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Serious Answerer
RE: Why was distance running so popular in the 70s (or 80s)? Was it more popular than football?
Prefontaine had little if anything to do with the larger popularity of running in that era. Almost nothing that happened on the track did. It was a road phenomenon, mainly a marathon one. Patti Catalano Dillon was a more important "popular" figure than Prefontaine, and of course, the four biggest were Frank Shorter, Joan Benoit, Bill Rodgers and Alberto Salazar.
But no, running was not bigger than football.

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