A few weeks ago I was going to type out a column on this being the greatest time of the year for sports fans — college and professional football in full swing, the baseball playoffs underway, hockey back on the ice and the NBA getting ready to tip off, etc.
Then I received news that morning that an old and close friend had passed away, and my mind couldn’t focus on anything else. I was going to bring it back up last week, but I was still having some issues on keeping to task, so I went a different direction instead.
A few days ago, as I was flipping from one game to another in absolute glee, I began thinking about bringing the column back for this week. And then I started reading on my iPad a little bit about Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, and the photo of him surrounded by teenagers who appeared to be drinking alcohol at a party in South Bethany. Too easy, I thought. Too easy, too dated (the party reportedly took place in June) and, well ... Did I mention it seemed a little easy?
I let my mind wander back to the glories of sports and was instantly drawn to an interview on the NFL Network with Doug Williams, the former star quarterback and coach at Grambling University, and the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl when he led the Washington Redskins to victory over the Denver Broncos in 1989.
I’ve always admired Williams, both as a quarterback with one of the naturally-strongest arms I’ve ever seen, and as a stand-up guy who went back to coach Grambling after the legendary Eddie Robinson had passed away. He brought Grambling back to prominence quickly as a coach before struggling the past few years, and he was terminated following a nasty situation regarding his frustration with the school not supporting the football team and some fundraising efforts from alumni.
The situation at Grambling got so ugly, in fact, that players on the team decided to boycot, and ended up forfeiting a game a few weeks ago before Williams talked to team leaders and convinced them to return to the field.
That got this cluttered mind spinning.
Instead of writing about how special of a time this is for sports fans, I decided instead to talk about the things I miss as sports has evolved into new directions. This isn’t a trip back through a nostalgia machine as much as it is a way to point out how things have shifted over the years, and how things that once seem so important ... arent.
• I miss the mystique of Grambling, Southern, Howard and other historically black colleges. Don’t get me wrong. Things are so much better now that young black athletes have more schools available to them, but there was always a curiousity I had regarding how these schools would have competed against the “powerhouse” schools. I equate it to the old Negro Leagues in baseball — things are definitely better since Jackie Robinson and company broke through racial barriers, but I have a true love for the stories and players from that old league.
• I miss boxing being important. During my middle school and high school years, there were classic matches between Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler. There were fighters like Ray Mancini and Roberto Duran and Danny Lopez who drew you to watch their fights, and Larry Holmes was the undisputed, undefeated heavyweight champion for years before a young and seemingly-unbeatable Mike Tyson grabbed the spotlight. Boxing is no longer must-see television and I miss that.
• Ditto for horse racing. Oh, many watch the Triple Crown races, but they just don’t have the same caché they used to, and far fewer people even know the horses until those three races come along each year.
• I miss baseball ruling the sports world. It used to be that people didn’t really start paying serious attention to the NFL until the World Series reached a conclusion. Now people stop watching baseball when a team hires a new assistant to the assistant trainer. It’s me being selfish. I like baseball.
And, yes, I digress.