The unlikely and unprecedented summit in Singapore between the President of the United States and the supreme leader of North Korea got us to thinking about some other first meetings – of the Philadelphia sports variety, that is.
Here are just a few:
Eagles vs. Cowboys
First meeting: Sept. 30, 1960.
What happened: The Eagles beat the expansion Cowboys, 27-25, in a game that was closer than expected. Middle linebacker Chuck Weber intercepted Dallas quarterback Eddie LeBaron three times and Bobby Freeman blocked two extra points. The Cowboys went 0-11-1 that season. The Eagles won the NFL title.
Check this out: The lead story on the Inquirer’s front page the day after the Eagles-Cowboys game was how several international diplomats urged the United States to consider a summit with the Soviet Union. The U.S. presidential election between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon was a few weeks away and the cold war was frigid. Relations between the U.S. and Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev had been strained since a failed summit in Paris in May of that year.
Fun stuff: Weber, a local kid who played at Abington High and West Chester, earned a game ball that day. He relished the idea that many people think Chuck Bednarik was the middle linebacker on the 1960 team. Bednarik played on the left side. “I’m a trivia question,” Weber told the Daily News’ Ray Didinger in 1985. “That’s OK. That other Chuck you’re talking about … he was pretty good.”
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) October 23, 2017
Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell
First meeting: Nov. 7, 1959
What happened: The Celtics beat the Warriors, 115-106, before a crowd of 13,909 at the Boston Garden. Wilt had 30 points and 28 rebounds and Russell countered with 22 and 35. The Celtics would go on to win the second of eight consecutive NBA titles.
Check this out: Russell was 57-37 against Wilt during the regular season and 29-20 in the postseason. Boston’s string of eight championships was broken in 1967 when Wilt, now with the 76ers, had a triple-double (29-36-13) to close out the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. Russell was Boston’s head coach – the first African-American to coach a major sports team.
Fun stuff: According to Basketball-Reference.com, Wilt averaged 29.9 points and 28.2 rebounds in regular season games against Russell, arguably the most dominant defensive player of all time. Wilt’s playoff numbers were 25.7 points and 28.0 boards. Russell averaged 14.2 and 22.9 in the regular season and 14.9 and 24.7 in playoff games against Wilt.
Julius Erving vs. Larry Bird
First meeting: Nov. 10, 1979
What happened: Doc landed the first blow by scoring 37 points in a wild 95-94 win at the Spectrum. Bird, who had 22 points, was the primary defender on Erving, who took 32 shots. “I thought I played good defense on him,” said Bird, “I ain’t the only guy he ever scored on.”
Check this out: They played against one another 68 times in the regular season, with the Sixers going 33-35. They were each 12-12 in 24 playoff meetings. Bird averaged 23.8 points in their regular-season meetings; Doc 22.8.
Worth noting: Bird was a 22-year-old rookie when he first played against Erving, who was 29 and in his ninth season as a pro. Five years later, they were fistfighting on the court at the Boston Garden. Many people remember Doc landing punches while Moses Malone and Charles Barkley held onto Bird. But often lost is that before they were ejected, Bird had 42 points and Erving had six. The Celtics also won the game.
Cole Hamels vs. Albert Pujols
First meeting: Aug. 3, 2006.
What happened: Included this for the younger crowd. The Phillies beat the Cardinals, 8-1, as the rookie Hamels had 12 strikeouts including Pujols in his first meeting with the Cardinals’ slugger. Pujols was on his way to a career-high 49 home runs and St. Louis would go on to win the World Series that year.
Stat check: Pujols was 1 for 3 that day, but is just a .241 career hitter off Hamels with three homers. “I know he’s a good hitter,” Hamels said after his first encounter with Pujols. “But when I’m on the mound, it’s my game and I’m not going to let anybody affect it.”
Also that day: Chase Utley had three hits to extend his hitting streak to 35 games, the second-longest in team history. It ended the next night against the Mets.
Wayne Gretzky vs. Flyers
First meeting: Nov. 15, 1979
What happened: The Flyers won 5-3 as Gretzky notched two assists. Gretzky, 18, went on to win the first of eight consecutive MVP awards and is the greatest player in NHL history, which is why he’s included in this list. Two of his four Stanley Cup rings came directly at the expense of the Flyers.
Sampling the hype: “He was skating when he was 3, joined a team of 11-year-olds when he was 6; was interviewed for the first time when he was 8,” wrote Jay Greenberg in the Daily News, “scored 378 goals in 85 games when he was 11; was called the next Bobby Orr at 12, and left home to play junior hockey when he was 13. He had an agent at 14; graduated to Junior A and was profiled in Sports Illustrated at 16; signed his first professional contract when he was 17, and became a millionaire on his 18th birthday.”
Fun stuff: The Flyers’ win over the Oilers that night stretched their unbeaten streak to 13. They would go on to make it 35 consecutive games (25-0-10), which is still a professional sports record.
Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali
First meeting: March 8, 1971
What happened: Frazier won a unanimous decision over Ali at Madison Square Garden in one of the most compelling fights of the 20th century. Both men were undefeated and both laid claim to being the world’s heavyweight champion. Ali’s title had been stripped after his suspension for refusing military service in 1967.
The legacy: The bout went the full 15 rounds and each fighter spent time in the hospital afterwards. Ali verbally carved up Frazier prior to the bout, portraying him as a puppet for the white establishment. It was beyond nasty. Ali won the rematches in 1974 and 1975, and years later the two champions eventually made peace. Frazier died in 2011; Ali passed away in 2016.
Punch of the night: Frazier, who hailed from Beaufort, S.C. and moved to Philadelphia as a teenager, caught Ali with a left hook early in the 15th round. “The shot I hit him with,” Frazier said afterward, “I went down home and got that one. From out in the country.” It can be seen at the 57:22 mark in the YouTube clip below.