The Heidi Game

The American Football League, formed in 1960, had a shaky start. It hoped to outlast other American Football Leagues which had predated it. But the first years saw teams losing boatloads of money, and a public which didn’t care a whole lot about any professional football except that exhibited by the NFL.

But by 1968, the AFL had become respectable. Just how respectable would be revealed by one of television’s biggest gaffes.

The Heidi Game, aka the Heidi Bowl, took place on November 17, 1968. The game was between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets. Broadway Joe Namath, who would guarantee a Super Bowl win at the end of the season, was facing off against his skilled counterpart, Daryle Lamonica.

The AFL had scored a major coup by getting Joe Willy to join them. He had been drafted by the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals as well as the AFL’s New York Jets. He joined the Jets by signing the biggest rookie contract in history, and thereby did a lot to cement the AFL in place as a legitimate rival for the NFL to deal with.

NBC was covering the AFL, and had modestly successful ratings. While football was certainly a lucrative producer of revenue for them, it was prime-time advertisers who were providing the lion’s share of cash.

NBC was contractually obligated to Timex, the sponsor of a special presentation that night of Heidi. The movie began at 7:00 EST, three hours after the game began. NBC had instructed Dick Cline, their Broadcast Operations Supervisor, to cut to Heidi at 7:00 pm sharp, whether the football game was over or not. And Curt Gowdy, who was announcing the game, had warned the TV audience that that was what was going to happen.

The problem was that it was one whale of a game! The Jets and Raiders had been fighting a see-saw battle, and the score was Jets 32, Raiders 29. The Jets had just kicked a field goal to break the tie, and the Raiders had the ball on their own 23.

Enter Heidi.

To NBC’s credit, they TRIED to change cutting away from the game. As the game drew closer to 7:00, the network heads decided to hold off broadcasting the movie until the contest was finished.

Unfortunately, thousands of callers who had heard Gowdy’s announcement were calling the network begging that the game be shown in its entirety.

The resulting logjam of calls prevented NBC from getting the word to Cline to keep the game on.

The fallout for NBC was huge. In male American minds, Heidi instantly went from a little Swiss girl to a symbol of clueless broadcasting decisions. Twenty minutes into the movie, the score of the game was scrolled across the bottom of the screen. This made fans even madder.

Angry fans sent Heidi dolls to NBC with knives stuck in their backs. The AFL (as well as the NFL) rewrote contracts that now required networks to carry games to their conclusions no matter what the scores. NBC installed a dedicated phone line to the Control Room so that programming directors could be instantly notified of any last-minute changes.

But the most positive thing for football to come out of the whole affair is that the AFL demonstrated that it had developed a rabid following. Two years later they would merge with the NFL, and the rest, as they say, was history.

The First Super Bowl

One of the coolest things about being a Boomer is that we can recall the very roots of the game which brings the USA to a stop every February, as the entire country takes time off (whether formally or informally) to observe two teams play for the championship of the NFL. In fact, some of our sweetest memories are of a time when the game was a game, not a religious observation marked by many hours of pre-game crapola and those silly pretentious Roman numerals.

Indeed, go back far enough and the very term “Super Bowl” was a mere nickname for the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. And the game itself was of interest to football fans, but not so much anyone else.

Commercials were a time to get up and go to the can. The pre-game show lasted a half hour or so. The halftime show was a time to go heat up more Ro-Tel dip. And the game itself was a sleepy demonstration of the vast superiority of the well-established NFL over the young upstarts known as the AFL.

Hmm, come to think of it, maybe it wasn’t so rosy back then after all?

The Super Bowl came into existence when the NFL could no longer ignore the lone competitor that ever arose which successfully challenged their stranglehold on the sport: the American Football League. The senior league struck a deal with the new kids which would end up in a merger three years after the first end-of-season championship game would be played. The leagues would be changed to conferences. But the Big Game would live on.

