The 13 Most Impressive Performances From 1978's Rock ‘N Roll Sports Classic


In 1978, the Associated Press awarded their Male Athlete of the Year Award to New York Yankees pitcher Ron Guidry while golfer Nancy Lopez took the Female Athlete of the Year honors. With all due respect to Mr. Guidry and Ms. Lopez, the AP made a terrible choice. 1978's most talented athletes were, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Kenny Loggins and The Runaways' Sandy West.

Don't believe me? Feast your eyes on the Rock ‘N Roll Sports Classic, a primetime ABC special that pitted the music world's biggest stars against one another in a series of loosely organized athletic events:

The special, which aired on May 3rd, ushered in sweeps season and featured a bevy of big name stars. Oh, it truly was a bevy. Check out the participants, whose names I've written in bold because such a bevy deserves bold:

Boston, The Commodores, ELO, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Jacksons, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Runaways, Seals & Crofts, Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr., Rod Stewart, The Runaways, Kenny Loggins, Tanya Tucker, and Leif Garrett.

Also, Sha Na Na was invited for some reason.

You really should watch the full clip above, but if for some reason you can't take an hour and fifteen minutes out of your day to watch Leif Garrett run hurdles, I've broken down the most noteworthy performances.

13. Kenny Loggins—Men's 50 Yard Freestyle Swim

The thing that impressed me most about Kenny Loggins was the focus he brought to the games. This man was clearly in the zone. Could you say he was in the "danger zone?" Yes you could. You could say that Kenny Loggins was in the danger zone.

He'd need that focus because look at his competition:

ELO's Hugh McDowell pushed Loggins to the limit, but Loggins was not to be denied.

When asked about his preparation, Loggins told Susan Anton after the race, "Actually I did about 80 laps for two weeks."

Kenny Loggins trained for the Rock ‘N Roll Sports Classic.

12. Joan Jett—Women's Cycling Race (Unspecified Distance)

Holy crap look how cool Joan Jett is. If your kids ever tell you they don't want to wear a bike helmet, show them this Joan Jett bicycle race and they'll never take it off.

Jett gives Tanya Tucker a pretty nice cushion before passing her on the last straight with ease on a very wet and tricky track. Tanya Tucker had no idea what hit her.

11. Jackie Jackson—Men's 100 Yard Dash

Jackson creams everyone in this sprint, including his brother Michael.

(“I don’t play that many sports,” Michael says later in an interview. “He’s not in shape. He hasn’t been eating enough eggs,” says Jackie.)

10. Marlon Jackson—Team Long Jump

Marlon Jackson wows the crowd and wins their hearts with a long jump of just over 15 feet, narrowly beating...

Kenny Loggins! Fly Kenny, you magnificent bearded falcon, FLY!

9. Bubba Knight—Speed Walking Walkathon

Bubba Knight—older brother of Gladys and a member of the Pips—won the speed walking event.

Coming in last was Sha Na Na's Lennie Baker, who didn't fare too well:

8. Sandy West—Women's 60 Yard Dash

Like her Runaways bandmate Joan Jett, Sandy West is cool as all get-out.

She absolutely toasts the competition in the 60 yard dash, barely even breaking a sweat.

That trophy (designed by Cartier) was awarded to each event's winner. Host Alex Karras repeatedly mentions that the contestants weren't playing for money—only trophies. He says this so frequently that it actually raises suspicion. The trophies are nice, though.

7. Sandy West—Women's 100 Yard Dash

Sandy narrowly edges Joan Jett in the 100-yard dash. I have no doubt in my mind that The Runaways were the world's best athletic team in 1978.

6. Fran Sheehan—Overall Attitude

Boston bassist Fran Sheehan wasn't the most competitive or athletic of all the participants, but his head certainly was in the right place.

In an interview that sticks out as the most sincere moment of the entire broadcast, Sheehan reminds Barbi Benton and the viewers at home what this really was all about: “I like sports a lot. I think sports and music go hand-in-hand, because, um, sports usually are a team effort and music is a team effort as well. No one individual can sound really well unless he has people who want to and can accompany that person and make him sound better.”

Truer words were never spoken.

