Wide-Eyed World of Sports, The Full Version

My many thanks today to my fellow blogger and sports fan Clay Morgan (you know, the cool guy who runs educlaytion.com?) for featuring an abbreviated version of this post over at his site. Since I did promise my readers, here’s the full version along with some pics. You know you want this 2000-word behemoth…

If you’re a fellow Gen X’er, you remember the Wide World of Sports, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. You also remember having only (maybe) a half-dozen channels on which to watch sports. Until the mid-80s, there was no NFL Network, no DirectTV sports packages, no countless variations of ESPN. You paid attention to the big sporting events like the World Series, the Olympics, and the Grand Slam tennis and golf tournaments whether you really liked those sports or not. Everybody parked around their brand-new, 19-inch Zenith TV on Saturdays and Sundays to watch their favorite teams and athletes do battle.

Don’t get me wrong; I really like today’s instantaneous, 24/7 coverage of sports. I never need to call anybody to ask what the score is as in years past, or breathlessly await the next morning’s paper to look at the Dodgers-Padres box score from last night. It’s only a click away. At the same time, I’ve gotten oversaturated on sports. Should I watch the NBA Finals or the Stanley Cup playoffs? The Masters or the NFL Draft? The Kentucky Derby or Saturday afternoon baseball? With so many choices on so many networks, it all becomes one big blur with the voice of Al Michaels or John Madden after a while. It’s like one of those gluttonous Chinese buffets as opposed to having to wait for a gourmet, slow-cooked roast. Instant gratification versus measured patience. In America, measured patience almost always gets its collective ass sat on the bench. (This is why, for those of you who may wonder, why baseball has been eclipsed by football, basketball and UFC as America’s favorite pastime.)

One thing about growing up in the 80s: I became a fan of sports for sports’ sake. There was nothing I didn’t watch in those years. (Well, there was WWF, but I don’t personally count it as a sport.) I still have my favorites, baseball and hockey, but I watched everything from alpine skiing to weightlifting in those pre-ESPN days. I developed a deep appreciation for the skills behind different sports and the strategy employed by the players and coaches. Never much of a competitive athlete myself, I instead soaked in with the commentary and, in many cases, the Cold War subtext of it all.

It’s been said that people do not remember days, but rather remember moments. I’m too young to have seen some of the classic sports moments (the Miracle on Ice, Affirmed’s Triple Crown, the Immaculate Reception, to name just a few) as anything but grainy archival footage. But there were plenty of moments that stuck with me. Here I am, taking a trip, as a baseball announcer might say, way, way back…

January 17, 1988: AFC Championship Game, “The Fumble”

I’m not sure what it is about pro sports in Cleveland, but they have a thing for futility and heartbreak. The original Browns (now the Ravens: damn you, Art Modell) were a damn good team in the late 80s. Led by quarterback Bernie Kosar, the Browns made it to the AFC Championship Game against the Broncos at Mile High. At one point down 21-3, Kosar led his team to a furious 4th-quarter comeback to tie 31-31. Later, Earnest Byner, who had otherwise put up stellar stats with nearly 200 all-purpose yards and 2 TDs, would forever be remembered for “The Fumble” inside the 3 when he appeared to be going in for a tying score after the Broncos went up 38-31. Oops. The Browns eventually did win a Super Bowl…after they’d been moved from Cleveland to Baltimore. As a Chargers fan, all I’ve got to say is that sports-wise San Diego is a lot like Cleveland, only the weather doesn’t suck and the fans are much more attractive.

June 9, 1989: Sunday Silence vs. Easy Goer, “The Last Great Horse Racing Rivalry”

Horses must be in my blood. I’ve ridden and trained them most of my life. Horse racing was no different. Every spring I’m glued to the TV watching the Triple Crown races. Just to give people an idea what a rare and difficult feat it is to win all three legs, the last to do it was Affirmed in 1978, before I was born. Like so many other sports, horse racing ratings spike when two dynamic, contrasting personalities go head-to-head. Sunday Silence was sold for the modest sum of $50,000, while his rival Easy Goer had far superior bloodlines. The two would meet only four times in their careers. I’d argue that the Preakness, in which Sunday Silence won by a half-nose, was even more exciting than the Belmont, which Easy Goer won by a handy eight lengths, denying yet another Triple Crown hopeful. Later that year, Sunday Silence got his revenge in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. If horse racing ever wants to recapture America’s attention, it needs another rivalry like this one. These two equine combatants never exchanged a heated word, but then, they didn’t have to.

April 20, 1986: Jordan Scores 63 in Playoff Loss, “The Changing of the Guard”

I can’t really remember the first time I saw Michael Jordan play. It’s like asking someone when they first saw the Mona Lisa or heard Beethoven’s Fifth. You don’t really remember seeing or hearing a masterpiece; you only remember that you did. I’d followed Jordan’s promising young career since our family had ties to his home state of North Carolina. When I saw this game on TV and saw the future GOAT (Greatest of All Time…sorry to disappoint Mr. Bryant and Mr James) doing what he did so well, I knew I was witnessing history. After having played only 18 games that season with a foot Injury, Jordan came back in the most epic way possible. Said aging Celtic superstar Larry Bird: “I think it’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan.” Couldn’t have said it better myself. Just the first step on a glory road for Jordan and the Bulls.

