35 things millennials will never get to see in sports – For The Win
My daughter is two years old and chances are she’ll never experience many ordinary things of my youth — hearing a dial tone, putting a stamp on a letter, going to Tower Records and smelling that weird hemp smell or listening to a VCR ever-so-slowly rewind a video. It’ll all be foreign to her. It’s the same for every generation. What was once new suddenly becomes old. (Have you looked at the first iPhone recently?) Such is life in sports. Men and women who were born in 1990 — which means they’re now 25 years old — have had a completely different sports experience than people born just 10 years earlier, not to mention 20, 30, 40 or 50. Here’s a list of things sports fan born in 1990 will never experience.
1. Watching sports without a score bug.
A lot of modern sports television technology was slow to be accepted. The first-down line seemed frivolous and intrusive at first. The golf tee-shot tracker is still a little strange. The glow-puck was about as popular as the NHL is now. But one thing that was an instant success — that was such a no-brainer innovation that it was impossible to believe that no one had thought of it before or that we lived in a world without it — was Fox’s score bug or “FoxBox.” It stayed on the screen throughout the game, allowing football fans to not stay hyper-aware of the score and networks not to continuously flash down-and-distance or to put up a basketball score 100 times a game. ABC had experimented with a bug/chyron the year before for World Cup and NASCAR events, but Fox took it to the next level and now every sport has a variant of it. Try watching an old game that didn’t have one. It’s like trying to find something in the dark.
2. Pat Summerall and John Madden
The best there ever were. Nothing beat Summerall and Madden calling a December game from Giants Stadium, RFK, Soldier Field or Candlestick, with the obligatory voiceovers alerting viewers that 60 Minutes would be shown in its entirety at the conclusion of the game followed by “Murder (15-second pause), She Wrote.” (Summerall and Madden would bet on how long he could make the pause. Watch the video at that link. It’s so, so awesome.) I remember how the late NFC game ending meant the weekend was over, so Summerall’s reading of the NFL’s legalese about rebroadcast at the end of the game was always the worst moment of the weekend. It meant football was done* and the school week was nigh.
3. Monday Night Football > Sunday Night Football
* Nobody was waiting all day for Sunday night until a few years ago. Monday Night Football was primetime king and Sunday Night Football was an afterthought, split on TNT and ESPN for years while being mostly ignored since everyone was watching what Pat Summerall told them to watch. (Props, Angela Lansbury.)
Here’s how much things have changed: In 1992, the reigning Super Bowl champs (Washington) played three Monday night games and zero Sunday night games. This year, the reigning Super Bowl champs (the deflators) have three Sunday night games and a token Monday night game. Though a lot of the items on this list have been changes for the good, this one wasn’t. SNF is currently the best sports broadcast on television, but it caps a long day of football. I much preferred having an excuse to turn off football at 7:30 p.m. ET and then wait until one of the two best games of the week on Monday. It’s really how you got through the day (work, school or whatever).
4. NFL-approved “big hits” videos
These Sports Illustrated giveaways — gasp — glorified the violence of professional football. And, man, they were awe-some. No it’s like watching Bogart chain smoke in Casablanca. You’re like, that’s insanely cool looking, but I don’t want to think about the long-term effects of this. The football folly VHS tapes were also great.
5. The American and National league not playing until World Series
Interleague play was a cool idea, but it ruined parts of the World Series and All-Star game, which had been the only games to feature American League players against National League players. To be honest, the “moment” for interleague play has passed — we’ve all seen the same games over and over and Yankees/Mets, Giants/A’s, Cubs/White Sox just don’t feel important anymore. Baseball made its sport less exclusive and the World Series feels infinitely less important now.
6. Those old sports almanacs.
Remember these? These thick books printed on cheap paper and often sold in grocery stores (where you’d beg your mom to buy you one) included in-depth details of the previous seasons in all the major sports, plus information on historical winners, record holders and anything else you could want to know about sport. I knew more about sports minutiae in 1993 than I do today because of those books. Whereas back then I could name every Super Bowl winner or list the top 20 players on the home run list, now I’d have to sit and think about it, only to realize I have no clue. Quick, without thinking about it or doing math, who won Super Bowl XLIII? I have no idea either! With those almanacs, you always knew.