Program for the first Super Bowl

Pete Rozelle wanted to call the last game of the season “The Big One.” It might have caught on, too, but college postseason games had been called Bowls since antiquity, and Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt suggested Super Bowl. The legend is that he did so after observing his daughter play with a Superball. In fact, the very Superball in question is on display at the the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The first game was played at the L.A. Coliseum, which had a capacity of over 100,000. Nearly 40,000 of those seats were unoccupied. There simply wasn’t that much fan interest in seeing the very heavily favored Green Bay Packers whip up on a team from some Midwest cow town. And that was pretty much what happened, as MVP Bart Starr and the Pack trampled the Chiefs 35-10.

The tickets for the AFL-NFL World Championship Game ran at a starting price for the nosebleed section at six bucks. I seriously doubt there’s a single item for sale in the stadium of today’s game for less than ten bucks. My guess is a glass of ice will run for that.

The NFL wondered if they had done the right thing. So did CBS. In fact, most of that first game’s footage was erased, so the videotape could be used again for more important things.

The halftime show consisted of the University of Arizona and Grambling State University Marching Bands, Al Hirt, and the Anaheim High School Drill Team. I don’t have a figure on what commercial time cost, but I suspect it was somewhat less than three million bucks for thirty seconds, the price at presstime.

Ticket for the first Super Bowl

The next year wasn’t much better. In fact, it took a shocker by flamboyant New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath and his underdog team in 1969 to finally spark public interest. The halftime show remained a pretty staid affair, though, as various marching bands did their thing while the stadium and TV audience ran to the bathroom and/or the food stash. It took the Bicentennial to finally get a high-profile act there with the intention of continuing to hold audience attention. The performers? Up With People. The perennially optimistic group would be featured three more times before being bumped for bigger names.

It was Michael Jackson who put the halftime show over the top in 1993, the year of a particularly dismal game as the Dallas Cowboys disemboweled the Buffalo Bills by 35 points. If not for the Moonwalker, the entire country may have shut the snoozer off by halftime, with Buffalo trailing by 18 points.

Another feature of the Super Bowl which has gone from modest to pure glam is the rings awarded to the champions. The first rings were designed by Jostens, a national jewelry maker better known for class rings. Hence, the rings bore a resemblance to the ones we received in the 60’s and 70’s in our junior years at high school and college.

However, as the game gained in its godlike status, the awarded rings swelled in size, eventually becoming monstrous parodies of bad taste.

Take the rings handed out to the New England Patriots after the 39th Super Bowl in 2005. They had 124 diamonds each and weighed more than a quarter of a pound.

BTW, you might notice I refuse to use the Officially Sanctioned Roman Numerals. Ferpetesake, enough is enough. I enjoy a closely contested Super Bowl as much as anyone, but the self-importance of the whole thing is getting to be overbearing.

One last thought, a positive development in the game’s administration: a game finally being awarded to an outdoor stadium in a less-than-balmy spot. The 2014 game will be played at the New Jersey Meadowlands. That’s going to be a spectacle worth looking forward to, as fans pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for the privilege of sitting in possible sub-zero cold and watch two teams earn their stripes in the weather that football was MEANT to be played in.

Who knows, I might even use Roman numerals to refer to that one.

The 1972 Olympics

Mark Spitz

At presstime, Michael Phelps has just picked up gold medal number eight in the 2008 Summer Olympics. This makes the nostalgic among us (like you and me, for instance) harken back to when the mark of seven was set back in 1972.

The world was a different place back then. The war in Vietnam was still going on. However, Nixon was running for re-election promising “peace with honor.” Gasoline was still dirt cheap, but that was about to change. The previous Olympiad had been notable for the Black Power salute on the medals stand by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, as well as a record that was shocking in its destruction of the previous one, the long jump mark set by Bob Beamon.

What would the 1972 games hold? The event organizers were optimistic that there was less tension in the air than four years previously. The war looked to be winding down. Civil rights were at an all-time high, and getting better every day. Perhaps the 1972 Olympiad would be known as a return to the idealistic standard of sports without politics, or controversy.

Yeah, right.

The 1972 Olympics would certainly have its triumphant moments. For instance, USA swimmer Mark Spitz would win seven gold medals, a feat never before accomplished, and one which would take 36 years to surpass.

Incidentally, this would be followed by Spitz practically disappearing from public consciousness afterwards. A triumphant and handsome athlete who can’t cash in? Methinks he should have shopped around for a better agent. Contrast his case with that of Mary Lou Retton, who is still a familiar face in ads 24 years after winning gold.

