Watching the Chicago Cubs finally win the World Series this year reminded me of the days as a kid watching the Cubbies play day games on WGN with Harry Caray singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the 7th inning stretch. It also got me thinking more about how differently we consume sports today versus back then, and by extension how we relate to – and sometimes interact with – sports figures.
It may be hard for some readers to imagine a time without 24/7 access to sports scores, live updates and alerts on our mobile devices, and the ability to watch every and any game on a given day. Believe it or not, that was the case not too long ago. But really was that such a bad thing? Let me take you on a trip down memory lane.
As a kid growing up in Brownsville, Texas, the New York Mets were my favorite team. A now-ex-brother-in-law was from Long Island and he got me hooked on the Amazins around 1984 when Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden were just getting going. Unfortunately for me, there was no ESPN available and certainly no internet. Two major “superstations” were included in our cable package: TBS and WGN. TBS carried the Braves and WGN carried the Cubs. Unless the Mets were playing one of those two teams or were the featured Game of the Week on Saturday, the only way for me to check the scores and standings was through the local newspaper the next day. Subscriptions to The Sporting News, Sports Illustrated and Sport Magazine also helped supplement my information intake.
One advantage to having WGN available was the fact that they carried most Bulls games in 1985 and then again from 1989 into the 1990s. Some may recall that in 1984-1985 they had a skinny rookie out of North Carolina named Michael Jordan. I distinctly remember watching several games of the guy flying through the air with his tongue hanging out and then later seeing pictures of him wearing some crazy red and black kicks. Now along with Doc and Darryl, I had a new sports hero and this one got me hooked on sneakers. I’ll leave the rest of that story for another post.
Luckily for all of us in Brownsville, our local cable company caught up with the times and finally started carrying ESPN. However unlike today, SportsCenter was only shown at night but it did bring us highlights and scores for most games. Now I could keep up with my favorite teams and players and didn’t have to wait for the paper the next day. Eventually CNN began competing with ESPN in the same timeslot (10:30pm CST) and a real rivalry went on for several years.
In my opinion, this time period marked a huge turn for how sports were packaged and presented. Hosts Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick for ESPN (along with others) and Fred Hickman and Nick Charles with CNN injected humor, catchphrases and drama to the typically boring sports highlight reels. I still have great memories of staying up later nightly to flip between the two shows to not only watch those highlights but also to hear what those guys would say when presenting them.
While some may think of this as antiquated and boring, as I look back there is a certain beauty to it all. Instead of the instant gratification of on-demand scores and live streaming, the thrill of waiting for the 10:30 shows has a nostalgic feel. Remembering I sat down with my dad and neighbor friend only add to that. Not saying I don’t appreciate knowing the score in the middle of the third inning of a Mets game and what Syndergaard’s pitch count is or following my fantasy football team, but there are still some good memories associated with the old days.
Today we follow sports and scores and stories at an incredible clip. Between sites dedicated to specific teams and players, to social media, we not only know the scores and highlights, but what our favorite player ate for breakfast and what he or she wore. Of course this cuts both ways for us and the athletes. Nothing is private and there is no anticipation. We don’t get to wait until the All Star Break to see what new shoe a player will debut. If the shoe company hasn’t already dragged out an aggressive marketing campaign, then someone has already leaked pictures weeks in advance. And so it goes with just about anything new these days.
I’m not here to say what is good or bad, right or wrong. Like I said at the beginning, watching the Cubs win the World Series just got me thinking.