5. Rod Stewart—Soccer

Before starting his career in music, Rod Stewart had a trial run at Brentford FC, a professional soccer club. For the soccer event, he has a one on one penalty shootout against ELO keyboardist Rich Tandy.

“He’s gonna get really beat, this kid. He can’t play football,” Rod Stewart told Ed McMahon. He was right.

McMahon, meanwhile, screams, "No ties…KICK THE BALL!"

The sport of the future, indeed.

4. Kenny Loggins—Basketball

At first glance, Kenny Loggins is terrible at basketball. He can't dribble, can't shoot, and doesn't have any court awareness. But then you see his hustle, his defense, and his rebounding, and you realize that Kenny Loggins might be the greatest basketball player in history. Here he takes a foul shot, because Kenny Loggins isn't afraid to mix it up down low and draw contact:

3. Tanya Tucker, Ron La Pread, Ralph Johnson, and Kenny Loggins—Swimming Relay

Do you think Earth, Wind & Fire's Ralph Johnson was worried that Kenny Loggins was going to be too tired for this relay race after his tremendous and winning effort in the 50 yard freestyle swim? Probably not, considering Kenny Loggins did 80 laps for two weeks to train for this very moment.

They won easily thanks to a gutsy performance by anchor Tanya Tucker (shown below with Phyllis Diller, Sandy Duncan, Susan Anton, and a Cartier-designed trophy).

2. Rod Stewart and The Commodores—Men's Endurance Relay

Look at Lionel Richie's face. That smile says it all. The Commodores and Rod Stewart made a great team; would've been neat to hear them perform together. But, alas, they were busy running hurdles because the Rock ‘N Roll Sports Classic is first and foremost about sports.

1. Sandy West—Co-Ed 50 Yard Freestyle Swim

Susan Anton: “What’d you do to train for this?”
Sandy West: “Nothin’.”

Sandy West was the coolest. (Kenny Loggins did 80 laps for two weeks to train for this, FYI.)

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Big Questions
Who Was Heisman and Why Does He Have a Trophy?
Brett Deering/Getty Images
Brett Deering/Getty Images

On Saturday night, one of three finalists will be named this year's Heisman Trophy winner. But before anyone brings home the hardware, let’s answer a few questions about John Heisman and his famous award.

Who Exactly Was John Heisman?

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His name is mostly associated with the trophy now, but Heisman (right) was a player, coach, and hugely successful innovator in the early days of football. After playing for Brown and then Penn as a collegian from 1887 to 1891, Heisman became a coach at a series of schools that included Oberlin, Buchtel, Auburn, Clemson, Penn, Washington & Jefferson, Rice, and, most notably, Georgia Tech.

For What Football Innovations Does Heisman Get Credit?

Just some little trivial stuff like snapping the ball. Centers originally placed the ball on the ground and rolled it back to their quarterbacks, who would scoop it up and make plays. When Heisman was coaching at Buchtel (which later became the University of Akron), though, he had a 6’4” QB named Harry Clark. Clark was so tall that picking the ball up off the ground was wildly inefficient, so Heisman invented the center snap as an easy way to get the ball in Clark’s hands. Heisman also innovated the use of pulling guards for running plays and the infamous hidden-ball trick.

Any Other Shenanigans on Heisman’s Resume?

You bet. When Heisman found a way to gain an edge, he jumped on it no matter how ridiculous it seemed. When Heisman was coaching at Clemson in 1902, his team traveled to Atlanta for a game against Georgia Tech. Although Heisman was known for being a rather gruff disciplinarian, the Clemson team immediately started partying upon their arrival.

When Georgia Tech’s players and fans heard that the entire Clemson squad had spent the night before the game carousing, they prepared to coast to an easy win. When the game started, though, Clemson roared out of the gate en route to a 44-5 stomping.

How did Clemson crush Tech when by all rights they should have been ridiculously hungover? The “team” that everyone had seen partying the night before wasn’t really Heisman’s Clemson squad at all. He had sent his junior varsity players to Atlanta the night before to serve as drunken decoys, then quietly slipped his varsity team in on a morning train right before the game.

What Kind of Coach Was He?

