1970s Sports: History, MVPs & Champions


Sports in the 1970s were rife with tragedy and triumph.


Tragedy was marked most notably by the 1972 Summer Olympics where terrorists invaded the Olympic grounds and killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.

But there was plenty of triumph to go around.

I’m a homer, so of course I’m going to tout the Big Red Machine. Pete Rose was my favorite player growing up. He was a great, tough, tenacious player. It’s unfortunate how completely tarnished his legacy has become (by his own actions, of course).

Jack Nicklaus was dominating golf, winning majors at a record breaking pace. People wouldn’t see a golfer this good until a guy named Eldrick came along in the 90s.

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The Steelers were in the hunt every year, plowing toward 4 Super Bowl titles.

Mark Spitz was the superstar of the decade, however, with seven gold medals in the 1972 Summer Olympics.

Sports in 1973


The usual highlight of the baseball year, the World Series, was overshadowed by one slugger, an eccentric owner, two outstanding pitchers, and a new rule.

Henry “Hank” Aaron, in his 20th season, steadily plodded on in his goal to pass Babe Ruth for the title of Home Run “King.” Aaron, 39, hit 40 home runs for the year, second in the National League. At the end of the year, with 713 round-trippers, Hank was one deep flyball away from tying the hallowed 714 home runs of Babe Ruth.

Charles “Chuck” Finley, owner of the World champion Oakland Athletics, was fined $7,000 and put on probation mid-way through the World Series. Second baseman Mike Andrews played poorly in the second game of the Series. The Mets had won the game in the 12th inning, after Andrews commited two errors, scoring four runs. In his anger, Finley attempted to place Andrews on the disabled list, saying he had a sore shoulder, and Andrews signed an agreement. The next day, Andrews claimed that Finley had pressured him into signing.

Commissioner Bowie Kuhn did not allow Andrews to be placed on the disabled list, and fined Finley for three reasons. First, $5,000 for pressuring Andrews. Second, $1,000 for publicly announcing that the Mets had refused to allow the A’s to activate a new player. Third, $1,000 for turning on the lights during the home team Athletics’ at bat, when the rule book states that the lights must be turned on in the first half of the inning.

When the New York Mets entered the World Series, they owned one of the best pitchers in baseball, Tom Seaver. Seaver, by far their best pitcher, exceeded expectations with a win-loss record of 19-10, a skinny earned run average of 2.08, and 251 strikeouts.

The California Angels owned another pitcher who was even better than Seaver: Nolan Ryan. The Angels, who had acquired Ryan in 1973 from the Mets, struck gold. Ryan struck out 383 batters in 326 innings (breaking the record by 1), posted a win-loss record of 21-16, and had an excellent 2.87 earned run average. On top of it all, Ryan threw two no-hitters, and two one-hitters, an amazing season by anybody’s account.

The designated hitter experiment began in 1973, in an attempt to boost the offensive power of American League teams. This would help extend the careers of veterans unable to play in the field every day. It also helped because pitchers were often inefficient at the plate, and lowered the league’s batting average. The rule also helped boost the league’s attendance and set a record of 13.4 million fans, and a major league record of 30.1 million. Needless to say, the major league made the rule permanent at the end of the year.

Rod Carew led the American League in batting average with a solid .350. Reggie Jackson led the American League in home runs and RBIs, with 32 and 117, respectively. Rod Carew also led the American League in hits, with 203. Reggie Jackson won the AL MVP, and Jim Palmer won the AL Cy Young award.

Pete Rose took the National league batting average title with a steady .338. Willie Stargell won both the home run and RBI titles, with 44 home runs and 119 runs batted in. Pete Rose also led the National League in hits, with 230. Pete Rose took home the NL MVP, and Tom Seaver earned the NL Cy Young award.

Finally, the World Series came. One of the most surprising parts of the World Series was the simple prescence of the New York Mets. With a .509 win-loss percentage, the Mets were the least winningest pennant winners in baseball history. Their opponents, the returning champion Oakland Athletics, were expected to win by a large margin.

Game one was captured by the A’s, 2-1. Game two, the most exciting, ended with a Mets victory, 10-7 in the 12th inning. Game three was close, but ended with an Athletics victory, 3-2 in the 11th inning. Game four was a blowout by the Mets, a 6-1 victory. Game five was a shutout, again by the Mets, 2-0. Game six, the A’s finally came back to win a game, 3-1. Game seven, was won early on with the A’s scoring four runs in the third inning. The Series went the measure, but in the end, the returning champions protected the title.

