Giving thanks … to sports
From Carl Lewis to Zenyatta, McEnroe and Borg to Vin Scully and Ernie Harwell, Wide World of Sports to The Sports Reporters and the baseball card I just picked up, it's a long list.
Four things have me angling toward this column of thanks.
One, my favorite sportswriter, Joe Posnanski, has been posting some of his finest writing of yore on his substack page and the most recent was a big wonderful piece about Carl Lewis and all I could think about reading it was how sports fans in this country could once tell you something about many sports but now, mostly, just football and basketball, and we’re a poorer nation for it.
Two, my old friend Ryan Welton, a good Twitter follow, reminded me of the fan I used to be when he tweeted out just how great the Grey Cup continues to be.
The Grey Cup, by the way, is the Canadian Football League’s Super Bowl and would you believe there was a time I knew enough about that league and its teams to care about it and watch it, too?
In fact, before ESPN began taking sports from the networks, the CFL was one of the coolest things it aired and all of us sports nuts watched it.
Three, on my way out of Crest a few days ago, I stepped into the little sports collectible shop near the registers and decided to recapture my childhood by paying $20 for four unopened, 32-year-old gum packs of 1990 Topps baseball cards and would you believe the very last card in the very last pack was this one?
Four, Happy Thanksgiving.
Being the season, this one’s a freebie. Still, if you’d like to help keep Oklahoma Columnist afloat, consider a $6/month subscription. Less if you sign up for a whole year. Thanks for reading — Clay
So, I remembered how this country used to care about track and field and other fringier sports, became reminded how much fun the CFL used to be and remains— 110 yards, end zones twice as big, 12 players, three downs, forward motion before the snap — and dang near picked up a Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card, too.**
** Alas, the actual Griffey rookie card is considered to be No. 41 from Topps’ 1989 “Traded” set — not No. 336 (mine) from the ’90 set — an annual addition to each year’s regular set, reflecting trades and rookies who came up after opening day.
It got me thinking, about how thankful I am to have latched on to so many and so much sports as I came of age; to follow so much, read about so much, care about so much and, ultimately know so much … a far cry from now when all anybody knows is the NFL, NBA and maybe some college football.
In 1982, when I was 14, 11 different sports or leagues made the cover of Sports Illustrated, pretty much the national sports bible of the time.
Counting one cover twice, featuring both college and pro football, and not counting “The Year in Sports” or the swimsuit issue, here’s the breakdown from that year.
NFL: 13 covers
Major League Baseball: nine covers
Boxing: six covers
College football: six covers
NBA: five covers
College basketball: five covers
Hockey: two covers
Tennis: two covers
Golf: two covers
Track: one cover
Surfing: one cover
Not bad, even without horse or auto racing on the list.
So, this being Thanksgiving and all, it feels like a list is in order of all the sports “things” I can think of quickly I’m so thankful to have seen, heard, read about, known about or just consumed in some way.
Surely, some are on your list, too.
In absolutely no order … GO:
• Reggie’s Jackson’s three home runs, ’77 World Series, Game 6
• The Greatest Game Ever Played, Phoenix and Boston, Game 5, ’76 NBA Finals.
• The ’75 World Series, Reds and Red Sox.
• Zola Budd and Mary Dekker
• Bruce Jenner in Montreal, Carl Lewis and Edwin Moses in Los Angeles and Lewis again in Soul, Barcelona, even Atlanta.
• Miracle on Ice.
• Bill Johnson’s Sarajevo run.
• Kirk Gibson’s home run, Game 1, ’82 World Series (called by Vin Scully).
• The Catch, Joe Montana to Dwight Clark, ’82 NFC championship (called by Vin Scully).
• Hank Aaron’s 715th home run, April 18, ’74 (called by Vin Scully).
• The ball rolling through Bill Buckner’s legs, ’86 World Series (called by Vin Scully).
• Francisco Cabrera knocking in Sid Bream, ’92 NLCS (called by Sean McDonough).
• Ken Venturi in the booth Sunday afternoons.
• Ernie Harwell in the booth Saturday afternoons.
• Bud Collins calling tennis, Keith Jackson calling college football, Don Criqui calling the Orange Bowl.
• Disco John Brooks calling the Sooners.
• Billy Tubbs coaching the Sooners.
• Wayman Tisdale lifting the Sooners.
• The Islanders dynasty.
• The Oilers dynasty.
• The Great One, Mario and Mike Bossy.
• The Red Wings-Avalanche feud.
• Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary to beat Miami.
• Doug Williams’ first quarter at Super Bowl XXII.
• Mark “the Bird” Fydrich.
• Just knowing that when Bob Beamon set the long jump world record at the ’68 Mexico City Games, he set it by two feet.
• McEnroe and Borg’s Wimbledon tiebreaker.
• Arthur Ashe’s grace.
• Kareem’s sky hook.
• Dwight Stones’ flop.
• Freddie Couples’ swing.
• Lots of swings.
• The National Sports Daily.
• The Seventh Game, by Roger Khan.
• The Natural.
• The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training.
• Wide World of Sports on Saturday afternoon.
• The Sports Reporters on Sunday morning.
• The Superstars on Sunday afternoon.
• Georgia Championship Wrestling on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
• Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair
• Gordon Solie and Jim Ross.
• Chris Berman’s baseball nicknames, and here’s three: Mark Carreon “my wayward son,” Atlee “if I had a” Hammaker, Carlos “one if by land, two if by sea, three if” Baerga.
• The San Diego Chicken and the Philly Phanatic.
• George Foster’s ’77 MVP season: .320, 52 HRs, 149 RBIs.
• Ali, for everything.
• Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler.
• Howard Cosell and Don Meredith in the same booth.
• Jan Stephenson and Nancy Lopez.
• Billie Jean, Chrissie, Martina, Steffy, Monica.
• The Williams sisters when they arrived and Jennifer Capriati when she came back.
• The Davis Cup.
• One-handed backhands.
• Dean Smith.
• Tom Landry.
• John Madden.
• Scotty Bowman.
• Ralphie Valladares and the Los Angeles T-Birds.
• College basketball players you felt like you grew up with because you watched them forever and here’s 10: Ralph Sampson, Patrick Ewing, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jim Alford, Tim Duncan.
• Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Alydar.
• Zenyatta at the Breeders’ Cup.
• A.J. Foyt, Tom Sneva, Danny Ongais, Johnny Rutherford and Janet Guthrie.
• But mostly A.J. Foyt.
• Evel Knievel.
• Roger Staubach throwing to Drew Pearson.
• Terry Bradshaw throwing to Lynn Swann.
• Dan Fouts throwing to John Jefferson.
• Jim Zorn throwing to Steve Largent.
• Jack Nicklaus’ and Tom Watson’s Duel in the Sun, ’77, Turnberry.
• Watson chipping in on 17 at Pebble, ’82, and taking a victory lap.
• Ballesteros from the parking lot in ’79 at Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s.
• Baseball cards.
• Did I mention baseball cards?
• Well, of course, baseball cards.
• The Sunday paper baseball stats.
• Watching Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn hit.
• Benito Santiago throwing from his knees.
• Bo Jackson throwing from anywhere.
• Shawon Dunston throwing flames in the Wrigley infield.
• Watching something you know everybody else is watching, too … like Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs inside the Astrodome, Larry and Magic for the NCAA title, Miracle on Ice, Duke-UNLV one year and then the next and, the last one like it, the Women’s World Cup at the Rose Bowl.
You remember it, right?
Perhaps we’ll see something like it again.
Sports are so great.
They used to be even greater.