Olga Korbut

Another name that jumped into the headlines for positive reasons was that of Olga Korbut. The seventeen-year-old touched a sympathetic nerve with viewers. A member of the cold-hearted, strictly-business Soviet bloc, she nonetheless displayed real tears after making mistakes, something we weren’t used to seeing. That made us cheer hard when she did well, and well she did well indeed. She won three golds and a silver, and would have won more if not for her frequent human failings, another trait that we were not used to seeing among the communist ice princesses.

By the way, Olga, now an American citizen, has had her ups and downs since then, but she appears to be on a nice upswing now, teaching gymnastics at Scottsdale, Arizona.

Controversy would also rear its head at Munich, though, in a minor way (it certainly didn’t seem that way at the time) as well as a tragic act of terrorism.

The US men’s basketball team had never lost in men’s basketball in Olympic play, winning seven gold medals dating back to 1936. But psychopathic timekeeping had a different outcome in mind this time. The end of the game was delayed again and again until Russia finally won. The shocked Americans appealed, and guess what? The two judges from democratic nations voted for them, the three from communist regimes voted against. The Russians won gold, the US refused silver. Even having a present-day democratic Russian government, I.E. winning the REALLY BIG competition, has not stifled the resentment felt all these years later among US Olympic basketball fans (and 1972 team members).

But this was mere sports and political prejudice. Sadly, genuine tragedy would also mar the 1972 games.

Palestinian terrorists kidnapped eleven members of the Israeli team, both athletes and coaches. They held them hostage, demanding the release of 234 prisoners held in Israeli prisons. Negotiations took place, and a plan to overcome the kidnappers and rescue the hostages was implemented. However, German police posing as flight crew on an airliner that was to transport the criminals to a NATO airbase backed down at the last minute and refused to take part.

Snipers attempted to take out the kidnappers, but failed to get them all. One of them tossed a hand grenade into a helicopter that held the Israeli hostages and all were instantly killed.

Thus, the Olympics were also marred by much mourning and anger over the botched rescue attempt, which continues to draw accusations of governmental conspiracy all these years later. Mark Spitz, a Jew, left Munich before the closing ceremony for his own protection.

What will the Olympiad of 2008 be remembered for? It’s too early to tell. But it’s safe to say that Michael Phelps will be looking to greatly surpass the post-Olympic buzz that Mark Spitz managed to harvest.

Spanning the Globe…

Roone Arledge was a man to whom any stockholder of ABC should raise a glass on a regular basis. He was single-handedly responsible for taking the perennially third-rated latecomer network and turning it into the sports powerhouse that it was during the time that we Boomer kids were growing up in the 60’s and 70’s.

Besides Monday Night Football, which is still riding high, Arledge was also responsible for a show which debuted in 1961 whose weekly 90-minute Saturday afternoon run is burned permanently into my memory banks, and probably in yours as well.

“Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport… the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat… the human drama of athletic competition… This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!”

With those words, I would be parked in front of the television set for the next hour and a half, watching competitions between a bewildering variety of athletes, including figure skaters, drag racers, boxers, gymnasts, and jumping frogs.

Jim McKay

At presstime, the world was mourning the recent death of longtime WWoS host Jim McKay. It was McKay who brought the drama to those opening words, which, incidentally, were written by writer/actor Stanley Ralph Ross, who is also known for penning numerous episodes of Batman, The Monkees, and All in the Family.

McKay hosted the show for a dizzying 25 years. Yes, there were others that followed, but McKay is the only one that anybody old enough to remember JFK gives a hoot about.

What I find amazing is that I would sit and watch entranced as sports that were quite obscure, or even competitions that weren’t sports at all, were shown to a kid who would normally not have time for anything but football or baseball.

Somehow, ABC’s Wide World of Sports made a badminton match sound like the most exciting competition in the world.

They also introduced the world to Mexican cliff divers. Rumor has it that ABC payed them a dollar a jump in the early days. It was a lot of bang for the buck. They would take a 150-foot plunge into the ocean, and the world that was tuned in on Saturday afternoon was amazed. It became one of the show’s most popular events, and, one presumes, the divers ended up getting a nice raise.

