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WWOS Flashback: Evel Kneivel's '75 crash at Wembley
By Alex Laracy
ABC Sports Online

"Seventy percent were real fans who wanted to be there to see the jump. Twenty percent wanted to come and if there was an accident, they wanted to see it. But they didn't want to see me get killed. Then there's 10 percent of the population that were looking for blood and/or death."
--Evel Knievel

Evel Knievel
Evel Knievel had between 35 and 40 operations due to injury over his career.

If Evel Kneivel's above statements in reference to his fans were indeed accurate, roughly 20-30 percent of those in attendance at London's Wembley Stadium on May 25, 1975 got exactly what they paid for. The rest experienced a combination of excitement, immense fear and a touch of queasiness that perhaps only a classic Knievel death-defying stunt can evoke, with the possible exception of a bare-knuckle heavyweight boxing match.

By the time of his Wembley jump, the 36-year old had already established a unique love affair with television viewers, as his four previous appearances on Wide World of Sports still ranked among the top-rated shows in Wide World history.

To add to the hype, Knievel's most recent jump up on WWOS at the time -- an attempt to leap the Snake River Canyon in Idaho in a sky cycle -- was not only unsuccessful, but nearly fatal. Seconds after his sky cycle cleared the edge of the canyon, his parachute ejected prematurely. As Evel descended into the canyon, it appeared he was heading directly for the river, which would have meant certain death. Luckily, Evel and the sky cycle were saved when they landed on the rocks on the far edge of the river.

While Knievel's sanity was constantly in question, no one ever questioned the man's courage and dedication to the sport he loved. Despite his near-death experience in Idaho, Evel returned to his Harley for an even more treacherous jump at Wembley without an ounce of hesitation.

"After an accident," said Knievel, "I was planning my next jump, or wanting to keep my word with the promotional people wherever they were in the United States, while they were pushing me down a hallway on a stretcher to the operating room. And having my wife call 'em and saying I'll be there."

But once again in front of a jam-packed Wembley Stadium and a near-record number of WWOS viewers, things did not exactly go according to plan for Knievel.

With Keith Jackson commentating for WWOS, Knievel performed his customary set of wheelies and spin moves in an effort to get the Wembley crowd of over 70,000 on their feet in anticipation of his attempt to clear 13 double-tiered buses. Knievel, decked out in his custom red, white and blue Elvis-like jumpsuit, then ventured up to the top of the ramp, and promptly gave the thumbs up. He was ready to go.

Knievel put his foot on the gas and, reaching close to 90 miles-per-hour on the 140-foot ramp, vaulted roughly 20 feet in the air, barely clearing the 13th bus as the crowd gasped for breath. A smooth flight indeed, but his landing was far from precise.

Evel's front wheel bounced more than it landed, and he was instantly launched over his handlebars. Landing head-first into the cement floor, Knievel tumbled violently for fifty yards, his Harley seemingly chasing behind him. As the limp daredevil came to a halt, his bike brutally rammed into him, inducing Jackson to exclaim, "Oh my God!"

Knievel lay motionless on the ground with a broken hand, a re-injury of his pelvis, and a compression fracture of a vertebra. A concerned hush rushed over the London crowd as a horde of doctors and security quickly swarmed Knievel. A stretcher was drawn for him. However, the battered veteran insisted on leaving the arena on foot.

The weary Knievel then demanded the microphone, and dramatically announced to the crowd that they would be "the last people in the world who will ever see me jump. I will never, ever, ever, ever jump again. I am through."

With then-ABC announcer Frank Gifford helping him out of the arena, Knievel was overheard saying, "I'm hurt awful bad, and I think I'm going into shock." Gifford proceeded to plead with Knievel that he has proved enough and to use the stretcher, Knievel refused again, insisting, "I walked in, I want to walk out!"

Knievel slowly exited the arena with all of Wembley chanting, "Evel, Evel, Evel ...," leaving an indelibly haunting, yet courageous, impression on England, not to mention the Wide World viewers.

Somewhat predictably, Knievel's retirement vow did not hold long, as America's love affair with him peaked on Wide World just five months later at King's Island amusement park in Ohio, where he successfully jumped 14 Greyhound buses. The telecast remains Wide World's highest rated, with a 22.3 rating and 52 percent share.  HELP |  ADVERTISER INFO |  CONTACT US |  TOOLS |  SITE MAP
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Classic Wide World Flashback: Evel Knievel

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Wide World of Sports Highlights -- 1970s

Wide World of Sports Highlights -- 1980s

 Evel Knievel's attempt to jump 140 feet over 13 double-deck buses at Wembley Stadium fails.
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