Six men were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973. Pitcher Warren Spahn, rightfielder Roberto Clemete, outfielder Monte Irvin, George Kelly, pitcher Mickey Welch, and umpire Billy Evans.


The UCLA Bruins were having an amazing year, or two, or three. By the end of the season, the Bruins had won 75 games in a row, far surpassing the previous record of 60. Even more impressive, though, was their winning streak of 36 NCAA tournament games in a row. The only other undefeated team was North Carolina State. On top of that, four of the games had been NCAA championships. Another fun fact, the Bruins had won 7 straight championships, and 9 of the last 10.

For the second year in a row, the player of the year award went to UCLA’s center, Bill Walton. His ability to score, block, and rebound made him the most valuable asset to the Bruins roster.

In the NCAA championship game, the UCLA Bruins faced Memphis State. By the end, it was clear that the Bruins deserved the title. In an 87-66 win, player of the year Bill Walton hit 21 out of 22 shots, scoring 44 points to set a new NCAA championship record.


The New York Knickerbockers (later called the Knicks) finished second in the Atlantic division, then in the playoffs they swept through all the other teams: Baltimore 4-1, Boston 4-3, and Los Angeles 4-1. This gave the Knickerbockers their second NBA title in four years.

The Philadelphia 76ers, however, weren’t so fortunate. Winning only 9 games the entire season and losing 73, they had one of the worst seasons in basketball history. In fact, in January and Febraury, the 76ers lost 20 games in a row, a new record at the time.

The NBA player of the year award went to Nate Archibald of the Kansas City-Omaha Royals, who led the league in scoring and assists.

The ABA unfortunately did not have such an exciting year. Despite a 5% increase in attendance, the league lost money anyway, and so continued their efforts to merge into the NBA. Due to contract complications, they were still unable to merge that year. Wilt Chamberlain quit the LA Lakers of the NBA to become the Player-coach of an ABA team. Obviously the Lakers were unhappy, and were able to keep Chamberlain from playing until the next season.

Julius Erving, was one of the most exciting, and probably also one of the most discouraged players in the ABA. After signing a contract in the ABA for a four year $500,000 deal, Erving had an outstanding rookie season. Then he tried to sign with the Atlanta Hawks, an NBA team, and the Milwaukee Bucks (NBA) claimed his drafting rights, and the three teams fought for him. When a judge intervened, Erving was sent to Virginia. Then the New York Nets aquired him in 1973 for $4 million total. They paid Virginia $750,000 and Atlanta $425,000. The Nets then paid Erving $350,000 a year for eight years. Fortunately, Erving was still able to win the ABA’s scoring title.



Both Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, who had alternately held the heavyweight spot for years, finally were both bested. Ali, champion at the start of the year, lost his title to Frazier, who beat and battered Ali for 15 rounds before being declared champion.

But Frazier was no match for George Foreman. Gamblers placed Foreman at a 3-1 disadvantage before the fight, but were proved very wrong. Frazier was knocked down three times in the first round, and then three times in the second round also. The bout was stopped, and Foreman was heavyweight champion.

Foreman held the title for much of the year, and wasn’t quick to defend his title, but when the challenger came, Foreman came through. Fighting Joe (King) Roman in Tokyo, Foreman knocked Roman down three times before the fight was stopped, in the first round.


With seven major teams posting an undefeated record (three with one tied game), the voting for champion was hesitant. UPI voted Alabama as champion, but all others waited until after the bowl games to decide the winner.

Alabama faced Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, both vying for the title of National Champions. Notre Dame, with three minutes left, was backed up to their own 2-yard line on third down with 8 yards to go for first down. But on the next play, an incredible 35 yard pass came out to seal the game and the season for the Fighting Irish.

When Ohio State and Michigan tied for the Big Ten title, a vote was required to decide the winner. When Ohio State was chosen, they advanced to the Rose Bowl, where they demolished Southern California 42-21.

The final standings went as followed:
1. Notre Dame
2. Ohio State
3. Oklahoma
4. Alabama
5. Penn State
6. Michigan State


O.J. Simpson, the running back all teams dream of, finally broke through the single-season record for rushing yards. In the final game, needing 61 more yards, Simpson gained them easily. In fact, he gained 61 in the first half, and ended the day with 200, and the season with 2,003 total yards.

