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In the recorded history of sports on radio, only a handful of broadcasts stand out as true classics — instances where the announcing itself nearly transcends the event being described. One example is Russ Hodges and his famed call ("The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!") of Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round The World," the home run that defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers and sent the New York Giants to the 1951 World Series.
In the second week of play in the NFL's 1978 season, another such broadcast took place. The game itself, pitting a pair of longtime West Coast rivals, the Oakland Raiders and the hometown San Diego Chargers, would not decide a championship. In fact, the rivalry was decidedly on the wane: the Raiders had won 18 of the teams' preceding 22 meetings, including a stretch of ten consecutive victories from 1972-1977.
In spite of the potentially mundane battle projected between the two teams, the game's final play would become legendary as one of the most bizarre and unbelievable to ever occur on a gridiron.
After the Chargers built up a 20-7 lead with 12:42 left in the game — a lead that could have been 21-7, save for a missed extra point off the foot of kicker Rolf Benirschke (who, oddly enough, was the Raiders final draft choice the previous season and one of their last training camp cuts) — but the Raiders struck back quickly with a 44-yard touchdown strike from Ken Stabler to Morris Bradshaw with 8:26 left on the clock. Errol Mann's PAT brought the score to 20-14.
Each team's subsequent drive resulted in a punt, after which San Diego got the ball back and managed to drain more than five minutes off the clock, leaving the visiting Raiders with possession on their own 20 yard line with only 1:07 to play. The stage was set for the Raiders to attempt their comeback.
This partial recording, which includes the earlier Stabler-to-Bradshaw scoring pass, builds to its dramatic conclusion as the Raiders embark on their final drive, heard in its entirety, complete with Bill King's incomparable call of the implausible ending and the ensuing events.
King, the nonpareil of Bay Area sportscasters, migrated here from Illinois and was the third man in the Giants broadcast booth when the team moved west in 1958. In 1962, he became play-by-play voice of the San Francisco (later Golden State) Warriors, a job he held for 21 years. In 1966, King took the microphone for the Oakland Raiders, continuing in that role for two decades. In 1981, he moved into the Oakland Athletics' broadcast booth (with Lon Simmons), a position he held for a quarter of a century. Bill King died suddenly on October 18, 2005, at age 78 following hip surgery.
His command of the language and ability to paint word pictures was matched by few in broadcasting, let alone sports announcing; his rich, distinctive voice was instantly recognizable in a sea of carbon copies; his knowledge of sport — as well as music and literature — was boundless. The rare and virtuoso talent of Bill King may have suited him well for announcing symphonies on a classical station. Sports fans should rejoice that he preferred greenswards and hardwood courts.
Bill King was inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame in 2006 as a member of the first class to be inducted.
King's partner as color analyst on Raiders broadcasts in 1978 was Monty Stickles, a former 49er tight end who was once described as the dirtiest player in the NFL. In 1960, he was the first-ever draft selection by the Chargers as an All America end from Notre Dame, but chose to sign with the 49ers, who had also made him their top pick that year.
Following his retirement from the game in 1968, Stickles (photo, right) became sports director of San Francisco's KEST Radio, handling play-by-play for University of San Francisco basketball, while also filling in as weekend sportscaster for KGO-TV (Channel 7).
In April 1973, Stickles moved to KGO Radio as weekday sports reporter and analyst on University of California football. He appeared in the 1974 movie "Freebie and the Bean." A resident of San Francisco, he operated the Labatt's beer distributorship locally and pursued his hobby as a collector of fine art.
Monty Stickles died on September 3, 2006, in Oakland of heart failure following a brief illness. He was 68 years old.
ABOUT THE RECORDING: This partial recording was made off the air by David Jackson at Union City, Calif., only a few miles from KGO's bayside transmitter site. Dubbed from the original cassette, the recording commences with the Raiders down 20-7 in the fourth quarter. After the Stabler-to-Bradshaw touchdown pass, there is a short gap in the recording (occurring while the radio was tuned over to the Bears-49ers game, which was going on at the same time*), then the Raiders broadcast begins again and continues to the dramatic conclusion.
* — The short segment of the Bears-49ers game, broadcast on KSFO by Lon Simmons and Gene Nelson, is available under "1978" on the museum's San Francisco 49ers Collection page.