Iconic moments in sports that defined the '60s
The 1960s were one of the most tumultuous decades in American history. The Vietnam War became a polarizing issue as many citizens watched brothers, neighbors, and boyfriends drafted into the military. The counterculture that sprung up created new attitudes toward physical and emotional expression, defining the 1960s as a period of independence. All of this took place alongside events such as Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the Stonewall riots.
In the realm of sports, several events paralleled the momentous events occurring around the world. Athletes like sprinter Wilma Rudolph inspired fights for gender equality with her record-breaking Olympic performances in 1960, while Muhammad Ali became a voice for both the conscientious objector and African-Americans still facing inequality in their daily lives. Other athletes like Joe Namath represented the more carefree spirit that many began to embody in the 1960s, and his brash demeanor changed the face of professional football. Outside of the U.S., Japan reintroduced itself to the world as a growing economic force. In 1964, Tokyo hosted the Summer Olympics, less than 20 years after World War II wrought devastation on the island nation.
Stacker looks back at 30 iconic moments in sports that defined the 1960s. These include college basketball dynasties from the state of California, historic home runs that set records and won World Series, and ingenious high jumpers who changed the way track-and-field sports were performed. These athletes rocked and delighted crowds just as much as the acts at Woodstock. Click through for a stroll down memory lane and to discover just how deeply sports helped shape the years between 1960 and 1969—one of the most memorable decades in American history.
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Wilma Rudolph’s historic Olympic run
At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy, Wilma Rudolph won three golds and set three world records. Rudolph’s winning performances in the 100 meters, 200 meters, and 4x100-meter relay made her the first American woman to capture three events in a single Olympiad. Early in her childhood, Rudolph overcame polio and became a college track star at Tennessee State University.
Cassius Clay introduces himself to the world
Cassius Clay captured gold in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Rome Games, and with the likes of Wilma Rudolph, emerged as a rising star in American sports. The 18-year-old Clay was afraid to fly to Italy but had no fear inside the ring, easily outpointing Poland’s Zbigniew Pietrzykowski in the final. Clay’s fighting style won over locals and 36 years later, Clay, now known as Muhammad Ali, again provided a memorable Olympic moment when he lit the cauldron at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.
Bill Mazeroski walks it off
The final two innings of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series were among the most tense in baseball history. After blowing a 4-0 lead, the Pittsburgh Pirates trailed 7-4 entering the bottom of the eighth. They scored five runs, only to watch the New York Yankees tie the game in the top of the ninth. That allowed Bill Mazeroski to step in to face Ralph Terry in the bottom of the ninth, and the Pirates second baseman became the first and only player to hit a walk-off home run in a Game 7 of the World Series, sending the ball over the left-field wall at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field.
61 in ‘61
Few things stir up baseball fans like a good home run chase, and in 1961 the predominant sports question throughout the summer was whether someone could finally top Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record of 60. On Oct. 1, Yankees slugger Roger Maris finally topped the Great Bambino, hitting his 61st homer off Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard. Maris was actually criticized by some hometown fans at first, given Ruth’s reverence in the Bronx, but over the 37 years the record stood, it grew in esteem.
The Big O’s rare feat
After Oscar Robertson won the National Basketball Association’s Rookie of the Year award in 1961, his encore proved even more impressive. During the 1961–62 season, Robertson became the first player to average a triple-double (10 or more points, rebounds, and assists per game). Later in life, Robertson won a Most Valuable Player award, an NBA title, was elected to the Hall of Fame, and inspired a generation of multi-talented guards like Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, and Russell Westbrook—players whose all-around skill sets have revolutionized pro basketball.
Meet the Mets
The New York Mets were born in 1962. In their first season, the Mets drew large crowds but played awful baseball, posting a 40-120 record—the most losses by a major league team in the modern era. The 1962 Mets have since become a reference point for sports futility.
To play or not to play?
When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, his death resonated throughout all aspects of American life. The NFL decided to play games that Sunday, a choice commissioner Pete Rozelle would later call the biggest mistake of his career, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Mike Luck. Players remember the eerie feeling of taking the field, some even crying. A few weeks later, the annual Army-Navy college football game was played in Kennedy’s honor.
UCLA starts a dynasty
The University of California, Los Angeles made tons of history during the 1972-73 season. First, the Bruins went undefeated and captured their eighth national title. But that was just the beginning of a prolonged run of dominance. Under the tutelage of John Wooden, the team would win 10 NCAA tournament championships from 1964 to 1975 and produce some of college basketball’s all-time greats like Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton.
Japan shows its recovery
Nineteen years after Hiroshima, the nation hosted the 1964 Summer Olympics. The city of Tokyo introduced a modern infrastructure, and the successful staging of the Games helped Japan’s economy recover from the war. Among the long-lasting creations to come out of the event were bullet trains, which remain the pinnacle of rail travel around the world.
The Golden Bear wears green with a record performance
With a record score of 17 under par, Jack Nicklaus captured the 1965 Masters. “The Golden Bear” earned his second green jacket for winning the tournament, and Nicklaus would win seven majors during the 1960s. His 1965 Masters score remained the best ever until Tiger Woods surpassed it in 1997.2018 All rights reserved.