January 1, 1981: Another One Bites the Dust

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(Pictured: Georgia running back Herschel Walker carries the ball against Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl on January 1, 1981.)

January 1, 1981, was a Thursday. Stories in the morning papers include the death of media theorist Marshall McLuhan yesterday. Also dying this week were singer/songwriter Tim Hardin (of a heroin overdose) and J. W. Milam, who had been acquitted of kidnapping and murder charges in the 1955 Emmett Till case. After the acquittal, Milam and an accomplice admitted the crime in a 1956 Look magazine story. Today, negotiations continue in hopes of freeing the Americans held hostage in Iran since November 1979. Algerian diplomats will take the latest American proposals to Iran tonight; meanwhile, a British envoy says that the release of British hostages held in Iran is imminent. The federal minimum wage increases from $3.10 to $3.35 an hour. It had been raised 60 cents in 1979 and 20 cents in 1980. Outgoing president Jimmy Carter continues to recover from a broken collarbone suffered last weekend while cross-country skiing at Camp David. Despite the break, the Carters attended a New Year’s Eve party at the home of press secretary Jody Powell last night, returning to the White House a little before 1:00 this morning. The president is up at 6 and in the Oval Office by 7:30; later in the morning, the Carters fly to Atlanta and then New Orleans, where they attend this afternoon’s Sugar Bowl game between Georgia and Notre Dame. They return to Washington via Atlanta and are back in the White House by 9PM.

In the Sugar Bowl, Georgia completes an undefeated season and is expected to be voted college football’s national champion after defeating Notre Dame 17-10. Second-ranked Florida State, its title hopes extinguished after the Georgia win this afternoon, loses the Orange Bowl to Oklahoma tonight, 18-17. Elsewhere today, Michigan wins the Rose Bowl 23-16 over Washington and Alabama blows out Baylor in the Cotton Bowl, 30-2. The last of the season’s 15 bowl games will be played tomorrow when Miami (Florida) plays Virginia Tech in Atlanta at the Peach Bowl. Four NFL divisional playoff games are scheduled for this weekend. On Saturday, Minnesota plays at Philadelphia and Buffalo is at San Diego; on Sunday, Oakland is at Cleveland and Dallas plays at Atlanta.

Around the country, radio stations have been counting down the top hits of 1980. At WLS in Chicago, the #1 song of the year is “Lost in Love” by Air Supply. At WABC in New York and CKLW in Detroit, it’s “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen. At KIIS-FM in Los Angeles, “Funkytown” by Lipps Inc. is #1 for the year. At WFIL in Philadelphia, it’s “Lady” by Kenny Rogers, at WHLM in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, it’s Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” and at KSTT in Davenport, Iowa, it’s “Call Me” by Blondie. “Call Me” is also American Top 40‘s #1 song of 1980; the second part of the annual Top 100 countdown will air around the country this coming weekend. Cash Box has “Call Me” at #2 for the year; its #1 song is “Another One Bites the Dust.” Cash Box and Billboard both name Pink Floyd’s The Wall as the year’s #1 album. On their regular weekly charts dated last Saturday, both Billboard and Cash Box have”(Just Like) Starting Over” by John Lennon at #1 for the first week, knocking “Lady” from the top spot.

Perspective From the Present: The 1981 federal minimum wage of $3.35 is equivalent to between $9 and $10 per hour today, depending on which calculator you use. It would not be raised again until 1990. Georgia was named the consensus #1 team in college football, in those days before a formal playoff system existed. “Starting Over” would eventually spend five weeks at #1 in both Billboard and Cash Box.

For several years running in the late 70s and 1980s, my group of hometown friends known as the Crew would see in the new year at one guy’s family cottage, on Yellowstone Lake in rural Wisconsin. I am pretty sure that’s where I was when 1981 arrived. Guests tended to come and go as they pleased to these affairs; it was not unusual for people to roll in after midnight ready to party just as most everyone else was ready to go to sleep. One year—and we might as well say it was when 1980 turned into 1981—some of us arrived at mid-afternoon on New Year’s Eve and, thanks to one of those New Year’s snowstorms we always seemed to get back then, didn’t leave until after dark on January 1.

5 thoughts on “January 1, 1981: Another One Bites the Dust

  1. Alvaro Leos

    “Michigan wins the Rose Bowl 23-16 over Washington”..
    ..and this year, the Rose Bowl features an SEC team playing an ACC team–in Texas, because we won’t let a simple thing like a pandemic stop college football. Why do we have bowl games again?

    1. Warning: rant incoming. This is a topic I can go on about at length. It doesn’t really fit at this site, but since you mentioned it: I grew up in the Midwest with a special affinity for the Rose Bowl, and I hate when it’s part of the playoff and schools with no historical ties to it get to play in it, and to partake in the pageantry of the runup to it, and to play in one of the most beautiful settings in sports. I guarantee that there’s not a single Alabama or Notre Dame player or fan who gives a single damn that the game got moved to Dallas this year. Pasadena means nothing special to them in the first place.

      The bowl games are farcical in a normal year. The playoff has drained what little value they had in the first place. Even ESPN, which actually operates most of the minor bowls, doesn’t care about them except as a vehicle for promoting the playoff games. In a pandemic year, it’s insane for a school to fly a thousand miles to play in an empty stadium at 11:00 on a Wednesday morning, as my team did earlier this week.

      The only reason the Big Ten played football at all this year—you will remember that they and the PAC-10 were planning to play in the spring before being bullied into starting in October—was because Ohio State believed it was a playoff team. (And they are one, at least until Clemson beats ’em by four touchdowns.) The southern schools were never not going to play; the midwestern and western schools had a chance to strike a blow for prudence and sanity, but failed the test when it came.

  2. mikehagerty

    “Lost in Love” is the only Air Supply single I can even tolerate. And I actually love it. Something in the way he sells the final chorus makes these guys sound like they have a pulse. But even I couldn’t justify #1 song of the year for it.

    1. Getting blown out by Clemson in the ACC title game should have disqualified Notre Dame from the playoff, if not the demonstrable fact that year after year, they run up 10-win seasons playing nobody, only to fold like a cheap card table against decent competition. But ESPN and the playoff committee, given the choice between Notre Dame’s national fanbase and literally anyone else, is always going to take the Irish. Every other playoff in every other NCAA sport has an element of unpredictability, but we’ll never see a Loyola in the CFP the way we did in the hoops Final Four a few years ago. They had the chance to do the equivalent this year—put in Cincinnati or even Coastal Carolina—but they never will.

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