History produces rivalries. It writes Shakespearean plays. It makes pawns of us all.

Kennedy vs. Nixon. Letterman vs. Leno. Robert Conrad vs. Gabe Kaplan.

Conrad and Kaplan will be forever linked through their controversial 100-meter challenge race in the first Battle of the Network Stars (1976-1985, 1989), which returns to ABC on Thursday night. NBC won the running relay but was penalized two seconds for an early baton exchange, handing ABC the victory. Then Conrad, the captain of the NBC team, protested and cursed, while smoking a cigarette, even intimating that he would remove his team from the competition. Finally, he challenged Kaplan — the ABC captain who ran track in high school — to a one-on-one race.

Conrad led the first 80 meters. Then Kaplan passed him and won the race.

“Congratulations, you saved our show,” Howard Cosell told Kaplan.

Robert Conrad and Gabe Kaplan changed Battle of the Network Stars, giving the made-for-television event heft and gravitas, elevating it from exhibition to competition. Yes, there was the novelty of watching Jimmie Walker of Good Times sitting in a dunk tank, Penny Marshall of Laverne & Shirley run the obstacle course and the PG-rated titillation of Lynda Carter — TV’s Wonder Woman — in an almost see-through swimsuit. But it also mattered who won. It mattered to Conrad and Kaplan.

Battle of the Network Stars represents a simpler time, when Antenna TV was the only TV and things like Nielsen ratings and TV Guide still meant something. Competitors and viewers took it seriously, because David Letterman — a member of the CBS team in Battle V — had not yet ushered in the age of irony. For one generation, Battle of the Network Stars belongs on the shelf next to Schoolhouse Rock and WWF trading cards, because Lou Ferrigno’s performance in the Tug of War in Battle VI was more impressive than any episode of The Incredible Hulk.

There was only person who could have hosted the exact intersection of sports, entertainment and 1970s kitsch: Howard Cosell. A bigger network star than any of the competitors, Cosell was equally at home on Monday Night Football, his own Saturday night variety series or flirting with Battle co-hosts like Erin Gray and Morgan Fairchild in Malibu, Calif. He found the right balance and listening to Cosell broadcast each battle-ending Tug of War was a lesson in poetry. After ABC beat NBC in Battle VIII, as Randi Oakes cried in the arms of Sarah Purcell, Cosell quoted Keats: “My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense.”

When NBC and ABC tugged for a record 12 minutes, 53 seconds in Battle XI, Cosell said:

No, they’re not professional athletes. None of them. But that’s not what sport is really all about. What sport is about is the human spirit. … and they forsake the glamour, and they want the victory. But even if they lose, they are victors. … Why would they do it? They do it because of the human spirit. This is very special, ladies and gentlemen.

Conrad got his revenge against Kaplan, beating him in the Tug of War in Battle II. Kaplan and ABC won Battle III, then Conrad and NBC took Battle V. But as the Conrad-Kaplan era ended, Battle of the Network Stars attracted fewer big names but better athletes.

Scott Baio competed in six Battles and made the obstacle course look easy. Tom Selleck, who played basketball at Southern Cal, and Judy Norton-Taylor, who practiced with a professional roller derby team, led CBS to back-to-back victories in Battles IX and X. Gregory Harrison and Randi Oakes flirted via the baseball dunk and eventually married. Harrison was better in the water events, Oakes better on land. William Devane spanned two eras, competing for NBC in the 1970s and CBS in the 80s. Mark Harmon, who played quarterback at UCLA, and Billy Moses dominated the event’s final years.

These are the greatest athletes in the history of the Battle of the Network Stars.

[1] Mark HARMON

Hometown | Burbank, Calif.

Network | NBC

Series | Flamingo Road (1980-82), St. Elsewhere (1983-86)

Scouting report | Quarterback at UCLA in 1972 and 73, leading the Bruins to a 17-5 record, including an upset of No. 1 Nebraska. Played rugby in college and baseball in high school.

Battles | Four

As captain | One

Events won | 15

Signature event | Obstacle course. He won it four times and holds the record with a time of 17.50 seconds.

