My old friend Tom Jones, a writer for the St. Petersburg Times, must have been feeling a little nostalgic this week. For his Two Cents blog on Sunday, he put together this list of things that he misses about sports broadcasting and sports, in general. Things like Howard Cosell doing the NFL highlights at halftime of Monday Night Football, scheduled doubleheaders in baseball, Morganna the Kissing the Bandit and the Montreal Expos. It’s a comprehensive list, and a good one. And yes, I do miss a lot of those things.
There’s something to be said for remembering the good things about sports back in the “old days.” First of all, it’s fun to remember. It gives us something to talk about, something to argue about, something to laugh about. It does more than that, though. Sports provides a mutual nostalgia that our politics and other institutions just can’t match. As much as anything, sports has defined our shared cultural identity over the past century, in the Tampa Bay area and around the country.
So, yeah. I miss some of the things on Jones’ list. There’s a lot I don’t miss, too. Like short shorts in basketball. And like … well, I can’t think of anything as repulsive as short shorts in basketball. So, thank you Fab Five for dragging us out of THAT too-snug era. (See what I mean? There’s a good chance – no matter how old you are, or how big a college basketball fan you might be – that you understood the reference a second ago to Michigan’s all-freshman starting five of 1991-92. That’s something we share, even if you don’t know or care who the hell I am. If you didn’t get the reference, perhaps all it took to jog your memory was to read the word “Michigan’s.” And if you still didn’t get it, I’m talking about Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. Sill nothing? OK, then. Bad example. How’s this: Michael Jordan. There. Surely you remember him, right? I rest my case about shared nostalgia and stuff.)
Thank you, Tom Jones, for the trip down memory lane. It got me thinking, though. As fun as it is to think about the past, I wouldn’t want to do so at the expense of the present. It’s OK to feel nostalgic about watching Evel Knievel on Wide World of Sports, or about Bob Uecker’s Miller Lite commercials (“I must be in the FRONT row!”).
But would you really want to go back? Was it actually better then? Or does the selective nature of collective memory filter out the bad and the ridiculous of those days? No. I’d like to think most Tampa Bay area sports fans know better. If not, try this little exercise in imagination.
Let’s say the pirate ship at Raymond James Stadium is, in fact, a time machine. Or the ray tank at Tropicana Field, if you prefer. Listen, if they can make an entire movie about a hot tub that is, in fact, a time machine, we can designate one of our region’s iconic stadium landmarks an imaginary space-time continuum-defying portal.
Here’s the catch, though. Our time machine only travels to one year: 1986. And when you get there, you will retain absolutely no memory of anything that happened to you the past 25 years – except sports. That, you will remember all too well.
Hmm. It just occurred to me I could’ve sent the imaginary pirate ship-ray tank time machine 25 years into the future and think about what we’d want to remember then about today’s world of sports. Oh, well. Too late. You’re already back in 1986, and even though you don’t remember your address or what kind of car you drive, you remember that one day in the future, a couple of guys who aren’t even born yet are playing quarterback for the Tampa Bay Bucs and serving as the leading goal scorer for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
And if you consider yourself a fan of Tampa Bay area sports, here’s what you’ll miss – the way an amputee misses a limb – because none of this was part of our collective sports experience just one generation ago:
- The Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays.
- The Tampa Bay Lightning.
- University of South Florida football.
- Raymond James Stadium.
- Legends Field.
- The St. Pete Times Forum.
- Yankees spring training.
- A Super Bowl victory.
- A Stanley Cup victory.
- A World Series loss.
- Instant scoring for fantasy sports.
- NFL Sunday Ticket.
- High definition TV.
- Weekly broadcasts of English soccer.
- Historical highlights of just about every sport imaginable on YouTube.
- Extraordinary historical data available at your fingertips at these websites: www.baseball-reference.com, www.pro-football-reference.com, www.hockeydb.com, www.basketball-reference.com.
- Steven Stamkos.
- Marty St. Louis.
- Evan Longoria.
- David Price.
- Vinny Lecavalier.
- Josh Freeman.
There are a lot more people and things to appreciate about sports today in the Tampa Bay area. We’ve already had Wade Boggs and Lee Roy Selmon inducted into their respective Halls of Fame. They’ll surely be joined one day by Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, St. Louis, Lecavalier, and possibly Fred McGriff, Carl Crawford (yes, he’s still ours), John Lynch and Ronde Barber. The Bucs are good, the Lightning are thrilling again and the Rays continue to defy and harass the mighty Yankees and Red Sox. The USF football team could very well win the Big East this year. It’s a good time to be a sports fan in the Tampa Bay area.
The best part, though? When we look back 25 years from now, we’ll have all of THIS to look back on with a sense of nostalgia. We’ll (hopefully) forget about the absurdities, the labor disputes, the player arrests, and the vitriol that passes for early 21st century political discourse (oh, wait; wrong blog). Anyway, I’ll meet you at the Press Box Sports Emporium on Dale Mabry on June 27, 2036, and we’ll reminisce. First round’s on me. And because I blame him for inspiring me to write this, second round’s on Jones.