Just for fun - or flashback pain, in most cases - I have compiled a loose Top 10 list of personal "where and what" events, some of which actually coincided with Toy Department assignments. There was no icier bucket of water in a football writer's face than John F. Kennedy's assassination 8 days before he was scheduled to attend the 1963 Army-Navy game in the vast South Philly relic of a stadium that would soon bear his name.
JFK was a fervent dog lover. His beloved Welsh terrier, Charlie, was joined in the White House by Pushinka, a gift from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. No Cold War there . . . They produced four pups - Butterfly, White Tips, Blackie and Streaker.
10 Apollo 11, July 20, 1969
"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." The world listened to Neil Armstrong's radio transmission and watched the grainy images from a moment that for all of previous humankind existed only in dreams. Touchdown was at 3:17 p.m. local time. The Phillies were playing a home doubleheader against the Cubs during the final descent of the lunar module. In a bit of earthly irony, Cubs righthander Ferguson Jenkins shut out the team that had traded him away 3 years before.
9 FDR's death, April 12, 1945
The man who led the nation out of the depths of the Great Depression and through the darkest days of World War II died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage just after 3:30 p.m. after sitting for a portrait in Warm Springs, Ga. His death was not announced to the nation until 5:47 p.m. I was 11, and "Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy," was playing when the news flash crackled across the nation's radios.
8 Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941
The bulletin from Oahu interrupted broadcasts of NFL games that cold Sunday. My dad took me to New York's Museum of Natural History and was unaware of the sneak attack until we were walking home from the subway. A discarded New York Daily News front page "Extra" was on the sidewalk outside Goldstein's Pharmacy. Pop picked it up and glanced at the chilling headline. First time I ever heard the F-word.
7 Germany surrenders, May 8, 1945
The bell tolled nonstop from the church steeple next door to our classroom. Tugboat horns blared in the harbor. Sister Theresa conducted prayers of thanksgiving, then dismissed class. V-E Day was a very big deal. But ration cards, travel restrictions, shortages and the slaughter of war continued until the A-bombs brought an abrupt end to the brutal Pacific War against Japan.
6 World Series earthquake,
Oct. 17, 1989
Tony Kornheiser and I were standing outside a media auxiliary workroom on the first-base mezzanine level of Candlestick Park enjoying a glorious late afternoon, cloudless, windless and warm. I had bet him a buck that an attractive teenage female standing in a long beer line would not get served. Just as she handed her money to an adult male in front of her and stepped expectantly out of line, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck. During the 35 seconds of violent shaking, Tony and I did the wrong thing, ducking inside the workroom and cowering under a huge concrete buttress. "What if this collapses?" the Washington Post columnist asked. "Then this will be the Tomb of the Unknown Sports Writers," I replied.
5 Robert F. Kennedy assassination, June 5, 1968
Woody Fryman had just outpitched Gaylord Perry in a 2-1 Phillies victory over the Giants before a Candlestick Park throng of 3,018. That was a small crowd even by Stick standards, and I wrote it off to intense interest in the California Democratic primary that day. Phils traveling secretary Eddie Ferenz and I were enjoying an adult beverage in the bar of the Phillies hotel headquarters, listening to Kennedy thank his campaign machine at a victory celebration in the ballroom of Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel. The network came back minutes later to announce that RFK had been shot while walking through the kitchen area, suffering what appeared to be a head wound. A bar patron cheered loudly. He was lucky to get out of there in one piece.
4 V-J Day, Aug. 15, 1945
A good day on the beach in Ventnor, N.J., got better when church bells began to toll, auto horns blared and shoregoers danced on the beaches and in the streets. We kids figured the secret new "atom" bomb that turned two large Japanese cities into charred rubble and killed more than 100,000 people must have been the real Flash Gordon McCoy.
3 Martin Luther King assassination, April 4, 1968
When MLK was fatally shot by James Earl Ray outside Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., I was making the annual post-spring-training pit stop at an aunt and uncle's home in Arlington, Va. There was a flight to catch the next morning to Palm Springs, Calif., where the Phillies had two final exhibitions against the Angels before Opening Day in Dodger Stadium. Both were canceled. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn did the right thing and canceled games scheduled for April 9, the day of King's funeral and a national day of mourning.
The pilot of the US Airways flight from Philly to Tampa made a strange announcement about 1 hour before our scheduled arrival. Due to unforeseen "ground problems" in Tampa, he said, we were being diverted to Orlando. The captain knew what we didn't. Both towers of New York's World Trade Center had been struck by hijacked commercial aircrafts, and the FAA had ordered all non-military flights grounded. Still in the dark, we landed in Jacksonville instead. By the time the flight became one of 28 diverted to JAX, the Pentagon also had been attacked and passengers on a United Airlines flight out of Newark to San Francisco were heading back across western Pennsylvania toward a possible White House attack they would heroically thwart with their lives. On the ground, we learned what millions of America already knew: A new type of world war had been declared.
1 JFK assassination, Nov. 22, 1963
I was the Penn State beat writer for the Evening Bulletin flying to Pittsburgh to cover the Nittany Lions' annual bash with bitter rival Pitt. As the Allegheny Airlines flight taxied toward the gate, the pilot made a chilling announcement: "We have received a report that President Kennedy has been shot at and possibly wounded in Dallas. I'll pass on any further news as we receive it." Pittsburgh, heavily Catholic and staunchly Democrat, was a shattered city that afternoon. Secretaries had flooded from the Golden Triangle offices of U.S. Steel and Alcoa and stood weeping in small groups. Penn State was staying in the Webster Hall Hotel near the Pitt campus and next to the city's largest church, St. Paul's Cathedral. An enormous bell began to toll on the hour in
midafternoon and pealed dolorously each 15 minutes around the clock. Every college game was canceled. But the NFL decided against all logic to play its Sunday schedule while the nation grieved. I was assigned to cover the most irrelevant event of my career, a Forbes Field game between the Steelers and Bears. In an infamous game made famous by a Mike Ditka catch and battering, tackler-dragging run, all I remember was the girls in the high school band weeping while bravely playing the national anthem.
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