I stayed up pretty late a few nights ago to watch the 20,000th Sports Center on ESPN in an effort to remind myself exactly what it is about sports I like so much in the first place.
I can tell you I don't enjoy this continous whining about how the Florida Marlins can't afford to pay bat boys anymore, but that seems to be a large part of what you get these days. Athletes and owners griping about $55 million per year salaries.
It wasn't like that in the good ol' days I tell ya'. I can remember when I was 8 years old discovering ESPN for the first time. I kind of felt dirty like it was the Playboy Channel or something like that. There was this secrecy that I had found something no one else knew about.
I watched day and night taking in every sport imaginable. I kind of became a social outcast with my mates in the schoolyard. While all of my friends were watching Scooby Doo and Gilligan's Island in the afternoons, I watched Austrailian Rules Football and Full Contact Karate.
Sports Center was like a prostitute for the sports fan. You could see everything you wanted to see without driving downtown and spending a bundle on dinner and a ticket. ESPN stood on a street corner and said, "Come on in, look at me. I won't tell anyone you're here." And I did, quite often, never telling anyone for weeks what I had found.
There, with my impressionable skull full of mush, I could get to the good parts without having to sit through the slow boring stuff. All of the touchdowns, home runs, goals, saves and knockouts in a neat little compact ten minute span, perfect for a young neophyte on a sugar high finishing his second bag of pixie stix. I am convinced the guy who invented Cliff's Notes was an ESPN fan.
Back then, it seemed to a kid the athletes played for the love of the game, and I watched for the same reason. ESPN seemed to have a profound effect on kids my age, now in their early to mid twenties. Not only were we able to see our heroes pretty much any time we wanted, but we got to see sports that we wouldn't have gotten a chance to otherwise.
I remember watching the old North American Soccer League games every Saturday night. Pele was on the New York Cosmos then and was just learning about the sport that would end up changing my life.
ESPN to an eight year old was like opening a non-descript wooden door and discovering the meaning of life.
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