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Yesterday: Thinking of those we used to watch

Our sports world memories are often cluttered with scores, dates, and highlights. We all also can recall where we were for some specific sports stanza.

But what about the memories about those who left us?

With the recent passing of NFL legendary running back Jim Brown, recollections of deceased stars can pass in our thoughts. On Memorial Day weekend, we need to remember those who served as well as those who we watched play.

In this week’s version of my Yesterday column – reminiscing about the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and sometimes beyond – I’ll take a look at some of the sports stars who left us over the past year as well as a look at some memorable May musings and some noteworthy items from our day. And who was Mack Calvin, and Johnny Rutherford?

That 70s Show: Growing up, we remember the days of Minnesota’s “Purple People Eaters,” the defensive unit that dominated the 70s. Head coach Bud Grant with his stoic look and crewcut was the coach that never could win the Super Bowl, but he had plenty of good teams. He and quarterback Joe Kapp passed away recently at the ripe ages of 95 and 85 respectively.

Staying in the NFC among those who moved to the football field in the sky were Packers’ running back John Brockington, who starred from 1971-77, and then ended his career with the Chiefs. Eagle defensive tackle Gary Pettigrew - a stalwart in the late 60s and early 70s – and linebacker Frank LeMaster – Dick Vermeil era - also passed.

Chiefs wide receiver Otis Taylor, who was a generational player at his position, and noted Cardinal guard and reputed “dirty player” Cardinal Conrad Dobler left us. Do you remember Falcons’ quarterback Bob Berry? He was a Pro Bowler with the Falcons and went to three Super Bowls with the Vikings as a backup. I always remember him from a football card.

USC Heisman Trophy winner, Brown and Ram Charles White, and former Dolphins’ defensive tackle Mike Kadish also passed this year.

I can’t forget Steelers standout running back Franco Harris, who died just Christmas. An instant memory? I immediately see “The Immaculate Reception” and “Franco’s Army.”

There were others, but I brought to light some of those who likely touched out childhood.

By the way, I never saw Brown play live, but on film, he looked to be totally dominant in his time. I’m sure there are plenty of you who read this that can testify to it.

Field of Dreams: Baseball also lost some stars of yesteryear.

Oakland’s Vida Blue and Sal Bando from the A’s trifecta of championships in the early 70s, as well as Padres’ legend first baseman Nate Colbert left us too soon. People forget how good those Oakland teams were.

Old-timers will remember Phillie and Pirate Dick Groat, a Pittsburgh native, and the colorful and controversial Yankee Joe Pepitone. Longtime Cardinals announcer Mike Shannon will now be calling those games in the sky.

Pucks and Hoops: Aside from the Flyers, former Islanders defenseman Gerry Hart, who was a grinder against Philly, and legendary Blackhawk Bobby Hull both exited in 2023.

On the hardwoods, Knicks center Willis Reed - one of my favorites - Celtics guard and Villanova 60s star Chris Ford, and Bethlehem native and college hoops voice Bill Packer all passed on.

Forgotten Flyers Fame: We all know about the Flyers winning their first Stanley Cup on May 19, 1974 with their 1-0 shutout over the Bruins.

But does anyone still remember the second one? The Flyers blanked the Sabres, 2-0, in Buffalo on May 27, 1975 to win the series in six games. Bernie Parent won his second consecutive Conn Smythe Award (playoffs MVP) with a 1.89 goals against average.

From the 74-75 teams, Rick McLeish, Andre “Moose” Dupont, Ross Lonsberry, Jack McIllhargey - remember him - Gary Dornhofer and coach Fred Shero have passed.

Rockets, Nuggets, and Floridians: With Denver making its first appearance in the NBA Finals, let’s flash back to Denver’s ABA days as the Rockets.

They had a brief history from 1967-74, but they managed to make four consecutive appearances in the finals and won two titles. After they changed their name to the Nuggets, they played for the final ABA title in 1976, losing to Dr. J and the New York Nets.

Do you recall Ralph Simpson, Dan Issel, and Bryon Beck? Spencer Haywood won the ABA Rookie-of-the-Year and MVP to lead the team to the title in the 1969-70 season.

The Miami Floridians were an ABA team from 1968-72. They did make the Eastern Conference semifinals three times, but basketball was a tough sell in Miami despite having ballgirls in bikinis. The most popular Floridian was Mack Calvin, a trendsetter then as a 6-foot guard. Other memorable Floridians were ex-LaSalle star Larry Cannon, Warren Jabali, Mel Daniels, and Larry Jones. Ex-Sixer Manny Leaks – ring a bell - spent some time there.

On the date: In 1967, the Beatles released their Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band Album. In August of ‘66, the Beatles officially stopped touring.

Also, on this date, the Edgar Winter Group’s instrumental “Frankenstein” was number one on the charts in 1973. It is still a great song.

Does Anyone Still Watch: In our youth, Memorial Day weekend was always associated with the Indy 500 and a must watch. Back in the 70s, you knew the field of Mario Andretti, Mark Donohue, Al and Bobby Unser, A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford (Johnny Lightning car?) and others. They were high-profile personalities, similar to a baseball or football lineup.

Will anyone stay glued to their TV Sunday to watch the race?

Another Classic Game: Anyone have the Mickey Mantle-Willie Mays “Pitch-Up Practice Batter” from the late 60s? It looked familiar, and I’m sure I had it at one time.

You would have the plastic ball in one cup and step down hard on the other one to raise it to hit. Back then, I would buy it just to have another Wiffle ball bat.

Memory Lane: Every week, I will recall a former player, coach, manager, or media personality from our yesterday.

Do you remember Phillies’ reliever Gene Garber? The right-handed sidearmer spent five years in Phillie pinstripes and posted an overall 33-22 record with a 2.78 ERA with 51 saves. But most people forget Garber had a 19-year career with other stops in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Kansas City. His lifetime record is 96-113, 3.34 ERA with 218 saves.

Please remember our veterans this weekend.

Your comments, thoughts, and ideas are always welcomed at tnsports@tnonline.com