Joe Frazier Almost Drowned On National Television 40 Years Ago Today
ABC Sports' 'The Superstars' celebrates its 40th birthday
Forty years ago today, ABC Sports broadcast The Superstars, an all-around sports competition that pit elite athletes from different sports against one another in a decathlon-style series of contests.
The events were held on Feb. 19 and 20 in the planned community of Rotunda West, Fla., but aired as one two-hour special on Feb. 25. The roster included Olympic pole vault champ Bob Seagren, skier Jean-Claude Killy, tennis legend Rod Laver, driver Peter Revson, catcher Johnny Bench, basketball star Elvin Hayes, hockey standout Rod Gilbert, bowler Jim Stefanich and NFL legend Johnny Unitas.
But it was Joe Frazier, who’d lost the world heavyweight champ just one month earlier, who provided the most indelible moment when he failed spectacularly during his 50-meter swimming heat — after belly-flopping into the pool — only afterward confessing to a reporter that he didn’t know how to swim. (“How was I to know I couldn’t unless I tried it?” he sagely noted.)
Here’s an excerpt from Dan Levin’s write-up of Superstars, which appeared in the Mar. 5, 1973 issue of Sports Illustrated:
The swimming event was the most amusing. Before his 50-meter heat Frazier said, “I can swim fine, as long as they got a shallow end and ropes so I can grab on.” At one point Frazier — oh, it was unbelievable — was dog-paddling! Revson, Killy and Seagren had finished by the time Joe made his turn.
“Trouble staying in my lane?” he replied to a questioner. “I had trouble staying in the water.” Frazier’s unofficial time was 1:42.05.
Later, Frazier was upset by Seagren — the eventual winner of the entire competition — in weight lifting.
Seagren ended up taking home $39,700 for winning the competition, while Frazier (who tied for last along with the 39-year-old Unitas) earned $3,600. Notably, every athlete who participated also received a quarter-acre piece of land in the Rotunda West community worth $8,500.