1960: Year of transition in sports

1960 NFL Championship game official programIf ever there was a time when the world of athletics served as a reflection  of the rest of our culture, 1960 would be that perfect example. Looking back 50  years later, its almost as if someone flipped a switch on December 31, 1959,  touching off a series of events that would signal the end of the line for many  iconic sports figures of the 1950’s, while introducing us to those who would  shape the sports landscape for years to come. The parallels between what was  happening in the world at large and the sporting life are amazing. Ponder the  fact that the eight year presidency of Dwight D Eisenhower came to an end about  three months after Casey Stengel was let go from his position as manager of the  New York Yankees. Both Eisenhower and Stengel held the top job in their  respected fields throughout most of the 1950’s. Both were three months past  their 70th birthdays.

As several major sports figures were stepping down in 1960, others were just  getting started. Ted Williams played in his final Major League Baseball game in  1960, while Juan Marichal pitched in his first. The NFL Championship, played on  December 26, 1960, saw the Philadelphia Eagles defeat the Green Bay Packers  17-13. Both the winning quarterback, Norm Van Brocklin, and coach, Buck Shaw,  retired after the game. The losing coach, Vince Lombardi, went on to become the  most celebrated NFL head coach of all time. But two men, who would define their  professions for many years to come, were virtually unknown on January 1,  1960.

One of the most significant moments in pro-football history happened nowhere  near a field. On January 26, 1960, all 12 NFL franchise owners met to select a  new commissioner. After 23 ballots, Pete Rozelle, an executive with the Los  Angeles Rams organization, was chosen as a compromise candidate. Before long  Rozelle would be among the most powerful men in all of sports, as he negotiated  record TV contracts, established the model for the revenue sharing and helped  engineer a merger with the rival American Football League. Rozelle remained  commissioner for nearly 30 years.

The 1960 Rome Summer Olympics were a grand showcase for several great  American athletes, including woman’s sprinter Wilma Rudolph and decathlon star  Rafer Johnson. But it was a light-heavyweight boxer named Cassius Clay who  demanded much of the attention, as his skill for talking seemed to match  anything he could do in the ring. Winning the gold medal on September 5, 1960,  Clay then turned pro, and became heavyweight champion of the world in February  of 1964. By then, he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and the 1950’s seemed  light years away.