Greatest Battle | Battle XVII, December 1984. He won the obstacle course and led his team to wins in the running relay, swimming relay, tandem bike relay and Tug of War. He also had one interception in the football game and dunked Heather Locklear twice in the baseball dunk.

Epilogue | Harmon married Pam Dawber in 1987. They have two children. Since 2003, he has played Leroy Jethro Gibbs in NCIS.

[2] Scott BAIO

Hometown | Brooklyn, N.Y.

Network | ABC

Series | Happy Days (1977-84)

Scouting report | People magazine (Oct. 11, 1982): He was a wiry natural jock — a pitcher with a “good curve” and a quarterback creamed by oncoming linemen “who shaved in second grade.”

Battles | Six

As captain | One

Events won | 10

Signature event | Obstacle course. He won it three times and once held the record.

Greatest Battle | Battle XIV, May 1983. The only competitor to win the obstacle course and quarterback the winning football team in the same Battle. He also won the running relay and dunked Meredith Baxter-Birney twice in the baseball dunk.

Epilogue | Baio starred in Charles in Charge (1984-90) and played a doctor in Diagnosis Murder (1993-95). But he was mostly known for dating every hot actress in Hollywood from the late 1970s to the early 90s. Last year he supported Donald Trump for president and spoke at the Republican National Convention.

[3] Gabe KAPLAN

Hometown | Brooklyn, N.Y.

Networks | ABC, NBC

Series | Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-79), Lewis & Clark (1981-82)

Scouting report | Ran track and played baseball in high school. Invited to spring training by the San Francisco Giants. “I was a damned good hitter, but I took my life in my hands trying to catch fly balls.”

Battles | Six

As captain | Six

Events won | 14

Signature events | Running relay and 3-on-3 football. He won the running relay five times, including the showdown with Robert Conrad in Battle I, and he was quarterback of the winning football team three times. Both records.

Greatest Battle | Battle XI, December 1981. Three touchdown passes in the football game and wins in the running relay and Tug of War, which lasted a record 12:53, in his final Battle.

Epilogue | Kaplan became a professional poker player. He has earned almost $2 million.

[4] Judy NORTON-TAYLOR

Hometown | Van Nuys, Calif.

Network | CBS

Series | The Waltons (1971-81)

Scouting report | Practiced with the Los Angeles Thunderbirds, a professional roller derby team. Grew up skiing, playing tennis and participating in equestrian sports.

Battles | Three

Events won | 12

Signature event | Obstacle course. She won it three times, beating record-holder Kristy McNichol, Susan Richardson and Randi Oakes.

Greatest Battle | Battle IX, December 1980. Arguably the greatest performance in Battle history. On the first day, she helped CBS win the swimming relay and kayak relay and scored two touchdowns in the 3-on-3 football game but suffered a broken finger on a deflected pass. On the second day, she returned to win the obstacle course, running relay and Tug of War.

Epilogue | Norton-Taylor posed in Playboy in August 1985 to shed her wholesome Waltons image. She participated in two world records in skydiving the following year. She is still acting and living in Los Angeles.

[5] Randi OAKES

Hometown | Sumner, Iowa (pop. 2,009)

Networks | NBC, ABC

Series | CHiPs (1979-82), Lovers and Other Strangers (1982-83)

Scouting report | none

Battles | Five

Events won | 14

Signature event | Running relay. She shared in five wins — a women’s record.

Greatest Battle | Battle XIV, May 1983. She won the obstacle course and helped ABC win the running relay and kayak relay. She also dunked Tom Wopat twice in the baseball dunk and had one reception in the football game.

Epilogue | Oakes retired from acting in 1985. She married Battle rival Gregory Harrison in 1980. They have four children.

[6] Billy MOSES

Hometown | Ojai, Calif.

Network | CBS

Series | Falcon Crest (1981-87)

Scouting report | Played football in high school until he dislocated his hip.

Battles | Four

Events won | Nine

Signature event | Swimming relay. He shared in three wins — a record three as the anchor man.

