In Washington, if nowhere else, it was the athletic Year of the Fat Lady, one of those stretches of silliness when a town and a team celebrate a major championship for the first time in nearly two generations.
Abe Pollin's Bullets won the National Basketball Association title, the hard way, after injuries and indifference limited them to the eighth-best regular-season record. The NBA talks of two sessions but in reality has three-fall, winter and spring-and the Bullets won the final game, 105-99.
That was in Seattle, June 7. As was typical of the almost two-month playoffs, the Bullets won the pivotal game on the road. Atypically, but appropriately, they were assured victory on two free throws by Wes Unseld.
In sporting lingo, the Bullets defeated captain Outrageous (Ted Turner's Hawks), The Iceman (George Gervin's Spurs), Dr. J. (the 76ers) the The Human Eraser (Marvin Webster's Sonics) to claim the title.
The Bullets were reaching their zenith in a year when the Redskins, after a 6-0 start, slipped to their worst record (8-8) since 1970. The Caps continued to skate on thin ice, financially and in the National Hockey League standings.
Nationally, there was no clear athlete of the year. No Steve Cauthen took a comet-like leap over everyone in sport there as one season melted into another.
Pete Rose, with his record 44-game hitting streak, Nancy Lopez, with five straight victories in women's golf, Muhammad Ali, by losing the heavyweight title and regaining it, and Henry Rono, with assorted world distance records, captured long and deserved attention.
But not Rose nor Lopez nor Ali was the best in his/her sport for the year. Ron Guidry or Jim Rice was the outstanding baseball player, Tom Watson the standout in golf. Ali, at age 37, is bad enough to lose to a Leon Spinks and good enough to win the rematch.
The athlete who sustained excellence longest, beyond Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors, Henry Rono, Walter Payton or Al Unser, who won the three major 500-milers for Indy-type cars, was Mario Andretti.
Andretti won the world driving title, the first American since Phil Hill in 1961 to do so. As so often happens in that most dangerous of sports, there was reason to be sad during the moment of glory, for Andretti's partner, Ronnie Peterson, had died during a crash earlier in the year.
For uninterrupted drama, though, no human animals came within a furlong of Affirmed and Alydar. Those colts battled each other as 2-yearolds and offered even more thrills during their Triple Crown chase this year.
Affirmed, with Cauthen, won the glamor races, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, but Alydar did not let that happen without a heroic effort.
Zebras drew much attention this year. But they were the NFL officials who clearly botched important calls that led to demands for the use of instant replays or some basis for appeal in pro football. NFL Oracle Pete Rozelle has not offered any solutions.
In college basketball, Kentucky won the NCAA title when Jack Givens scored 41 points against Duke. The team allowed itself a brief smile and returned to the grim business of winning another.
The year's best team was the Yankees, who managed a feat even more unthinkable than catching the Red Sox after being down 14 1/2 games in July and winning the World Series. They actually got droves of sincere haters to feel sympathy, if not love, for them after beating the Dodgers in the World Series.
Guidry was keeping legendary company after the season, Reggie Jackson continued to give lessons in high drama and Bob Lemon showed that a nice guy can replace a rascal in midseason and rally a team to ultimate triumph.
There were records not so obvious in 1978. George Allen became the first NFL coach to be fired by the same team three times. That came after the Rams let him go two games into the exhibition season.
Also, Washington Kermit Washington was suspended 60 days and fined $10,000 for punching Rudy Tomjanovich of the NBA Rockets.
Because the New York Giants' quarterback could not execute a handoff to the fullback in the final moments, the Eagles recovered a fumble and scored a miracle victory. So the assistant coach who called the play, Bob Gibson, was fired the next day.
The Giants' front office has been among the NFL's worst for years, so the coach got fired.
Running became so popular this year it created a lucrative spinoff, a book for those dedicated to non-running. And Doug Todd forced the athletic world to become more enlightened.
Todd is paid to remain largely anonymous. As public relations director of the Dallas Cowboys, he has compiled what is known throughout sport as "The List." It is at least as entertaining as what often passes for entertainment on the field.
"The List" is a widely circulated collection of especially odd country and western song lyrics, such as: "I can't make up my mind whether to kill myself or go bowling," "She took everything but the blame." "Dropkick me, Jesus, through the goal post of life" and "It's commode-huggin' time in the valley."
As Merle might say of sporting '78, it weren't the best, but it weren't bad.