1984: It Was Very Good Year

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - July 22, 2009
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When MidWeek first appeared July 18, 1984, your humble servant of bombastic prose was not even a glint in an editor’s eye. Which is good because such imagery is rather disturbing.

The 84th year of the century found yours truly slinging frozen, hormone-laden beef patties for laughable wages while attempting to escape the grasp of hair metal through an individual campaign of standard depravity and trying to determine the backfire needed to lift a 454 off an engine stand after altering the timing. Playing chicken with spark plug wires was also a favorite pastime, as was testing the breaking point of a ‘72 Chevy pickup.

The 16th year before the new millennium was also memorable for things that didn’t teeter on the illegal or blow past standards of immoral behavior. It was also a heck of a year in sports.

The calendar turned with the Raiders pasting the Redskins 38-9 in the Super Bowl. The previous season was a year of redemption for Jim Plunkett, the former Heisman winner and No. 1 draft pick, who had fallen from hopeful Pro Bowler to journeyman. Plunkett came off the bench and rallied the Raiders to a 5-1 finish and a wildcard birth after a 6-4 start. Marcus Allen, in his second of three 1,000-yard rushing seasons, led the offense while the No. 4 ranked defense in points allowed featured a who’s who of dysfunctional athletic talent, including Lyle Alzado, Matt Millen and the very sticky Lester Hayes.

Three months later, the Georgetown Hoyas were in their third-straight finals and looking for victory No. 1. In their way was the ABA of the NCAA - the Phi Slamma Jamma squad of Houston - including two players who would later be voted to the NBA’s All-Time Top 50, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde “The Glide” Drexler. Patrick Ewing got the better of Hakeem that night, but The Dream took honors in the NBA.

The year also was important for revision-ist historians of the NBA draft. Nineteen eighty-four became the litmus test for future bad selections when Portland took the fragile Sam Bowie ahead of Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and John Stockton. Some retrospect is needed. The Trail Blazers already had Drexler at Jordan’s position and wasn’t about to take a second shooting guard in as many years.

Detroit became the center of Major League attention in 1984 when the Tigers finished April with 19 wins in their first 20 games on their way to a 35-5 start, 104 wins, a 15-game cushion over Toronto and a 7-1 run through the playoffs. The Tigers never lost hold of first place, becoming the first team since the 1927 Yankees to accomplish the feat. Unlike the Yankees, however, no one on the Detroit roster scored 100 runs, drove in 100 or won 20 games. In fact, they were the only team to do so and win a World Series.

On Oct. 7, Walter Payton became the NFL’s all time leading rusher, surpassing Jim Brown’s then-historical best mark of 12,312 yards. Earlier that year Brown suggested coming out of retirement at the age of 48 should Franco Harris surpass his mark. The former Brown didn’t like Harris’habit of running out of bounds to avoid contact. Payton’s motto of “Never Die Easy” matched Brown’s punishing style of play, and the Lacrosse Hall of Famer accepted the new mark.

BYU took advantage of a weak schedule and a Holiday Bowl victory over an injury-riddled 6-5 Michigan team on a last-minute drive to claim its only national title. The Cougars played just one ranked team, No. 3 Pittsburgh that finished 3-7-1. Needless to say, the big conferences weren’t happy. BYU was the last team to win a title after starting the season outside of the Top 25 pre-season polls.

Doug Flutie won the Heisman Trophy after his Hail Mary pass to Gerald Phelan toppled Miami and made the diminutive Flutie a national hero.

Carl Lewis, in his first Olympics, became the new king of track and field when he equaled Jesse Owens’ 1936 performance mark with four gold medals. In the same games, Mary Lou Retton became America’s latest sweetheart after scoring perfect 10s in floor and vault to edge out Romanian Ecaterina Szabó by .05 points to take the all-around gold. The overly perky gal with the toothy grin went on to win four other medals at the games that followed the U.S.‘s boycott of the 1980 games in Moscow.

Not to be forgotten, the Philadelphia Stars beat the Arizona Wranglers 23-3 for the USFL title. The team would fold after the next season and the entire league two years later, $163 million in debt, forcing Hershel Walker, Steve Young and Jim Kelly to take huge pay cuts to play in the NFL.

Locally, 51 years after the end of prohibition saw the opening of what is now Les Murakami Stadium. Hugh Yoshida led Leilehua to a Prep Bowl victory over Saint Louis. The UH Circle of Honor inducted NCAA boxing champion Seiji Naya, sprinter and track and field coach Moses Ome, former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Theodore Nobriga and Harry “Clown” Kahuanui, a football and basketball stand-out.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

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