Three teams posted outstanding years: Minnesota, Los Angeles, and Miami. All three teams ended the season with 12-2 records. In the playoffs, the Miami Dolphins claimed the AFC title by defeating first the Cincinnati Bengals, then the Pittsburgh Steelers, and last came the Oakland Raiders. The Minnesota Vikings earned the NFC title by beating the Washington Redskins then the Dallas Cowboys.

In the Super Bowl, the Dolphins pinned the Vikings into a 24-7 victory for Miami.


Jack Nicklaus proved himself to be one of the best golfers ever, winning a PGA and 6 other titles in 1973. The PGA win was his 14th major victory (3 PGA’s, 3 U.S. Opens, 2 British Opens, 4 Masters, and 2 U.S. Amateurs), breaking Bobby Jones’ record of 13. Nicklaus also became the richest golfer ever, earning $308,362 for the year, and career earnings of $2,012,068.

Tom Weiskopf also proved himself to be a successful golfer. He won, in order, the Colonial National Invitational, the Kemper Open, the Philadelphia Golf Classic, the British Open, and the Canadian Open. He also finished second in the Atlanta Golf Classic, third in the U.S. Open, and fifth in the American Golf Classic. Weiskopf, at the end of the year, earned a total of $185,605.

The other two major tournaments were won by Johnny Miller (U.S. Open) and Tommy Aaron (Masters).

Sports in 1974


Hank Aaron hitting his 715th Home Run

Hank Aaron, hitting home run #715

Baseball made history in several ways during and after the 1974 season. The key figures were Hank Aaron, who broke Babe Ruth’s lifetime home run record (714) and Frank Robinson, who was signed to a contract after the season to become MLB’s first African-American manager.

Nolan Ryan was the dominant pitcher of the year and Lou Brock was stealing bases at an unprecedented rate.

Hank Aaron started the 1974 season with 713 career home runs, just one shy of the most celebrated record in all of sports. Because the Braves started the season on the road, Aaron was benched. They wanted Hammerin’ Hank to break the record in front of the home crowd.

Commissioner Bowie Kuhn objected, and forced the Braves to put Aaron into the lineup. One his first swing, in his first at bat of the 1974 season, he hit a home run to tie Ruth’s record.

“I thought that tying the record would mean a lot to me,” Aaron later said, “but it was just another home run.”

Before a national televised audience of 35 million, he broke the record on April 8, in Los Angeles. Aaron recalls, “When I hit it, all I could think about was that I wanted to touch all the bases.”

28 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, another Robinson would break similar ground. 39 years old and still playing, Frank Robinson was picked up on waivers by Cleveland in late 1974 and extended him an offer to be a playing manager in 1975.

The Oakland A’s, with their green and gold uniforms, white and awesome mustaches, looked like a cross between a softball team and a summer stock company. But they could play baseball! By the end of the 1974 season, they had won their fourth straight Western Division title, third straight AL pennant and third straight World Series. The New York Yankees were the only other team to win at least 3 World Series championships in a row.

Pro Basketball

A balanced, fast-paced Boston Celtics team won the NBA championship in 1974, defeating the Milwaukee Bucks in The Finals, 4 games to 3. John Havlicek said the ghost of the past were motivation for younger players.

“This team has a lot of pride,” Havlicek said. “The younger guys don’t want to hear about the old Celtics anymore. They want to prove that they have championship quality themselves.”

The Bucks were led by 7′ 2″ center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who won the MVP award for the third time in four years. The NBA voted to give New Orleans a franchise in 1974 and Toronto one in 1975. New Orleans made a big move by trading for “Pistol” Pete Maravich.

In the ABA, Julius Erving continued to wow crowds with his exciting brand of play. The New York Nets won the championship over the Utah Stars, who made waves by signing 19-year-old high school phenom, Moses Malone. Portland signed UCLA superstar Bill Walton.

Jerry West and Willis Reed, two legends who played on opposite coasts (LA & NY), retired in 1974.

College Basketball

North Carolina State won the NCAA championship in 1974, ending UCLA’s historic run. The Bruins had won seven straight championships and nine in the last ten years. They had won 88 consecutive games until a one-point loss to Notre Dame on January 19.

In the 1974 Final Four, NC State beat UCLA 80-77 in 2OT, then went on the defeat Marquette in the championship game. The Wolfpack’s David Thompson won player of the year honors.


