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Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Classic Houston moments


ESPN Classic looks back at some of the greatest moments in Houston sports history.

April 9
MLB
1965:
For the first time, baseball goes indoors. It's the debut of the Astrodome, which The New York Times calls "the world's largest air-conditioned room." Others call it the "eighth wonder of the world."

The 260-acre stadium, built at a cost of $31.6 million, rises to a peak of 208 feet over second base. There are 4,596 plastic panels. Banks of red, orange, yellow and blue theater seats surround a field of artificial grass. The Yankees, the Houston Astros' opponent in tonight's exhibition game, are impressed. "Fantastic," says pitcher Jim Bouton. "No, indescribable. No, science fiction."

Because of the glare from the dome, the teams experiment with orange baseballs before a crowd of 47,876, including President Lyndon Johnson.

Yankees manager Johnny Keane puts Mickey Mantle in the leadoff spot so he can have the honor of being the first to bat in the Astrodome. Mantle singles on the second pitch from Dick Farrell. In the sixth inning, Mantle becomes the first to homer in the stadium. It's the Yankees' only run as they lose to the Astros, 2-1, on pinch-hitter Nellie Fox's run-scoring single in the 12th inning.

January 20
College basketball
1968: In a basketball game that makes fans in Texas forget football temporarily, No. 2 and undefeated Houston ends No. 1 UCLA's 47-game winning streak with a 71-69 victory at the Astrodome before 52,693, at the time the largest crowd to see a college basketball game.

Houston forward Elvin Hayes outplays UCLA star Lew Alcindor, who is returning after missing two games with an injury to his left eye and is still bothered by the injury. The Big E outscores Alcindor 39-15 and hits two free throws with 28 seconds left to snap a 69-69 tie.

In Houston's 18th straight win, Hayes makes 17-of-25 field goals, grabs 15 rebounds and blocks four shots, although playing the last 11 minutes with four fouls. A sluggish Alcindor shoots 4-of-15 from the field and has 12 rebounds.

UCLA will gain its revenge in the Final Four, routing Houston, 101-69, in the semis. Alcindor will score 19 points and grab 18 rebounds compared to Hayes' 10 points and five rebounds.

September 20
Tennis:
1973: The "Battle of the Sexes" pits the queen of women's tennis, Billie Jean King, against the king of male chauvinists, Bobby Riggs. In a circus-like atmosphere in the Astrodome, Billie Jean is transported into the stadium on a Cleopatra-style gold litter that is held aloft by four muscular track-and-field athletes from nearby Rice University.

Riggs enters in a gold-wheeled rickshaw pulled by six models in tight red-and-gold outfits who have been dubbed, for ample reason, "Bobby's Bosom Buddies." After Riggs presents King with a large candy sucker, she gives him her gift - a brown baby pig.

King, a five-time Wimbledon champ, has the last laugh on the court as well. In a Ms.-match, the 29-year-old King overwhelms the 55-year-old hustler, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, before the largest crowd (30,492) to ever attend a tennis match.

"She was just too quick," says Riggs, the 1939 Wimbledon and U.S. Nationals winner who had beaten Margaret Smith Court on Mother's Day. "I couldn't get the ball past her."

King says, "This is a culmination of 19 years of tennis for me. I've wanted to change the sport and tonight a lot of non-tennis people saw the sport for the first time."

November16
NFL
1980:
Earl Campbell, the Houston Oilers' bullish running back, continues his rampage through NFL defenses. For the third time in five games, he runs for more than 200 yards, accumulating 206 on 31 carries in Houston's 10-6 victory over the Bears in Chicago.

The Tyler Rose will tack on another 200-yard game in the season-finale in December, becoming the only player to ever record four in one year. No other back would run for 200 yards -- not even once -- this season.

Campbell will finish as the AFC's leading rusher with an Oilers' record 1,934 yards, 474 yards more than the NFC's top rusher, Walter Payton.

April 27
MLB
1983:
The Ryan Express passes The Big Train to become the King of the K. Pitching for the Houston Astros, 36-year-old Nolan Ryan strikes out Montreal pinch-hitter Brad Mills on a 1-2 pitch in the eighth inning for his 3,509th strikeout, breaking the mark of 3,508 that Walter Johnson has owned since 1927.

"I vapor-locked (froze) when I saw that curve," Mills says. "I knew I was history right there."

Ryan, who previously pitched for the Mets and Angels, gets the record in his 16th full season and in 3,357 innings. Johnson pitched 21 seasons and 5,924 innings (2,567 more than Ryan did) with the Washington Senators.

"It's been so long since he pitched that I really know very little about him," Ryan says after the 4-2 win in Montreal. "I only know what I read in the newspapers, and I looked him up in The Baseball Encyclopedia. That gave his statistics, but not very much about the man."

Besides being primarily fastballers, the two men also were similar in personality. Ryan, a rancher, and Johnson, a farmer, were simple, homespun types who didn't get too big for their britches.

July 11
MLB
1985:
At age 38, Houston's Nolan Ryan still can bring it. With 3,999 strikeouts and two strikes on the Mets' Danny Heep in the sixth inning, the Astrodome crowd of 20,921 rises, cheering wildly. The place gets even noisier when Ryan fools Heep, who misses badly at the curve in the dirt.

Reaching the magical 4,000 strikeouts, the first pitcher to ever achieve this feat, Ryan gets a two-minute standing ovation from the crowd and tips his cap several times.

Named to the National League All-Star team earlier in the day, Ryan is clocked as fast as 97 mph. During the Astros' 4-3, 12-inning victory, he strikes out 11 Mets in seven innings, the 158th time he fans at least 10, and has 4,004 strikeouts for his career.

The Ryan Express doesn't stop here. He will continue to pitch through the 1993 season and will retire with a record 5,714 strikeouts on his way to the Hall of Fame.

June 22
NBA
1994:
In the first season after the first retirement of Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon steps forward as the most dominant player in the game. Drafted two spots before Jordan in 1984, Olajuwon pulls off a Jordan triple, winning regular-season and Finals MVPs as well as leading his team to the title.

For the first time in history, a Houston team is a world champion when the Rockets defeat the visiting Knicks, 90-84, in Game 7. The 7-foot Olajuwon rises to the occasion -- 25 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists -- and gains the title that eluded him at the University of Houston and for his first nine seasons with the Rockets.

"Finally," he says.

While Olajuwon is the cornerstone of the Rockets, John Starks throws up brick after brick for the Knicks in Game 7, finishing 2-for-18 from the field, including missing all 11 of his three-point attempts. "I blame myself," Starks says. "To have a bad game in this situation is inexcusable."

This is only the second seven-game Finals to have every game decided by fewer than 10 points (1955 was the other time) and the first one since 1954 in which neither team scored 100 points in any game.





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