The Wonder Year: How 1971 Left Its Mark on a Philly Sports Fan

Four decades may seem like a long time. But to 93.3 WMMR’s Kevin Gunn of Havertown, 1971 feels like yesterday.

I used to feel sorry for people who’d begin stories with something like “Forty years ago,” before regaling us with tales of the dark ages. But a funny thing happened between the rolling eyes and the snickers: Time passed. And now, here I am with a tale to tell about 1971, a year of major developments in my life and that of my hometown. Here are a few snippets:

March 8: Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier—you had to be for one or the other. As an eighth-grader at St. Denis in Havertown, I was firmly in the Frazier camp, mostly because my dad sided with Smokin’ Joe. We stayed up late that night, getting our round-by-round recaps on the radio.

March 21: We all went to the airport to greet the Villanova University men’s basketball team after they dismantled Big Five rival Penn in the NCAA Regional Finals in Raleigh, N.C. The next week, my dad told the nuns at St. Denis that I had to leave school early to attend a family function—i.e. the semifinal game against Western Kentucky in Houston. 

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April 10: The Phillies cracked the seal on Veterans Stadium, beating the Montreal Expos. I met Harry Kalas for the first time. Our friendship would last 38 years.

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May 16: My dad and a friend hustled me off to a jam-packed Franklin Field to witness “The Dream Mile,” featuring Villanova running legend Marty Liquori and University of Kansas’ Jim Ryun, the reigning world-record holder. Somehow, Liquori managed to hold off Ryun, breaking into that now-famous smile at the top of the stretch.

Mid-June: I donned my Troop 144 Boy Scout uniform to roam the fabled grounds of Merion Golf Club, which was hosting the U.S. Open. My job was to pick up litter, which I did—for about an hour. Then I sat down near the 11th tee and watched the golfers roll through. On No. 12, a friend of mine fell out of a tree and made Jack Nicklaus back off a putt.

Sept. 28: The Eagles played their first game at Veterans Stadium, but I wasn’t in attendance. I had a new football team in my life at Archbishop Carroll—one that was winning games in dramatic fashion. I made the freshman team at a fearsome 4-foot-8, 100 pounds.

Dec. 11: After beating Bishop Kenrick for the Catholic League Championship, Carroll ended up at Franklin Field for the city title game. St. Denis kids scored the 15 points necessary to beat the Frankford High School squad on that 70-degree December day. I was so excited that I joined the inaugural Carroll wrestling team to bulk up for the next year’s football title defense. I even managed to win the first-ever 98-pound Catholic League wrestling championship.

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It was a great ending to a great year.

Havertown’s Kevin Gunn is the creative director at 93.3 WMMR.

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