Today, everybody would have noticed, but in November of 1974 nobody realized the oddly shaped check mark on the legend’s chest was facing the wrong direction.
Nike’s famous Swoosh logo was designed in 1971 and debuted on track shoes in 1972 and was still years away from becoming iconic when running legend Steve Prefontaine visited Tacoma in ’74 to run with friends.
Prefontaine, who died May 30, 1975, loved running in Tacoma, hometown of his University of Oregon roommate, Pat Tyson. So, when he planned a visit to run at Point Defiance and make a public appearances, Nike made him a jacket for the trip.
The jacket was white and trimmed with a red Nike logo stitched on his left chest. A picture published in the Nov. 15, 1974, edition of The News Tribune shows the logo was stitched on backward.
None of the high school students that showed up for a morning run with the NCAA champion and Olympic star gave the backward logo a second glance, Tyson said. Neither did the kids at Hunt and Mason junior highs or at Scott’s Athletic Equipment in Lakewood.
Tyson, a Lincoln High graduate now coaching at Gonzaga, coordinated the visit that would be one of the last for Prefontaine. The runner favored to win gold at the ‘76 Olympics died 6 1/2 months later in a single-car accident in Eugene.
During his visit to Tacoma, Prefontaine jogged through Point Defiance Park with some of Tacoma’s fastest runners, and, near the Rhododendron Garden, he proclaimed, “This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever run. You don’t know what you have here.”
The park reminded him of Coos Bay, Oregon, his hometown, and the waterfront reminded him of Finland, where he’d set the U.S. 5,000-meter record that summer. In fact, Tacoma would later be used as the filming location for “Prefontaine,” one of two movies made about Prefontaine. Academy Award-winner Jared Leto played Prefontaine and The University of Puget Sound played the role of the University of Oregon in the 1997 film.
You are all freaks to get up this early.”
Steve Prefontaine talking to a group ot Tacoma runners in 1974.
Prefontaine made several trips to Tacoma and ran at Point Defiance each time, Tyson said in a 2015 interview with The News Tribune.
During his final visit Tyson and local running star Sam Ring took Prefontaine to a tavern on 38th Street. Prefontaine, 23 at the time, loved being around people.
“He had a genuine interest in people,” Ring said in 2015. “He’d strike up a conversation with anybody.”
“As long as they didn’t get weird,” said Tyson. “You know, grab on and consume him with stupid questions.”
Shortly after their arrival at the tavern, things got ugly. Two men were fighting over a woman. Prefontaine intervened and helped defuse the brawl. “But we figured we better get him out of there,” Ring said. They moved on to the Schooner Pub in Lakewood.
At 6:15 the next morning, as they did every morning, the men planned to go for a run. They’d invited a few friends, but word got out and spread quickly.
When they started near the corner of Narrows Drive and Jackson Street, an estimated 50 people were there, shivering in the cold so they could run with the man who’d finished fourth in the 5,000 meters at the ’72 Olympics. The News Tribune sent a reporter and a photographer.
“You are all freaks to get up this early,” Prefontaine told the crowd.
They ran six miles at about 10 mph. Pre worked the crowd.
“He was cordial as always,” Terry Rice said in 2015. “He’d run up in front, then drop back and jog with the wogglers.”
Rice taught at Hunt, and Ring taught at Mason, and both were impressed by Prefontaine’s presentations at the schools later that day. He loaded a projector, showed film from some races and talked about setting goals.
The usually restless kids were silent as they listened.
“He was very special,” Rice said. “He had a charisma that is hard to describe.”
Pat Cordle was a senior at Wilson High when Ring, his old junior high coach, asked if he wanted to go on the morning run with Prefontaine.
Of course he did.
“It’s had a lasting impact on me,” Cordle said in 2015 from his office at Bic headquarters in Connecticut where he is vice president of field sales.
He is 60 now and still passionate about running. He travels the world to race with friends.
Cordle still has the image of Prefontaine and the backward Swoosh from the 1974 run. And hanging on his office wall is a black and white photo of Prefontaine in the final steps of a victory at Hayward Field. Above it is one of the runner’s most famous quotes.
In 2011, Cordle was inducted into the Convenience Store News Industry Hall of Fame. During his acceptance speech, he told the story of running the streets of Tacoma with the man who helped inspire his work ethic.
Then, he shared the Prefontaine quote: “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”