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That Time the Islanders Were on ABC's 'The Superstars'

Back in the 1970s and 80s, four New York Islanders competed against elite athletes on ABC's "The Superstars"

by Cory Wright WrightsWay / NewYorkIslanders.com

Buried in an archive, there's a fantastic photo of Clark Gillies weight lifting - and not in any hockey capacity. 

Gillies is halfway through an Olympic style press and fully dressed in a blue spandex tank top, short shorts, a weightlifter's belt and white gloves. He's on the beach in the Bahamas, with about 30 people watching in the background. Not exactly normal offseason circumstances.

It was taken from 1980, so while this is three years after Pumping Iron hit theatres, Gillies wasn't showing off in a muscle beach workout. He was participating in an ABC show called "The Superstars," pitting athletes from all sports against each other in various competitions. Think Battle of the Network Stars, or Pros vs Joes - just without the Joes. 

Gillies wasn't the only Islanders player to compete either, as Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin and Bob Nystrom all appeared on the show between 1976 and 1982. 

"At that time it was quite a big thing going on," Nystrom said. "I was invited to come down and I was pretty excited about it actually. I had watched the replay of Clark and had a feeling for what was going on there so I trained like crazy."

Video: The Islanders Softball Team

The competitions covered all sorts of baseline athleticism: weight lifting, rowing, swimming, biking, 100 meter dash and some finesse skills, like a closest to the pin golf competition. After all, it would be unfair for Clark Gillies to play one-on-one with Moses Malone in basketball - and vice versa on the ice. The one oversight was the 1982 preliminary where Nystrom went head to head with Lou Ferrigno - yes, The Incredible Hulk and Mr. Universe - in a weight lifting competition.

"I did a pretty good weight I thought, but there was no way I was going to compete against Lou Ferrigno," Nystrom said. 

No matter, Nystrom wound up winning his preliminary event - and a cool $14,900 - winning the swimming, golf and biking events, notably drafting Dino Ciccarelli before overtaking him in the bike race. Nystrom was an avid swimmer growing up and to this day is a serious biker, he will still ride up to 60 miles - through Colorado - in a single day. Winning the swimming and biking competitions buoyed Nystrom through unfamiliar events like rowing.  

"I remember watching and thinking holy cow, Bobby Nystrom can swim," Trottier said.

As for the running, Nystrom said distance is more his thing than speed. 

"I'm like a bulldozer," he said. "I can run a long ways, but I can't go very fast."

Nystrom won one of the four preliminary rounds, but couldn't compete in the final due to the Islanders season. 

Video: 1980: Bob Nystrom's OT goal wins Islanders first Cup

On the show the Islanders competed against a variety of athletes, ranging from hockey players like Phil Esposito, to basketball players, alpine skiers, racquetball players, water skiers, etc. Don't sleep on the athleticism of the individual athletes either. Trottier and Gillies finished second and third in the third preliminary in 1980, with racquetball player Marty Hogan taking first. 

"It's kind of fun to pit yourself against other athletes who aren't playing their prime sport either," Trottier said. 

They enjoyed the company of the other athletes, as Potvin said he formed a friendship with Austrian gold medal skier Franz Klammer for a few years. Trottier said it was a pretty laid back experience down in the Bahamas and he liked getting to show off a different side of himself - even if his family up in Canada wasn't able to tune-in.

"I wasn't as guarded. In hockey, I was really guarded with what I said, but it was really fun being interviewed by Bill Russell," Trottier said. It's an opportunity for sports fans to see a different side of you, and I enjoyed that."

The Superstars ran from 1973-94, and had a brief revival from 1998-2003, but while clips of the show - the Islanders episodes at least - are seemingly lost, they provided some fond, non-hockey memories for the superstar Isles, especially a big fan like Trottier.

"I watched the show for like 10 years," Trottier said. "So to be able to go down, participate and compete at that level was a great adrenaline rush and a great experience."

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