reem Abdul-Jabbar's Afro and the 34-year-old face of Bob Boozer, who smiled in front of a national TV camera.
"I just want to say hello to all my friends in Omaha."
In the spring of 1971, Boozer capped his NBA career with a ring in Milwaukee and Ron Boone captured an ABA title in Utah. That fall in Lincoln, Johnny Rodgers tore the Oklahoma Sooners loose from their shoes en route to Nebraska's second straight national title.
It was a banner year for Tech sports alums. And a terrible year for Tech students. Across the school district, blacks clashed with authority.
New state senator Ernie Chambers sought to outlaw corporal punishment, criticizing black administrators at Horace Mann for paddling students. At Franklin School, black parents accused teachers of brutalizing and humiliating students, even giving them depressants. But the mayhem centered at 33rd and Cuming Streets. Tech High and Junior High occupied the district's largest building, but even at 50% capacity, everyone needed more space.
The death of Vivian Strong, a former Tech Junior High student, weighed heavily on impressionable minds. You could feel rage just walking down the halls. "If you were gonna survive," said William Reed, a new Tech teacher in 1970, "you had to be tough."
Principal Carl Palmquist, the face of Tech for two decades, resigned from weariness in '71, opening the job for Odra Bradley, the first black OPS principal. Conditions declined.
"We had demonstrations," administrative assistant John Crookham said later. "We had marches. We had sit-ins. We had walk-a rounds. We had everything except school that year."
Carol Strong, Vivian's little sister, accused two boys of pulling a knife and cutting her cheek. Police charged an 18-year-old senior with raping a 13-year-old middle schooler. A woman standing at Tech'smain entrance was robbed at gunpoint. A cafeteria protest led to flipped tables, broken windows and a canceled day of school. Madness even spilled over to Friday nights.
A referee ejected a Tech High basketball player for throwing a punch at a Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson opponent. Then the player went after the official. Tech students emptied the stands and one fan punched the ref above the eye. Chambers called the conditions at Tech "deplorable."
"If you want revolutionaries, let Tech High be destroyed," Chambers told the Legislature. "This is the school my people attend."
He also encouraged kids to resist violence and develop their minds.
"School is not a game," Chambers told a Tech High assembly in January 1972. "We're in a life and death struggle in this country. You have to understand it and take your part to overcome it."
That word — overcome — used to inspire and empower the black community. By the '70s, kids had lost faith that resilience made any difference.
Roger Sayers, head of the Urban League in the late '70s, recalled a generational shift born out of the '60s. Free will. "You couldn't tell me no," Sayers said. "If you told me no, you had to tell me why." When Sayers entered OPS classrooms and tried to motivate students, they were too busy talking among themselves.
"I stopped going to schools," Sayers said. "It was just a waste of time. There was no discipline in the classroom."
Community criticism of Tech focused on its curriculum, deemed outdated by many leaders and parents. The economy trended toward white-collar jobs and blacks perceived vocational classes as an insult. The Omaha Public Schools didn't help Tech's reputation, funneling behavioral and special-ed students there.
"It had become pretty much a dumping ground," recalled Sam Crawford, the junior high principal. "Kids that had any kind of intellectual capacity were not going to Tech."
Even the "Committee for the Future of Tech High School" recommended closing and dispersing students: "The consensus was that we now are (a school for special education) except in name."
Meanwhile, white families looked for ways out. Tech High was 17% black when Boozer entered in 1951. Blacks became the majority in Fred Hare's senior year, 1963. A decade later, only 22 white students remained, even though 33rd and Cuming was a majority-white neighborhood. Why?
Tech, unlike most district schools, allowed students to option out. And whites did. In one year alone, 103 white students obtained transfers out of Tech Junior High. In '73, the U.S. Department of Justice accused OPS of racial discrimination. One year later, Tech High's enrollment dropped to 503 in a building that once housed almost 3,800. The future looked so ominous that OPS briefly shuttered Tech football and basketball programs before an uproar changed their minds.
When a federal court mandated busing in '76, Tech got an enrollment bump. But it didn't last. Increasing white flight and declining district enrollment led to Tech High's end in 1984. Once the pride of North Omaha, it became home to OPS offices.
"Certainly I have a feeling of remorse," Boozer said upon Tech's closing. "It produced more outstanding athletes than any other school."
If anyone had the sheer will to save Tech High, it was Josh Gibson (class of '39). But the catalyst for Omaha's greatest generation of athletes drifted into the neighborhood background in the '70s as his family dismantled. Divorced from his wife and estranged from his kids, Josh found a new routine, working in social services.
In 1981, the Baseball Hall of Fame inducted his little brother.
Since the mid-'60s, Josh and Bob had drifted apart and it didn't improve with Bob's retirement. Little brother paid his sisters' way to Cooperstown for the ceremony, but his brothers were on their own. Josh refused to go.
On Sept. 21, 1982, the last official day of summer, Josh drove a friend home from work. He walked back to his car on North Eighth Street when he suffered a heart attack and died. He was 61.
Zion Baptist hosted the funeral and a big crowd attended. But when the service ended, nephew Fred Jr. said, they realized they didn't have enough pallbearers — Josh was a big man. The Gibsons rushed to the casket and lifted. Even Bob.
"We all put that man in the hearse," Fred Jr. said.
Josh's former players took it hard. Phil Wise, a '67 Tech High grad who played nine years in the NFL, lost his dad at 12 years old, just about the time he came under Josh's wing. Sixty years later, he better understands the men who blazed trails, sometimes with great personal sacrifice.
"They were in the fire. Discrimination burning all around. Every turn, nobody was there to help them. And sometimes it gets the best of you. You're just mean. You don't trust. Those demons still follow us around. Josh had those demons. Look at what Bob Gibson has accomplished; those demons still follow him. If you're a black man and you grew up through those times, we all faced those demons."
Wise keeps a wall hanging in his TV room: "I can do hard things." That's what Josh Gibson represented to him.
"If it's hard, it's worth something."
Every year, Gale Sayers traveled to the Mayo Clinic for his physical. By 2013, Ardie feared something was terribly wrong.
She detailed his symptoms, prompting a series of tests that led to a diagnosis: dementia. Doctors believed that football played a major role.
The goal line moved that day. The daily routine didn't change. "For better or worse, for richer or poorer," Ardie says. "You're supposed to stay together and go through it together."
Trials tested their patience. Gale didn't take orders easily, especially from strangers. Get away from me! But eventually he needed a nurse in the home 24 hours a day. He can't sign his name. He can't brush his teeth. Often he can't feed himself.
He once said he needed only "18 inches of daylight" to elude a defense. Now Galloping Gale is trying to walk again.
He attends physical therapy three times a week, but he spends his days in a modified wheelchair,