Those of us who lived through the seventies won’t soon forget the various ABC celebrity sports extravaganzas, especially the Battle of the Network Stars of various years. I didn’t remember, however, the Rock-N-Roll Sports Classic from 1978. Aside from a few genuine immortals (Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Rod Stewart, Joan Jett), the panoply of athletes is mostly reminiscent of a Columbia Records Club advertisement or the $1 bin at your local LP store (Boston, Leif Garrett, Anne Murray, Seals & Crofts, Tanya Tucker, Kenny Loggins, etc.).
Events include cycling, basketball, swimming, track and field. The main takeaway is that the Runaways kick ass, with both Joan Jett and Sandy West winning events. Michael Jackson appears in the 60-yard dash, but his brother Jackie wins that event. In soccer, Rod Stewart defeats ELO bassist Richard Tandy in a penalty-kick competition.
The roster of announcers is nearly as long and impressive as the list of performer-athletes: Ed McMahon, Sandy Duncan, Phyllis Diller, Kristy McNichol, Barbi Benton, and Alex Karras. Fred Travalena is also on hand to do a few timely impressions, such as Richard Nixon, who had resigned as president four years earlier.
At the 22:00 mark there’s a weird moment involving Alex Karras. Karras, who died in 2012, was a remarkable fellow by any definition, being an All-Pro defensive tackle for the Lions, Blazing Saddles bit player, and the adult lead for the ABC sitcom Webster for many years. But he was also one of a bare handful of athletes ever to suffer a league sanction for gambling, being forced by the NFL to sit out the 1963 season because of his involvement in gambling activities. So it’s especially weird when, after introducing Marlon Jackson before a race, he adopts the mock desperation of a gambling addict: “Marlon, you gotta win this one, I don’t care about you guys making money, but I need it!”
Indeed, the very existence of the Rock-N-Roll Sports Classic brings to mind the recent issue of drug testing in pro sports—one wonders what results the drug tests for this event would have yielded. Some of the events are actually edited out of this video, but most of them are there, but a judicious assessment of the video’s contents would still conclude that it mainly consists of introductions: “In Lane number two, William King of the Commodores!” It’s still a prime example of the dread nexus of music and television that only the seventies can supply, and well worth watching for connoisseurs of televised weirdness.