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And so The Tonight Show tradition continues.

No, I don't mean Jimmy Fallon becoming the new host of the 60-year-old late-night television talk-show landmark, or the show's returning to its New York roots after a 42-year hiatus, although those are noteworthy, too.

I mean the tradition of athletes-as-celebrities appearing on Tonight.

Last Monday, Fallon's first night as the show's host, Joe Namath and Mike Tyson made brief appearances. Fallon himself has a connection, of sorts, with sports. In 2005, he starred in "Fever Pitch," a romantic comedy about a long-suffering Red Sox fanatic who has a pretty good year: He falls in love and gets to see his team win its first World Series in 86 seasons.

When Steve Allen hosted the debut of the original Tonight Show on Sept. 27, 1954, Willie Mays, then the toast of New York, was a guest. Unlike Tyson and Namath, whose glory days are long gone, Mays' star wasn't just ascending, it was soaring. The day before appearing on the first Tonight Show, Mays had just concluded the regular season with a .345 batting average, 41 home runs and 110 runs batted in. Two days after appearing on Tonight, he would make a still-celebrated catch in Game 1 of the World Series at the Polo Grounds as the Giants went on to sweep the highly favored Cleveland Indians.

What else was going on in sports when The Tonight Show took its first late-night bow in 1954? Well, you've got to remember, that was 60 years ago.

There were 16 major-league baseball teams, none west of St. Louis.

Rocky Marciano, weighing in at 188 pounds, was boxing's heavyweight champion.

The Minneapolis Lakers, with three consecutive titles, were the defending champions of the nine-team NBA.

The Detroit Red Wings were Stanley Cup champions of the six-team NHL.

La Salle was the NCAA men's basketball champion.

UCLA and Ohio State were about to have undefeated seasons and finish No. 1 in the AP and UPI college football polls, respectively.

The Cleveland Browns, led by quarterback Otto Graham, would go on to win the NFL championship, routing the Detroit Lions, 56-10.

Jack Paar took over as host of The Tonight Show on July 29, 1957, in the last summer the Giants and Dodgers would call New York home. Although Paar became famous for steering the late-night talk-show format on a more intellectual course, with interviews of authors and other intellectuals, one of Paar's more purely entertaining spots was an Olympic gold medal-winning boxer named Cassius Clay reciting his self-promoting poetry, accompanied by Liberace on piano.

Soon after Johnny Carson became Tonight's host on Oct. 1, 1962, he went to Yankee Stadium to film a spot for the show in which he pitches to Mickey Mantle. Carson, looking nearly like a natural in a baseball uniform, actually knew how to pitch (or at least knew how not to look ridiculous trying). Mantle hit the ball out of the park anyway (you can see it on YouTube) and Carson removed his cap and gave his best Stan Laurel-esque hapless reaction. Carson also went to the Polo Grounds and suited up with the New York Jets (also on YouTube) during Weeb Ewbank's first year as coach, running a quarterback sneak for about a one-inch gain during a scrimmage in which defensive players gleefully piled on.

By the time The Tonight Show got its next host, Jay Leno on May 25, 1992, sports had become a mega business/

entertainment industry. Among Leno's too-numerous-to-mention athlete-guests were bejeweled NBA star Dennis Rodman, in an ensemble that included high-heel sneakers; NFL star Jason Sehorn proposing marriage to actress Angie Harmon; Lakers superstar Shaquille O'Neal performing a rap duet with Peter Gunz; and two-time heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman telling fat jokes and promoting his greaseless burger grill.

In the first 15 shows of Conan O'Brien's ill-fated run as host of Tonight, which began on June 1, 2009 and ended nine months later, guests included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Joe Torre, Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson. Serena Williams and Shaun White also appeared with O'Brien. But it's unlikely even an appearance by Mariano Rivera could have saved Tonight for O'Brien, whom NBC replaced by the host he had replaced.

As for Leno, his second stint as Tonight's host began as the 2010 Winter Olympics ended, and it ended as the 2014 Winter Games began.

That's called symmetry. Or synergy. Or something.

The Tonight Show and sports. Long live the connection.

(Robert Rubino can be reached at RobertoRubino@comcast.net.)