September 12, 2002

ESPN Classic: A Reminder of All That Once Was Good

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“Wade Boggs sends it over to Mike Gallego, who flips to Don Mattingly. It’s a 5-4-3 inning-ending double play, and Jim Abbott has a no-hitter through six innings.”

As a crowd of thousands now 10 years removed from the moment stands to cheer, my roommates and I can sense the tension in our living room. Could it really happen all over again?

“It’s a ground ball! Velarde fields cleanly! The kid has done it! It’s a no-hitter for Abbott!”

I rise out of my seat with a seemingly irrational sense of surprise at the achievement. The guy has one hand and threw a no-hitter in an afternoon game at Yankee Stadium. It’s amazing. It also happened in 1993.

Enter ESPN Classic, the channel: Possibly the finest achievement in sports journalism ever. The moments that define a generation on the field of play fresh and unabridged in your living room, 24 hours a day (channel 59, check your local listings or call your cable provider).

I lived on campus my first two years here (West Campus — TV-less rooms and all) but now that I’m off to the real world of Collegetown, it’s a cable life for me.

The first watershed moment of my recent romance with cable TV came when we were flipping through the channels and found YES Network (channel 74) staring back at us. While the initial reaction was a proclamation by my father (a Yankee-starved Long Islander) that he was moving in, reverberations continued for days. After talking my father out of the family relocation plan, I privately moved along to find my new sweetheart, ESPN Classic.

I have learned much from the relationship and would thus like to impart the 10 most important things I have learned from my affair with the channel:

Michael Jordan is, more than likely, not human.

Bobby Hurley and Rick Mirer actually did play sports during their college years.

Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds are, without a doubt, on steroids. Gaining 150 pounds of muscle well after your 30th birthday ain’t no growth spurt.

Joe Theismann’s leg broke in 4,983 places when LT shattered it like it was his own reputation (he’s still the greatest).

The Blazers did actually draft Sam Bowie over MJ. This is not an urban legend, it happened. (I know, right?)

NASCAR has “classic” moments.

College hockey apparently does not. (This is what I’ve learned, not what I believe.)

There was really no point to tennis when they played with wood rackets.

Golf, on the other hand, was way better when they wore ridiculous clothes and didn’t use drivers that create atomically explosive sounds when striking the ball.

Sports journalists do not age. (i.e. Dick Enberg, Brent Musburger, Al Trautwig, and Keith Jackson).

While these are the little tidbits I have picked up along with many others, it is not for trivia that I watch Classic (my nickname for the channel).

We often talk about how corrupt sports are now and how the very spirit of the game has been lost in the commercial world of professional athletics. However, until you watch a Lakers-Celtics playoff game from the early 80’s or a Yankees-Red Sox game from the 70’s, you can’t fully know the depth of how sports has changed.

Everything we chastise in the game today was simply nonexistent back then. Watching Larry Bird dominate a contest completely and then refuse any talk but of his team’s victory afterwards is refreshing yet discouraging. Seeing Barry Bonds in a Pirates uniform, looking more like Nas than Biggie, hit a ball 400 ft., only to bow his head and trot around the bases is shocking yet revealing.

Things have changed in sports. Players act like they’re paid to play and play like they’re paid to act.

ESPN Classic, and other nostalgic programs like it, provide a little portal into another place and time when athletes were athletes and accomplishments came solely in the form of team victories.

Not to say that other eras didn’t have their showboats (Babe Ruth and Pistol Pete come to mind), but these were the exceptions. Today a player is lauded for going quietly about his business and caring foremost for the well being of the team. In past years, it was the norm.

Such small differences in mindset and attitude make watching years gone by more interesting and are a valuable eyepiece through which to look at our current sports world. Thus, I suggest you sit back, relax, and watch a little Notre Dame football circa 1986 — “Here’s a pass from Steve Beuerlein to Tim Brown.”

I’m off to shave my head like Mike.

Archived article by Scott Jones