1960s: Sports and Games
1960s: Sports and Games
The 1960s saw professional sports finally attain dominance in the hearts of American sports fans. The overlapping seasons of professional baseball, football, hockey, and basketball offered sports fans year-round entertainment, and television broadcasting increased in sophistication to make sports coverage more exciting. It also helped that the 1960s were filled with dramatic moments and glamorous sports stars.
No one team dominated major league baseball, as seven different teams won the World Series. Perhaps the most astonishing World Series win went to the 1969 New York Mets, who had finished next-to-last in 1968. The "Amazin' Mets," as they were known, provided thrills for every fan who roots for the under-dog. The 1960s were the decade of stars, as players like Roger Maris (1934–1985), Mickey Mantle (1931–1995), Maury Wills (1932–), Sandy Koufax (1935–), Frank Robinson (1935–), Carl Yastrzemski (1939–), and others set records and thrilled fans.
Professional football became the most popular American sport in the 1960s, surpassing baseball in attendance and in television viewership. Men, mostly, across the nation gave up their Sunday afternoons to watch the games, and for most of the decade they could choose between the National Football League (NFL) and the American Football League (AFL). The two leagues played their first championship game—called the Super Bowl—against each other in 1967, with the NFL's Green Bay Packers easily defeating the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs, 35-10. The most dominant team of the decade, the Packers won the next Super Bowl, too, beating the Oakland Raiders, 33-14. But Super Bowl III was a different story: The New York Jets of the upstart AFL proved the league's worth—and silenced AFL naysayers—by beating the Baltimore Colts, 16-7, behind the heroics of quarterback Joe Namath (1943–).
The National Basketball Association (NBA) grew in popularity and size throughout the decade. Beginning the decade with just eight teams, it grew to seventeen teams by the end of the decade and in 1965 drew over five million fans to its games. The Boston Celtics were the era's dominant team, winning nine of ten NBA championships. The Celtics were led by their dominating center, Bill Russell (1934–), who had a great rivalry with fellow big man Wilt Chamberlain (1936–1999), who played for the Philadelphia Warriors, San Francisco Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, and Los Angeles Lakers. In an era known for the gains made by African Americans, black players came to dominate the game of professional basketball. College basketball also remained very popular, and was dominated in the decade by the UCLA team coached by John Wooden (1910–) and, after 1967, by a seven-foot player named Lew Alcindor (1947–), who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Other sports also drew fan's attention. The single most celebrated athlete of the decade was boxer Cassius Clay, who took the name Muhammad Ali (1942–) after winning the heavyweight crown in 1964. Ali dominated the heavyweight class for years, and he entertained the world with his witty boasts, such as "I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee." The Olympics continued to raise its profile as a sporting event, thanks to substantial television coverage and to growing corporate sponsorship of the games. Inspired by Americans' growing love of sports, in 1961 ABC-TV introduced a new style of sports show called Wide World of Sports which, in its famous opening lines, promised that it was "spanning the world to give you the constant variety of sports—the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, the human drama of athletic competition."