7. These posters
Given millennials love of nostalgia, it’s hard to avoid knowing about the Costacos brothers sports posters (no one knew their names at the time) now, especially after this great SB Nation piece from 2013. But back in the ’80s, every wall of a sports fan under the age of 15 included at least one of these posters, with this one proudly hanging on mine.
That’s the actual poster. I took this picture back in 2008 when I was long gone from living at my parents’ house but my mom kept it up for posterity — until she painted the room, took everything off the walls and made it a respectable guest room. But it survives, waiting to hang in my still-in-the-works man cave.
Two other highlights:
The Badfellas poster is just nasty — I believe my buddy Vince had it on his door. But look at Chicago Vice! (That and the Walker poster are separate, just combined for this photo.) Jim McMahon is holding a machine gun! A MACHINE GUN! You thought the hardest-hits videos showed a different time! That’s nothing compared to this.
8. Watching one NCAA tournament game at a time.
Being able to watch every game on four networks (including one that no one watches except for four days in March) was only a recent phenomenon. But March Madness Live has existed in some form since 2003, making youngsters blissfully unaware of the days when you’d get four games per day on your local CBS affiliate (sending you rushing to the newspaper Thursday and Friday mornings to see which games you’d be getting). Then, sometimes there’d be a game your affiliate would be reluctant to switch off of, like when a team in that market — say, Kansas — was a No. 1 seed and up 40 points, because people in Kansas City demanded seeing the Jayhawks. Meanwhile, there was a 12-5 upset brewing at another site and you were stuck with Greg Ostertag. Oh, those days were the worst. You knew it was on. But you couldn’t watch.
9. Tape delay
Oh right, the Olympics. Look, I don’t blame NBC for tape-delaying the Games, especially now that it’s made coverage available online and actually aired the figure skating competition in full (note: unedited figure skating competitions with nothing else to cut to is horribly boring) at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. It’s a television show they pay billions to air. It’s their right and it makes sense. The Olympics isn’t a sporting event, it’s a television show. But man, back in the day when there was no real way to follow what was happening at Olympics in European/Asian timezones, it was horrible. The 70s and early 80s were one thing: There weren’t immediate ways to find out what happened, so you could easily get through the day without finding out results. (Except if you lived in D.C. for the Miracle on Ice.) But once ESPN gained popularity, sports radio blew up and the Internet became more engrained in culture, it was a hellacious experience, dodging swimming and track results until NBC showed the main races at 10:56 p.m. ET. Yet even in the sports ‘dark ages” there was one way to find out what happened in sporting events you couldn’t see.
9. Call-in numbers for free sports updates
In the late-80s and early-90s, when the 24/7 sports culture was in its infancy, many cities had numbers you could call for “live” updates of ongoing events. D.C. had “Post Haste,” a service from The Washington Post that included all types of news. There was also The Sports Machine, which may have been national — I couldn’t find anything confirming that though. Both of those were free. And Katie Baker of Grantland wrote of New York’s Sportsphone that was a 1-900 service serving the same purpose. You’d call up (I still remember Post Haste’s number 202-334-900), go through the common series of menus (press 4 for sports, press 3 for NBA, press 2 for Eastern Conference) and hear AP updates that were recorded every 20 minutes or so. I remember during the 1992 Olympics calling on redial dozens of times to see if they’d updated the Olympic news with results on the 200 breaststroke, in which a swimmer from down the street was competing for gold. My mom insisted I not tell her. She wanted to watch it later that night. (He won, setting a world record. And my mom caved about two minutes after 11-year-old me found out.)
10. Baseball cards with gum
Hard as a rock and making the packs give off an mistakable odor of cardboard and sugar, the baseball card gum provided about 45 seconds of flavor before turning so small in your mouth you hardly noticed it. I don’t know how popular cards are today for kids, but suffice it to say, those cards ain’t including gum. An aside: Some friends had an ’80s party recently for their wife’s 30th birthday (cough, cough, cough) and had a bunch of 1989 Topps packs as party favors, in addition to Pop Rocks and other ’80s treats. I took a bunch and the thrill of opening them was still palpable. As a test, for humanity, I tried the gum. It limply broke in my mouth, tasting like more of a card than a stick of gum, then disintegrated within 10 seconds, so much that I didn’t so much swallow it as absorb it. I then dialed 9 and 1 on my phone just in case I needed to dial another 1.