Heisman worked as an actor in community stock theater during the summer – he consistently received rotten reviews – and allegedly spoke in a brusque, yet bizarrely ostentatious manner. Georgia Tech’s website relates a story of one of Heisman’s speeches he would break out on the first day of practice while describing a football: "What is this? It is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere - in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing. Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."

How Did His Name Get on the Trophy?

After leaving his head-coaching job at Rice in 1927, Heisman became the athletic director at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club. In 1935 the club began awarding the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy to the nation’s top college football star. (Chicago’s Jay Berwanger won the first trophy.) Heisman died of pneumonia the following fall before the second trophy could be awarded, and the club voted to rename the prize the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award.

Did He Ever Really Throw that Iconic Stiff Arm?

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Possibly, but Heisman didn’t have the ball in his hands all that much. Even though he was a fairly small guy at just 5’8” and 158 pounds, he played as a lineman throughout his college career.

The famous “Heisman pose” is actually based on Ed Smith, a former NYU running back who modeled for the trophy’s sculptor in 1934. Interestingly, Smith went years without knowing that he’d modeled for the famous trophy. His sculptor buddy Frank Eliscu had just needed a football player to model for a project, and Smith volunteered.

Smith figured Eliscu was just doing some little personal sculpture and remained totally oblivious to his spot in football history for the next 48 years until a documentary filmmaker called Smith to interview him about the Heisman in 1982. Smith initially had no idea what the guy was talking about, but he eventually remembered his modeling days. In 1985, the Downtown Athletic Club gave Smith his own copy of the Heisman, and in 1986 he even received recognition on the televised ceremony. He looked at the four finalists – Vinny Testaverde won that year – and quipped, "Whoever wins the award, I feel sorry for you, because you're going to be looking at my ugly face for a long time." [Pictured Above: Auburn's Bo Jackson in 1985.]

What’s a Heisman Trophy Worth on the Open Market?

Quite a bit. A number of Heisman winners have eventually sold their hardware, and the trophies fetch quite a bit of loot. O.J. Simpson got $230,000 for his, and several others have gone for six-figure prices. The most expensive trophy that’s changed hands was Minnesota back Bruce Smith’s 1941 award; it fetched $395,240.

How Did Steve Spurrier Change the Process?

SEC fans are going to be floored by this one, but the Ol’ Ball Coach did something really classy when he won the Heisman in 1966. Instead of taking the trophy for himself, Spurrier gave it to the University of Florida so the school could display it and let the student body enjoy it. Florida’s student government thought Spurrier’s generosity was so classy that they paid for a replica for Spurrier so he’d get to have his own trophy, too. Since then both the school and the player have received copies of the trophy.

So Heisman Must Have Been the World’s Greatest Sportsman, Right?

Well, not really. Heisman was on the victorious side of possibly the most gratuitously run-up score in sports history. In 1916 tiny Cumberland College canceled its football program and disbanded its squad, but it had previously signed a contract to travel to Atlanta to play Heisman’s Georgia Tech team. If Cumberland didn’t show up, they had to pay Georgia Tech a $3,000 penalty, which was quite a bit of cash in 1916.

Rather than forfeiting the money, Cumberland scraped together a team of 16 scrubs and went to take their walloping from Heisman’s boys. For reasons that still aren’t totally clear – some say it was to avenge an earlier baseball loss to Cumberland, while others claim Heisman wanted to make a statement about the absurdity of the old system of using total points scored to determine the national champion – the legendary coach showed Cumberland’s ragtag band no mercy. Tech went up 63-0 in the first quarter, but Heisman kept attacking until the final score was 222-0. There are tons of hilarious stats from the game, but the funniest is Georgia Tech rushing for 1,620 yards while Cumberland only squeaked out negative-96 yards on 27 carries.

This article originally appeared in 2010.

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Thin Ice: The Bizarre Boxing Career of Tonya Harding
Al Bello/Getty Images
Al Bello/Getty Images

In 2004, the Chicago Tribune asked Tonya Harding about the strangest business offer she had received after her skating career came to an abrupt end in the mid-1990s. “I guess to skate topless,” she answered. In 1994, the two-time former Olympian became infamous for her ex-husband’s attempt to break the leg of rival Nancy Kerrigan. Although Harding denied any knowledge of or involvement in the plan—which ended with Kerrigan suffering a bruised leg and Harding being banned from the U.S. Figure Skating organization, ending her competitive pursuits—she became a running punchline in the media for her attempts to exploit that notoriety. There was a sex tape (which her equally disgraced former husband, Jeff Gillooly, taped on their wedding night), offers to wrestle professionally, attempts to launch careers in both music and acting, and other means of paying bills.

