Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Remembering the "Sports Challenge" Trivia Show
I loved that show. It was a sports trivia show hosted by Dick Enberg. There would be two competing teams with three legendary sports stars that would field sports trivia questions. It ran in the 1970s. I believe that it used to be on Channel 5 back in the day when you were required to get up from your sofa and manually change the channel on your set. (Yes, young whippersnappers, TVs used to have knobs to change the channel, and when that broke, you’d get a pair of pliers).
The stars on this show were no slouches. Legends from football, basketball, baseball, boxing, hockey, golf, tennis, and horse racing. We are talking about the upper echelon of heroes and Hall of Famers. Some of them included Mohammed Ali, Henry Aaron, Eddie Arcaro, Mickey Mantle, Bobby Hull, Arnold Palmer, Jerry West, Whitey Ford, Otto Graham, Joe DiMaggio, Warren Spahn, Red Auerbach, Don Meredith, Bob Cousy, Paul Horning, Gordie Howe, and Jackie Robinson.
Competing teams would go through rounds of questioning, some on the very sports events in which they made history. They would run footage of an actual historical sporting event and Enberg would narrate the action. Enberg did a great job. They really need to bring out a DVD package of this series. The shows were entertaining, funny and there is rare footage of famous stars, many of whom have since passed away. It is unbelievable how some of these stars had virtually no sports trivia knowledge. You'll see that in the footage towards the end of this posting.
L.A. teams did pretty good on that show. There was a Dodger team from the 60s that I remember having Maury Wills and Don Drysdale on it. Then there was this classic Brooklyn Dodger team that won several episodes in a row with Carl Erskine, Jackie Robinson and Duke Snider.
Erskine talked of this experience in his book, Tales from the Dodger Dugout, Extra Innings. Carl relates that the threesome were quite successful. “Our team proved to be a winning combination, with Jackie and Duke showing poise under pressure as usual.” In one particular game against Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts, they were in a close match going into the final round. The final round was always made up of a “mystery guest” who stood in the dark, you would see his silhouette while Enberg read a number of facts about the person. The first team to identify the mystery guest would win the round.
During a break, Jackie ran across Frank Robinson in the hallway, the obvious mystery guest, since he had no other reason to be there. So producers scrambled around to find someone else for the final segment. So while they were waiting, Erskine related that “Duke began to speculate on whom they could quickly find in the area...‘Hey! Right across the street from the studio is television station KTLA and Tommy Harmon is the sports director over there. Let’s be ready!’”
Sure enough, the final round began and there was the silhouette of former football great and announcer Tom Harmon. “Before Dick Enberg could give the clue, Duke hits his buzzer. ‘Tommy Harmon,’ he said. Dodgers win again.”
Sports Challenge ran from 1971 to 1979. I remember waiting for Saturday afternoons to watch it. Winning teams would donate their earnings to charity. Enberg would converse with the guests and ask interesting questions of them. It is worth it to review some past footage on you tube of these shows. I can't imagine anyone being able to assemble sports stars of this caliber for a weekly trivia show today.
Take a look at this segment between the McCarthy era Yankees and the Stengel era Yankees. You will figure out who the mystery guest is after a few seconds, but these guys didn't have a clue:
Heinrich said Jack Nicklaus too soon, which was kind of ridiculous, but I think when Billy Martin said Bear Bryant. Bear Bryant??!! I think Mickey Mantle was ready to kill him. Previous clues stated that he managed the Dodgers in 5 World Series, and that he managed Roy Campinella and Jackie Robinson before they got to the majors. Bear Bryant??!! Are you kidding me Billy?
It is interesting to see Walt Alston interviewed, though he appears a bit embarrassed that none of these superstars could identify him. More evidence that the East Coast bias has existed, even as far back as the 70's.
Sports Challenge every once in a while airs episodes on ESPN Classic. I'll be watching for it and getting the DVR ready.