11. Actually competing in sports during grade school
Winning is one of the great thrills of life. Losing is one of life’s great hardships. Unfortunately, our public school systems have gotten rid of both, believing that losing is too much for children to handle, thus depriving anyone of winning. Run a race at field day? We all win! It’s one of countless examples of coddling our youth to create a culture of soft children who become adults who don’t know how to deal with rejection. Because while getting rid of winning is bad, getting rid of losing is worse — everyone has failures sometime. Learning how to deal with them is one of life’s great lessons. The government deprives our children of that. It’s a shame and a travesty. Not everybody wins in life. The earlier you learn that, the better off you are. Sincerely, A former teacher who hated this culture back in 2009 and knows it’s gotten even worse since then.
12. Polls voting football national champions
It’s insane that media members, and then coaches, were tasked with deciding a champion of a season-long sport, but that was the case in college football for decades. Eleven times there was a split national championship. Two winners? It’s like a fourth-grade kickball game in 2015! That it took the NCAA so long to come up with a playoff (one that still relies on human decision, but one that’s far more effective than polling) speaks to short-sightedness, stupidity and greed, with the last two meshing together because a playoff is bringing in far more money than the other system.
13. Only four flavors of Gatorade
Walk into the drink aisle of your grocery store and the Gatorade section looks like one of those color wheels that pop up when you’re selecting a font. But back in the not-so-far-away day (1987), there were just three colors: Lemon-lime (1963), Orange (1973) and Fruit Punch (1983). The year 1988 brought in two more: Citrus Cooler (the best flavor ever that was insanely discontinued but then thankfully brought back) and Lemonade. Now there are (or have been) dozens of flavors, including 26 that have been discontinued, one of which was ESPN-themed and the other the worst Gatorade flavor ever — Lemon Ice.
14. Football in Los Angeles
But not for long. Soon you’ll be able to see apathetic L.A. fans fill a $2 billion stadium to 3/4 capacity while Magic Johnson gets interviewed far more than is needed.
15. Teams with two jerseys: home and away.
No throwbacks, just a dark jersey at home and a white jersey on the road — unless you were the Redskins or Cowboys, who wore the opposite, which meant you usually only saw Dallas blue in D.C. and Washington red in Dallas.
16. Not hating Duke
Christian Laettner gets the headlines, but Danny Ferry was really the original Dukie. But up until, and even after, their first national championship, Duke wasn’t a unifying national villain. When they beat UNLV for that first title in 1991, Duke was mostly celebrated. But then 1992 happened and Christian Laettner stomped on that guy, then Bobby Hurley existed and Coach K bailed on a bad season and let Pete Gaudet be his fall guy and then Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer and Shane Battier played in Durham and J.J. Redick epitomized all thing Duke. But what happened before Duke existed? I suppose everyone rallied together over hating — I don’t know — taxes?
17. Old-school SportsCenter
The Dan Patrick/Keith Olbermann SportsCenter was so good, but it speaks to the current state of the show (Scott Van Pelt’s new midnight edition notwithstanding) that the mid-90s have been treated like a sports television Camelot. But it was easier in 1995. Every game wasn’t on television, Twitter didn’t provide instant highlights and the Internet didn’t give all sports fans access to scores and news at their fingertips. So when Dan and Keith (and Stuart, Bob, Chris, Craig, Charley and Karl) sat down at 11 p.m. ET, they could tell stories through highlights. Now the highlights are short because we all know what already happened and SC is basically just Mark Schlereth debating people and Chris Broussard talking about his “sources.”
18. Gonzag-um? Wichita who? Boise What Now?
The big schools from the power conferences dominated college athletics for so long that it took Gonzaga 5-10 years to earn its due respect on the college basketball landscape. Boise State was always a cute little story until they upset Oklahoma and threatened to make the national championship one year. With every game on TV, the tide has turned in college athletics. The big boys still rule but there’s far more wealth going around.
