Shirley Povich wrote about sports for The Washington Post for 75 years, until the day he died at 92--June 4, 1998. With the 20th century drawing to a close, a review of Povich's columns from the past seven decades provides a picture of the people and events that dominated the century of sports in America. With great pleasure, we'll present some of these columns, continuing today with Povich's column of Sept. 24, 1927, on the Gene Tunney-vs.-Jack Dempsey fight, which occurred on Sept. 22, 1927, in Chicago, and the controversy over the "long count."
WILLARD, Ohio, Sept. 23
Out of the mass of doubt of the cross-fire that has questioned his supremacy, the shadows that would becloud his claim, Gene Tunney today stands against the pugilistic horizon in bold relief, the heavyweight champion of the world, and worthy of the crown that has been worn by past masters. By right of might Gene Tunney proved his claim last night at Soldiers Field. Against Jack Dempsey, he proved himself a champion in every sense that the word implies, proved it conclusively, convincingly, and the scoffers were shown.
They made capital of the "long count" in the seventh round of Thursday night's battle, did the scoffers and the doubters, the die hards and that element that could not conceive of defeat for Jack Dempsey. They pounced upon that "long count" as their alibi in a last vain effort to discount the victory of a champion and the defeat of their favorite.
The count was long, no doubt of that, but in what manner the "long count" benefited the champion and handicapped the challenger is not clear in view of the circumstances.
Gene Tunney could have arisen from the canvas at the count of five had he so elected. By the time the referee had tolled to three on the second count, he had recovered sufficiently to regain his composure.
Lying there on the resin-covered floor of the ring, Gene Tunney played the game like a champion, taking full advantage of the rules that protected him, waiting until the count of nine had been reached before he went back to the battle. And his conduct after that knockdown was worthy of any champion whoever fought a fight.
Getting up, Gene Tunney ran. The champion ran, but it was no disgrace to run. It was the sensible thing to do under the circumstances, and in running Tunney acted the part of a champion who knew what to do when there was no logical alternative.
Then it was that Gene Tunney showed that he was a fighting man. His conduct in the ring against Dempsey following that knockdown in the seventh round was letter perfect and won him the fight, won him the renewed confidence of his supporters and won him the faith of those who had doubted.
Gene Tunney, bringing into play the science that he studies, boxed himself out of a trying situation in the seventh round and fought himself into the hearts of the fans in the eighth, ninth and tenth.
He was a true fighting machine when he came up for the eighth round and, drawing on the stamina he had stored by a life-time of clean living, he actually outslugged Jack Dempsey in the last three rounds of that fight, beating Dempsey to the punches, carrying more steam in his blows and trying for the knockout that he said he could attempt.
The 150,000 in the stadium that night knew that Gene Tunney could box. Now they know that he can also fight, that he has courage and gameness to match and is the fit ruler of the boxers of the world.
For Jack Dempsey, then who there has been no gamer fighter, it can be said for him that Thursday night he was in error. He overlooked his one possible opportunity. He forgot when he knocked Gene Tunney down in that seventh round with those awful short hooks to the jaw that he must repair to a neutral corner.
He extended Tunney precious seconds when he waited for Referee Dave Barry to motion him to the far side of the ring, where Dempsey should have gone himself without being ordered. Then and there Jack Dempsey dismissed his one opportunity to finish Tunney if he could. Tunney benefited to the extent of those three or four seconds that elapsed between counts, but he was not in distress and a true count would surely have found him on his feet to resume the battle. And when he did arise to his feet, Dempsey showed no desire to finish his man.
In the final analysis, Jack Dempsey, with the desire or with it not, was unable to finish his man. Dempsey faced in Tunney a master boxer, who capitalized every advantage and found the courage to rally from impending defeat.
Gene Tunney faced in Dempsey a ring-weary slugger with a heart of iron and fists of thunder whose stamina was unequal to the effort and who succumbed to the exactment of time's penalty.