Four decades later, another battle of the sexes

CNN correspondents and commentators experienced the 2016 presidential election in unique and interesting ways. This recollection and others were produced in conjunction with CNN's election project, "A Race Like No Other: The Unprecedented Election of 2016."

(CNN)For those of us old enough to remember 1973, the 2016 presidential debates had a very familiar feel.

As always, there was the saturation coverage, the sense that the world was watching. There was the intensity of the moment, the knowledge that the stakes could not have been higher.
There also was something new: A woman sharing the national stage with a man.
On September 26, 2016, Hillary Clinton debated Donald Trump for the first time.
    All I could think of was September 20, 1973.
    That night, Billie Jean King, one of my childhood heroes, played tennis hustler and self-declared male chauvinist pig Bobby Riggs in what was known as the "Battle of the Sexes." The match drew more than 30,000 spectators to the Houston Astrodome and millions more on network TV.
    There was a carnival atmosphere that evening as King, then 29, and Riggs, 55, took the court. King even gave Riggs a gift before the match: a live pig wearing a large pink bow.
    Then she routed him in three sets: 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
    The next day at school in the Toledo suburbs, my friends and I were ecstatic. It was the first time we had ever seen a woman beat a man at anything.
    Moving ahead 43 years, on the evening after the first presidential debate, as luck would have it, I happened to be with King, moderating a town hall with her in Walnut Creek, California.
    As we waited in the green room at the theater, I brought up the debate, and how I kept thinking of her match with Riggs.
    "I did the same thing," King said. "Isn't that something? There were so many similarities, so many of the same issues, people wondering if a woman could hold her own against a man."
    An hour later, we were on stage, with an audience of 800 hanging on King's every word. I brought up the parallels between the debate and her match with Riggs. King, who endorsed Clinton and made occasional appearances on her behalf during the campaign, was pleased to discuss it.
    "It was important back then," King said, "and it was really important last night."
    Soon it was time to move on to another topic, but the sports journalist in me couldn't resist adding one final comparison:
    "Same result, too."