NFL Hall of Famer and sports broadcasting legend Frank Gifford passed away this week. An end of the era of arguably the greatest three man announcing team in history. Gifford, Howard Cosell and “Dandy” Don Meredith were must watch TV when I was a kid, the trio that each fall brought millions to ABC’s “Monday Night Football.”
There was never, or has there ever been anything like it or them. It was the days foreign to most of the MMA generation, when there were three networks and that was it. Maybe a PBS station in some cities. But we all tuned in Monday night and watched the game and see highlights from the weekend that had never been aired nationally. ESPN wasn’t even an idea at that time. Being in elementary school and getting to stay up past midnight was a huge deal, you could brag to your friends whose parents weren’t as lenient about the cool plays from all the games. And the announcers with Gifford a wonderful traffic cop weaved in his play-by-play narrative between the pontificating of the polarizing master Cosell and the way off the beaten path anti-establishment humor of Meredith.
Three guys no one would ever expect to hang out together were marvelous as a team. They blazed the trail for the way games and sports in general are covered: irreverent when needed; self deprecating; controversial; witty; personalized. Gone forever with those men were the stiff as a board, just the facts delivery common in sports and news decades ago.
You probably have a well-waxed nostalgia when someone, actor, entertainer, athlete, who meant something special in childhood passes away. It reminds of us of our own mortality as well as bringing us back to a more magical time before jobs, bills, family, and taxes. It was simpler, those stars seemed brighter, especially in the pre-Twitter and TMZ days where their faults and failures were rarely known by their adoring public.
It’s also at these times when appreciation for the moment now and what lies ahead is magnified. Memories still to be made and shared. Before he guided Kentucky to the 1996 NCAA basketball championship, Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino told me he was stressing to his number one ranked Wildcats entering the Final Four to stop and savor what they had done and could do. Pitino referred to it as the “precious present.” The farther removed from that time in New Jersey covering college basketball to this moment makes me understand even more. Many of us take people and situations for granted. Not that we dismiss them, perhaps though, assuming they’ll always be there as we know them. Or that while others come along, someone will be just as memorable.
For those who remember Willie Mays and Bill Russell; Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan; Jim Brown and Hank Aaron, what they did resonates still. Just a few years back (or so it seems) Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Oscar de la Hoya, Shaquille O’Neal made the headlines and still hold a place in our memory. Some do after you think their day is done, hello again Albert Pujols.
They did special things that deserve that corner of our minds. But just as much, is that precious present where MMA has been the fastest growing sport in twenty years. 6’8″ guys are expected to be able to dribble; 300 pound lineman can chase down running backs; linebackers on skates can describe the bigger and faster NHL; and what some of these folks can do is amazing.
Happening around the sports dial are some trail blazers of their own and Ronda Rousey immediately leaps to mind. Others are stirring up the echoes of classics before them as Mike Trout and Bryce Harper do on the diamond daily. A select few so good recently that they are known by just a single name: Tiger, LeBron, Beckham, Kobe, Peyton. Not all at their prime any longer, but immediate enough they linger in the conversation of today. A legendary record is being chased by Floyd Mayweather Jr. of Rocky Marciano’s 49-0. American Pharaoh is quite possibly the best horse in more than a quarter of a century.
Money has changed things dramatically, it always does. Few stay around with one team any more. There is that time when bringing back those thrilling days of yesteryear, at least to some of us, would occasionally be welcomed. This star played for this team, that star for that team and so on. Ballparks and stadiums weren’t adorned with corporate clutter. You mention a venue and it was instantly identified. Outside of Fenway and Wrigley, Dodger Stadium and Lambeau Field, not a lot of them connect city to team.
What we can connect with universally, are the same things that Frank, Howard, and Dandy Don did forty years ago–the excitement, anticipation, unpredictability and flat out fun that sports offers. And those great athletes, generation after generation that make the present precious.
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