annihilated by Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and the Bruins in four consecutive games – getting outscored 24-5. Bruins won the first two games at Boston Garden 10-0 and 7-0. Moments after the series mercifully ended at Maple Leaf Gardens, owner Stafford Smythe fired general manager and coach George (Punch) Imlach, ending a decade-long run that netted the Leafs four Stanley Cup titles in six years (1962-63-64-67). Jim Gregory (as GM) and John McLellan (coach) were named to replace Imlach.
? Montreal was the Stanley Cup champion for the second consecutive year and the fourth time in five seasons (the streak interrupted by the 1967 Maple Leafs). The Habs swept St. Louis Blues in the ’69 Cup final, as they had the previous spring to cap the first year of NHL expansion. Montreal players of that era were Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, J.C. Tremblay, Yvan Cournoyer, John Ferguson and Lorne (Gump) Worlsley.
? On July 16, 1969, the Montreal Expos – an expansion team in Major League Baseball – played their 92nd game, losing 8-7 to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Jarry Park (the club’s initial home, prior to Olympic Stadium). It dropped the Expos record to 28-63 in the National League East.
THE MOMENTS PRIOR TO A MONTREAL EXPOS – ST. LOUIS CARDINALS GAME AT JARRY PARK IN 1969, THE CLUB’S FIRST YEAR IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL.
? New York was the place to be for professional sport in 1969. On July 16, the “Amazin’ Mets” – as they were known – defeated the Chicago Cubs 9-5 at Wrigley Field, improving their record to 51-37. The Mets would finish 100-62 and upset Baltimore Orioles to win the World Series in their eighth Major League season. On this day in ’69, the New York Jets – quarterbacked by Joe Namath – were at training camp in Hempstead, Long Island, preparing to defend their shocking victory in Super Bowl III over Baltimore Colts, thus becoming the first American Football League team to defeat a National Football League rival in the championship game. Namath had famously guaranteed the win.
QUARTERBACK JOE NAMATH OF THE NEW YORK JETS PASSES FOOTBALL AGAINST THE BUFFALO BILLS IN THE SNOW AT SHEA STADIUM.
? On July 16, 1969, Ottawa Rough Riders of the Canadian Football League were between exhibition games, having defeated Edmonton 15-13 two nights earlier at Lansdowne Park. The club was on its way to a pre-season match in Regina. Ottawa ruled the CFL in 1968 – defeating Calgary in the Grey Cup – and would again in ’69. The great Russ Jackson played his final game at quarterback in a 29-11 victory over Saskatchewan Roughriders (Nov. 30) at the Autostade in Montreal.
? In 1969, Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association completed the greatest dynasty in the history of professional sport by defeating Los Angeles Lakers for their 10th championship in 11 seasons. Coached by Red Auerbach and led on the floor by Bill Russell and K.C. Jones, Boston won the NBA title in 1959-60-61-62-63-64-65-66-68 and 1969. Philadelphia 76ers interrupted the streak in 1967.
BILL RUSSEL HASN’T ENOUGH FINGERS ON WHICH TO WEAR THE 10 NBA CHAMPIONSHIP RINGS HE WON WITH THE BOSTON CELTICS FROM 1959 TO 1969.
? July 16, 1969 was 11 days after the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London had featured an Australian predominance. Rod Laver defeated fellow countryman John Newcombe 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in the men’s singles final. On the ladies’ side, Ann Haydon-Jones of Great Britain upended American Billy-Jean King 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
? In golf, The Open Championship of 1969 had finished up four days earlier (July 12) at the Royal Lytham & St. Annes course in Lancashire, England. For the first time since 1951, a Briton (Tony Jacklin) won the tournament with a two-stroke edge on Bob Charles of New Zealand and Christy O’Connor of Ireland. Top American was the “Golden Bear” – Jack Nicklaus – who finished tied for sixth.
? Among those born 45 years ago this month are former NHL players John LeClair (July 5, 1969) and Joe Sakic (July 7, 1969).
“… THEY WERE HALF-A-MILLION STRONG.”
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