Other offbeat competitions included firemen trying to outdo each other in spraying a big barrel on a wire in a sort of reverse tug-of-war. The Calaveras County frog jump contest was covered quite regularly. And I’m pretty sure that I can recall Sottish caber-tossing.

But better-known sports were also featured, and made for many unforgettable moments. For example, I am proud to say that I can remember the unlucky Slovene ski jumper (whose name was Vinko Bogataj) taking his tumble on a 1970 episode of WWoS. When it was later integrated into the show’s intro, I had to agree with ABC that the moment pretty well summed up the agony of defeat. Bogataj suffered only a concussion, amazingly enough.

Bowling was so popular that ABC began a 35-year tradition of featuring professional competitions hosted by Chris Schenkel in that same year of 1961.

And of course, Muhammad Ali’s career might not have been the same without the Howard Cosell-announced matches that were part of the Wide World of Sports tradition.

Cable TV doomed the concept of a ninety-minute broadcast network show about every sort of sport under the sun. You still hear the title ABC’s Wide World of Sports applied to a Saturday afternoon special from time to time, but the dominating force that was once the show is long gone.

But as long as there is a single Boomer left on the planet, that unforgettable opening sequence will continue to exist in memory.

Roller Derby!

It wasn’t unusual for a Boomer kid of the 50’s or 60’s to have a Saturday or Sunday afternoon ritual: strolling through the living room to find dad glued to the screen while skaters went round and round a circular track whilst beating the crap out of each other.

Such was roller derby, a sport which captivated the nation over a time period of about forty years.

It all began during the Great Depression. Film publicist Leo “Bromo” Seltzer was struggling, along with the rest of the nation. He saw the success of dance marathons, and decided to cash in on the fad with a twist: he would sponsor similar marathons, only with everyone on roller skates. Sometimes, this would amount to a large number of skaters on a circular or oval track of limited size. It was inevitable that tired skaters, who might have been at it for days, would occasionally get into massive pileups.

Writer Damon Runyan saw potential for the sport cashing in on its potential violent side, and convinced Seltzer to sponsor an “all-out” contest, in which elbowing, punching, and whip-cracking were encouraged.

The public loved it, and roller derby was born. Male and female teams were organized, and the rules were the same for all, a unique situation in the world of spectator sports.

Roller derby went on the road shortly after, with teams traveling all over the country to give their exhibitions. There would always be a “home” team, playing a team from Chicago or New York, in each venue. The public loved it, and demanded more.

A tragic fiery bus crash in 1937 nearly put an early stop to roller derby. 19 or 20 people died (sources vary), and Seltzer had to scramble to hire more skaters. The number “1” was permanently retired in honor of those who lost their lives that day.

By the start of WWII, roller derby was hotter than ever. An estimated 50 million spectators attended matches in 1940. Some cities had their own permanent teams. However, the beginning of the war caused this sport, as in the case of many others, to virtually stop, while its participants enlisted in the armed forces.

Raquel Welch in Kansas City Bomber

After the war, Seltzer wasted no time in getting the sport on television. Roller derby had been broadcast on the radio prior to the war, and its hard-hitting action was a natural for TV. In 1948, CBS broadcast roller derby four nights per week. Many a bar had a TV, so its popularity soared ever higher, even though TV’s in general were still uncommon.

As the 50’s began, Seltzer found himself with some competition. International Roller Speedway was organized, and they practiced a game that varied just a bit from that of Seltzer’s Roller Derby organization. The sport featured a famous spunky participant named Eddie Cazar, whose life story was featured in a Mickey Rooney film of 1950, The Fireball.

Seltzer was still making lots of money, but was getting tired of the headaches of the day-to-day management of affairs, so in 1958, he turned over the reins of the business to his son. By 1961, the IRS (not THAT IRS, unfortunately 😉 had folded, but another rival, Roller Games, had arisen.

Seltzer had roller derby all over the airwaves during the 60’s and early 70’s. In 1972, Raquel Welch starred in Kansas City Bomber, a huge success for the sport. However, the faltering economy, high overhead, and the fuel crisis spawned by the Arab Oil Embargo caused Seltzer to fold things up. Roller Games lasted two more years, when it, too, closed up shop.