Greatest Battle | Battle XV, December 1983. He won the obstacle course and led CBS to wins in the swimming relay and kayak relay. He also had two touchdown catches and one interception in the football game.

Epilogue | Moses co-starred in 22 Perry Mason movies and has appeared in more than 30 other made-for-TV movies.

[7] Gregory HARRISON

Hometown | Avalon, Calif., on the Santa Catalina Island (pop. 3,728)

Network | CBS

Series | Trapper John, M.D. (1979-86)

Scouting report | Excellent in the water. Lifelong surfer. Also swimming and kayaking.

Battles | Four

Events won | 10

Signature events | Baseball dunk. He is the all-time leader with nine dunks, including seven of future wife Randi Oakes.

Greatest Battle | Battle IX, December 1980. He helped lead CBS to wins in the swimming relay, kayak relay, running relay and Tug of War. He also dunked Arte Johnson twice in the baseball dunk.

Epilogue | Harrison married Oakes in 1980. They have four children. He beat a cocaine addiction in the mid-80s and has since appeared in more than 40 made-for-TV movies.

[8] William DEVANE

Hometown | Albany, N.Y.

Networks | NBC, CBS

Series | Black Beauty (1978), From Here to Eternity (1979-80) and Knots Landing (1983-93)

Scouting report | An award-winning polo player.

Battles | Six

As captain | Four

Events won | 11

Signature event | Swimming relay. He shared in a record four wins, once as the anchor man.

Greatest Battle | Battle V, November 1978. He led NBC to wins in the running relay, swimming relay and Tug of War. He also dunked Gabe Kaplan in the baseball dunk.

Epilogue | Devane, most famous for his role as President Kennedy in the made-for-TV movie The Missiles of October in 1974, has played fictional presidents in Stargate SG-1, 24 and The Dark Knight Rises.

[9] Tom SELLECK

Hometown | Detroit, then Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Network | CBS

Series | Magnum, P.I. (1980-88)

Scouting report | Played basketball at Southern Cal for two seasons (1965-67), scoring four points in 10 games. From the school’s media guide: “Agile and quick performer who adds depth on front line. Business administration major is good jumper with fine mobility. Rapidly improving shooter has impressed coaches with his hustle in practice. Needs to work on defense.”

Battles | Two

As captain | One

Events won | Nine

Signature events | Swimming relay, 3-on-3 football and Tug of War. He competed in just two Battles and won each of these events both times.

Greatest Battle | Battle IX, December 1980. He led CBS to wins in the running relay, swimming relay and Tug of War. He also threw two touchdown passes in the football game and dunked Arte Johnson three times in the baseball dunk.

Epilogue | Selleck won an Emmy Award in 1984 for playing private detective Thomas Mangum in Magnum, P.I. He was also Courtney Cox’s boyfriend in Friends (1996-97), police chief Jessie Stone in nine made-for-TV movies and a casino owner in Las Vegas (2007-08). He has played New York police commissioner Frank Reagan in Blue Bloods since 2010.

[10] Robert CONRAD

Hometown | Chicago

Network | NBC

Television series | He played tough guys: real-life World War II pilot Pappy Boyington in Baa Baa Black Sheep (1976-78), an 18th century fur trader in Centennial (1978-79), a boxer turned private detective in The Duke (1979) and a freelance spy in A Man Called Sloane (1979).

Scouting report | Played football and basketball in high school. He was 4-0-1 as a professional boxer in the 1960s.

Battles | Six

As captain | Five

Events won | 12

Signature event | Tug of War. Conrad’s teams never lost a Tug of War in four tries. “It comes down to a question of courage,” he said as a color analyst in 1983.

Greatest Battle | Battle II, May 1977. He led NBC to wins in the kayak relay and Tug of War and dunked Hal Linden in the baseball dunk.

Epilogue | Conrad starred in nearly 20 made-for-TV movies, including Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy, and two more series. In 2003, he pleaded no contest to felony DUI charges after a head-on collision. The accident left the right side of Conrad’s body partially paralyzed.