19. Jack Kent Cooke and Al Davis
Owners with charisma. Owners who got into trouble. (In Cooke’s case, owners whose wives got into trouble.) Now it’s such a fuddy-duddy group that they kowtow at the feet of commissioners, as if the work for him and not the other way around. I mean, Robert Kraft practically thanked Roger Goodell for the Deflategate fine. Given me some rabble-rousers, guys not afraid to challenge authorities and one who are bigger characters than anyone on the field.
20. People caring about tennis
As recently as 2003, the U.S. Open champion was hosting Saturday Night Live. Before this year’s tournament, I asked about 30 true sports fans who had won the tournament the year before and three were able to answer the question. Most of this has to do with the lack of American men at the top (something that’s confusing because the most dominant female athlete in history is currently plying her trade on the WTA and is American) but even that’s no excuse as the Big Three, who just happen to be three of the greatest ever, all speak English fluently (Rafael Nadal still struggles a bit, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer sound like they could be from anywhere inside the U.S.). It’s a great sport with more ups and downs than anything else, including basketball, yet it’s lost an American audience. Maybe the new wave of American youngsters will change that. And though it’s hard to see tennis becoming a truly niche sport (a la boxing and horse racing) thanks to ESPN’s involvement in the Grand Slams, it needs an American man to help pick up the pace.
21. The Patriots being horrible
I was having an interesting conversation with a friend last week. I told him that I still consider the Colts to be an awful team even though they’ve been good for basically half of my life (1981-1999 versus 1999-2015). Even with Peyton and now Andrew Luck, I just can’t shake that idea. The Colts had been so bad. The horseshoe was a symbol of ineptitude. The Patriots have been able to shake that stigma. Horrible during a lot of my contemporaries formative years (1987-1993), the Pats were that symbol too. But Bill Parcells started that change while Bill Belichick transformed it completely.
22. Baseball wild cards
Back when there were just four baseball playoff teams, a division could easily wrap up by Labor Day. So while baseball purists (such as myself) lamented Bud Selig’s Wild Card experiment at the time, it turned into one of the greatest ideas in sports history. And the second wild card (which puts a premium on winning a division rather than winning the wild card and only having the penalty be one more road game in the opening round) is great too. Selig gets a lot of flak but his contributions to baseball are many.
It’s amazing to believe that anyone thought it was ever a good idea to basically play football on concrete, but the visual it supplied (LT charging Randall Cunningham or Walter Payton running in Minnesota) makes one nostalgic for the old days, especially if you ignore what it did to players’ knees or heads.
With the loss of the Metrodome and the impending loss of the Edward Jones Dones and Georgia Dome, only the Superdome will remaine from the great Dome period, started by the space-age Astrodome. They’ll all be gone, replaced by retractable-roof stadiums that looks like malls from the outside. (Ford Field is technically listed as a dome. It is not.) Those new stadiums are going to be great — so much better than the domes — but nothing said 1980s football like AstroTurf games played inside a cavernous dome.
25. Football coaches dressed like men’s men on the sideline.
Look, as someone who spends most days in Adidas sweats and NorthFace hoodies, I have no room to criticize anybody’s fashion. But the idea that NFL coaches have to wear league-approved sportswear is only slightly less ridiculous than baseball managers wearing actual uniforms. Give me Tom Landry in a suit over Jason Garrett in a polo shirt (and he’s one of the nicer dressed coaches) any day. And Bill Belichick looks homeless.
26. Only back nine coverage at The Masters
There didn’t even used to be cameras on the front-nine at Augusta. And though the club has still kept television mostly at bay (you aren’t getting seven hours of Saturday coverage like you do for the British or U.S. Opens), at least it decided to allow 18-hole coverage for the leaders on Sunday. Back in 1983, there were just 5.5 hours of coverage on the weekend (2.5 on Saturday, 3 on Sunday). Even in 1995, there was hardly any Thursday or Friday coverage. Viewers will always remember the 1998 Masters coming on air on Sunday and an electric Jim Nantz telling stunned viewers that there was a familiar name on the leaderboard: 58-year-old Jack Nicklaus, who had birdied four of the first seven holes and was two shots off the lead. (Though the more enterprising sports fan had been following online for Nicklaus’ hole-by-hole score, endlessly reloading websites to get an update.)