Nowadays, roller derby is still around. The Bay City Bombers, the sport’s most recognizable team, still exist, and play exhibition matches. From 1997 to 2001, Rollerjam appeared on TNN. And this year, interest in the sport may once again be spawned by Hollywood. Whip It, produced by Drew Barrymore, is scheduled for a fall release.

So here’s to one of the funnest, funkiest sports in history, one which greatly entertained us, our fathers, and likely our grandfathers during the decades before and after WWII, before the 1970’s economy put it on an extended leave of absence.

Local Wrestling Shows on TV

Gorgeous George with a fan

It all started with a fellow by the name of George Wagner. Wagner was a short-statured high school wrestling champion who tried to make it as a professional wrestler. The sport was not exactly a raging success. Opponents would frequently lock each other up in clinches that kept them virtually motionless for minutes at a time.

Wagner decided to take a walk on the wild side. He grew his hair long, dyed it platinum blond, started using a valet to assist him in his lengthy strolls to the ring, accompanied by the playing of Pomp and Circumstance. His valet would spray his corner (and sometimes his opponent) with disinfectant and perfume. Eventually, the match would ensue. Gorgeous George, as he was now known, would blatantly cheat and gain victory.

Half of the crowd hated his guts. The other half loved him. They all ponied up bucks for tickets. Television, a new medium in the 1940’s, started showing his antics. Professional wrestling, as we know it, was born.

By the 1960’s, there were lots of local wrestling associations all over the US. Many of them had local television shows that would show matches that were intended to draw the audience into showing up for a live show later.

These matches included some home-grown wrestlers who made a few bucks getting “whipped” by “legitimate” stars who competed for local and national titles.

In my area, the contenders included Cowboy Bill Watts and Wahoo McDaniel, who were OU football stars and who also played in the NFL. They wrestled for Jim Crockett Productions, which ran many of the local wrestling outfits.

Also-rans I recall included Apache Gringo, who wore 74 on his shirt to remind him of what year it was. Another was Grizzly Smith, a huge fellow who wrestled in overalls. And of course, there were many villains who hid behind masks.

I loved how the old ladies, cigarettes in corners of mouths, would work themselves into rages at the antics of the combatants. It wasn’t uncommon for one of them to pick up her metal folding chair and go after one of them.

Today, wrestling is BIG business. But I have fond memories of those working stiffs who would take dives for the champs just in time for the show to end on time. Here’s to Saturday afternoons watching Apache Gringo.

Do You Believe in Miracles?

There have been some truly memorable sports calls over the years. I have sweet memories of Harry Caray hollering “It could be, it could be, it is! A home run!” during Cardinal games of the 1960’s. Russ Hodges, who might have otherwise been remembered as a competent but forgettable broadcaster of the New York Giants, cemented his place in history with his breathless 1951 call repeating “THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!” over and over again.

But Sports Illustrated, which has long been the standard by which sports journalism’s excellence is judged, ranked Al Michaels’ “Do you believe in miracles?” call of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team’s victory over Russia as the greatest individual call of the 20th century.

The call was a perfect description of a perfect game, when an entire nation was ecstatic at the same time over a most unlikely victory.

I remember really getting into the Olympics that winter long before the actual event. I purchased a preview magazine that outlined the US’s best chances at medals. The hockey team, according to the prognosticators, would likely be a disappointment.

The team, composed of college players and other amateurs, looked pretty shaky. You had never heard of any of these guys, although many had starred for their various teams that you’d also never heard of. The US team was seeded seventh out of twelve.

The mighty Russians were expected to glide their way to gold. Their players were payed to play, only deviously around the Olympics’ then-rigid rules of amateur athletes only. They played in a well-organized league and had state-of-the-art training facilities. Today’s proliferation of successful Russian NHL players testifies to the deep pool of talent that the nation has long possessed.

The US was particularly angry with Russia over their invasion of Afghanistan. President Carter would go so far as to boycott the summer games in Moscow. So beating them in hockey was a sweet dream that would probably never come true. The fact that Russia had shellacked the US 10-3 in a previous exhibition game that month of February made defeating the Commies look impossible.

