The 13 Most Impressive Performances From 1978's Rock ‘N Roll Sports Classic
By Nick Greene
In 1978, the Associated Press awarded their Male Athlete of the Year Award to New York Yankees pitcher Ron Guidry while golfer Nancy Lopez took the Female Athlete of the Year honors. With all due respect to Mr. Guidry and Ms. Lopez, the AP made a terrible choice. 1978's most talented athletes were, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Kenny Loggins and The Runaways' Sandy West.
Don't believe me? Feast your eyes on the Rock ‘N Roll Sports Classic, a primetime ABC special that pitted the music world's biggest stars against one another in a series of loosely organized athletic events:
The special, which aired on May 3rd, ushered in sweeps season and featured a bevy of big name stars. Oh, it truly was a bevy. Check out the participants, whose names I've written in bold because such a bevy deserves bold:
Boston, The Commodores, ELO, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Jacksons, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Runaways, Seals & Crofts, Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr., Rod Stewart, The Runaways, Kenny Loggins, Tanya Tucker, and Leif Garrett.
Also, Sha Na Na was invited for some reason.
You really should watch the full clip above, but if for some reason you can't take an hour and fifteen minutes out of your day to watch Leif Garrett run hurdles, I've broken down the most noteworthy performances.
13. Kenny Loggins—Men's 50 Yard Freestyle Swim
The thing that impressed me most about Kenny Loggins was the focus he brought to the games. This man was clearly in the zone. Could you say he was in the "danger zone?" Yes you could. You could say that Kenny Loggins was in the danger zone.
He'd need that focus because look at his competition:
ELO's Hugh McDowell pushed Loggins to the limit, but Loggins was not to be denied.
When asked about his preparation, Loggins told Susan Anton after the race, "Actually I did about 80 laps for two weeks."
Kenny Loggins trained for the Rock ‘N Roll Sports Classic.
12. Joan Jett—Women's Cycling Race (Unspecified Distance)
Holy crap look how cool Joan Jett is. If your kids ever tell you they don't want to wear a bike helmet, show them this Joan Jett bicycle race and they'll never take it off.
Jett gives Tanya Tucker a pretty nice cushion before passing her on the last straight with ease on a very wet and tricky track. Tanya Tucker had no idea what hit her.
11. Jackie Jackson—Men's 100 Yard Dash
Jackson creams everyone in this sprint, including his brother Michael.
(“I don’t play that many sports,” Michael says later in an interview. “He’s not in shape. He hasn’t been eating enough eggs,” says Jackie.)
10. Marlon Jackson—Team Long Jump
Marlon Jackson wows the crowd and wins their hearts with a long jump of just over 15 feet, narrowly beating...
Kenny Loggins! Fly Kenny, you magnificent bearded falcon, FLY!
9. Bubba Knight—Speed Walking Walkathon
Bubba Knight—older brother of Gladys and a member of the Pips—won the speed walking event.
Coming in last was Sha Na Na's Lennie Baker, who didn't fare too well:
8. Sandy West—Women's 60 Yard Dash
Like her Runaways bandmate Joan Jett, Sandy West is cool as all get-out.
She absolutely toasts the competition in the 60 yard dash, barely even breaking a sweat.
That trophy (designed by Cartier) was awarded to each event's winner. Host Alex Karras repeatedly mentions that the contestants weren't playing for money—only trophies. He says this so frequently that it actually raises suspicion. The trophies are nice, though.
7. Sandy West—Women's 100 Yard Dash
Sandy narrowly edges Joan Jett in the 100-yard dash. I have no doubt in my mind that The Runaways were the world's best athletic team in 1978.
6. Fran Sheehan—Overall Attitude
Boston bassist Fran Sheehan wasn't the most competitive or athletic of all the participants, but his head certainly was in the right place.
In an interview that sticks out as the most sincere moment of the entire broadcast, Sheehan reminds Barbi Benton and the viewers at home what this really was all about: “I like sports a lot. I think sports and music go hand-in-hand, because, um, sports usually are a team effort and music is a team effort as well. No one individual can sound really well unless he has people who want to and can accompany that person and make him sound better.”
Truer words were never spoken.
5. Rod Stewart—Soccer
Before starting his career in music, Rod Stewart had a trial run at Brentford FC, a professional soccer club. For the soccer event, he has a one on one penalty shootout against ELO keyboardist Rich Tandy.
“He’s gonna get really beat, this kid. He can’t play football,” Rod Stewart told Ed McMahon. He was right.
McMahon, meanwhile, screams, "No ties…KICK THE BALL!"
The sport of the future, indeed.
4. Kenny Loggins—Basketball
At first glance, Kenny Loggins is terrible at basketball. He can't dribble, can't shoot, and doesn't have any court awareness. But then you see his hustle, his defense, and his rebounding, and you realize that Kenny Loggins might be the greatest basketball player in history. Here he takes a foul shot, because Kenny Loggins isn't afraid to mix it up down low and draw contact:
3. Tanya Tucker, Ron La Pread, Ralph Johnson, and Kenny Loggins—Swimming Relay
Do you think Earth, Wind & Fire's Ralph Johnson was worried that Kenny Loggins was going to be too tired for this relay race after his tremendous and winning effort in the 50 yard freestyle swim? Probably not, considering Kenny Loggins did 80 laps for two weeks to train for this very moment.
They won easily thanks to a gutsy performance by anchor Tanya Tucker (shown below with Phyllis Diller, Sandy Duncan, Susan Anton, and a Cartier-designed trophy).
2. Rod Stewart and The Commodores—Men's Endurance Relay
Look at Lionel Richie's face. That smile says it all. The Commodores and Rod Stewart made a great team; would've been neat to hear them perform together. But, alas, they were busy running hurdles because the Rock ‘N Roll Sports Classic is first and foremost about sports.
1. Sandy West—Co-Ed 50 Yard Freestyle Swim
Susan Anton: “What’d you do to train for this?”
Sandy West: “Nothin’.”
Sandy West was the coolest. (Kenny Loggins did 80 laps for two weeks to train for this, FYI.)