In about 1984, I found myself in the offices of Bob Bagley, the head of the television and films division of Mark McCormack’s IMG Group. McCormack had parlayed an initial promotional deal with Arnold Palmer into the biggest, most successful sports marketing business in the world. His 2003 BBC obit obit called him “the most influential man in sport.”
You’ll know TWI (Trans World International), the Bagley division of IMG, as the creators of NFL Films. I had been sent to Bob by my friend Peter Duchow, James Garner’s producer-partner, who thought there might be some writing I could do for TWI.
In the course of a long, genial meeting, I suggested to Bob that it would be nice to have some sort of sports film outlet that would broadcast fabulous contests from the past. I cited Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game and Don Larson’s perfect World Series pitching performance.
Bob rubbed his chin thoughtfully and remarked, “I don’t know how you’d ever get the rights together.” And there we dropped the subject.
A long time later, in 1997, ESPN acquired the Classic Sports Network, renamed it ESPN Classic, and a full-fledged enthusiasm was born for sports oldies. I figure the idea got started with a couple of entrepreneurs in Canada I heard about many years ago who bought up video tapes of NHL hockey games for pennies and broadcast them, at great commercial success and profit, to the sports-starved boonies in Alberta and Saskatchewan. “No one wants to watch old hockey games” was proved resoundingly wrong. Our own blog devoted a section of one day recently to discussing the ESPNC broadcast of the fights of Muhammad Ali.
THIS PAST WEEK, AS I’VE BEEN RECUPERATING from rotator cuff surgery, I’ve been watching my own sports classics, mainly tapes I’ve saved of final rounds of major golf tournaments or Ryder Cups. (I’ve got at least an equal amount of tennis from the '80s and '90s, too, but I can’t play tennis any more, so I’m not as interested in those.) It’s been an education.
For one thing, going back not all that far (the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills), you can see a fair number of people who are now dead: Broadcaster Dave Marr, caddies Jeff “Squeaky” Medlin and Bruce Edwards, and golfer Payne Stewart. For another, many companies, products, and landmarks are gone, too. The title sponsor of the 1997 PGA was Oldsmobile. Played at Winged Foot Country Club in Mamaroneck, New York, the coverage featured establishing shots from a blimp, often of the New York City skyline in the hazy distance: spike of the Empire State Building on the right, upright captain’s bars of the World Trade Center on the left. See that, you always say, “Oh.”
Ryder Cup teams customarily crossed the Atlantic on the Concord. On the way to Great Britain in 1993, Brad Faxon took out a putter and a ball and rolled a putt up the aisle, an estimated cumulative distance of 27 miles. He claimed “the longest putt ever hit.”
In promos during the 1995 British Open, ABC Sports touted a later-in-the-day broadcast of the final of the Tour de France. Can four-time winner so and so make it five in a row? That four-timer was Frenchman Miguel Indurain, and he did win his fifth later that day. Four amateurs made the cut in that Open Championship, with hulking six foot eight Gordon Sherry besting all his peers. Nineteen-year-old Tiger Woods was shown twice, from a great distance, driving over the green on the eighteenth hole and, moments later, missing a birdie putt.
John Daly won that tournament with a bleach blond haircut he no longer has, a wife he no longer has, a Wilson driver with a funny football shaped face he no longer has, in an ugly baggy green Reebok pullover I hope he no longer has.
I HAVE ONE ADVANTAGE over ESPN Classic. I can actually watch the commercials from back then, too, advertising pitches that use imagery and ideas that simply do not fit with our time today. Shell ran ads featuring animated soul dancing gas pumps and cars. And a Cadillac spot featuring two worried-looking women d’un certain age preserves as though in amber the trophy wife worries of the time:
And he wants more power.
(Smile breaks through.) He wants a Cadillac DeVille.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?