Saturday, January 30, 2010

1980: Not A Kid Anymore


All this year at my Facebook page, which you can view from the link in the sidebar here at my website by joining up yourself and 'friend'-ing me, I am taking a daily trip back in time to the 1980's. Each month I am highlighting a different year chronologically, and this month have been featuring the music, tv, movies, and important events of the first year of the decade: 1980.

In 1980 the world changed, both in my own individual life and the world at large, in some of the most important and influential ways it ever would. Just one year earlier, as 1979 dawned, I was a 17-year old high school senior living in an apartment in South Philly with my dad and brother. Little did I know how much a life could change in less than a year.

I had been dating a girl, Anne Jacobs, ever since meeting her down at the Jersey shore in Wildwood, New Jersey during the late summer of 1976. We overcame the fact that I lived in South Philly without a car and she lived out in the Delaware County suburb of Prospect Park to become high school sweethearts.

Anne was a year behind me in school, and so while I was finishing up my senior year and preparing to graduate from St. John Neumann high school in South Philadelphia during the first half of 1979, she was still just a junior at Archbishop Prendergast high school out in Drexel Hill, Delaware County.

It was at some point in the late spring of '79 that we began to realize something big might be up. There were increasingly unmistakable signs to us that Anne had become pregnant, and by the early summer we knew it was true. We told our parents at the end of that summer, and I put my LaSalle University plans aside to go out and find a job.

In the fall of 1979 I landed a job as a messenger clerk with the old First Pennsylvania Bank, beginning a decade-long career in the banking world. Anne and I, with the necessary permission from our parents since we were still under 18 years old, got married on November 7th that year, and I moved in with her family.

This is where 1980 opened for me, vastly different from a year earlier. Married at just 18 years of age, living in the suburbs, taking a train in to work everyday in downtown Philadelphia. And then in early February, a day before my own father would turn 40 years old, Anne gave birth to a beautiful baby girl who we named "Christine", adding 'Dad' to my new roles in life.

There is no way that I will ever encourage any teenager to get pregnant. It is one of the most difficult things to go through, trying to properly raise a child while you are still very much one yourself in so many ways. But I also cannot deny the love and joy that Chrissy brought into my life beginning on that day. In a few days from now she will turn 30 years old, and is now a 2-time mother herself. Where has all that time gone?

That would not turn out to be the last major domestic change in my life during 1980, however. We tried to live with Anne's family, but trying to make your own way as parents and a couple is difficult enough without having the dynamic of living under the same roof as people who still treat you like kids. By the fall we had gotten our own apartment at the corner of American and Ritner Streets, and thus began trying to give it a go out on our own back in my old South Philly stomping grounds.

One of my favorite little life stories comes from February 22nd of that year. Just as this year, 1980 was a Winter Olympics year, and the American hockey team made up of young college kids had been stunning the world by slipping through the tournament undefeated. Looming ahead of them was a date with Cold War destiny.

On that Friday the American kids were poised to take on the goliath hockey juggernaut from the Soviet Union in an Olympic semi-final game at Lake Placid, New York. Just two weeks earlier, the Russians had blitzed the U.S. by a 10-3 score in a pre-Olympics exhibition. Then they rolled over five opponents by a combined score of 55-11 to reach this point in the tournament.

The day before the matchup, New York Times columnist Dave Anderson wrote: "Unless the ice melts, or unless the United States team or another team performs a miracle, as did the American squad in 1960, the Russians are expected to easily win the Olympic gold medal for the sixth time in the last seven tournaments."

No one really believed that miracle was likely, but the young American team had captured my and the nation's hearts and imaginations with their dramatic play. The game against the Soviets was going to take place during the day, but would be televised that night in prime time by the ABC network. Remember, these were the pre-ESPN domination days with no 24-hour news coverage of events.

I resolved to stay away from any radios or television during my work day at the bank, which in those days proved easy. I went home with no knowledge of what had happened in the game and was prepared to grab some dinner and then settle in to watch the drama of the U.S.-Soviet hockey game.

While I ate, excited about the upcoming game, Anne walked in to the kitchen of her parents house on 11th Avenue and said matter-of-factly "How about the Americans beating the Russians in hockey today?!"

I'll leave it to your imaginations the phrase that immediately raced through my stunned mind at the revelation of the game result that I had been successfully avoiding all day. Ouch. Priceless.

