Sunday, February 5, 2012

TV Sports

Angelo Dundee died on February 1. Many younger folks may not know this famous boxing trainer who worked with Muhammed Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, and others. I was never a huge boxing fan, but I am from the ABC Wide World of Sports generation—not the ESPN era.

Back in the old days, I eagerly awaited Saturday afternoon to see what kind of sports Jim McKay and others would bring to me. Today there is a plethora of sports viewing options, but back then we were dependent on what diverse sport was to be shown that week. It might be boxing, ice skating, track and field, the Globetrotters, ski jumping (“…and the agony of defeat…”—those who watched the intro each week know of what I speak), motorsports (my personal favorite), or some other choice from this smorgasbord of sports.

As such, I think it was easier back then to be a sports generalist than a sports specialist. Even if I wasn’t a big boxing fan, I still had a rudimentary knowledge of boxing and virtually all other sports. These days, with so many sports being televised on ESPN and other outlets, it is too inviting just to focus on the ones you are familiar with. If ESPN is showing college lacrosse and you are not interested, simply flip the channel to find something you like. It was a lot harder to flip the channel (which back in the old days, meant actually getting up out of your chair and walking to the TV set) when there was only ABC, NBC, and CBS.

So back in the old days, if one segment of Wide World of Sports was lacrosse (or the lumberjack contests, or the Oxford-Cambridge crew race, or billiards, or whatever), you watched and learned about it. The wonderful announcers employed by Wide World of Sports (Chris Schenkel, Keith Jackson, Howard Cosell, etc.) were good teachers! Plus, they always used excellent specialists for some sports, like Dick Button for ice skating and my hero Chris Economaki (the editor for National Speed Sport News—see for auto racing.

By the way, I can still remember the first time I ever watched ESPN. I was in someone’s dorm room at UC my senior year, and they were showing an old Notre Dame football game. It included a running back named Rocky Bleier, who had gone on to make a name for himself (after serving in Vietnam) with the Steelers. However, this example points out that early in their existence, ESPN was desperate for content to show on a 24 hour sports network, because Bleier had graduated from Notre Dame in 1968. So it was a college game that was over ten years old that they were re-broadcasting. Now, ESPN has so much high quality content, they have multiple networks plus internet feeds!

It is beneficial for me to be able in today’s world to watch nearly all the WVU Mountaineer football and basketball games—it certainly wasn’t that way when I was growing up (or even into young adulthood). Younger folks today don’t realize what a big thing it was for a Mountaineer game to be televised in the old days (see my previous essay that touches on the 1975 Pitt-WVU game at The same can be said for auto racing, which (until ESPN came along) was rarely on television. ESPN’s original auto racing broadcasts were based at the half-mile paved oval in Indianapolis—just a regular weekly sprint and midget track. Until 1979, the only way to see the Daytona 500 live was to attend a closed circuit television viewing. Dad, my uncle, and I drove all the way to the Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium in Columbus, Ohio, just to watch the 1971 “Great American Race” projected on a huge movie theater screen via closed circuit television.

One of the problems with the proliferation of sports programming is that folks are more apt to stay home to watch sports, rather than attending a local sports. People seem to identify more these days with national sports than local sports. This has adversely affected high school and small college sports, as well as weekly local auto racing tracks. Before I graduated from the University of Charleston, the small colleges in West Virginia had rabid fans, because they provided important entertainment, especially in small towns like Glenville, Phillipi, Buckhannon, etc. The annual WVIAC basketball tournament filled the Charleston Civic Center back then—but not so much anymore. There was a good book written several years ago entitled “Bowling Alone” (instead of participating in bowling leagues) that talked about the decline of American communities and social interaction as a result of technological advances.

To be truthful, I had not thought of Angelo Dundee for a long time. However, just about four weeks ago, his name came up to me again. We were at Miami Beach doing a tour on Segways before heading to the Orange Bowl game that night. Anna and I are quite accomplished on Segways, and we were the only customers on that tour, so it was running way ahead of the time allotted for the normal South Beach tour. Our two-wheeled tour guide asked us if we wanted to visit Angelo Dundee’s gym—which we did. Normally this is not part of the tour, and it was a few blocks back from the beach area, but the tour guide made an exception for us. It was full of memorabilia from his glory days. I’m glad I got the chance to visit.

One interesting tidbit I learned that day was in the 1960s, Muhammed Ali couldn’t stay in a hotel on Miami Beach because blacks were not welcome. So when he came to train at Dundee’s gym, he had to stay on the mainland in Miami. He would run every day across the long causeway connecting Miami to Miami Beach. He got a workout just getting to his workout!

Dundee was a very talented trainer, and I am glad I got to throw a few punches in his gym. R.I.P. Angelo!

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