The 1970's was a miserable decade--runaway inflation
, gas lines, Watergate, the fall of Saigon--but at least Bay Area sports fans could find solace in their Oakland teams.
Charles Finley moved the Athletics from Kansas City and won three straight World Series from 1972 to 1974
. Both owner and players broke the mold with "Charley O the mule, orange baseballs, mustachioed players, the designated hitter and designated runners."
The Golden State Warriors, led by Hall of Famer Rick Barry, were the surprise winner of the 1975 NBA championship
. They dominated the 1975-1976 season, only to fall in the Western Conference finals to the Phoenix Suns.
Both the A's and Warriors were fan favorites--let's not talk about the mediocre 49ers and Giants, who rarely made the playoffs--but by the beginning of the 1970's football was already the most popular sport in America, and the top echelon of the National Football League included the Oakland Raiders.
|Celebrating the 1977 Super Bowl Win|
Led by its brilliant owner Al Davis, the Raiders were a team of castoffs, misfits, and rejects. John Madden, who died yesterday
, molded this unconventional roster into a championship contender and became the most successful coach in Raiders history.
Just 32 when he became the Raiders’ head coach, Madden, who quickly became known for his sideline outbursts and unruly hair, led his team to the playoffs eight times in 10 seasons and compiled a .759 winning percentage (103-32-7) that still ranks as the highest of any coach with at least 100 victories.
Every January, while it was cold and raining outside, we could count on Raider football to entertain us on weekends.
During the '70's the Raiders had to go up against a historically great dynasty, the 4-time-champion Pittsburgh Steelers, as well as the Miami Dolphins, who in 1972 became and still are the only undefeated team in NFL history. Given the competition, John Madden's record was remarkable.
Prowling the sidelines with his portly frame and expansive gestures, John Madden was the opposite of Tom Landry, the buttoned-down coach of the "America's team" Cowboys.
Madden's game-planning and Hall-of-Fame players made Raiders-Steelers must-see TV. The playoff game between the teams in December, 1972, was decided by the Immaculate Reception
, perhaps the most famous play in NFL history. I remember watching that game on a tiny low-res TV screen in Hawaii and thought that Terry Bradshaw's 4th-quarter 4th-down pass was knocked down and the Raiders had won. Then the fuzzy TV showed a Steeler (Franco Harris) racing toward the end zone for a Steeler touchdown and victory.
Huh? What just happened? Similar to the 1969 moon landing, you could hardly see it and you couldn't replay it.
We were sad to see John Madden retire from coaching in 1978, but even in those days it was understood that he was headed for a stress-induced heart attack if he continued.
Again, much to everyone's surprise, he became the most popular TV football analyst of all time and put his name on one of the most popular sports videogames of all time.
I don't know when it was that politicians sought to become a person "you would like to have a beer with," but they should just say "I want to be like John Madden." R.I.P., coach.