The US began with a 2-2 tie against a superior Swedish team. Hmm. That was followed by a most unlikely 7-3 victory against Czechoslovakia, whose government also took “very good care” of their “amateur” players. This was getting interesting, indeed.

Americans began tuning in in earnest as this upstart team added victories over Romania, Norway, and a come-from-behind nail biter against Germany to advance to the Medal Round.

Russia, meanwhile, was mowing down its opposition handily. They were undefeated heading into the Medal Round, as expected. Sweden and Finland made up the rest of the finalists.

The US’s next game would be against the Russians, and not many television sets were on any other channel but local ABC affiliates the night of February 22, 1980. The game had actually been played previously that afternoon, but in the days before the internet, it was easy to keep the results a secret. So most of us watched the contest as if it was a live affair.

The US was soon down 1-0, but the crowd and the team weren’t worried. They had come from behind before. Soon it was tied, and then Russia was back up 2-1. The US tied it up again just as the first period was expiring.

The Russians put their backup goalie in for the second period. They scored on a power play to go up 3-2. Again, no worries on the American side, as the crowd waved big flags and chanted “USA! USA!”

USA scored in the third to tie it again, then Mike Eruzione slipped one past the Russian goalie with 10 minutes left to give USA its first lead. The crowd was hysterical.

Goalie Jim Craig was relentlessly hammered with shot after shot, but his more and more miraculous saves just kept coming. Finally, the crowd counted down the last ten seconds, Al Michaels made his immortal call, and history was made.

They could have probably beaten the Montreal Canadiens the next night, but instead they just had to defeat Finland. No problem there, and the US had its second, but by far most celebrated, Gold Medals in hockey.

Thirteen of the twenty players played in the NHL, but none of them really starred. Oh well, who cared. They just had to settle for merely being immortal, at least in the minds of everyone who watched the game that Saturday night so long ago.

Bob Beamon Sets a Record for the Ages

Bob Beamon making his earth-shattering jump

The 1968 Summer Olympics saw some unforgettable moments. There were some controversial ones, such as the Black Power salute on the winner’s pedestal. But there were also some amazing accomplishments in sport. Perhaps the greatest of all was Bob Beamon completely shattering the long jump record.

Beamon was a good long jumper. When you look at his overall career average, that’s about all you can say about him. But what he did was choose the perfect time to make the longest jump of his career, one that would change the history of the sport.

He nearly missed even getting into the event. He fouled on his first two qualifying jumps, and decided to start his last one well behind the line to be safe. He managed to get in easily at that point.

But he made it. And on his first jump in medal competition, he went 29 feet, 2 1/2 inches. That was officially measured as 8.90 meters.

Long jumping at the time (as well as now) was a sport where records are set frequently, by fractions of an inch (or centimeter, if you prefer).

Beamon beat the existing world record by one foot, ten and-a-half inches.

Let’s put that into perspective. Imagine someone (free of steroids) hitting 80 home runs in a year. Imagine a 75-yard field goal. Imagine someone running the 100 meter dash in eight seconds. The jump was so long that it had to be measured with a tape, as it was beyond the capability of the electronic measuring system.

Beamon’s astronomical slaying of the world record led to a new adjective describing a feat that far surpasses anyone’s expectations: Beamonesque.

Beamon’s second-best career jump was 27 feet, 3 1/2 inches. After the Olympics, he never cleared 27 feet again. His record stood for 22 years in a sport where records had been routinely broken every four or five years.

But his opportunistic choice of the Summer Olympics in which to make the jump of his life cemented him in history as the one long jumper that most folks have heard of. It also got an adjective named after him. Not a bad achievement in a few seconds.

Black Power on the Olympic Pedestal

The 1960’s started off with school segregation still widespread, separate restrooms and water fountains for “whites” and “coloreds” all across the deep south, and much struggling to come to put all of this to a stop.

Such a process would have to be painful, and indeed it was. Martin Luther King was advising peaceful resistance to racism, while Malcolm X advocated killing the white devils. Fortunately, King proved to be a more effective leader.

By 1968, things had improved. Segregated schools were much rarer, but the solution of busing students long distances to integrate was not a good idea, and it was causing much anger and strife.