Though she did not accept the offer to perform semi-nude, she did embark on a new career that many observers found just as lurid and sensational: For a two-year period, Tonya Harding was a professional boxer.

Tonya Harding rises from the canvas during a boxing match
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Following the attack on Kerrigan and the subsequent police investigation, Harding pled guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution, received three years’ probation, and was levied a $160,000 fine. (Gillooly and his conspirators served time.) Ostracized from skating and with limited opportunities, Harding first tried to enter the music scene with her band, the Golden Blades.

When that didn’t work—they were booed off stage in Portland, Oregon, Harding’s hometown—she disappeared from the public eye, offering skating lessons in Oregon before resurfacing on a March 2002 Fox network broadcast titled Celebrity Boxing. Using heavily padded gloves and outsized headgear, performers like Vanilla Ice and Todd Bridges pummeled one another on the undercard. In the main event, Harding used her physicality to batter and bruise Paula Jones, the woman who had accused then-president Bill Clinton of sexual harassment.

This was apparently the boost of confidence Harding needed. “I thought it was fun knocking somebody else on their butt,” she told the Tribune. Boxing, she said, could be an opportunity to embrace her self-appointed title as “America’s Bad Girl.”

Harding looked up a boxing promoter in Portland named Paul Brown and signed a four-year contract that would pay her between $10,000 and $15,000 per bout. The 5-foot, 1-inch Harding quickly grew in stature, moving to 123 pounds from her 105-pound skating weight. Following her win against Jones, Brown booked her a fight against up-and-coming boxer Samantha Browning in a four-round bout in Los Angeles in February 2003. The fight was said to be sloppy, with both women displaying their limited experience. Ultimately, Browning won a split decision.

Harding rebounded that spring, winning three fights in a row. Against Emily Gosa in Lincoln City, Oregon, she was roundly booed upon entering the arena. “The entire fight barely rose above the level of a drunken street brawl,” The Independent reported.

Of course, few spectators were there to see Harding put on a boxing clinic. They wanted to watch a vilified sports figure suffer some kind of public retribution for her role in the attack on Kerrigan. Following her brief winning streak, Harding was pummeled by Melissa Yanas in August 2003, losing barely a minute into the first round of a fight that took place in the parking lot of a Dallas strip club. In June 2004, she was stopped a second time against 22-year-old nursing student Amy Johnson; the Edmonton, Alberta, crowd cheered as Harding was left bloodied. Harding later told the press that Johnson, a native Canuck, had been given 26 seconds to get up after Harding knocked her down when the rules mandated only 10, which she saw as a display of national favoritism.

Harding had good reason to be upset. The Johnson fight was pivotal, as a win could have meant a fight on pay-per-view against Serbian-born boxer Jelena Mrdjenovich for a $600,000 purse. That bout never materialized.

Tonya Harding signs head shots on a table
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There was more than just lack of experience working against Harding in her newfound career. Having been a longtime smoker, she suffered from asthma. The condition plagued her skating career; in boxing, where lapses in cardiovascular conditioning can get you hurt, it became a serious problem. Although Harding competed again—this time emerging victorious in a fight against pro wrestler Brittany Drake in an exhibition bout in Essington, Pennsylvania, in January 2005—it would end up being her last contest. Suffering from pneumonia and struggling with weight gain caused by corticosteroids prescribed for treatment, she halted her training.

In an epilogue fit for Harding’s frequently bizarre escapades, there was remote potential for one last bout. In 2011, dot-com entrepreneur Alki David offered Harding $100,000 to step back into the ring, with another $100,000 going to her proposed opponent. Had it happened, it probably would have gone down as one of the biggest sideshows of the past century. Unfortunately for Harding, Nancy Kerrigan never responded to the offer.


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