(NOTE: In honor of the Red Sox clinching a playoff spot, please join us in the Time Machine for this silver anniversary review of 1978-79 in Boston Sports. Please keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times.)
A quarter century has passed since Bucky Dent’s homer forever etched 1978 into the annals of misery. But the sinister breeze that carried a seemingly harmless pop-up into infamy was neither the first nor the last of the evil forces that haunted Boston sports during the 1978-79 campaigns.
The times of trouble actually began in California seven weeks before Dent dug in against Mike Torrez—twenty-five years ago last month, in fact—and continued until the following spring. Tolstoy wrote that all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. Similarly, all four Boston teams made unique contributions to an unprecedented season of dismay.
August 12, 1978
While the Red Sox were watching their lead over the Yankees evaporate, the Patriots entered the preseason with high hopes. They still had the nucleus of the squad that had come within referee Ben Dreith of beating Oakland and possibly winning a title two years earlier. In Harold Jackson, the Pats had added a third receiver to complement stalwarts Stanley Morgan and Daryl Stingley.
Then Stingley went over the middle during a preseason game in Oakland. Raiders safety Jack Tatum approached. They collided. Stingley fell, paralyzed.
While the team persevered and won the AFC East, they couldn’t overcome betrayal from within. Before the divisional playoff against Houston at Foxborough, Pats head coach Chuck Fairbanks confirmed that he had already accepted the top job at the University of Colorado. Earl Campbell and the Oilers promptly routed a clearly distracted Patriots club.
Despite considerable remaining talent, the Patriots never recovered. A 1981 “Toilet Bowl” loss to the Colts clinched the league’s worst record. After an unlikely ’85 Super Bowl run that ended in historic humiliation at the hands of the Bears, the Patriots regularly reached new lows, including league-worst records in 1990 and ’92, the Lisa Olson debacle, and the entire tenure of Victor Kiam.
October 2, 1978
Dent’s seventh inning pop transformed a 2-0 lead into a 3-2 deficit, ruining the preceding six innings of shutout pitching from Mike Torrez. Down to their last out two innings later, the Sox had the winning runs in scoring position. Gossage was on the mound.