The Summer Olympics at Mexico City would prove to be a platform to make a statement.

There was a movement among black athletes to boycott the Olympics altogether. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. It’s never a good idea to skip the games for political reasons. Every time it’s been done, the only effect has been to diminish the Games themselves, as well as to cheat hard-working athletes out of what they have been striving for.

Sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos won the Gold and Bronze for the 200M. Friends and teammates at San Jose State, they agreed to make a very visible statement at the presentation of their medals.

Smith had a black glove on his right hand, Carlos wore one on his left. As the National Anthem played, they raised their gloved fists in the air. Silver medalist Peter Norman of Australia also wore a patch on his jacket supporting the organization that was seeking a black boycott of the games.

It seems pretty tame today, but it was shocking in that emotionally charged year. The gesture was met with outrage by many, admiration by others. The Olympic Committee was certainly not amused. The runners were banned from further competition and from the Olympic Village.

Smith and Carlos received death threats aimed at them and their families. Of course, so did nearly everyone else involved in the Civil Rights Movement. But history eventually judged their actions as admirable. They were honored in 1998, and there are plans to build a statue at their alma mater commemorating the incident.

Here’s to standing up for what you believe, even if it makes you unpopular.

Baseball Games on the Radio

A summer evening in my home would have a few constants. One, it would be around 80 degrees in the living room. Either the temperature would be obtained via open windows, or the swamp cooler would be turned on to get the temperature to the magical digit.

If the room was 80 degrees, it was perfectly comfortable. If you didn’t think so, you were invited to step outside and experience the outside temperature, then come back inside. Now doesn’t that feel better?

Another constant would be that a radio would be on somewhere in the house with the voices of Harry Caray and Jack Buck describing play-by-play action of the St. Louis Cardinals.

It’s no wonder that I became a baseball fan at an early age. Harry Caray and Jack Buck! Two broadcasters who would land in the Hall of Fame! What magic they wove into each play. And it was all deeply implanted into the brain of an eight-year-old kid.

In the fall of 1968, I became a lifelong St. Louis cardinals fan, thanks to the riveting play-by-play calling of messrs. Buck and Caray. The Redbirds lost to Detroit that year in seven hard-fought games, but the next year I kept up with every game that I could.

Harry Caray, Jack Buck, Joe Garagiola: quite a radio team

Now I realize that not every Boomer reading this is a Cardinal fan. But I’d be willing to wager that, especially if your dad was a fan, you grew up with familiar baseball announcers on the AM radio.

You New Yawkers had Mel Allen describing the Yanks, and Ralph Kiner calling the Amazin’ Mets. The Dodger fans all over the west listened to Vin Scully, still going strong today. Vince Lloyd was calling Cubs games when St. Louis still employed Harry Caray. Those blasted 1968 Tigers had Ernie Harwell calling every Denny McClain strikeout.

Baseball truly was the national pastime in those days. NBC’s Game of the Week featured Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek every Saturday afternoon, and included games featuring both competitive and non-competitive teams. We still watched them.

It seems like Fox and ESPN are perennially obsessed with two teams: Boston and the Yanks. I can’t remember the last time they played on Saturday and Sunday and the contests weren’t featured front and center by both networks.

Additionally, baseball, the most traditional of games, has gone some pretty strange directions. For instance, there was the designated hitter “experiment” that took place in 1973. Somehow, it became a permanent part of a game that was perfectly fine for the previous ninety-something years with a pitcher batting for himself. Today, it makes for circus-style swing-at-everything American League baseball, as opposed to the much more strategic NL style of play that keeps a close eye on when a pitcher is up to bat, as far as personnel changes are concerned.

I’m not a baseball fan anymore. I do watch the Cardinals, but listening to their games on KMOX is no longer possible. The organization figured out that they could make more money selling broadcast rights to a low-powered St. Louis AM station, and thereby forcing many fans to purchase live play-by-play streaming via

Alas, it’s just another of baseball’s many instances of shooting itself in the foot. The game is marked by tradition. But each bottom-line enhancing change costs them more and more traditionalist fans. And baseball will never become football.

I wish it would quit trying.