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Sports mourns 1960s touchstones: Mikita, Taylor, McCovey

December 31, 2018

They were touchstones of sports in the 1960s, and sports lost three of the best in 2018: Stan Mikita, the embodiment of powerful Chicago Blackhawks teams; Jim Taylor, the punishing Green Bay Packers fullback; and big-hitting Willie McCovey of the San Francisco Giants.

Each arrived as the 1950s was going through its last paces and sports had yet to become a round-the-clock corporate behemoth. They were inextricably tied to city and team, their legacies burnished through the decades.

STAN MIKITA

He gave hockey the curved stick blade and Chicago a hockey team that would become a perennial force.

Mikita , 78, combined with Bobby Hull and goalie Glenn Hall to send the Blackhawks to the 1961 Stanley Cup title. He was a nine-time All-Star who led the league in points four times. He was the first to play in the NHL from what was then Czechoslovakia and spent all of his 22 seasons with Chicago.

The 5-foot-9 Hall of Famer was the only winner of the Hart (MVP), Art Ross (scoring) and Lady Byng (sportsmanship) trophies in the same season. He was among the first to wear a helmet.

“He embodied the Chicago Blackhawks,” team president John McDonough said.

JIM TAYLOR

Taylor owned the role of the punishing, unrelenting fullback, all blood and grit and guts. Vince Lombardi came to the Packers a year after Taylor, and the coach had his man to lead his ground forces.

Taylor , 83, was a Hall of Famer who helped the Packers to four championships, including the first Super Bowl in which he scored the first touchdown. In 1962, he was the MVP.

Taylor was often compared to Jim Brown, but Lombardi saw a difference.

“Jim Brown will give you that leg (to tackle) and then take it away from you,” the coach said. “Jim Taylor will give it to you and then ram it through your chest.”

WILLIE MCCOVEY

What if he pulled the ball a few feet more? What if it had been a bit higher?

It was Game 7 of the 1962 World Series. The Giants trailed the Yankees 1-0 in the ninth inning but had runners on second and third with two out. McCovey then scorched the ball, but right at second baseman Bobby Richardson. That was as close as McCovey came to a championship.

“I still think about it all the time,” he said.

McCovey , 80, hit 521 home runs and batted .270 over 22 seasons, all but three with the Giants. The 6-foot-4 slugger known as “Stretch” was the NL’s Rookie of the Year in 1959 and MVP in 1969. He was slowed by bad knees but glided into the Hall of Fame.

Sports this year lost others who blazed paths:

—Anne Donovan, a 6-foot-8 pioneer of women’s basketball, was 56 was a winner wherever she went.

—Broadcaster Keith Jackson, he of the “Whoa, Nelly! call and amiable company for many years across all sports, was 89.

—Roger Bannister, 88, smashed four-minute mile, but the British track great insisted his real achievement was as a neurologist.

Baseball also said goodbye to Tony Cloninger, the Braves pitcher who hit two grand slams in a game; Rusty Staub, the “Le Grand Orange” with more than 2,700 hits; Red Schoendienst, the Cardinal patriarch who at 95 had been the oldest living Hall of Famer; Oscar Gamble, owner of 200 home runs and a resplendent afro; and Wayne Huizenga, whose Florida business empire included the Marlins, NFL’s Dolphins and NHL’s Panthers.

Basketball is now without champion guards Jo Jo White (Celtics) and Hal Greer (76ers); Frank Ramsey, sixth man for the mighty Celtics teams of the 1960s; Willie Naulls, among the early black stars; Jack McKinney, coach of the “Showtime” Lakers whose career was undercut by a bicycle accident; Paul Allen, owner of the Portland Trail Blazers and NFL’s Seattle Seahawks; and Tex Winter, 96, guru of the triangle offense.

Football mourned Dwight Clark of the 49ers, who bestowed on the NFL a peerless image of “The Catch”; Billy Cannon, who won the 1959 LSU Heisman Trophy and later spent time in prison for counterfeiting; Tommy McDonald, the fleet receiver on the Eagles’ 1960 title team; Chuck Knox, who coached the Los Angeles Rams to three straight NFC title games; Earle Bruce, an Ohio State patriarch who succeeded Woody Hayes; and Bob McNair, the owner who returned the NFL to Houston.

Gone from hockey are John Ziegler, the NHL president who presided over a 1992 players strike, and Bill Torrey, general manager of the 1980s New York Islander dynasty. In a bus crash on the Saskatchewan prairie, 16 from a junior team were left dead.

Boxing’s deaths included Karl Mildenberger, the German who went 12 rounds with Muhammad Ali. In auto racing, it was Dan Gurney, who won in NASCAR, Formula One and IndyCar. In horse racing, it was jockeys Manny Ycaza and Ronnie Franklin. In golf, it was two-time major winner Hubert Green and Bruce Lietzke.

In soccer, Walter Bahr was last living player from the U.S. team that rocked England at the 1950 World Cup. Tennis lost the graceful champion Maria Bueno while pro wrestling counted out beloved box-office draw Bruno Sammartino.

Sports writing is diminished without Dave Anderson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times. Likewise, The Associated Press with the death of Jim O’Connell, the Hall of Fame college basketball writer.

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