Sports: The Way We Were
Another original story from Lubbock’s Legend, George Thatcher…
When I got my very first football, I carried it around the way my sister would tote her own doll. It was more round than oblong, and I had to throw it like I would launch a shot-put. From where I lined up as a ten-year-old quarterback, I could barely heave it to the line of scrimmage. I get about the same tape-measure distance today, but in all fairness it’s not that easy throwing from a wheelchair. My first football pants actually had handles sewn into the sides, so I could be grabbed by my other running backs and thrown like a javelin over the line. And the helmet, if one could even call it that, was made out of leather with no padding. A face guard? Shirley U Jest! Fond memories like that probably led me to the conclusion that I’d make a better tennis player.
Without going into the full spectrum of changes in sports equipment technology, I’ll just offer the thought that athletic gear of all kinds has undergone rapid and radical changes, to the point where just about every niche is filled with multi-billion-buck companies. The fact that they are bigger, stronger and faster is a given.
My high school basketball center back in 1951 was 6’3” and he towered over the rest of us. Can you remember the first NFL lineman who entered the league at over 300 lbs.? I believe it was Ernie Ladd, about fifty years ago. That would be a smaller guard today. The athletes’ evolving roles as “specialty” position-fillers, have likewise been catalysts for a series of remarkable changes.
In baseball, a pitcher was expected to go the full nine innings every third day, and a team might have a total of two relief pitchers. Designated hitters? No such animal. Why, it would’ve been right un-macho for a pitcher not to take his regular turn at bat. Now I see that a designated hitter has just been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Well played, Papi. In football, we never heard of offensive- defensive platooning. You played both ways or you didn’t play.
The question is, did the athletes and/or the fans enjoy the game better back then? There aren’t that many of us around who can remember those ancient times anymore. And maybe it’s all about nostalgia, anyway, kept alive in the dusty back rooms of a few old codgers memories. Those rooms are slowly being demolished to make way for newer and better innovations.
In those bygone days before television, my Grandpa and I would sit glued to the old Philco radio on Friday nights, listening raptly to the blow-by-blow accounts of the fights from Madison Square Garden. Bill Corum and Don Dunphy were the regular announcers, and they really made a fight come alive thru the magic of words converted into imagination, and we heard them all, from Louis-Schmeling to Sugar Ray Robinson, and a whole lot of club fighters who made up the undercards.
Baseball was equally enchanting, and Red Barber, with his Georgia gift for adding “color,” turned every Brooklyn Dodgers game into a suspenseful thriller. And the Yankees had their own super-announcer in Mel Allen. I still remember them all by their distinctive voices and accents, without ever laid eyes on a single one.
A final observation about those old days. Whether you listened to sports, evening dramas, or Saturday morning stories of mythical heroes, the effect was similar. You actually “got into” the story, because you had to use your imagination to create your own visual interpretation. And after the show, we would often act out the parts of those legendary radio actors, sometimes to our regret. I can still see my brother, with a dishtowel-cape wrapped around his neck as he stood on the kitchen table and actually believed that he could fly like Captain Marvel, and all he had to do was say the magic words of transmogrification first. So, in his best boyhood soprano, he trilled out “SHAZAM” and flew off that table. I’ve always thought he suffered permanent brain damage when he cracked his skull on the tile floor.
Have all the sports world changes, modifications, improvements been for the greater good of both athletes and fans? If you came to a conclusion based on the price of sports tickets, then be happy for television. The sports industry has raised the bar to heights previously unimagined. If you believe that, notably where females are concerned, the opportunities for participation have increased exponentially, then you have the vote of all womankind. Whether you long for a return to the “old days” or see that the evolution of sports has acted to “raise all boats,” you’ll find plenty of chances to express your opinion, and this space is no exception.
We’ve only scratched the surface of the topic here, and we’d welcome your thoughts and observations.
George Thatcher, 2022
George is an American Bad Ass. He grew up in Jersey, flew B-52s in Vietnam, taught English, Spanish and other languages to children around the world, makes his own salsa, has been known to enjoy a beer or two and has called Lubbock home for a few years, just to entertain the locals. Welcome to Raiderland, Major. We are going to feature some of his writings going forward. Some new, some old. Some rhyme, some don’t. When it comes to George, there’s no box. So… enjoy our friend and enjoy his writings! – Hyatt