October 15, 1988: Kirk Gibson’s Pinch-Hit Homer, “I Don’t Believe What I Just Saw”

It behooves me to include this one, being as I am a die-hard San Diego Padres fan. The most memorable baseball moment of the 80s had to be either this one or the infamous Buckner Ball, however, and I’m going with an upper instead of a downer. Gibson, at the time suffering a stomach virus and two bum knees, wasn’t expected to play at all in the World Series. His one and only plate appearance would be legendary. Every kid dreams about a situation like the one Gibson faced: down 0-2, bottom of the 9th, trailing by a run. Few get to live that dream. Against nasty closer Dennis Eckersley, Gibson, on pure adrenaline, launched a slider long into the night and into baseball immortality, prompting Vin Scully to utter his equally famous line.

January 2, 1982: San Diego Chargers vs. Miami Dolphins, “The Game Nobody Should Have Lost”

This one is like a dream. I know I watched it when I was on, and I’ve since seen it in countless replays. If you were into drama and swings of emotion, this game had plenty of it. It had legends: Dan Fouts, Dolphins coach Don Shula, and the Chargers’ Kellen Winslow, who had to be carried off the field when it was all over. My beloved Bolts went on to lose the next game, but this had to serve as their Super Bowl. Bryant Gumbel, who anchored the game, later said, “If you didn’t like this game, then you don’t like football.”

June 27, 1988: Mike Tyson KO’s Michael Spinks, “One and For All”

I feel pretty bad about what’s happened to Mike Tyson. The guy used to be one of the baddest mofos on the planet, and now he’s a punchline in movies and SNL sketches. Forget for a minute the shocking loss to Buster Douglas in 1990 and the tragic, tattooed latter years. At this point in his career, Tyson was simply a force of nature. Spinks, no slouch himself, actually looked terrified. The result was a KO 91 seconds into the fight. It wasn’t even close. Tyson would go on to 2 years of unquestioned dominance and his own Nintendo game, which is how you knew you’d really made it as an athlete in the 80s.

April 13, 1986: Nicklaus Wins Masters Aged 46, “Old Guys Rule”

Admittedly, a 46-year-old champion in golf is a little more believable than the NFL or NBA, but not by much. There’s something about golf majors that makes me want to watch. The already legendary Nicklaus not only won at Augusta, but captured a record 6th green jacket and his first in 23 years. His 30 on the back nine is still tied for the course best. And his 18 majors? Let’s just say Tiger Woods has some catching up to do. If you think golf can’t be exciting, check out some clips of Nicklaus sometime.

September 27, 1988: Ben Johnson Stripped of Olympic Gold, “The Beginning of the Steroid Era”

Nobody talked about steroids in the 80s. If they did, they were part of some weird subculture. When I look back on what is now called the Steroid Era in Sports, this moment might have been the one that started it all. In a then-unheard of blaze of speed, Canadian sprinter Johnson defeated American Carl Lewis at the Seoul Games. Three days later, he was a goat and certainly no one’s hero. With subsequent stars from Lance Armstrong to Barry Bonds under the clouds of suspicion, we have to ask ourselves how many athletes were doping back then without our ever knowing. Personally I don’t care as much (if everyone is doing it, does it make things even?) but Johnson’s disgrace started a whole new level of conversation in American sports.

November 23, 1984: BC Beats Miami On Last-Second Pass, “The Hail Mary”

If Hollywood were to write a movie about a likable football player not called Rudy, he’d probably be a lot like Doug Flutie. The undersized Boston College QB was already riding a hot hand and would go on (after this game) to win the Heisman Trophy.  His Eagles were facing the defending national champion Miami Hurricanes and trailed 41-45 late in the game. Flutie managed somehow to get the ball to received Gerard Phelan and cemented his place in NCAA history. I don’t want to think about what the odds were on that play. Probably no greater than a 5’9” quarterback eventually starting in the NFL.

February 22, 1980: USA Beats USSR in Lake Placid, “The Miracle on Ice”

OK, so I didn’t actually remember seeing this one live, although I’ve seen it enough times on TV. I’d argue that this is the defining moment in American sports history. It wasn’t even the gold medal game, but the sight of a team of amateurs beating an international juggernaut (and more symbolically, the Eastern Bloc) was awe-inspiring. Yes, I believe in miracles.

Hey…since I still have your attention, don’t forget to click “Like” and add P&Q to your daily reading material!

~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on June 6, 2011.

2 Responses to “Wide-Eyed World of Sports, The Full Version”

  1. I miss the Wide World of Sports. During the last year I’ve been searching for clips on YouTube to show my son some of these all-time great moments. You’ve mentioned a few that I had forgotten.
    I remember my dad being so excited about Nicklaus’ 1986 Masters, and not understanding how much it meant to my dad.

  2. Probably the most exciting horse race in my lifetime was Personal Ensign’s “by a nose” victory over Winning Colors in the 1988 Breeder’s Cup Distaff. Or at least the most exciting finish of a horse race. Okay, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed were also both in my lifetime, but I still think the way Personal Ensign won that race was perhaps even more exciting!

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