27. Soccer as a punchline instead of hipster cred
Oh, don’t worry; I still plan on making plenty of soccer jokes, especially now that I have a daughter who will probably force me to spend Saturday afternoons watching five-year-olds whiff on shots and all play for participation trophies. But soccer is no longer a national punchline, it’s a niche one, as the sport has reached heights in the U.S. thanks to wall-to-wall World Cup coverage, an American team that performs well at said World Cups, the U.S. women’s team winning multiple Cups and, perhaps most importantly, networks finally realizing the way to get viewers wasn’t to show them the C-list MLS but the A-list English Premiere League.
28. Olympics on one channel
Next year, you’ll be able to turn on any network in the NBC universe (and there are many) to see coverage of fencing, equestrian, water polo, basketball, soccer and whatever sports have lengthy competitions that require hours of TV coverage. But back in the day, just when NBC got rights from ABC and CBS, you had a short afternoon block on weekdays, primetime coverage and then weekend coverage that lasted for most of the day. As an Olympic nerd myself, I will never complain about having too many sports on TV, but sometimes it’s like listening to Sirius/XM radio; even though there’s something good on, you keep flipping channels on the off-chance there’s something better.
29. Chris Berman and Tom Jackson being awesome on NFL Primetime
Berman and Jackson take their completely-due lumps for their annoying schtick on ESPN’s gameday NFL shows. But back before RedZone and NBC’s SNF package, the time between the end of the 4 p.m. games and the start of the Sunday night games was filled by NFL Primetime, a show that gave you all the highlights of the day in lengthy, expertly-edited clips set to awesome NFL Films music. Though you were only seeing two game games during the day with some highlights thrown in at halftime and during games, one hour with NFL Primetime caught you up on the day better in 60 minutes than RedZone does in 420. Truly, from 1992-2003 (random dates), this was any sports fans’ favorite show on television.
30. Ticket stubs
I hate printing out online tickets. I loathe using my phone to get into a game. I can’t stand that if you do actually have a ticket stub that’s not from a season ticket, it has the generic Ticketmaster format. Ticket stubs were both great collector’s items and nostalgic reminders of which games you’d been to. I used them as bookmarks and kept them in a desk drawer, but I’m sure others put them in a photo album or matted and framed them. You kept them around. They told a story of your sports life. The stubs were unique — a sign you’d been somewhere. I’m still mad that when I attended the opening game in Washington Nationals history at RFK Stadium, I flashed a long-since gone piece of paper as my ticket.
31. The George Michael Sports Machine
You know have you have moments of clarity when you’re a youth in which you slowly come to the realization that something you didn’t know was a widely-known fact (like the day I found out a song I heard 50 times, Penny Lane, was actually by The Beatles). This also happened with me when I was on a family trip and saw The George Michael Sports Machine on in Florida. Since the great Michael was the sportscaster on the D.C. NBC affiliate, I just figured the show was local. I had no idea his show was a national star. In the days before everybody had cable, George Michael’s weekly Sunday night show was the best way to get a quick recap of the week in sports (as well as some bloopers and lots of wrestling highlights).
32. Recording games on VCR
DVR is better than a VCR in every single respect, except this: When you recorded a game on a VHS, you didn’t have the quick option of jumping through the telecast to see which parts needed to be seen. You had a slow fast-forward feature that kept you honest.
33. Waiting for Sports Illustrated to arrive in your mailbox.
Some weeks it’d come on Thursday and you’d grab it (along with whatever note from school that had been sent home), sit down and immediately read it cover to cover. Then, there were those awesome weeks when it would somehow show up on Wednesday and you felt like you got a jump on everybody else. When SI would arrive, you’d make sure it was perfectly flattened with no tears and bends. And you’d stare at the cover for a few minutes, seeing if there was anything you hadn’t seen. (Particularly on covers in early February.) SI was the bellwether of sports. It defined the day. Now it’s just something you don’t have the heart to cancel.
34. All big games on network TV
The youngsters don’t care whether the game is on CBS, TBS, ESPN, ABC, TNT, MLB, NFL or whichever network. But back before 1996ish, it meant something to be on one of the big four networks. Now, the national championship is going to be on a channel best known for airing Seinfeld reruns. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
35. A time when blogs weren’t there to educate, inform and brighten your lives
Like I said — the dark ages.