The Phantom Punch at 50

Interactive guide to our stories, photos, audio and video | Audio: Listen to the radio broadcast from the fight | Video: Can you see the punch? | Interactive timeline of the fighters’ careers | Newspaper coverage & readers’ memories from 1965

LEWISTON — Fifty years cause legends to grow beyond recognition, of course, but it’s safe to say Bates College students used their cleverness to concoct a variety of free passageways into the Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston rematch at St. Dominic’s Arena.

Brothers Al and Keith Harvie came by their complimentary admission honestly, in a paid capacity. As it turned out, though, they didn’t have to work nearly as hard as their peers.

They were among eight Bates track and field athletes recruited by United Press International as runners. Al, two weeks shy of graduation, was sequestered behind Ali’s corner. Keith, a sophomore, awaited his dispatch from Liston’s post.

“We were assigned to a photographer,” Al, now a retired educator and coach, said. “Where the locker rooms were, UPI had their wire set up, so after each round we were going to take the film.”

“In those days, they would develop it and immediately put it out over the wire,” Keith added. “We get our credentials, we’re assigned our photographer, and you stand behind them and you wait. I never carried a single roll of film.”

Liston went down, either from a glancing blow or of his own volition, depending upon whom you believe, less than two minutes after the opening bell.

Neither man, two of six brothers who grew up in South Portland, saw the full scene unfold.

“Ali blocked him and Liston blocked me,” Keith said. “It was there. I was within less than 10 feet.”

Partial credit for the invitation goes both to timing and talent.

The elder Harvie stopped by the office of sports information director Art Griffiths, who planned to present Al with a collection of photos from his track and field career as a parting gift.

During their conversation, the phone rang. Griffiths covered the mouthpiece, asked if Harvie would be available the following Tuesday night, and if he could round up seven other candidates.

“I literally ran to track practice,” Al said. “Keith was there and I got six other guys. We were going to get $20 each. That’s more than I made in a month in the dining hall.”

Keith interrupted the story, one he fact-checked through a 2005 newspaper piece celebrating the 40th anniversary of the fight.

“There’s an asterisk to that. Of course we would have paid $10 bucks to go in, so he said, ‘You get $10.’ I was thrilled,” Keith said. “Years later I read in the paper that Al was pocketing $10. I called him up and said, ‘You know how much beer you owe me?’”

Al is captured in a photograph in the next day’s Lewiston Evening Journal. He is seen wearing a yellow press button that remains his only memento of the occasion.

“It’s all the proof I have left that I was there,” he said. “Nobody would know what that badge was. It doesn’t say anything about Ali or anything.”

Other Bates students used more creative license to gain the access of a lifetime.

Some of Al’s friends borrowed white coats and a bucket of potato chips and got past security by pretending to be vendors, he said. Another grabbed a stack of newspapers and masqueraded as a delivery boy. Keith recalled attractive female classmates, standing just outside the door, being given $100 tickets in the 16th row.

Still another friend of Keith’s, Peter Heil, grabbed a typewriter and a stack of notebooks, forged a pass under the name ‘University Press’ and elicited the help of two friends, including Brian Carlson, to participate in the ruse.

After being denied at the main entrance, the trio passed muster with a pair of security guards at the media door, including one who led them to ringside.

“The security guy set up a little table for them in Ali’s corner next to Muhammad’s mother and wife,” Keith said. “They went out later to the victory reception at the Holiday Inn. Brian was standing next to Howard Cosell for 10 minutes eating shrimp. Ali’s mom and wife waved at him when they saw him again.”

That wasn’t the end of the connection. Carlson later became president of Mount Ida College, where he presented Ali with an honorary degree.

“It was an event,” Al said of the fight and his participation. “I was getting ready for graduation. I was getting ready for Boston and the New England track meet, and all of a sudden this dropped on us.”

“My impression of Ali was that if Liston was a bear, then Ali was a Bengal tiger,” Keith said. “He moved like a light heavyweight. He truly did ‘float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.’”

So efficiently, in fact, that the Harvie brothers never needed to unleash their own best moves.

The Phantom Punch at 50: Interactive guide to our stories, photos, audio and video


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