With my excitement ruined and my enthusiasm tempered by the knowledge of what was going to happen, I settled in that evening to enjoy the spectacle of what has become known to history as the 'Miracle on Ice' in the American squad's 4-3 epic upset of the Soviet hockey team: "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"

In the larger world during the first year of the 1980's, the Carter Presidency continued to deteriorate as the Iranian hostage crisis droned on and on. His candidacy for the Democratic Party nomination received a serious threat from Teddy Kennedy, who I stood just a few feet away from during an early spring campaign stop in Philly that year.

Kennedy would receive my first-ever vote in a Presidential primary, but would lose a hard-fought nomination process to Carter. Later in the year, the Reagan Revolution began with the election to the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, the greatest American President of the past century, but one who I simply did not appreciate or support at the time.

During the year of 1980 we Americans would become introduced to or more familiar with people and topics such as Abscam, Voyager, Ayatollah, Olympic boycott, Rosie Ruiz, Mt. Saint Helens, Yoda, CNN, Solidarity. We would all end the year sobbing over the murder of John Lennon while asking the question "Who shot J.R.?"

Philadelphia was the capital of the sports world in 1980. That spring, the Flyers were beaten in overtime of the 6th game of the Stanley Cup Finals on a controversial goal by Bob Nystrom of the New Islanders. The Isles appeared to be clearly offsides on the winning play, but the refs blew the call. Had the Flyers won, they would have tied the series and sent it back to the Spectrum for a decisive 7th game.

Also that spring, the 76ers advanced to the NBA Finals before succumbing in six games thanks to a herculean performance from Lakers rookie Magic Johnson, who filled in for injured all-star center Kareem-Abdul Jabbar and single-handedly kept the Sixers from sending that championship to a deciding game.

The Philadelphia Eagles had a season to remember that fall and winter, finishing 12-4 and winning the NFC East under coach Dick Vermiel. The Birds finished tied with the Dallas Cowboys, who beat them in the regular season finale by a 35-27 score, but won the tie-breaker for the division title. They would advance to make the franchise' first-ever appearance in the Super Bowl in January of 1981.

And then there were the 1980 Philadelphia Phillies. One of the best teams in baseball since 1975, the Phils were repeatedly disappointed and disappointing in making playoff appearances in 1976, 1977, and 1978. The 1980 team was considered by some to be getting a little old-in-the-tooth, but the veterans fought to yet another division title.

In what many still believe to be the greatest NLCS in baseball history, the Phils edged past the Houston Astros and advanced to face the great George Brett and the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. In the dramatic finale to the 6th game at Veteran's Stadium, Tug McGraw struck out Willie Wilson to preserve a 4-1 win and give the long-suffering franchise' it's first-ever world championship.

I remember clearly watching the game in our little South Philly apartment that was full of friends for the game. We spilled into the streets after the victory, and I headed up to Broad Street with some to enjoy the victory celebration. We worked our way towards the Vet, and it was in the midst of that joyous celebration of the championship just won by Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Larry Bowa and crew that my life very nearly changed forever once again.

I was standing on Broad Street just north of Snyder Avenue in the middle of what was a sea of celebratory humanity, and at the same time there were vehicles still trying to leave the area as well. Somehow I got squeezed by the crowd into the small space between two cars slowly edging their way along. Trying to avoid the crowds, one of the cars kept edging towards the other, pinning my legs between the two.

I started to bang on the hood and windows of the two cars as my legs got squeezed tighter, and just in time felt the release of pressure as the drivers realized what was happening and eased off me. That close to getting my legs crushed while celebrating a life long dream of a World Series victory!

1980 was absolutely a year of change for me, for the country, and for the world. It was a year of beginnings and challenges, of frustrations and celebrations, of defeat and victory, and of joys and sorrows. It was a year that not many others to follow would be able to equal for it's quantity of high drama. And it was ultimately the first year of my life in which I was not a kid anymore.

BORN 1980: Christine Veasey, Erin Mooney Bates, Justin Timberlake, Elin Nordegren, Zooey Deschanel, Robinho, Nick Carter, Gilbert Arenas, Albert Pujols, Eli Manning, Adam Lambert, Francisco 'KRod' Rodriguez, Natalie Gulbis, Andre Iguodala, Joe Flacco, Mischa Barton

DIED 1980: Jimmy Durante, Paul Lynde, Paul 'Bear' Bryant, Ray Kroc, Johnny Weissmuler, Jackie Wilson, Donna Reed, L. Ron Hubbard, Ray 'the Scarecrow' Bolger, 'Pistol' Pete Maravich, Hirohito, Ted Bundy, John Lennon

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