Muhammad Ali won the two most important and lucrative fights in 1974. He outpointed Joe Frazier in January and then regained the heavyweight title by knocking out champion George Foreman. Ali and Frazier earned $2.6 million each for their fight, the highest purses in boxing history until Ali and Foreman earned $5 million each for their fight.

Ali was the champion from 1964 to 1967. Boxing officials stripped him of the title after he refused induction in the U.S. Army. Ali remained as talkative and controversial as ever, though, and continued to be boxing’s top box office attraction.

Ali, who was a 4-to-1 underdog against Foreman, won by KO in the eight round. It was Foreman’s first professional loss. Ali said, “Foreman was humiliated. I told you he was nothing, but did you listen? He punched like a sissy.”

Pro Football

The best teams in the NFL in 1974 were the Minnesota Vikings and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers won the franchise’s first Super Bowl over the Vikings, 16-6. In that game, Franco Harris turned in an amazing 158-yard performance.

The Miami Dolphins’ string of AFC championships was ended in 1974, after their first round playoff loss.

Another pro football league started in 1974. It was called the World Football League (WFL). Few people took the league seriously, so it signed dozens of NFL stars at extraordinarily high salaries. Players like Larry Csonka and Paul Warfield were paid very well for their services.

The NFL moved the goal posts from the front of the end zone to the back of the end zone in 1974. They also instituted sudden-death overtime that year.

College Football

Even though there is no official champion in college football, the general public usually relied on the AP and UPI to agree on a champion. They usually did, but in 1974 they did not.

The 1974 season ended with two undefeated teams: Alabama and Oklahoma. But Alabama wasn’t even one of the teams because they lost their bowl game to Notre Dame. So the UPI picked USC as its #1 team. The AP went with Oklahoma.

The Heisman Trophy Award was given to Archie Griffin, running back from Ohio State. Anthony Davis (USC), and Joe Washington (Oklahoma) also had strong seasons.


1970s Major Sports Champions

Pro BaseballBaltimore Orioles
Pro BasketballNew York Knicks
College BasketballUCLA
Boxing (HW)Jimmy Ellis
Pro FootballBaltimore Colts
College FootballTexas and Nebraska
Pro BaseballPittsburgh Pirates
Pro BasketballMilwaukee Bucks
College BasketballUCLA
Boxing (HW)Joe Frazier
Pro FootballDallas Cowboys
College FootballNebraska
Pro BaseballOakland Athletics
Pro BasketballLos Angeles Lakers
College BasketballUCLA
Boxing (HW)Joe Frazier
Pro FootballMiami Dolphins
College FootballUSC
Pro BaseballOakland Athletics
Pro BasketballNew York Knicks
College BasketballUCLA
Boxing (HW)George Foreman
Pro FootballMiami Dolphins
College FootballNotre Dame and Alabama
Pro BaseballOakland Athletics
Pro BasketballBoston Celtics
College BasketballNorth Carolina State
Boxing (HW)Muhammad Ali
Pro FootballPittsburgh Steelers
College FootballOklahoma and USC
Pro BaseballCincinnati Reds
Pro BasketballGolden State Warriors
College BasketballUCLA
Boxing (HW)Muhammad Ali
Pro FootballPittsburgh Steelers
College FootballOklahoma
Pro BaseballCincinnati Reds
Pro BasketballBoston Celtics
College BasketballIndiana
Boxing (HW)Muhammad Ali
Pro FootballOakland Raiders
College FootballPittsburgh
Pro BaseballNew York Yankees
Pro BasketballPortland Trail Blazers
College BasketballMarquette
Boxing (HW)Muhammad Ali
Pro FootballDallas Cowboys
College FootballNotre Dame
Pro BaseballNew York Yankees
Pro BasketballWashington Bullets
College BasketballKentucky
Boxing (HW)Leon Spinks
Pro FootballPittsburgh Steelers
College FootballAlabama and USC
Pro BaseballPittsburgh Pirates
Pro BasketballSeattle SuperSonics
College BasketballMichigan State
Boxing (HW)Larry Holmes
Pro FootballPittsburgh Steelers
College FootballAlabama

In-Depth 1970s Sports Profiles

1970s Baseball

Baseball in the 1970s »

1970s baseball was great if you liked the Orioles, Athletics, Reds or facial hair. Amazingly, four different Reds players won the MVP award in six years.

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